Saturday, January 8, 2011

Game Review: Metroid: Other M

Metroid: Other M

Spero Meliora

Wii, 2010

Publisher: Nintendo

Developer: Project M / Team Ninja

Time to Complete: 7-9 hours

Ah, Metroid Other M. Here's an interesting one. Released in August 2010, this is the only third-person Metroid game on a console since Super Metroid... which, for those counting, was in 1994. That's sixteen years. Which means the gap between Super Metroid and its console follow-up is so old that it could legally have sex in a large number of states. I had high hopes for this game going in. Did it meet my hopes, or was it an unmitigated disaster the likes of which hasn't been seen since the invention of fetus catapults? The somewhere in between.

First thing's first. This game wasn't developed only by Nintendo; it was developed by Project M. This group consists of programmers from Nintendo, but mostly members of Team Ninja - of Ninja Gaiden fame. As a result, what we have is yet another Metroid game that deviates from the original Metroid series formula. Make no mistake, this game has little in common with the first three Metroid games. Given how good those games were for their respective eras, it is somewhat baffling that we have never gotten another game along those lines. Instead, Nintendo has opted to re-invent the series repeatedly with (albeit sometimes great, but often not) games like the Prime Trilogy, Hunters, Fusion, and now Other M. It's hard to believe that there's even a Metroid pinball game, but there is.

Other M is essentially a sequel to the beloved Super Metroid, which was #1 on Electronic Gaming Monthly's last Best Games of All Time list. It's #1 on a lot of lists. Were it not for Chrono Trigger existing, it might be #1 on mine. Given that this game follows closely after the events of SM, it no doubt had a rabid fanbase awaiting its arrival while twitching with the kind of excitement that is typically only found in UFO enthusiasts waiting for the mothership.

The problem is, the actual release of the game was greeted with a lopsided amount of negativity from fans. Given how negative people can get once they sit in front of a computer and start ranting about their modern entertainment choices, I was skeptical as to the veracity of the rampant claims of Other M being, and I quote, "teh suck". Now that I've gotten to it and finished it, I can objectively say that the negativity from fans was fully justified. The biggest issue with the game can be summed up in one sentence: it feels more like a hallway simulator than it feels like a Metroid game. If you love running through lots of boring metallic hallways that look alike for about eight hours, this is the game for you. A difficult to use, confusing map screen makes it even easier to get lost in the similar-looking corridors of the game.

Things start to go wrong right out of the gate. For some weird reason, the developers chose to use the Wiimote as the game's controller, held horizontally. This is a trend I've noticed with Wii games over the past couple of years: lots of action/platformers use the horizontal Wiimote as their controller, despite the general unwieldiness of it compared to other modern controllers. It almost seems like they're trying to bring back the simplicity of the NES days for a new generation - and perhaps to trigger nostalgia in the older generation. I don't know what the rationale is, but it would be great if Nintendo would start making use of the Wii Classic Controller with modern action games. That in particular could have made this game much better across the board. At least the controls for the game are tight and fast-moving overall, despite their awkwardness.

The game takes place on a 2.5D plane of sorts. Some areas are 3D, some are 2D, some are in-between; the game shifts between these formats as needed. The game auto-locks on enemies as they approach, which makes the game playable... yet also takes a good amount of the challenge out of it. Dodging in this game is accomplished by quick taps on the directional buttons. The lack of needing to aim or move around during battle (aside from tapping directionals to dodge and the fire button endlessly) makes combat simple and at times outright boring. There are stylish special moves to pull off, but for the most part they too are so simple to execute and repetitive that they lose their appeal quickly.

The wall jump makes a welcome return here. Unfortunately, it's very simplified compared to Super Metroid's wall jumping. Gone is any difficulty (or any sense of achievement at getting good at it) as you simply press one button repeatedly rather than having to control your jumps with good timing and directional know-how (as it was in Super). The simplified wall jumping also takes control away from the player, so forget about scaling a single wall by hopping up quickly. Too bad; this was one of the most fun things one could do in Super Metroid.

The game shifts into 3D mode when you point the Wiimote at the screen, allowing you to aim and fire missiles; this may be the one thing that really dictates the Wiimote being the necessary controller for the game over something better. That said, the player can't really move while in 3D aiming mode, the lock-on takes too long to engage, causing the player to take unnecessary hits, and it seems more gimmicky than anything else. This brings to light one of the most irritating aspects of the game: the pixel hunts. Occasionally, the action in the game will come to a stop and you'll be forced into first-person perspective, needing to look around and locate something onscreen to examine. Until this something is found, you can't move or progress.

This would be okay, except for the fact that the thing in question is usually a tiny, tiny part of the screen and often completely nondescript. Worse, the only way to detect the thing you need to examine is to hold the Wiimote cursor over it for a couple of seconds. In other words, if you can't find anything unusual on the screen to examine and have to resort to just randomly pointing, you can still go right over the thing you're supposed to examine and not realize that you did since it takes a couple seconds to alert you. And these examinable objects are, as I said, tiny. Sometimes it's like trying to find a needle in a haystack, or detect evidence that Kim Jong Il is actually male. This gets a bit better in the second half of the game, but by then it's likely that it already caused a good amount of frustration for the player. The only times I ever had to go and get FAQ help while playing this game were during pixel hunts when I simply didn't see anything to examine. "I have to examine a puddle of green puke that is slightly darker than the grass? Cool. Hmm, I still can't find it. Oh, it's next to the left tire of that truck nearby? Let's randomly hold the cursor around there. Whoa, there it is. Now I can get back to PLAYING THE GAME."

The graphics are both good and bad. The cutscenes in this game are amazing; they tell the story well and look high-def. I didn't know the Wii was capable of that level of graphic power. However, the gameplay graphics are generally kind of muddy and un-detailed; even 2002's Metroid Prime had better in-game visuals than this game, and there's something wrong with that. I kept thinking I was playing a PS2 game, and not even a recent one.

It may be a sequel to Super Metroid, but this game has little connection to that one overall. It has a lot more in common with Metroid Fusion. It takes place on a space station, for one thing, and leads into the story of Fusion. The downside to all of this is that rather than take place on an interesting and unique planet like most Metroid games, this game takes place in the cold, lifeless hallways of a metallic station with no real soul behind it. It contributes to the overall boredom of the game, as if the simplified controls didn't do that enough.

Another problem: cutscenes are unskippable. Yes, the cutscenes are amazing and the high point of the game, but still - unskippable cutscenes in this day and age are really out of place. While this wasn't a problem in one playthrough it could certainly become a problem in repeat playthroughs. Players who just want to skip a scene that they have seen a few times are SOL, and these scenes are long. And why does the player have to do the training sequence EVERY time they start a new game? What if it's their tenth time playing? Between that and the unskippable cutscenes, restarting the game must be a bit of a chore. (Update: I've been told that the cutscenes are actually skippable on repeat playthroughs.)

My biggest problem with this game has to do with the artifact system (items/abilities), which is at the very core of any Metroid game. In some Metroid games, you start out with all (or some) of Samus' powers, something catastrophic happens to cause you to lose them, and you spend the game finding those powers amidst the ruins of whatever alien world Samus landed on that time around. In earlier Metroid games, you start with nada and just find things as you go. Both cases are great game design, and they work. Well, in Metroid: Other M, you start with all of your powers right there in your inventory. This in itself kinda eliminates the explore-and-find-items aspect of the game in one fell swoop. It gets worse, though.

One of the fundamental issues a lot of people have with the game is the fact that Samus isn't allowed to use her powers. Her commanding officer gives her permission to use these powers as he sees fit, which means you'll often find yourself struggling through an area and getting your ass kicked, waiting for said commanding officer to give you the okay to use something that will make things dramatically easier. Many defenders of the game argue that the storyline explains this mechanic. Samus is fiercely loyal to that commanding officer for a number of good reasons, they say. Those people are right. However, even if the game does satisfactorily explain it, that doesn't change the fact that it's a stupid game mechanic to begin with. It'd be understandable logic-wise with things like the dangerous Power Bombs and Super Missiles, but having Samus run through lava area after lava area with her Varia Suit (which she has, in her inventory) off is just moronic.

Okay, so the Speed Booster is needed to run up this hill... and Samus has it... yet the player isn't allowed to use it. That makes lots of sense. Can't she just send out a radio transmission asking to use it? No, instead you take the loooong way around. I didn't like this gameplay mechanic. That's just me, some people may love it and dance about in the streets singing praises. Doesn't make for a very fun game, though - especially when combined with all the other issues plaguing this game.

There are good things to be found here. The difficulty level, while on the low side, is accessible to most players. The story is interesting for Metroid fans, if a bit flat. The game gets much better overall in the last couple hours, as well. At that point, it becomes sharper and focused. Some old foes from past Metroid games turn up, and this time you get to fight them in the third dimension. This makes for some total blasts from the past, to say the least. There is one huge old foe in particular that I never thought I'd see in another game, much less a big-screen console game. That fight definitely got me by surprise and impressed me. Between those surprises and the great cutscenes, the game has some redeeming qualities, and is probably worth a play for long-time Metroid fanatics. The problem is, it just doesn't really live up to the legacy of this great series.

Rating: 6.6 out of 10

Here is the completed Metroid post collection, for your perusal:
Metroid: Other M (Review)


  1. Nice review. I agree. Not a terrible game, but far short of our lofty expectations from this legendary franchise.

  2. I'd kinda wanna play it if I could use the classic controller.

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