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• Metroid: Other M

developed by Tecmo’s Team Ninja & Nintendo, published by Nintendo
1 player/1 DVD/Nintendo Wii/2010.08.31

Metroid: Other M, developed by Nintendo and Tecmo’s Team Ninja (known for the Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive games) is the first in the series where the main heroine, Samus Aran, has a speaking role.  Throughout the series’ 8 previous games, Samus Aran’s personality was little more than an outline tracing a fearless, silent galactic bounty hunter.  Her personality was left to the player’s imagination, akin to Star Wars’ Boba Fett, and that’s how players liked her.  Metroid: Other M fleshes out Samus’ backstory and relationship with her former commander Adam, but in so doing betrays our perception of her.  This has led some fanboyish reviewers to be overly critical of what amounts to a solid and enjoyable action game with many experimental elements that don’t always gel perfectly.

Story

Other M has a decent plot that bridges the narrative gap between Super Metroid and Metroid Fusion.  Samus responds to an S.O.S. and soon runs into her former squad  from her stint in the Galactic Federation.  The writing is about what you’d expect from a comic book, and is not without its issues. Samus’ unnaturally verbose narration is annoying at first, but thankfully it doesn’t intrude much and gets better as the game progresses.  The real problem is her submissive attitude towards Adam.  As a fan of the series and the strong female bounty hunter I had imagined, I wanted Samus to tell this male authority figure to shove his restrictions up his ass, and you will too.  Perhaps a little Women’s Lib is asking too much from Team Ninja, who’s games are perhaps best known for their female characters’ large jiggling breasts (seriously!).

Starting right where Super Metroid left off, Samus has access to every ability in her arsenal from the beginning – she’s just not allowed to use them until Adam authorizes it. This is Other M’s way of solving the Metroid formula’s biggest problem: how to remove Samus’ powers at the outset of each new game.  It results in some mind-numbingly stupid situations like when Samus is forced into the heart of a volcano, and actively takes damage from the heat because Adam hasn’t specifically told her to turn on her protective armor. And when you finally do get authorization, the feeling of accomplishment you’d normally experience in previous Metroid games is completely gone because you didn’t find or earn it.

The story is a bit cheesy and not quite as mature as one would hope, but the cinematic sequences look spectacular.  They do a great job of turning a story barren game series into a big budget action movie.  Nintendo isn’t known for making these sorts of movie-like games, and their first major attempt is very promising.

Intense Action

The camera automatically tracks the action from the best angle, giving a broad overview of the scene, where the player is often running and gunning in a side-scrolling perspective.  It almost never frustrates the player’s ability to navigate and fight effectively, and in practice feels quite a bit like the older 2D Metroid titles.  This was a wise choice, as probably the biggest complaint from the previous 3D Metroid titles was that you never really saw much of the main character.

Battles are quite fun and are tough enough that you will die unless you master the basics.   As usual, Samus can fire off weak shots in quick succession or charge up her beam for a more powerful blast.  Blasting aliens is simple since Samus automatically targets the closest enemy she’s facing.  It’s not perfect, but gives the sort of precision one expects from a 2D Metroid game.  A scatter shot is soon acquired which can take out multiple pests if they are clustered together.  Samus has a new quick dodge that requires good timing to nimbly avoid enemy attacks.  Likewise jumping is precise, and the wall-jumping move has been made easier than in Super Metroid.

Other M also allows you to switch to a first-person perspective by aiming the Wii remote directly at your television.  It sounds like a gimmick, but it actually works pretty well.  You’re planted firmly in place, but are free to look around and manually target missiles at enemy weak spots.  Missiles can only be fired from this perspective, so you’ll be switching in and out against bosses, leaving you momentarily susceptible to their attacks in the process.

Also new to the series are more powerful and spectacular finishing moves that can deliver a punishing blow or an insta-kill.  When fully charged, Samus can jump on top of an enemy and shoot it directly in the head, or wrestle them to the ground and blow them away.  There are also some context-specific moves that add a cinematic flair to certain boss battles.  These Tecmo-inspired moves look awesome and are simple (but satisfying) to pull off.

Questionable Choices

Rounding out the new stuff is the concentration ability, which replenishes missiles or energy when in critical condition.  This ability feels out of place but is required because unlike other Metroid games, enemies and bosses do not drop refills.  Concentrating will restore about a tank’s worth of energy, but the catch is that you are completely vulnerable for a few seconds, so your timing must be spot on to avoid getting killed in the process.  Your energy will only be completely restored at save stations causing you to play more conservatively on long expeditions.

Unlike in the Metroid Prime trilogy where players could scan their surroundings for points of interest at will, this game sometimes abruptly interrupts whatever you are doing and forces you to look around until you find the one thing they wanted you to see.  This is made more annoying since, unlike in Metroid Prime, there is no indication of what you are supposed to be looking for.  The resulting “pixel hunt” can be quite annoying since you need to click on small, sometimes indistinguishable background elements.

Conclusion

The game’s graphics and animated sequences are easily the best of the more mature titles on the Wii, and are almost flawless (there is some minor slow-down in one or two areas).  The music is tense and atmospheric like it ought to be.  The combat is tight and satisfying with plenty of challenging encounters and cool bosses.  It’s a shame that some of the other elements don’t live up to the game’s presentation.

The Morph Ball ability, so beautifully integrated in the Metroid Prime trilogy is squandered here (don’t expect any clever morph ball puzzles in Other M).  The story may not win any awards for its writing, but thankfully the worst parts are over pretty quickly and the rest turns out to be a decent sci-fi mystery which attempts to humanize and add some vulnerability to the Samus Aran character (which is precisely what has the fanboys up in arms).

The Wii isn’t exactly drowning in top-quality action games, let alone those with the insane production values of Other M, so it’s a pretty easy recommendation.  It seems to me that its most critical reviewers didn’t actually play much beyond the first hour.

Quick Run Down

PROs:

  • Lavish production values result in great visuals and music
  • Flashy camera direction add much-needed flair to the Metroid series
  • Combat is more involved than previous Metroid games
  • Decent challenge (multiple modes) and length (~10 hours)
  • Glorious boss encounters

CONs:

  • Samus Aran’s characterization doesn’t gel with fan expectations
  • Adam’s arbitrary restrictions on equipment
  • Morph ball ability is mostly wasted
  • “Concentration” ability feels out of place in the Metroid universe
  • No multiple endings
  • Stupid title doesn’t help

+/- Plot driven narrative replaces non-linear progression

One Sentence Review: Gamers will love the gorgeous visuals and a return to a more traditional Metroid perspective, but  will be disappointed by annoying equipment restrictions.
One Word Review: Solid.

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