Metroid: Other M Review

By Xav de Matos, Sep 03, 2010 1:20pm PDT Few would argue that, between its other major franchises like Mario and Zelda, Nintendo is extremely comfortable changing the Metroid formula around. In 2002, Retro Studios took the classic series into first-person territory, much to the initial dismay of the franchise's loyalists. To this day, Metroid: Prime stands as one of the best titles in the franchise.

When Nintendo revealed Ninja Gaiden developer Team Ninja would take over and, once again, change Samus Aran's world, I was a little worried. As a huge fan of the franchise, I decided to purposfully avoid the game at every major show, promising to only play the finished product.

Although there are moments where it feels disjointed, where the story doesn't work, and that too many concepts were pulled from other games in the series, I walked away from Metroid: Other M satisfied and wanting more.

In Metroid: Other M, the heroic bounty hunter Samus Aran boards a research vessel called the "Bottle Ship," after picking up on a distress call. Once aboard, Samus discovers a rescue team from the Galactic Federation has also answered the plea. Soon, Samus discovers that the team is comprised of her former allies in the Federation, friends she left behind when she became an independent bounty hunter years before. Although she's happy to see her former allies, she is conflicted when she comes face-to-face with her former commander, Adam Malkovich.

It's immediately apparent that Malkovich and Samus have a troubled history, some of which was explored in the GBA title Metroid Fusion. While it's interesting to learn more about the powerful heroine, the story leads down some obvious and heavy handed avenues, coupled with terrible voice acting that only manages to save itself at the eleventh hour.

In joining the squad to help discover the source of the distress signal, Samus agrees to follow her former commander's every request. This leads the game to a point-to-point structure similar to Metroid Fusion, rather than a more free-flowing exploration experience. This also helps replace one of Metroid's classic core elements: regaining abilities.

Every other game in the Metroid series begins with a super-powered Samus Aran losing her abilities, forced to hunt each piece down before facing off against the final foe. In Other M, Samus has all of her abilities at all times but is not "authorized" to use them until the Galactic Federation commander gives her the "go ahead."

The example given in the story as to why this is the case makes sense: Malkovich tells Samus the use of her power bomb ability could danger the other soldiers, and the integrity of the ship. It's acceptable in this case; however, Samus is not authorized to use some of her more tame abilities like Space Jumping and her Varia suit, which protects her from high-temperature areas. Is double-jumping really going to put the mission at risk? The concept falls apart quickly.

As a fan of the series, I've always loved starting from scratch and finding new abilities. It gives players another reason to explore. It also allows fans to do something long adored in the series: sequence breaking. Because the structure is so rigid in Other M, it feels like Team Ninja closed the door on the popular exploration metagame. There are missile expansions, energy tanks and new items to collect but it's lost a lot of its classic charm as abilities are simply handed to you as a player when you arrive at certain areas. (In the end I completed the game in about 9 hours, collecting 60% of all items.)

While most of the action will be done in third-person, the game features a first-person mode as well. When activated--by pointing the Wii Remote at the screen--a stationary Samus Aran can fire missiles and scan certain areas. In the beginning, I loathed this feature, especially in instances where the game forces you into the perspective. There are moments where the game pushes you into first-person and will only progress once Samus has scanned a particular area of the screen. It slows the pacing down to a crawl and often made me feel like I was forced to complete a picture hunt from an old issue of Highlights magazine.

Sadly, I found Metroid: Other M to be painfully easy. Presumably to compensate for the game's 3D plane, Team Ninja added a dodge ability, which allows Samus to dive out of the way--in dramatic fashion--from any enemy attacks. While the game tells you precise timing is needed for the feature to work properly, I found that mashing the directional-pad as I anticipated an enemy strikes worked the majority of the time.

I suspect the most players will enter Metroid: Other M for the action and, although I found it easy, it is extremely enjoyable. Main and mini-boss battles in Other M continue the franchise's brilliant history with almost all being memorable. (Note: There are a lot of bosses.) And while hidden items are relegated to expansions, it's still extremely fun to discovering the path to unlocking them and backtracking later once you realize you have an ability that will allow you to reach a new, hidden treasure.

However, there is a moment that nearly made me stop playing the game all together--near the end of the game--that I feel warrants a mention.

The Metroid franchise has prided itself on featuring a powerful character who stood clear of typical video game representations of women. Thankfully, Team Ninja didn't put their expected female character model (and physics) flare on Samus, but they've butchered her personality. While the Galactic Federation soldiers in the game are all composed and confident throughout the experience, Samus is constantly questioning herself and recalling her time as a young brat who couldn't cut it as part of a team.

The last thing I would ever expect out of the powerful bounty hunter Samus Aran is an emotional outburst, yet, in Other M you see them on more than one occasion. In what is the first console game with a real narrative surrounding the heroine, I can't fathom the reasoning behind completely neutering her powerful persona. There are moments where it works, but in the presence of gruff men who can contain themselves to do what needs to be done, you're constantly reminded that Samus is not their equal on an emotional level. It's sad, considering the game still makes a note to prove she is, physically, the strongest of the group.

Overall, the majority of my complaints are dispersed around the surrounding elements to an action game. I'm not attempting to be an apologist for the game because I'm a fan, as I think I've outlined its flaws quite clearly; however, as an action title Metroid: Other M does a good job overall.

It may not be able to contend with Super Metroid, Metroid: Prime, or Metroid Fusion as the series' best offerings, but Metroid: Other M will satisfy your urge for action and hunger for exploration in the end.


This review is based off a retail copy of Metroid: Other M, provided by Nintendo.

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