Everybody has an opinion, and whether right or wrong there will always be those who goes against the popular sentiment. In this regard I’m in the minority when it comes to the acclaimed Metroid Prime trilogy, as Nintendo’s transformation of the series’ classic action/exploration methodology into a first-person formula didn’t “click” with me. I suppose that waiting over a decade for a more traditional successor to the SNES Super Metroid this was unavoidable, which is why I dove head first into the latest game with so many expectations – which I’m sure many fans will be doing, too. Metroid: Other M not only explores the psyche of a lone space bounty hunter, but is also an admirable collaboration between Nintendo and Tecmo’s Team Ninja (Dead or Alive, Ninja Gaiden). Indeed, a lot of what you love is here, though it may take a little patience to see your way through.
The story takes place immediately after the events of Super Metroid, picking up after Samus Aran’s post-Planet Zebes mission of recovering a stolen baby Metroid and finally subduing the infamous Mother Brain. After leaving the safety of a Galactic Federation ship, she intercepts a distress call code-named a “Baby’s Cry”, and immediately decides that she’d better investigate what’s wrong. After arriving onboard the massive ‘Bottle Ship’, she’s reunited with her ex-squad-mates of the Galactic Federation 07th Platoon, who explain they’ve also been summoned to help figure out who – or what – could have triggered the ship’s distress call. Samus decides to partner with her old friends on a joint mission on the scientific ship, as the group soon discovers they’ve gotten themselves into more than they bargained for.
The biggest – and most significant – change to the Metroid mythos is how the narrative plays out, which is now told through full voice-acting and a significant amount of cinematics; a first for a marquee Nintendo game. Our heroine is not only given a voice, but also a full back-story that details her misguided ambitions, naiveté of youth, and loyalties that span her prior relationships in the Galactic Federation to dealing with the insecurities of her position. Along the way we’re introduced to new characters like Adam Malkovich, her ex-commanding officer and father-like figure, and former squad-mate Anthony Higgs, as well as others who will soon become part of this retexturing of one of gaming’s most treasured franchises.
The game demands a lot from a single Wii Remote, eschewing the Nunchuk entirely for a control scheme that’s almost NES-like in its simplicity. But there’s nothing simple about the actual gameplay, which mixes several styles together into one action-packed hodgepodge that often blend seamlessly together. The bulk of the game is played from a side-scrolling 2D perspective, with full jumping, shooting (with homing-attacks), and the famous ball morphing all present from the start. Samus’ legendary killing skills are put to good use here, as she also put her new melee combat skills to good use, which allow her to quick-dodge attacks and return the favor with devastating finishing attacks (triggered in close-combat) like the Lethal Strike and Overblast. Needless to say, we’ve never seen a Nintendo character this vicious before, and I have to admit that it’s kind of thrilling.
One of the series’ biggest constants, having Samus lose and recollect her arsenal of weapons, continues here, although in a modified fashion. Adam Malkovich explains that, because of the close quarters of the spaceship they’re investigating, using full-powered weapons like missiles and power-bombs may injure other squad-mates, and therefore must be authorized before use. In context this makes sense, although why Samus would need ‘permission’ to use her body armor and grapple beam never really does.
Recharging Samus’ health and missile supply no longer require collecting power-ups or health containers. Instead, both are now replenished by holding the A-button and tilting the Remote upwards, which allows her to ‘concentrate’ and use the power of her suit to fill up both. While missiles can be replenished at any time, regenerating health will require Samus to be in the ‘danger zone’ first, which means you’d better find a safe spot before concentrating yourself back to full health. Save stations still have the same effect, and thanks to their generous placements and quantity–death in the game is more an inconvenience than a complete showstopper.
Taking a page directly from the Prime series is her alternative, first-person viewpoint, which is activated by simply pointing the Remote directly at the screen. This shift in perspective provides pinpoint aiming for both standard attacks and to shoot missiles, and isn’t entirely unlike the system employed in Super Paper Mario. Only here it’s used for action, and you’ll have your hands full pulling double-duty trying to keep up with the endless stream of enemies that need blasting and doors that need blasted open. The caveat is that you can’t move, apart from panning the screen, and there’s definitely an awkward learning curve when it comes to physically and mentally switching between the different perspectives. Thankfully, subtle details like minutely slowing down time help make the transition relatively painless and, with practice, almost intuitive.
You’ll also use this perspective to pan and scan certain areas. Unlike Prime, however, these moments aren’t connected to combat sequences and limited to gliding your cursor over just the right object to ‘trigger’ the next sequence. Unfortunately, these moments, while brief, are among the most awkward and unsatisfying in the entire game, as most times you’re never told what objects you’ll be hunting for, and you’ll probably spend several uncomfortable moments frantically scanning the entire screen looking for just the right ‘spot’ to continue the game.
Playing is one thing, but when it comes to character development it seems that Team Ninja is its own worst enemy when it comes to bringing us a proper story though it isn’t entirely fraught with woes. The writing comes off stilted and robotic, as though something was either lost in translation or was never there in the first place; it’s not unlike any number of ‘lesser’ Japanese-styled games, as the emphasis on inner turmoil and angst seems to take precedent over intellectual character development and nuanced storytelling. Perhaps the gaming world has moved past clichéd plots involving ‘evolved’ AI that attain consciousness and the overuse of melodrama when subtly would’ve been preferred, as there’s often enough of these conceits to make even Hideo Kojima blush.
You’ll eventually accept how the story plays out and may even appreciate the attempt to give Samus a soul, as the formerly silent protagonist is now free to express her thoughts through inner monologues that reveal herself as someone more than just a cold bounty hunter; we’re left with a woman who first comes across uncharacteristically cold, but is later revealed to be more troubled and internally emotional than many would have expected.
As mentioned above, this is the first Nintendo game to feature full voice-acting and cinematic animation from D-Rockets to help bring its narrative to life, and these elements will probably be the most divisive things about an otherwise stellar package. Few people will find fault with the game’s visuals, as they’re among the best the Wii has ever pumped out. Characters sport silky-smooth animations and expressive actions, all rendered with little aliasing and tight construction; I’ve never seen a Wii game with cleaner presentation and more attention to detail, and definitely a more accomplished effort than what Nintendo’s console is assumed to be capable of.
The orchestrated soundtrack is both thrilling and appropriate, but I’m somewhat disappointed in how restrained it was. The Prime series were renowned for their explosive, techno-charged tracks from longtime veteran Kenji Yamamoto, and while Kuniaki Haishima makes for a fine replacement here, I just can’t help wondering how Yamamoto would have approached this material. The voice-acting won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, especially Samus’ constant narration, although I can imagine apologists will explain her monotone delivery by suggesting it stems from spending a lifetime locked inside a cold, metallic power-suit, isolated from the bulk of humanity. I’ll leave whether its a good performance up to those playing.
As someone who has always preferred the original Metroid games to their lauded Prime counterparts, I appreciate much of what Metroid: Other M is trying to accomplish. For a series that’s spent a quarter century without a ‘proper’ narrative to make its main heroine Samus Aran sympathetic, I’m not sure if Team Ninja’s approach was the right one, as melodramatic cinemas the endless monologues only serve to demystify one of gaming’s most intriguing figures. But it would be a mistake to judge the game on those merits alone, as the presentation and gameplay are just too solid to ignore, because when things start to connect they really connect, and you’ve not only got yourself one of the best action adventures on the year, but a worthy addition to the Metroid series.