Review by SSpectre

Reviewed: 11/19/10 | Updated: 09/24/13

Thoughtless design choices permeate everything about Metroid: Other M.

Metroid: Other M

The Good:
+ Combat is exciting when it works
+ Challenge level is handled very well

The Bad:
- Story, characters and voice acting are all atrocious
- Gameplay is bogged down by bizarre decisions and control issues
- Nearly devoid of any original thought
- Graphics would not be out of place on the N64

If it isn’t already obvious from anything to do with Dead or Alive, Team Ninja are pretty much the most misogynistic game company ever. With Metroid: Other M, they’ve taken the most well-respected female character in gaming and turned her into an over-emotional, remarkably dim-witted, monologue-spewing machine with an Electra complex. They also seem to have built an entire game around these traits. Unsurprisingly, that game feels broken and schizophrenic.

The gameplay tries to be very different from previous Metroid titles; it’s much less about exploration, and much more about acrobatic combat and personal narrative. The combat works here and there. The narrative does not. It begins with series protagonist Samus Aran, fresh from the end of Super Metroid, again answering a distress call from another space station, where a bunch of creatures were being researched, and, surprise, grew violent and attacked the scientists working there. Samus meets up with a squad of Galactic Federation troopers while sorting out the situation, including Adam, a sort of father figure from her past.

Depressingly, the plot’s unoriginality is not its worst problem. That would be its overwhelming oppression of Samus’s character and mind-numbing lack of logic. It’s established early on that one of the (completely uncharacterized) soldiers is a traitor, and it’s a major plot element...until the game just kind of forgets about it three hours later. Especially damning is the second half of the game, where it recycles a couple of major plot twists out of past Metroid games wholesale, notably Metroid Fusion. Seriously, the day Metroids stay extinct will be the day Crocomire gets his own game.

And finally, there’s the embarrassingly idiotic authorization system. In Other M, Samus technically has all her regular power-ups from the beginning; she just doesn’t use them because Adam hasn’t authorized them. This leads to a section where she enters the game’s token lava world without heat protection, then after about half an hour of nearly burning to death, is told she’s allowed to activate it.

I wish I could say that’s the only point where Samus thoughtlessly obeys her new surrogate father, but stuff like this happens throughout the entire bloody game. Nintendo and Retro Studios have subtly characterized Samus over the course of the series: she shows independence by working alone in a dangerous profession; she demonstrated a strong moral compass by blatantly defying the irresponsible orders of the Galactic Federation in Fusion; and she already displayed her softer side in the ending of Metroid II. There was no need to have Team Ninja tie a leash around her neck and have her ramble on about motherhood for an entire game.

As if now being a clinically depressed and especially wordy Princess Peach wasn’t bad enough, her voice actress is trying her hardest to sound emotionless and mechanical, which ironically would have probably fit her original personality better. The other voice actors in the game are generally at least passable, so it’s especially dumbfounding. One would think the most important thing to do when giving a silent protagonist of twenty-three years a voice would be to find the best actress you can, so the fans have nothing but their own nostalgia goggles to blame for any problems.

Speaking of which, Other M frequently tries to evoke the appeal of nostalgia; also ironic, considering how obviously the game was going to piss off half the fanbase. To its credit, quite a bit of it is satisfying to the long-time Metroid fan: the music is a decent mix of old and new songs (including some nice selections from Metroid Prime), and when Ridley shows up (yes, Ridley shows up again, though in an unexpected way that’s actually quite interesting), his cries even sound like his old Super Metroid ones.

Occasionally it crosses the line between nostalgia and rehash, though, particularly when the plot similarities to Fusion kick in. Additionally, many of the enemies return from the 2D games, and Super Metroid in particular. This isn’t exactly the criticism it sounds like. It’s nice to see many of the enemies who didn’t get the 3D treatment in Prime finally receive it, and they generally work well with the new game mechanics.

If you’d like a summary of said game mechanics, I suggest you go play one of the Xbox Ninja Gaiden games.

I kid, I kid. While Samus’s combat abilities are certainly a lot more agile and vicious than before, there’s a big difference between her beam gun and Ryu’s katana. The first thing you’ll notice is that you don’t really aim anymore; just face the enemy and shoot, and the auto-aim will do the rest. It works considerably better than most auto-aim systems, because the developers were at least smart enough to avoid throwing multiple targets with different priorities at you at once – you generally just want to shoot everything.

As a result, the combat becomes much more about dodging and getting in rhythm with the enemies’ attacks, similar to how Metroid Prime approached first-person shooter gameplay. To this end you’ll be using the “Sensemove” mechanic more often than shooting, which sends Samus into a quick dive that also fills her Charge Beam meter if timed correctly. There’s also the “Overblast” – a needlessly dramatic way of saying “jump on an enemy’s head and jam a Charge Beam down their throat” – and the “Lethal Strike” which is basically a theatrical finishing move against downed opponents.

It’s really a shame that Metroid: Other M drifts so often into its abysmal story-telling, because the core combat is quite fun. Getting into a groove of dodges, jumps and beam blasts is quite exhilarating, as are the over-the-top new abilities. To complement this is a great difficulty level that’s hard without being cheap. It also incorporates a “Concentration” mechanic that allows you to recover an energy tank if your life is low enough, provided you can stay out of harm’s way long enough to use it. It’s one of the best uses of regenerating health I’ve seen – the player can regenerate health, but their ability to do so depends on their dodging skill. There are two problems with the gameplay, though: combat is only one part of it, and the controls are a mixed bag.

On the agreeable end of the spectrum, the controls are every bit as responsive as they need to be. They’re also fairly simple, which I guess will appease those who were angry with Metroid Prime’s convoluted setup. But in yet another cruel twist of irony, the controls are too simple for the kind of game Other M wants to be. It’s got the same problem early PlayStation games had, where you’re trying to control a 3D game with a D-pad that just doesn’t have the necessary range of motion, and it can get really frustrating. But Other M doesn’t have the excuse those games did, because the Wii has the perfectly suitable Nunchuk controller that could have solved the problem.

Secondly, missiles return in Other M, and some idiot thought it would be a good idea to restrict their use to the game’s first-person mode. Which you switch to by pointing the Wii Remote, which you’re holding sideways most of the time, at the screen. It’s disorienting at best, and crippling at worst, because it can take a few seconds to figure out what the hell you’re looking at, during which time you’re likely to take a poison stinger to the face. Finally, the game attempts the simplify wall jump controls, but does so in a really awkward way that doesn’t help at all.

Of course, combat is only a part of the gameplay, this being a Metroid game and all. But in Other M, the other part is not the open-world exploration you’d expect. It’s more like squinting around for the pixels that seem most out of place. Yes, the game is linear, but that’s not the problem. Fusion and Prime 3 were pretty linear, and they turned out great. The problem is that without the Prime games’ scan visor or something similar, searching for power-ups in a murky 3D environment boils down to looking at every heavily shadowed wall in first-person mode to see if there’s something you can blow up on it.

In addition, there are two extremely baffling recurring mechanics. In the first, the game forces you into first-person mode to look for something out of place. In the ones where you find the object quickly and the music and ambience is just right, they can be pretty effective at heightening tension. More often than not, though, the object will be something completely irrelevant and the segment will do nothing but bore and frustrate you. In the second mechanic, Samus slows to walking speed and the camera zooms in to a Dead Space-like perspective. These had the potential to be interesting, but the fact that you can’t use your weapons while they’re happening means you know nothing’s going to threaten you, and they just end up being dull, pointless gimmicks.

In general, Metroid: Other M is a pretty backwards-thinking game, if its clearly-defined gender politics didn’t tip you off. For all the talk about how different it is from previous Metroid titles, things like finishing moves and dodging aren’t exactly new ideas, and the complete lack of new power-ups really shows how much it’s content to rest on the accomplishments of its predecessors. Of particular note are the graphics, which, through general blockiness and the occasional bewildering lack of textures tend to make some enemies and environments look like featureless blobs pitifully reminiscent of the N64’s darker days. Some of the more extravagant attacks and boss battles show a surprising amount of detail, making the rough patches stand out even more.

Metroid: Other M is just a game of missed potential the whole way through. The controls could be easily fixed by using the Nunchuk and doing away with the first-person bull****. A respectable voice actress could have been hired for Samus. Hell, they could have just started a new series with a new character. That way, the story would be merely bad, instead of bad and a blatant disregard for everything that came before it.

Team Ninja has proven they can make great action sequences, but those action sequences are spoiled by its moronic insistence on supplementing them with a cringe-worthy narrative and embarrassing production values. Nintendo has thankfully chosen to ignore the franchise joke that was Metroid Prime: Hunters, so here’s hoping they do the smart thing and put this one away along with it.

Rating:   2.0 - Poor

Product Release: Metroid: Other M (US, 08/31/10)

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