Metroid: Other M

We grant you permission to read about Samus Aran's latest adventure...

I had always questioned Metroid: Other M. Sure, as a Nintendo fan, I was consistently anticipating the title, as well as the new take Team Ninja would contribute to the franchise. However, I found myself wondering how cutscenes would play a role in the storytelling, how the shifting perspectives would enhance the experience, and how a 3D Metroid game could be controlled with a single Wii Remote. After playing up to the first boss at E3, I knew the game would be a good addition in the Metroid chronology, but how my demo ended left a bitter taste in my mouth. Finally, more than two months later and after a friend’s connections and my brother’s assistance, I can give my full, spoiler-free written review of Metroid: Other M for Wii.

The game does several things very well. The first of these that is immediately apparent is the visual presentation. The Wii has had several titles that have surpassed the “two Gamecubes duct-taped together” moniker (Galaxy 2, Brawl, and Monster Hunter Tri first come to mind), but Other M is by far the best title as far as graphics go on the system. True, the Wii is and will always be a standard definition console, but the entire game is presented in widescreen. While we played Other M on a 26” CRT TV, we kept wishing to play it on an HDTV to fully realize the graphic potential the developers put into each frame. I was particularly impressed by the seamlessness of the experience, as cutscenes and gameplay frequently blended together through clever transitions and hardly a noticeable change in graphic quality. The cutscenes themselves are directed very well, with camera angles and other such details crafted perfectly, which will really be a pleasure to view again in the game’s Theater Mode. Additionally, the problem of loading times that got on the nerves of Metroid Prime fans has seemingly been removed. It is certainly a visual achievement on the Wii to deliver such a continuous, visually stunning experience, and Metroid: Other M delivers splendidly.

Another accomplishment that Other M delivers on is the control scheme. It is important to note that one’s enjoyment of the controls is preferential and can be disliked for several reasons, but from a technical standpoint, the goal of controlling a 3D Metroid game with one remote is met as promised. With the Wii remote on its side, control is basic as the D-Pad moves Samus, while the 1 button shoots and the 2 button jumps. Additionally, Morph Ball mode can be entered and exited using the A button. The camera works very well in orienting itself and there is never a question of how the player should move Samus about the screen. Samus can also dodge attacks and initiate special kill shots with the D-Pad, which takes practice to perfect, but is handled ideally, given the limitations of the controller. The only flaws in this mode are that there are sometimes invisible walls and objects because of the camera’s orientation. Plus, details are sometimes masked due to the games overall darkness, but this can easily be corrected using the brightness settings on your TV. When the Wii remote is pointed at the screen, Samus can move her vision and lock onto objects with the B putton and can use missiles or other weapons with the A button, depending on if you are locked onto an object or not. However, your feet are rooted in place, so movement is only possible by switching to the sideways control again. Apparently, dodging is possible by shaking the Wii remote while in first person, but it is not instructed to you in-game and you will be too busy locking on and firing weapons that this quickly becomes an afterthought. The only overarching flaw to having two necessary methods of control is switching back and forth between them. Although the transition in-game is wonderfully precise and smooth, it is physically awkward to go back and forth between the two modes. There are also a lot of nitpicks to the controls that are mostly preferential that I will cover later, but even if one doesn’t like the control scheme, it cannot be denied that it is an overall successful experiment for the game. Too many titles these days rely solely on first and third-person perspectives, so to see this style is refreshing.

The gameplay is quick, flashy, and makes Samus look like the skilled bounty hunter that she is. As Samus looks very powerful on-screen, you feel brilliant inside as you control her with such a simplistic control design. While charging her Power Beam is rather slow (although it can be upgraded through items), when Samus dodges an attack, the charge becomes instantly full. This makes it easy to enact some of the stylish attacks that the bounty hunter can dish out, as enemies certainly become frequent and hostile. The difficulty curve is overall well-paced, as the beams available to Samus are stacked on top of each other and greatly improve in strength with each upgrade. Items locations are noted on the game’s map system with blue dots, but since the map lacks three-dimensional depth, it is still up to the player to puzzle-solve in order to find these upgrades. The bosses ramp up not only in difficulty, but also in recognition to past Metroid games, as fans will notices homages to Super Metroid, Metroid Fusion, and even Metroid II. There are seriously great things all around.

For the game as a whole, however, it is imperative to note that as a spiritual sequel to Super Metroid, gameplay is more akin to that title than it is to Metroid Prime. So let’s be clear, if you prefer the Prime Trilogy like I do, there are many small nitpicks that I shall elaborate on now. Enemies do not drop pickups like health or missiles when you defeat them, so adopting the strategy of “run if you can” often works better than “defeat every enemy in the room.” As a result of this, there are many “navigation stations” which heal you completely and reveal the next part of the map. You will find yourself needing these frequently though, because even though you can replenish your missiles at any time, health can only be replenished in the field when you are at a critical state. Even then, however, you can only be healed up to a certain point (item expansions allow a greater degree of health replenishment). This gameplay concept of “concentration” is bizarre one in itself, as well. When you hold the Wii remote upright and hold A, Samus recharges herself, but only if she remains untouched and she completes the recharge, instead of stopping partway. I mentioned the controller position changing awkwardness earlier, and this third position only compounds the confusion. It’s also interesting to quickly note that the amount of backtracking is immense, as we only got about 40% of items during our runthrough. Is it strange to anyone else that Metroid borrows the Legend of Zelda formula with Energy Parts, where it takes four of these items to make a full Energy Tank, in addition to acquiring full tanks? However, the game rewards completionists with an “irreplaceable item” quest that is a very unique take on the 100% concept.

The biggest complaints, however, lie in the story and power-up acquisition process. Let’s be honest, giving Link a full speaking voice in The Legend of Zelda would be a terrible idea. Similarly, Samus should have never been given one in Metroid: Other M. The voice acting as a whole is terribly subpar with painful deliveries throughout the cutscenes. Samus is monotonous far too often and Anthony (the Remember Me guy) feels too frequently like a bad black stereotype. The only presentation I found bearable was Adam Malkovich, but I’m sure even he had objections to the other vocal portrayals, ladies and gentlemen. The voice acting issue is only compounded by the cliche story and dry writing. Samus delivers most of her thoughts in emotional, preachy monologue, which is probably the least imaginative way to deliver story information. In addition, the whole concept of conspiracy is rampant in the plot and the Metal Gear Solid-esque references are simply unbelievable. Just think of what the role two initials representing a character means. Surely the Metroid franchise could have concocted something more original. However, the most reprehensible decision that this game made in its story layout was how Samus acquired power-ups like her beams and super missiles. The pattern has always been that these would be rewards for defeating certain bosses. What if I told you that, barring a couple exceptions, Samus can unleash her entire arsenal at the beginning of the game and never loses this ability? The problem here lies in the fact that Samus’ relationship with Adam is so important to her that even though he is not her commanding officer, Samus is obeying his order to not use certain power-ups. That’s right, Samus needs to be given PERMISSION from Adam to use powers like the Super Missile. The fact that Samus Aran, independent bounty hunter, needs to be restrained by a simple command from her “father figure” is an abhorrent disgrace. It isn’t a game-breaking flaw, but it is one that Metroid fans everywhere will certainly despise.

The key here with all of these nitpicks is that they don’t seriously take away from what Metroid: Other M is. It is a game that takes risks and is successful on a technical level. Those who call it a “bad game” are only doing so out of preference for a first-person adventure style that they’ve grown so fond of. And while the story and voice acting are considerably weak, that’s not what Metroid games are about. The presentation is stellar, the gameplay creates a lot from the little it has to work with, and we aren’t being given another repetitive clone of a franchise that is dear to many of our hearts. Samus Aran may be naive and still hold on dearly to the baby Metroid from the storyline’s previous entry, but that isn’t what matters most. She still BATTLES like the Samus Aran we all know and love and that is what makes Metroid: Other M the solid entry in the franchise that it is.

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