The latest title in the venerable Metroid franchise is finally upon us, and with it comes the greatest amount of hype and excitement that the series has ever seen. Hype created by the radical new direction that Nintendo and series newcomers Team Ninja have decided to take with Other M, both in the gameplay and in the storytelling. However, these changes beg the question: does this collaboration of gaming giants elevate the Metroid franchise to new heights or does it leave Samus a few charges short of a super missile?
Chronologically, Other M takes place after the events of Super Metroid and before Metroid: Fusion. The game opens with Samus recollecting how the baby Metroid helped save her life from the vile Mother Brain as well as how it gave her the strength to destroy not only the oversized organ but also the entire planet. Some time later Samus receives a distress signal leading her to the Bottle Ship where she meets up with her former platoon of Space Troopers, including her old commanding officer Adam Malkovich, and the two sides decide to help each other determine exactly what is going on in the space station and who sent the distress signal.
Gameplay in Other M is a combination of three different elements: Nintendo’s classic Metroid formula of exploration and action/platforming, Team Ninja’s visceral action and combat, thrown in with a dash of Retro Studios’ first person shooting and examinations. Surprisingly, all these different gameplay types come together well and deliver a game that is both unique and familiar at the same time. However, it’s not perfect. Some of the platforming, mostly when having to jump ‘into’ the background, can be cumbersome, and while the D-Pad works great for the strictly 2D sections, moving in a fully 3D area does make Samus feel more like a tank then a nimble bounty hunter. My main gripe lies with the ho-um first person view; while useful for discovering hidden items and passages, it’s practically useless in combat (unless the situation demands its use) since you can’t move while in first person mode. The game will also sometimes force you to investigate your surroundings from behind Samus’ visor and won’t let you progress until you do. These sections slow down the game considerably because the clue you have to find is often small and well hidden.
The game is controlled entirely with the Wii Remote. You use the D-Pad to move Samus, the ‘A’ button to transform her into her signature morph ball, the ‘1’ button to fire your beam weapon (or morph ball bombs) and ‘2’ to make Samus jump. To switch to the first person mode you must point the Wii Remote at the screen, which is also the only way to access Samus’ missile inventory. You can also hold the Wii Remote vertically and hold ‘A’ to fully recharge your missiles and, when in dire situations, your health. While this control scheme works fantastically for the 2D sections (of which the game has plenty), it's hit and miss in the 3D areas as it becomes painfully obvious that Other M would have benefited from the Wii’s Nunchuck controller for more precise movement, especially when you’re trying to position Samus to make a jump and she goes running off the side. It just seems that the game makes too many compromises and is too ambitious for the control scheme that the developers went with.
To deal with the button limitations of the Wii Remote the designers were forced to simplify many of the games more robust features. Large sections of the game consist of hallways which, while reminiscent of the classic 2D Metroid games, seem rather limited after the grand vistas and complex environments we visited in the Prime trilogy. Other M is also very light in the puzzle department, with the game relying more on action and combat (a staple of Team Ninja’s past games) than discovering new ways of moving through the area.
If there is one thing that Metroid fans love it’s exploring and being rewarded for their time spent exploring. In this regard Other M definitely does not disappoint. A copious amount of items like the traditional missile expansions, energy tanks and brand new enhancements will have gamers scouring every corner of the Bottle Ship searching for ways to power up Samus’ abilities. Like the games that came before it, Other M will often have you revisiting areas so that you can claim the item you could not reach before. The game even helps out by displaying the location of a hidden item once all enemies in a room are defeated.
In typical Metroid fashion Samus starts the game stripped of all her weapons, tools and gadgets, but not because of another explosion. Instead, it's due to being ordered by Adam to do so. At first I was rather put off by this, thinking that it was just a lazy way for the developers to make Samus have to ‘acquire’ her powers again, but as I played through the game the idea of being authorized to use your weaponry grew on me and made Samus’ mission actually feels like a real mission and not just a quest to blow up everything on the station.
The game does seem to have rather odd pacing however. With the first hour being nearly 75% cut-scenes and dialogue, the game then throws you into the action with story elements sprinkled throughout. As you progress, be on your toes for boss battles - the game seems to spawn one every few rooms. Luckily, Other M also features a generous amount of save rooms. You can only regenerate your health at these save stations; that’s right, no more collecting health orbs from fallen enemies. This adds to Other M's already heavy backtracking by forcing players to go back to the nearest save room just to recover enough health to deal with the onslaught of bosses and mini-bosses.
Metroid: Other M definitely nails the right feel for a Metroid game. Cramped corridors, creepy atmosphere, tons of exploration (and backtracking), and satisfying combat are all present in copious amounts. In fact, this is probably the first game since 1994’s Super Metroid to make the player feel like a mouse running around a huge maze. That being said, you are always given a clear goal to reach, so you never really feel like you are lost in the maze, but just exploring and discovering its secrets along the way.
Without a doubt, Metroid: Other M is one of the Wii’s best looking games. Everything from the environments, items, enemies, characters and special effects are beautifully integrated into the experience. It’s truly amazing how Other M can use a bright and vibrant color palette and yet still manage to retain its sense of dread and gloom. One tiny thing to point out is that some of the larger areas do tend to feel rather empty and devoid of features, but for the most part the game is just ripe with minute details that really help bring the world to life.
Many of this title's signature moments, including a flashback to the final events of Super Metroid, are all re-created in jaw dropping CGI. And when I say jaw-dropping I mean it. So much attention went into making these cut-scenes as impressive and detailed as possible, that you will be left in shock that this is coming from a Nintendo published game; a company that in the past hasn’t placed much importance on the use of CGI. It’s also impressive how smoothly the game manages to switch from the pre-rendered movies to the actual gameplay, never making you feel disconnected from the experience.
Due in part to the Wii Remote not having enough buttons to handle a fully controllable camera, the designers instead elected to use cinematic camera angles reminiscent of the early games from the Resident Evil series, allowing the gamer to see exactly what they need to see to proceed, as well as providing some very nice action shots of some of the larger boss battles. All in all, Metroid: Other M sets a new cinematic standard for a Nintendo franchise and at times almost feels like a CGI film rather than a video game.
The characters all animate extremely well, right down to their subtle gestures and facial expressions, making it apparent that a lot of attention and love went into giving Samus and her supporting cast real personalities that shine through, not only in their dialogue but also in their actions. The enemies are also very well designed and move fluently about their surroundings waiting for their chance to attack. Of course once Samus gets the best of her foe she can perform a brutal finishing move that looks both very cool and very painful for those on the receiving end.
In the sound department the game definitely knocks it out of the park, blending classic Metroid tunes with all new compositions and mixing and matching it all together to create a soundtrack that can easily be identified as ‘Metroid’ by anyone familiar with the series. The music sets the ideal tone, whether it’s an eerie melody playing in a dark corridor or a bass heavy track that seems to make each boss feel larger than life.
The voice acting is also very strong. Every character you meet along the way will have something to say and their lines are delivered exceptionally well, with their personalities shining throughout thanks to the way that they speak to Samus and to each other. As for Samus, while her voice sounds just right and the delivery of the lines is spot on, some of her dialogue seems out of place and sometimes even poorly written. She also gets into the habit of talking a lot more then she needs to, often stating the obvious in convoluted sentences that don’t add much to the game other than to make the cut-scenes longer.
Metroid: Other M is the first game in the series to rely heavily on its story. No longer is Samus just a bounty hunter armed to the teeth out for Space Pirate blood, she now has a past - a past that hangs over her every decision and makes her second-guess many of her actions, both past and present. Now, while I applaud the developers and Nintendo for trying to flesh out exactly who Samus is, they seem to have taken away from her character in the process. Before Other M she was a total badass; she blew up planets, she took on Space Pirates, and she did it all with a calm and cool demeanour. Now she’s being presented as an emotionally fragile woman with paternal issues who feels she must fix her past mistakes by following orders. That’s not the Samus I grew up with.
Metroid: Other M does not prove itself to be a terribly difficult game, but it’s not exactly what you would call easy either. It incorporates a very gradual difficulty curve that will help players new to this style of gameplay overcome the game's early challenges, while at the same time grooming them for later obstacles. Add to this the generous amount of save stations and checkpoints, infinite missiles and a (very) generous auto-aim feature, and most gamers will not have any problems reaching the end credits. For those looking for a more serious challenge the game does feature a hard mode once the normal mode has been cleared to 100%.
Clocking in at just under 10 hours, Metroid: Other M is definitely a shorter experience than more recent Metroid console games, and the lack of variety does hurt the overall experience. There are, however, several neat unlockables to keep players coming back for more on top of the aforementioned hard mode, and of course there are hundreds of hidden items and power-ups just waiting to be discovered. Couple this with strong core gameplay and an engrossing story that any Metroid will just eat up, and you have a game that definitely deserves a spot in your Wii collection.
Make no mistake about it - Metroid: Other M is a great game. It’s a blast to lead Samus on a traditional side scrolling adventure again and most of Team Ninja's additions fit the series perfectly. There are certainly some issues present though; a control scheme that could have been made better with the addition of the Nunchuck controller and some odd compromises here and there that nag at the game, but overall this is definitely one of the Wii’s stronger titles and one that both brings the Metroid series back to its roots and sends it to all new places.