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Metroid: Other M Review

Metroid: Other M

It’s much easier to suffer fools with video games than is to say, TV shows. I’d rather play an hour of Halo against a bunch of racist, homophobic 14 year old boys than to watch any program on Bravo. Seriously, pick any show on Bravo; I’d rather watch the unfathomably sad footage of 5 year-olds being told that there is no such thing as Santa Claus than any program they have. I am sure I never really was bored playing any section of Other M, but when I tried to think about the game or tell the details of the game to friends, I struggled to come up with any real positive things to say about the game. Does this mean it's a failure, boring, or does this mean it is demoted to passable gaming.

The New –

Ninja Studios of Dead and Alive and Ninja Gaiden have joined with Nintendo and D-Rockets on the creative development. Just as Retro Studios took over the reins on Prime, Ninja has stepped in to assume some of the design. It seems that Nintendo is open to new collaborators on their titles not named Mario or Zelda. Good or bad? Go discuss amongst yourselves…

­The Old –

This feels like a Metroid game, meaning:

·    There is more of an emphasis on exploring than on fighting.
·    There are multi-branching maps, item collection, and iceberg level designs that continually reveal themselves over time.
·    Samus sticks with the weapons from Super Metroid, only the narrative of the game dis-allows the use of many of them to re-establish a difficulty curve.
·    This means that the morph ball returns, in all it’s physically impossible glory.*
·    Also Returning are the Space Jump (and wall jump), the Spin/Screw Attack, Grapple Beam and Gravity Suit.

*Seriously, I’ve never gotten over it. Is Samus’s spine made of rubber? Do her legs separate at the knee. Try to make yourself into a ball, it just isn't happening without physical alterations.  It’s up there with “Sound FX carrying in outer space” and “Superman turning the world backwards to reverse time,” for things in Sci-Fi/comics so egregiously against the laws of physics I get headaches thinking about them.  

The Plot

Every Metroid installment has been bare bones on the story. There is a plot, or more exactly, remnants of a series of events that Samus is sent in to explore. This time the game sends the player into explore the remnants… of Samus’s MIND!!! (Yes, I just used an ellipsis, all caps, italics, and exclamations; I believe just I blew up the sarcasm detector with one sentence)  The person behind the mask is at long last revealed to the player (without having to beat the game in under three hours, that is), and Other M adds a full dimension of character and exposition, detailing the journey of a brash solider girl who became world class bounty hunter Samus Aran. *

*The best part of this is undoubtedly the cutscene where she defiantly gives the thumbs down sign. Her hair is all made up, the voice acting is at its shakiest, and the mis-en-scene frames her like a character in Grey’s Anatomy.  The internet meme potential is off the charts.

This is the biggest gamble that the developers have taken, and I’m unsure if it pays off.  It’s a laudable decision because it does make the experience of the game more involving. Regardless of the graphical limitations of the Wii, I’m a fan of the visual style of the game, so you won’t find any complaints here about the low res. I also don’t mind the FMV scenes inter-spliced between the action events, even if other systems are of high bitrates (I hated Heavy Rain). They are timed well, spread out enough so they don’t drag on the gameplay, and while the ethos may be shaky, the story is decently compelling.

The problem, and why I’m more likely to question the plot inclusion than laud it, is that Samus is way too base in her motivations. She’s brash because she is the only woman, she has to work harder because everyone is counting her out, etc. It feels right out of every single “female in the workplace” TV drama ever made.

What is aggravating is that there are hints of genuine depth and quality in the storytelling.  Samus has sizable emotional scars from being an orphan, giving her a very real fear of abandonment and cause to mistrust others in general. Adding these issues to the context of her previous life, the Baby Metroid’s sacrifice to save Samus in the finale Super Metroid (recounted in the opening of Other M) suddenly becomes tragic for both parties. Samus cannot believe that something-let alone someone-would care about her well being, and the games opening line “Why am I alive,” carries a heavy dose of well earned guilt and self loathing.

Predictably, the game doesn’t keep the tone of the story so dark. That’s not as much of a criticism of the developers as it is the genre; a game with full blown psycho analysis would be very difficult to play or create. There are some admirable plot turns/ development that occur in the third act of the game, yet some of the overt sexuality imposed on Samus cheapens some of the meaning behind her actions. But I’d still be fine with the plot and heavy characterization--it’s light years ahead of God of War 3, which tried about the same, and it’s a million times less convoluted and mixed up than Bayonetta—if the Other M had what Bayonetta and GoW3 had, which is good…


On this week’s Digital High, I made up a countdown of the top PSone games for the system, which was released 15 years ago on 9/9/1995. I did a Top 7 (which with two sequel inclusions, totaled 9 games) and of those games, maybe two or would be easily accessible now.* The point being is that Super Metroid-- the game that Other M takes its cues from for its gameplay and story--was arguably the best game on the SNES. It created an adventure that pushed the limits of the system and time, all with flawless execution. It was so good that it created a whole subgenre of 2-D platformers called “Metroidvania”; see Shadow Complex for a 2009 version. The upgradable weapons, suits, and branching maps are some of the best hallmarks. Whether or not this would be playable for a newbie is an entirely different question. For it's time Super Metroid was cutting edge; now some would argue its a 2D platformed with fantastic but dated mechanics.

*I believe I deemed Final Fantasy Tactics, Castlevania: SOTN relatively timeless. Or just check out the episode, via the website or iTunes.

Other M only commits to being a Metroidvania type game about ½ of the time. Some times, it plays like Metroid Prime on rails, other times it plays like a 2.5D fighting game where movement on the Z-axis is computer controlled. Even at the best moments in Other M, the game is never better than average for current gamers. The 2.5D autoaim works flawlessly within the game, but because shooting in 2.5D is frustratingly difficult as is, one wonders why they didn’t move to a more conventional and proven combat style.

Also, given that the Wii can do 3-D FP perspective and also has motion control, one wonders why they didn’t commit one way or another. The 2.5 may be perfectly flawed, but jumping between it and the 3-D FP that worked so well in the Prime games draws attention to the weaknesses further. Also on the control front, Other M instead sticks only with the Wiimote, sans nunchuk, and uses the 1 + 2 buttons to jump/shoot. It’s 2010; a game designer is only using two buttons for a non-platformer is absurd!

Allow me to recap:

Combat: A step backward from the Gamecube and Wii games in the series.  
Adventure elements: The size of the game map seems less sprawling and epic. The item collection has been downplayed some.
Boss Fights: Just not as impressive as they once were. Having a boss stand 3 screens high on the SNES was awesome. Now, it’s more vital to make the fight interesting; because of the balance, speed, and weapon juggling needed to win, the fight with Zeus in was far better than fight with the giant Colussus in God of War 2 which simply was about patterns.
Atmosphere: If there was ever a series that cried out for an open world, Metroid would be it. Instead Other M is several degrees less open than Prime was, and that game is 8 years old.

It’s one thing to fail in innovation, to be new and flawed is at least admirable. It’s far worse to feel old and broken.

Given the almost 50/50 emphasis of story vs. action in Other M, it stands to reason that if either the gameplay or storytelling was of a higher level, maybe it could compensate for the flaws in the other. Between the two, the storytelling is the better done, but only because the gameplay--which is from one of the best pedigrees in the medium-- is so subpar. Nintendo took a step forward in storytelling, but digressed everywhere else. The gameplay is very tight, and the execution is top notch, and as it progresses, I’m sure the player will be at least partially engaged. The problem is that the game rarely becomes genuinely exciting and one will be hard pressed to think of a memorable moment from the adventure. That’s a real shame, because I still remember all of the boss fights from Super Metroid and Metroid: Prime. There is no point in bringing a beloved character into the next decade if the game they are in doesn’t evolve or improve along with them.



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