Metroid: Other M
It’s not easy being Samus Aran. She’s the most badass bounty hunter in the galaxy…but that’s all anyone cares about. Everyone knows about her insanely powerful weapons, legendary battles, and the mass destruction she’ll inevitably trigger. But they all forget something far more important: there’s a person hiding beneath those layers of impenetrable armor and advanced technology. Not just the cold and calculating killer, but an introspective, flawed, and vulnerable individual. Such things don’t make her weak; they make her human. No one considers what life must be like for her. Losing her parents as a child, being raised as a warrior by aliens, getting drafted into an intergalactic military before going solo…it’s a miracle she’s survived this long. Despite all of her bravery and heroism, Samus is still treated as a pariah. It never occurs to anyone that maybe, just maybe, she might want – need – something more.
The theme of companionship versus isolation is what Other M is all about. After responding to a distress call from the nearby Bottle Ship space station, Samus crosses paths with a squad of Galactic Federation soldiers and agrees to assist them. The situation is further complicated by Adam Malkovich, the team leader and Samus’s former commanding officer/father figure/possible love interest. It’s through their interactions and flashbacks that you get more insight into not only Samus, but the Metroid series as a whole. There’s nothing wrong with this idea; it’s high time that Samus got some characterization. The problem is that, despite giving her new depth, the story is bland and generic. Adam’s role and eventual fate are littered with cliches, and the rest of the Galactic Federation team is so utterly one-dimensional that it’s difficult to tell the characters apart. You shouldn’t have much trouble predicting plot twists hours before they happen. The few secondary storylines – especially the game-long buildup to a certain boss fight – aren’t given nearly enough development and execution they deserve. Since most of the important stuff doesn’t happen until the last third of the game, it’s easy not to care (or forget entirely) about the disappointing story…
At least it would be, if Adam didn’t screw it up. One of the stipulations of Samus’s mission is that she take his orders. That means investigating whatever areas he chooses, and using her weapons and powers only after he’s authorized them. This undermines everything that Samus – and the Metroid games themselves – are all about: freely exploring a massive world and figuring out the different routes, limited only by what features you had acquired. It allowed for the experimentation and discovery that defined the series. But Other M ditches these ideas in favor of something far less interesting; you’re told exactly where to go, and you can’t get to certain areas until Adam gives you permission to use the powers necessary to access them. It’s understandable why the game designers chose to do it this way. They needed a way to gradually strengthen Samus (thus reflecting the formula of the older titles) without having her lose her powers. But it won’t take long for you to realize just how ridiculous an idea this is; witness Samus getting slowly roasted to death in a Norfair-esque lava area before Adam lets her activate the heat-resistant Varia Suit. Or having her waste time at a dead end and forcing her to backtrack to trigger the necessary cutscene. Or making her fight an unbeatable foe, only to remind her to use a new weapon. Needless to say, progressing is far more tedious than it should have been.
If anything, they should have let Samus keep a few of her powers, then acquire more as she explores. The game takes place in a research facility; it’d make more sense for her to find new weapons and suits instead of waiting for permission to use pre-existing ones. All of this nonsense would have been forgivable had the stages been better designed. One of the most fundamental aspects of the Metroid games are its complex and interconnected layouts. Secret passageways, shortcuts, and hidden areas are what made the exploration so fun; you were rewarded not just by finding some extra missile upgrade, but discovery of how large and intertwined the games truly were. Other M tries to emulate this, but fails miserably. Oh sure, there are some side tunnels and shortcuts every now and then, but they require little effort or exploration to uncover. The majority of the levels are long, linear, and devoid of the detail fans have come to expect. There are a some clever ideas, like wall-jumping between moving cylinders or having to deal with fluctuating gravity, but such moments are few and far between. The rest of the stages involve running through lengthy corridors, activating switches, or jumping around easy-to-reach platforms. Other M got the basics of the series right, but watered them down into a feeble imitation.
The game places far more emphasis on combat. The stages are infested with giant bugs, killer plants, and other gargantuan monstrosities. Samus slaughters everything with weapons from her Super Metroid days. She starts off with a simple beam cannon, missiles, and Morph Ball, but she’ll eventually be able to freeze enemies, shoot through obstacles, and launch more powerful and faster projectiles. The Speed Booster, Shinespark, Screw Attack, and wall-kicking abilities also make their triumphant returns, and they’re far easier to use than before. The same goes with the Grapple Beam, but it’s nowhere near as important as before. While it was featured prominently as a combat tactic in Corruption, it’s been reduced to a platforming tool that you’ll rarely use. Instead, you’ll spend most of the fights abusing the new Sense Move ability. If you press the directional pad just before an oncoming attack, Samus will dodge it with some needlessly fancy acrobatics and counterattack. If an enemy is temporarily stunned, she can even get closer and trigger a finishing move; there’s nothing quite as satisfying as shoving Samus’s arm cannon down the throat of some diehard mini-boss and blasting its skull to pieces. While it makes for great entertainment, it also makes the battles too easy. Aside from a handful of awesome boss battles, you’re going to spend most of the fights mindlessly charging up shots or mashing the attack button.
Even if you run into trouble, there won’t be much risk involved. If Samus’s health or missile ammo get too low, you can recharge them by holding up the controller and pressing a button for a few seconds. While it eliminates the need for you to hunt down pickups to regain energy the old fashioned way, it makes the battles less challenging. That doesn’t make you unstoppable, though. The game uses an auto-aim feature that automatically latches on to the nearest enemy…or it was supposed to do that. The problem comes when you’re facing multiple foes at once; the game can’t keep focus when you’re trying to slaughter small hordes of kamikaze bats and feral Geemers at the same time. You’ll unintentionally turn away from an easy kill, leaving yourself wide open for attack. Rather than employ any strategy, you’ll probably end up spamming your weapons until everything has been annihilated. The inconsistencies aren’t limited to just combat, either. You’ll often come across areas where you’ll have to grab onto ledges and pull yourself up. The game doesn’t always register your proximity to these platforms, which occasionally has you botching a jump and falling into some difficult-to-escape deathtrap. Even when you’ve gained access to stuff like the Screw Attack and the Shinespark, you’ll still find yourself missing what should have been some easy platforming.
The motion controls are the worst part, though. While the game is presented as a 2D side-scroller a la Super Metroid, you can point the Wii Remote at the screen to go into a first-person perspective. This Search View mode plays an important role in exploring rooms, uncovering otherwise invisible features, and providing an alternate way to kill enemies. It’s a blatant knockoff of the Scan Visor from the Prime games (and a good way to pander to the fans), but it’s nowhere near as easy to use. The range of vision is much more limited, and it takes longer to lock onto targets. Not to mention the fact that you’re left immobile the entire time. That can be a huge problem when you’re trying to defeat enemies that can only be defeated via Search View. Imagine being in the middle of a battle and frantically having to switch between stances; the lag between the shifting perspectives not only wastes time, but leaves you unable to move or attack. Even when you’ve locked onto to something, the game’s hit detection isn’t always accurate. You could waste countless minutes firing at a switch that won’t respond, or an enemy that is somehow magically impervious to your weapons despite being only slightly too far away. While the first-person perspective is a great idea, it is poorly implemented.
This is best demonstrated during the scripted cutscenes. Every so often, Samus will stop moving and enter Search View by herself. The game isn’t glitching; it’s telling you to examine the immediate area for something important. An object, person, whatever it takes to trigger the next scene. This destroys what little was left of the exploration aspects the game has to offer. Previous titles gave you the freedom to observe your environment and use your own intelligence and deductive reasoning to figure things out. Now, you’re literally forced to look at something specific just to progress. These moments are a major hassle, mainly because the poor lighting and the limited sight range make spotting anything nearly impossible. One scene has you looking for some kind of computer terminal, all while you’re standing in almost pitch-black darkness as some unseen monster roasts your immobile ass with its fiery breath. It’s not fun, nor does it add anything to the game. Given how inconsistent the lock-on reticule can be, you’re going to waste more time trying to finish these tedious screens than you will doing anything else.
The progression is further hindered by Samus’s penchant for cutting off access to her weapon controls. She’ll lower her guard, switch the camera to an over-the-shoulder perspective, and simply let you walk her through the given room. Like the mandatory scanning screens, these moments are used to set up oncoming cutscenes. It’s understandable why they happen; it gives the game a more cinematic feel. Samus carefully, cautiously sneaks through an unusual area until she triggers whatever’s supposed to happen next. The problem is that it also slows her down to a snail’s pace. All you can do is make her plod around like some kind of mindless robot, hoping that the next room will bring things back to normal. When you do get to see the cutscenes, you’ll likely be impressed; the character models and animations are some of the best visuals the Wii has seen since…well, since Corruption. Even if the writing and voice acting are terrible (Samus calling the last Metroid “The Baby” is particularly cringe-worthy), you can take in the gorgeous visions of Samus’s flashbacks and enjoy the superb orchestrated music. The rest of the game isn’t as shiny or crisp, but it makes up for it with a surprisingly creepy atmosphere. Imagine wandering down lengthy hallways, the only thing guiding you is the blinking of the emergency lights and the dull glow of an abandoned computer monitor in the distance. It doesn’t hold a candle to the stuff of the older games, but the effort is appreciated.
Look, folks. Other M isn’t a bad game. It’s just nowhere near as it should have been. It takes a much-needed deeper look into Samus, and it provides more insight into her character and the Metroid canon as a whole. But despite its benefits, the plot is bland, predictable, and utterly cliche. By limiting Samus in such a nonsensical way, the game goes against everything the series is about. The exploration aspects are severely limited, and the linear designs are watered down versions of the stuff you’d find in the previous games. Instead, the game places heavy emphasis on combat; with so many abilities and moves at your disposal, you’ll discover why Samus is one of the most badass characters in gaming. That’s what Other M was hoping to achieve: making a Metroid game more action-oriented. If it weren’t for the little inconsistencies and awkward camera controls, it would have succeeded. The whole first-person perspective thing was an interesting concept, but poorly implemented. That could be said for the game as a whole; Other M has some awesome ideas, but its numerous flaws drag it down from potential greatness. Regardless of how you consider this game, we can all agree on one thing: It’s not easy being Samus Aran.