Sometimes people don’t really know what they want. Both Nintendo fans and critics come down on the company for being guilty of creating sequels that feel very similar to one another. Zelda has been under fire for years now as most people believe the formula hasn’t changed since A Link to the Past. Metroid is in the same boat, with a formula that hasn’t changed since Super Metroid. As a result, Nintendo has finally decided to give the Metroid franchise a make over, and where Metroid Prime stuck true to form despite being in first person, Other M breaks tradition while at the same time going back to its roots from the NES era. The result? A split fan base that seems to either love or hate it. Maybe people really do want the same experience over and over again?
Back in 2007, Retro Studio used Metroid Prime 3 as a way to show people that the Wii remote was capable of delivering a tense first person experience thanks to then ground breaking IR control and some clever uses of waggle (the grapple beam) and motion control (opening doors). It came at a time where Wii games were simply mini-game collections (not much has changed) or broken traditional games (I guess not much changed there either). So it’s interesting that Metroid: Other M’s control lay on the other end of the design spectrum, yet just like Prime 3, paves the way for how action games should play not just on the console, but on all consoles period.
In a ballsy move, Nintendo decided that Other M should use only the Wii remote, meaning no nunchuck attachment. For the people that wanted nunchuck control as an option? Too bad, the players don’t have any options and are forced to play with just the remote. It’s an admirable move in an age where action games use every single button on a cluttered controller. People scoffed at the idea of playing a 3D game without an analog stick, and somehow after supposedly playing the game, they still want a nunchuck to control the action. I almost wonder if they were playing the same game I was because Other M plays near flawlessly.
I come from the camp that believes all 3D games should be played with an analog stick. I couldn’t imagine playing Super Mario Galaxy 2 with just the D-Pad, and I actually refused to play Mario 64 on the DS thanks to the lack of analog stick. The thing is, Other M is designed around the D-Pad as much as a 3D game is designed around the precision of an analog stick. The game intuitively guides Samus around 3D areas, at times she’ll automatically run around winding corridors as the player simply holds in the direction she should be going. Platforming feels fantastic thanks to bits of assisting when it comes to landing a jump. If you a miss a jump, chances are it’s your fault as the game thoughtfully locks Samus onto the area the player is trying to navigate to. Shooting Samus’ blaster in a 3D space is easy too, as the game will automatically target the nearest foe, or whomever Samus is currently facing. If all this makes the game sound too easy, well, that’s where the other interesting bits come into play.
Another element tailored to the D-Pad is Samus’ flashy “sense” move in which she can easily dodge enemy attacks by tapping away from them during the point of impact. Timing is tricky at first, but once ingrained into the player’s mind, they’ll have no issues jumping and rolling to safety. The reward for a well timed dodge is a automatically charged beam which can be used to either fire off some serious rounds, or deliver a punishing finishing move to nearby enemies. Speaking of which, even her cool finishers are handled by the use of one button, and it feels just as rewarding as when Kratos does something similar with a quick time event in God of War games. Just another example of the subtle yet genius touches in control when it comes to the overall design.
The lack of pick ups to refill missiles and energy introduces a new risk/reward element to the Metroid series. Similar to recharging the beam katana in No More Heroes, if Samus is low on health or ammo, tilting the remote upright and holding in the A button takes her out of action yet enables her to recharge energy and missiles. Speaking of which, missiles can only be fired by locking onto a target in first person mode, which Samus goes into when the player points the remote at the screen. Switching to first person also has a risk/reward element to it in that Samus isn’t capable of running around, yet is able to do serious damage. It isn’t gimmicky however, as switching to first person is absolutely necessary in finding hidden items and defeating certain enemies and bosses. I’ve heard complaints about switching to first person, but as someone that plays Wii games on a consistent basis, I personally found it fun and simple to do.
As far as the actual game plays out, it has more in line with Metroid Fusion than Metroid Prime. Instead of large labyrinths that you’d find in Prime, Other M almost mirror’s Fusion’s progression right down to the way the Sectors are accessed, meaning it’s more linear than your typical Metroid adventure. That said, there is still room to get sidetracked by hunting down hidden items or going back to previous areas to get those items you couldn’t reach before once acquiring new abilities.
Speaking of abilities, in another somewhat controversial design choice, Samus actually starts with all of her abilities. Tying it into the story, Samus is only allowed to use her abilities (like the Screw Attack for example) once the character Adam grants her permission. At times it comes off silly (why wouldn’t Adam automatically authorize her Varia Suit when she’s in an area with molten hot lava that’s hurting her?) while at others it’s kind of exciting (like when Adam authorizes use of the Ice Beam during the heat of a battle). Without trying to ruin anything, it eventually gets to a point where Samus just kind of says “f it” and takes things into her own hands. To be honest, I don’t mind the explanation of the item progression here. Samus still gets the abilities as the game moves on, so in the end it still feels how it would in any other Metroid game.
The story, which needs to be addressed, is acceptable and about on par with an average game plot. I don’t really understand all of the out right hate for what Nintendo delivered here. Does it have cheesy lines, and so-so voice acting? It sure does. Is the story going to win any awards? No, but it’s fun enough to see it through, and it’s full of a neat little things that long time Metroid fans should appreciate. Samus herself is seen as a flawed and conflicted individual, something fans can’t seem to wrap their minds around as they apparently want Samus to be nothing more than a female Master Chief. Sure, the story doesn’t hold a candle to something like the story sequences in a game like Uncharted, but it’s about average on a whole, and no where near as insulting as some of Nintendo’s other talky games like both Star Fox Adventures and Assault. As for the plot itself, it often feels like a simpler take on Metal Gear Solid 2, with The Bottle Ship (which ironically looks just like a baby bottle) having much in common with The Big Shell. The only thing that really bothered me with the story progression was the lack of a pause or skip button as they tend to go on for a while.
That’s not my only beef with Other M. There are times when the player is asked to focus on something that Samus is apparently looking at in first person mode. These sequences completely hold up the action while the player is forced to search an area for a sometimes obscure object. Actually, sometimes the object is clear as day, but it seems like you need to get the reticule directly onto a single pixel in order for it to take. These scenes are easily the low points of the adventure. There are also a handful of instant death scenarios that haven’t really been seen in a Metroid game before, and they aren’t welcomed by any means. Chances are these trial and error sequences will see you killed at least the first time, but the game is nice enough to start you a room or two behind and not at the save point making it more of an annoyance than a hassle.
Yet aside from a few hiccups, Other M still remains an amazingly well crafted and downright exciting game. The pacing is much faster than what you’d find in the sometimes overlong and padded Prime games, the combat has never been as slick, the boss battles are incredible and the moody environment is Metroid at its purest. It would seem to me that Other M will go down in history as one of Nintendo’s misunderstood classics (like Zelda II: The Adventure of Link) in that it’s a great game that decided to do things in it’s own unique way. At the same time, while it may have split it’s core audience, Other M makes for a great entry point into the series with its accessible control system. The title is also unique and exciting enough to potentially make new fans out of people that have previously been uninterested in the Metroid series, because believe it or not, those people exist.