An introduction to Metroid: Other M came as something of a schizophrenic conundrum. On the one hand, the series was back in the hands of Yoshio Sakamoto (directing rather than supervising once more), on the other it was being developed outside of Nintendo’s super secret bunker of regurgitating awesomeness by Team Ninja. The former suggested a return to older series mechanics and a continuation of the classic narrative that Prime ignored. The latter conjured up images of fast-paced hack and slash action and boob physics. There was reason to be afraid.
But different doesn’t necessarily mean bad. What we have in Metroid: Other M is a game that quite deliberately eschews Nintendo’s traditional mantra of gameplay over storytelling in favour of a far more human Samus Aran. Here we find a game that strays wildly from the classic formula, yet channels the old NES spirit of the retro games along with modern techniques making for something of a bridge between the old and the new. It’s ambitious to be sure, and it doesn’t always work, but in doing so, the developers have created a game that certainly serves as one of the most striking in the entire series, and breathes new life into the character of Ms. Aran.
It doesn’t look good from the start, though. We pick up the story in between the events of fan-favourite Super Metroid and Metroid Fusion, with Samus answering a distress call from the ‘Bottle Ship’, only to find the abandoned vessel inhabited by NPC marines with identical meatheaded personalities who happened to pick up the call too. There’s a whole bunch of poorly delivered dialogue (Samus talks a lot), a reunion with father-figure Adam Malkovitch and some unresolved boyfriend issues. Unresolved boyfriend issues?! These things have no place in a Metroid game. On top of that, true to form, the cameraman seems a little too interested in Samus’ shapely chest.
Thankfully, the awfulness is short lived and soon you’re cracking along through the winding plot at a merry rate. It gets a bit clunky at times, but it’s surprising just how engrossed I was at certain moments. It’s clear that a decision was taken to make this a game that looked at the woman inside the power suit, not just all of the cool things she could do and whilst this might sound pretty awful to those of you out there looking just for the guns and alien gloop splatter, it makes for an interesting and refreshing change. Sure the monologues, voiced well for the most part by Jessica Martin, can sometimes be a bit predictable, and the dispassionate tone of Samus’ voice might make you want to kick her after a while, but at times they’re really quite spellbinding.
As you’d expect too, the cut scenes are some of the most dazzling you’ll see on the Wii. Unfortunately, if you loathe pre-rendered cutscenes like the plague you won’t be terribly impressed by the two hours of material stuffed in here. But for those of you who quite like the odd bit of animated CG, once you unlock the game you can view all of the game’s cutscenes like a mini movie and they hold up really quite well, such is the strength of direction.
It’s just a shame that everything feels so triggered and sterilised. If you fell in love with the way that exploration and narrative exposition fell hand in hand with one another in Retro Studios’ trilogy you’ll find yourself sorely disappointed. Even though Team Ninja and co. have squeezed in some magnificent areas to trek through, and you’ll find your pathways and corridors liberally blocked by puzzles or peppered with curious Morphball holes and tubes, everything feels a little restricted.
That feeling isn’t helped at all by the fact that although Samus has all of her cool abilities from the start, she can’t use them unless ‘authorised’ by Malkovitch...which seems a little off. Instead of hunting around, navigating enemies and puzzles in order to boost your arsenal, now you just have to wait for the incredibly obvious moment when all of a sudden you’re finally allowed to use a capability that you already have!
Running around happens from a third-person perspective with movement done on the D-pad and the face buttons used for firing the arm cannon, curling into a ball and jumping about. The control system feels very awkward at first, holding the Wiimote sideways, double tapping quickly to evade, but it quickly becomes rather intuitive. The first-person aspect is rather more difficult to get one’s head around.
In developing solely for the Wiimote (no nunchuk here, baby!) there’s no way to move around when you’re in FPS mode. It’s achieved by flicking the Wiimote out so it’s pointing directly at the screen, which feels incredibly odd at first and rather unnatural. The first few times I did it, I found myself cursing the absence of an analogue stick and wondering why the hell anyone would want to break their game by putting in such an awkward switch. However, as you can lock on to enemies when in 3PS mode, you’ll find that it’s only really necessary, and useful, to quickly do a cowboy-esque draw when looking to finish people off with missiles. When you start nailing tougher enemies and taking down the fantastically designed bosses with some cheeky, well-timed FPS shots, having mastered the art of switching, I guarantee it’ll feel glorious.
Other M is something of a mixed bag. There are some excellent moments to it, most of which come when fighting the impressive boss characters, and it has some ambitious ideas. In upping the level of narrative interest, and in taking Samus herself as the focal point of interest, Team Ninja have attempted something brave indeed, but one can’t help but feel that it could have been done a little better, integrated slightly more fully. It’s not all clunky, though, and some moments truly do stand out, at its heart it’s a well made, solid, action-adventure.
What is good to see is that after the credits roll, you’ll be dropped back into the game with everything unlocked, a bunch of new enemies to eliminate and a 100% completion target to chase. A quick playthrough might net you a third of the items out there to collect, but there’ll be plenty more for the meticulous completionist to do after the final cutscene, and another chance to soak up what really is one of the finest looking games on the Wii.
- Fantastic action
- Stunning bosses
- Good narrative elements...
- ...even if they are a bit clunky sometimes
- Irritating 'hunt the pixel' FPS bits
- Exploration actually pretty limited
The Short Version: If you can forgive the occasional narrative clunk you'll find a well made action game that manages to bridge the gap between classic Metroid and its rebirth on the Wii. It's not a classic, and it doesn't instil that special feeling of exploratory freedom that its predecessors did, but it's a game to be proud of and a must-buy for series fans.