GAME NAME: Metroid: Other M
DEVELOPER(S): Team Ninja / Nintendo
GENRE(S): Action Adventure
RELEASE DATE(S): August 31, 2010
The Metroid series has been around almost as long as Nintendo itself. With numerous titles under its belt, the Metroid series has truly proven to be one of Nintendo’s strongest franchises, even if they haven’t given it as much love as say Mario or Zelda. Of course, unlike Mario and Zelda, Nintendo has been fairly open about allowing other developers to try their hand at making a Metroid game. The Metroid Prime series was the first test and proved to be an extremely successful one. Retro Studios was able to craft an amazing trilogy that really resonated with fans and at the same time was different enough that new people came onboard.
Now Nintendo has handed over the reigns of the Metroid series to another developer, Team Ninja. Known for their fast paced, brutal action game series, Ninja Gaiden and their highly acclaimed fighting series, Dead or Alive, Team Ninja had quite a task on their hands. Following up on Retro’s amazing Prime series is one thing but Team Ninja and Nintendo set forth to do something that would appease fans. They wanted to bring Metroid back to its roots but at the same time give it a fresh start.
Unlike other titles in the series, Metroid: Other M focuses heavily on story. While the Prime series had some semblance of a story, it is readily apparent that Nintendo and Team Ninja were truly ready to bring the Metroid series into its own. Other M takes place between Super Metroid and Metroid Fusion. The game opens up with a cinematic displaying the ending of Super Metroid, wherein a baby Metroid saves Samus’ life and Samus then proceeds to destroy Mother Brain and planet Zebes.
There are two basic story arcs in the game; Samus Aran as a character and the plot/mission of the game. For the most part they have succeeded when it comes to the overall plot/mission of the game. The basic premise is as follows: Samus receives a distress call titled “Baby’s Cry” from a large bottle ship within deep space. She makes her way to the ship and shortly after meets up with a team of Galactic Federation troopers who have been sent there to investigate what has happened to the ship. From there Samus and the troopers embark on a dangerous mission to uncover the truth behind the distress call. It is a fairly simple plot and won’t win any awards but sticking with it through the end will yield a great reward.
The story revolving around Samus Aran as a character is by far the weaker of the two story arcs, mainly because of the way she is portrayed. When Samus first comes upon the Galactic Federation troopers she realizes that she knows some of them; namely Adam Malkovich. Back in the day Samus was a member of the Galactic Federation before she decided to become a solo bounty hunter and Adam Malkovich was her commanding officer. Throughout the game you will learn of their relationship and how they each got to their respective positions. While this is an interesting premise and one that I think would have worked really well in giving Samus a personality beyond just a ruthless bounty hunter, it ultimately fails because of the way Samus is portrayed.
Being a bounty hunter who has been going on solo missions for ten to fifteen years, you would expect Samus to be a strong willed, take nothing from anybody type of woman, however, this is not the case. Instead Team Ninja and Nintendo turned Samus into an insecure, submissive little girl who has no confidence in herself or her abilities. Samus’ portrayal isn’t just a disservice to her character but to the Metroid series as a whole. I believe that if Team Ninja and Nintendo had instead decided to make Samus initially come off as a cold, calculating bounty hunter and then slowly open up, that it would have made a worlds difference and really would have made the games story that much better. As it stands the story proves to be serviceable and Samus’ character story arc is atoned for by the end but the damage has already been done.
Being that story is such a huge part of Other M it comes as no surprise that Team Ninja would utilize their cinematic and graphical prowess to truly push the Wii to its limits. Other M is one of the first Metroid games to heavily use cutscenes and CG cinematics. Whether you are looking at the in-game cutscenes or the CG cinematics, you will most likely be impressed by what Team Ninja has been able to pull off. From the opening scene till the ending of the game the cinematic quality will really have you engaged, even if some of the cutscenes can go on for a bit too long.
While Other M boasts some of the most amazing visuals on the system to date, it should be noted that it in no way matches the amount of detail found in the Metroid Prime series, however, if you’re a fan of Team Ninja then you will feel right at home with the graphical style. You will come across your typical Metroid levels including a lava level and an ice level. Each level is beautifully designed and overflowing with colors. Character models are highly detailed, with the exception of a few flat textures here and there. Enemy designs are top notch and run the gambit from small, insignificant insects to large, foreboding monsters that will seriously put you to the test. Your eyes will also be privy to some gorgeous space vistas, which truly help to immerse you in the experience.
Other M plays host to another first for the series in the form of full voiceovers for everyone in the cast, including Samus. Unfortunately, the voice work is hit or miss in part due to the lousy dead-pan delivery of some of the voice actors and in part due to the less than stellar writing. The worst culprit is the voice actor who was tasked with voicing Samus Aran. Even though I disagree with the portrayal of Samus in the game, I would at least hope that her voice actor could infuse some emotion and life into her character but alas this is not the case. Instead we are treated to an emotionless, phoned in voice acting experience. On top of that, the tedious narration by Samus borders on insanity. Samus will continuously narrate the obvious in a given situation; it proves to be both humorous and unnecessary. Beyond the voice acting we are treated to a decent soundtrack that, while inspired by the Metroid series never truly feels like Metroid. It is an oddity considering how iconic the Metroid music and especially the theme are in the minds of gamers. Nonetheless, the music does a decent enough job of getting you immersed in the experience but it is a shame to think that Team Ninja could have done so much better.
Of course the true measure of any Metroid game is its gameplay and this is where Metroid: Other M hits some rough spots. Team Ninja and Nintendo made it clear from the start that they wanted to make Other M a lot like the original Metroid games but at the same time infuse some new elements into the series. They also made it clear that they wanted the game to be as accessible as possible. Their idea of accessibility directly translated into the use of a single Wiimote for everything in the game. While I understand what they were going for, the implementation and execution of a single Wiimote controlled Metroid just doesn’t work as well as they might have hoped.
Let me start off by describing the basics. The game is modeled in 3D and plays in a mixture of 2D sidescrolling, 3D platforming and an occasional over the shoulder 3rd person view. Controlling Samus is done by holding the Wiimote horizontally and utilizing the undersized d-pad for your movement, the 1 button for shooting/hold for charge shot, the 2 button for jumping, the A button for morph ball mode and the Plus button is used to pull up the menu, which includes your map. For the most part these controls work well and provide for a relatively entertaining experience, although there are times where analog controls would clearly make the game much more enjoyable and less frustrating. Using the d-pad makes judging jumping distance a little problematic; especially when you want to utilize the cinematic one hit kill moves on enemies. It isn’t a huge problem as many of the rooms have a phantom grid, which allows you to push forward on the d-pad even if the hallway is curved but it proved to be an annoyance throughout my playtime with the game.
The second part of the gameplay revolves around pointing the Wiimote at the screen. By rotating the Wiimote in your hand and pointing the sensor towards the screen, your perspective is switched to a first person view ala the Metroid Prime series; however, you are unable to move in first person view. First person mode is the only time that you are able to fire off your missiles or utilize your grapple beam and as such, it is a shame that switching to the first person view is both jarring and clumsily handled. The most irritating part of the switch is the fact that you are always forced to relocate the reticule and position it in the middle of the screen. As you can imagine, this caused a great deal of frustration especially because many of the enemies in the game both large and small require the use of missiles in order to take them down. This aspect of the controls really made me wish that Team Ninja and Nintendo would have simply implemented the use of a nunchuck and Wiimote together. From a control standpoint it just makes more sense and would allow the game to be faster and more fluid.
As with any Metroid game you have all of your abilities stripped from you, however, Team Ninja and Nintendo have figured out a way to make this tried and true Metroid game design mechanic even more contrived than usual. Instead of suffering a suit malfunction and being sent off into each level in search of suit upgrades, you are given all of your equipment in the beginning of the game but are unable to use it until Adam authorizes you to do so. It is ridiculous game design, even for a Metroid game and nowhere is it more evident than in the lava level section of the game. You are forced to run through the lava level taking immense amounts of damage even though you have your Varia suit on but are not authorized to use it. It is only at the three quarters mark of the level that Adam authorizes you to use it. It is understandable that they wanted to try something new but this just comes off as silly.
All of your standard moves and equipment, which any Metroid fan will be familiar with are present in Other M. You have your standard array of beams, including the ice beam, plasma beam, wave beam, diffusion beam, grapple beam and of course the ability to charge each for a stronger attack, minus the grapple beam of course. You are given three types of missiles; normal, super and seeker and of course your morph ball has its standard and power bombs. You’ll also obtain some familiar traversal mechanics and some new combat mechanics. Among the traversal mechanics are the Speed booster, Shinespark, Space jump, Screw attack, and Kick climb, most of which should be familiar to anyone who has played a Metroid game.
The new combat mechanics implemented in Other M can be directly attributed to Team Ninja’s work on Ninja Gaiden. They are Sensemove, which is an automatic dodge move, Lethal strike, which allows you to instantly takedown a weakened enemy with a charged blast and finally Overblast, which allows you to jump on certain enemies and fire off a charged blast, causing massive damage. While these new moves aren’t going to really change the way the series plays, they are a welcome addition and provide for some nice visual flare. It should be noted that due to the d-pad control setup, some of these moves, especially the Lethal strike and Overblast, proved to be somewhat hard to pull off during certain situations but for the most part they were entertaining and functional.
The last and arguably most important gameplay design for a Metroid game is the level design. Unlike other Metroid games, Other M is a fairly linear experience, especially when you consider the fact that the only collectibles in the environment are missile tank upgrades, energy tank upgrades and accel charges. On top of that, the map screen highlights where each and every upgrade is located throughout the entire game. This really takes away from the exploration aspect of the game and really hurts the overall Metroid experience. While it isn’t a deal breaker and certainly doesn’t ruin the game, it is a shame that Team Ninja didn’t really flesh out the exploration aspect of the game.
All told Metroid: Other M is a fairly enjoyable 10 hour experience that any Metroid fan should at least try. It is a classic example of a game with great ideas and flawed execution. It doesn’t change the series in any meaningful way and it isn’t anywhere near as good as the Prime series but it does bring something new and different to the table. If there is one thing I can say about Other M, it’s that it deserves your attention and not necessarily because it is a great game but because it shows that Nintendo is truly willing to take risks with some of its major franchises even if they don’t always end up as masterpieces.
A copy of the game was provided to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes.