The Metroid franchise has been around since the late eighties, and with it-it has barely ever disappointed. The director of the franchise, one Sakamoto, teamed up his studio with Team Ninja, best known for their Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive line of games. The pairing would make gamers across the globe salivate with anticipation of hoped greatness. This time around, however, story would be more prevalent than ever before. The end result is Metroid: Other M for the Nintendo Wii. Will more story ruin a series, or will a sculpted tale whet the appetite of long-time fans?
Metroid: Other M takes place between the events of Super Metroid and Metroid Fusion. Flashback sequences regarding Super Metroid, particularly the ending of the game, weigh heavily on Samus Aran’s mind. When she gets a distress call while patrolling the universe, the call sends her to a desolate part of space and a mysterious vessel known as the Bottleship. When she arrives Samus finds the place eerily quiet. Suddenly, Samus realizes she isn’t alone in her investigation as she comes across some Galactic Federation soldiers also with the task of scoping out the ship. An important relationship is made known between Samus and her former commander Adam Malkovich, no relation to film star John Malkovich. The story of Metroid: Other M delves into Samus’ past from her being an upstart training cadet to her more professional career as a bounty hunter. In this game we get a more emotional Ms. Aran which may put off gamers who had Samus as a strong, silent figure who mercilessly killed hundreds of Space Pirates in her past games. Some might actually say that Samus’ character was ruined which is not only laughable, but untrue. There was no character of Samus to begin with. Us players imagined what Aran would be like. Her thoughts, her actions, and yes, her personality. Who are we to decide this isn’t the Samus that Sakamoto envisioned for the duration of the franchise? Thus, you can’t ruin a character that never spoke or showed emotion to begin with. To those complaining, grab a Maxi pad, and shut the hell up while you have your periods.
Metroid: Other M (which I still have no idea what Other M refers to even after 100% completion of the game) is one of more linear Metroids in the series. There’s set paths to follow and map markers to guide you to your intended location. That isn’t to say that Other M is lacking side rooms and secrets caverns, places for bombs to break, and hidden alcoves where Samus can earn more missiles, more health, and less time for it to take to charge her power beam. The camera does a terrific job of always focusing on the action or where Samus needs to go. There’s seldom a time where you’ll be frustrated that you can’t see where you want to see.
Even if you can’t see what you’d like in normal third-person view, you can point the Wii remote facing the screen and be transported into first-person mode. This mode is used to lock-on to enemies and unleash the power of missiles onto them, search areas for secret clues and hidden areas, and occasionally stop the action to scan a piece of the environment in order to proceed with the game. Switching between third and first-person is effortless and feels quite intuitive. It’s a great feeling transferring between forms to take out invisible chameleon-like enemies who can only be taken out in scan mode.
In every version of Metroid, Samus Aran somehow always loses her abilities at the start of the game with her being forced into collecting each one spread out among a humongous map. That isn’t how it works this time in Other M. Instead, Adam Malkovich, her superior, gives Samus instructions as to when she can use a weapon or ability right in the nick of time. Foe insusceptible to power beam shots? You now have access to missiles. No human life around the Bottleship? Power bombs are go. While this set-up might annoy players, especially when you’re charged with entering a volcano-type area which is so hot that it saps your energy one life point at a time, and Adam doesn’t give you clearance to use a heat-resistant suit (masochist perhaps?). Some weapons you do pick up in the traditional manner like the powerful diffusion beam or spreader missiles. There’s a bounty of power weapons and abilities that Malkovich authorizes to use such as the space boots allowing for double-jumping, the screw attack where Samus spins constantly to attack foes and to get across massive chasms, and the wave beam which can shoot through glass walls with ease.
Samus Aran controls well pending your thumb isn’t too big for the d-pad. The game is mostly played with the Wii remote in the NES style position. You just point at the screen to enter first-person view, and move the pointer away to switch back to third. Samus controls like a dream with her ability to evade enemy attacks with the double-tap of the d-pad in any direction you wish to evade. Sure, you can just mash on the d-pad to avoid attacks, but there’s no honor in that, now is there? Samus can evade a pursuer, run circles around her attacker, and defeat them with single shots or a charge beam blow. When an enemy shows signs of dizziness, Samus can run up to them press a button and blast them to pieces with a killer and cool finishing move. From performing faceplants to grabbing a baddie by the tail and chucking them across the room, Samus can get down and dirty with her attacks in this game.
Also something new to Metroid: Other M is that enemies don’t drop health or missiles. Instead, Samus must recharge herself either with a save station or impromptu field recharge. You point the Wii remote up to the sky and hold the A button to slowly regain health and missiles. This can only be done while Ms. Aran is on the brink of extinction, so it pays to smartly use this in a place where you won’t be vulnerable to enemy assaults.
Metroid: Other M isn’t a particularly long game. For 100% completion (which is made easier by all secret items being displayed on your map after beating the final boss of the game), it took me about thirteen hours to complete. Then there’s hard mode and the ability to play through the game with the ability to finally skip cut-scenes. You couldn’t do that your first playthrough which is a fault in my playbook. After you beat the game, you’re treated to a cool epilogue where you face a familiar foe in the ship’s pilot chamber followed by a Super Metroid-inspired countdown to destruction.
Other M is a beautiful game– there’s no questioning that. The story cut-scenes while questionable in taste do look absolutely stunning. The in-game action is also appropriately orgasm-inducing with plenty of cool special effects like the light from Samus Aran’s charge beam and particle effects in certain areas of the game. The soundtrack is considerably more ambient this time around with little in the way of actual music in some parts of Other M. Other areas are full of memorable music. While not Kenji Yamamoto’s work, the music and sound effects are top-notch.
Overall, Metroid: Other M is an interesting experiment. While some will bitch and moan that the character of Samus Aran is ruined. For others, more sane people will appreciate this new Samus for what she is– an actual human being and not some android with no personality. However, there are some snags in the game including forced parts in first-person where you’re searching for a specific object or taking on a roomful of bad guys in the same view. The circling of enemies is the best way to defeat them which may pose little challenge to veteran gamers. That said, this collaboration between Nintendo and Team Ninja is very much a welcomed one, and it changed the series just enough to feel familiar yet feel different at the same time. Kudos, Sakamoto-san. May future Metroid titles be as different as the past.