Metroid: Other M

Metroid: Other M
Metroid: Other M Cover
Platforms Wii
Genre Cinematic Action-Adventure Experiment
Score 8  Clock score of 8
Buy from Amazon

Metroid has never been one of Nintendo's big money-makers, but that hasn't stopped the franchise from garnering some very devoted fans. It's not uncommon to see Super Metroid or Metroid Prime sitting atop the list of favorites from hardcore gamers, and for good reason. Super Metroid provided a sprawling, interlacing realm of disquieting alien dangers and secrets, and Metroid Prime translated that experience into 3D with incredible audio-visual design and some interesting world-building mechanics built right into the gameplay.

Though there's certainly a base blueprint from these two trailblazers, no two Metroid games feel exactly alike. Even so, I've found something to love in each and every one of them (except for the antiquated debut NES game, which admittedly I just played for the first time days before Other M's release). The tension of being hunted in Fusion, the sudden shifts in power at Zero Mission's final hour, the thousands of text logs scattered through the Prime far as I'm concerned, it's all great stuff.

It's only natural that the formula would see some alterations and evolutions over a quarter of a century, and Metroid: Other M is the latest and most radical experiment to come out of Nintendo's R&D labs in quite some time. Featuring third-person 3D action gameplay and a heavy emphasis on cinematic storytelling, the curiously-subtitled Other M certainly feels very different from its predecessors. It seems to take after Metroid Fusion the most, with a bit of Metroid Prime in there as well, but Other M's additions and adaptations certainly make it feel distinct, for better or worse.

Check out my First Hour Review of the game for a taste of Other M's controls and how the tale unfolds, then read on for my endgame impressions.

+ Metroid Gear Solid
Where past Metroid games have primarily been silent and straightforward affairs, Other M may be the most cinematic game Nintendo has ever had a hand in. I'd estimate that the DVD contains roughly thirty minutes of gorgeous full motion video, another hour of in-engine cutscenes, and plenty of dialogue for each (every line of which is voiced). It's a sharp contrast from the in-game narrative approach that pervades the Prime series and occasionally pops up to wonderful effect in previous 2D Metroids as well, which I find far more fascinating and engaging than setting down the controller and watching a short film every now and then. That said, I can't deny that still enjoyed Other M's more homogeneous style of storytelling. Silence is golden, but I was mostly impressed with the quality of the voice acting on display: most games that are localized from Japan feature vocal talent just below that of a forgettable Saturday morning cartoon, but I can't remember a single breath of delivery that made me cringe in Other M.

Metroid Other m Naive

- Samus' sensitive side
Metroid Fusion gave us a glimpse of Samus' days as a space cop, and little-known Metroid side media have detailed her tragic youth leading up to the original NES game. In Other M, we see those aspects combined and multiplied into a flawed, humanized leading lady, whom many will find less appealing than the strong, stoic woman in their minds. This is a Samus that occasionally over-narrates about matters of relationships, symbols, and self-perception. It's a web of themes that seems quite common in pop-media from the land of geisha and samurai, but feels alien to the Metroid experience we've become accustomed to. It isn't all bad, but Other M occasionally shatters those perceptions of a confident, stable Samus. It's quite believable, given the series' lesser-known lore, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. A few particular scenes smacked of the exact melodrama I was dreading when I read of the game's cinematic approach, and they were rather painful to watch.

+ It was Mr. Ridley in the study with the butcher's knife!
Samus and her inner monologues are clearly the game's thematic focus, but I actually found quite a bit to enjoy in the guts of the plot. Other M's yarn is equal parts murder mystery,  military conspiracy, and experiments gone wrong, with gradual discoveries leading to plenty of twists and turns. Some are quite predictable, while others are delightfully surprising. It occasionally comes off as over-written, especially in the final hours that rapidly switch between fan-servicing delights, sigh-inducing disappointments, and filling in plotholes from previous titles that few noticed and fewer cared about. Still, each new revelation kept me wondering where the tale would go, and convinced me to keep shooting up aliens well past my bedtime.

+ The sound of silence
The Metroid series has always utilized strong sound design to establish its surreal, sometimes creepy mood. Subdued compositions in the 2D games set them apart from their boisterous action-adventure contemporaries, and the Prime trilogy set choirs and eerie tones to an industrial backbone for unique effect. Other M takes a route more familiar to horror movies: long silences punctuated by the occasional ambient noise. While I am a little disappointed that there are no haunting melodies lingering in my head, I think running down corridors in near silence appropriately contrasts the talkative cutscenes and provides that isolated Metroid feel.

Metroid Other m Rail

- "Any objections, Lady?"
A key to the gameplay progression in Metroids past was the acquisition of new weapons and upgrades throughout the game. Samus always begins her missions equipped with a pea shooter and ends up with an arsenal that would make Iron Man jealous. Previous titles saw Samus stripped of her super weapons from the preceding game with some sort of early accident, but Other M features a fully-powered suit through the whole game. To cater to the progressive nature of the Metroid series, Samus instead willingly deactivates all of her upgraded abilities at the request of Adam Malkovich, her former superior officer and the man in charge of this mission. It's no less believable than a small explosion knocking half of Samus' armor away ten minutes into the game, but it feels extra frustrating when you come upon a problem easily fixed by the Super Missile that Samus already has but refuses to use.

- Eyes forward, Lady
Adam doesn't just control your weaponry, however. He also controls your environment. Anyone who has played Metroid Fusion will be very familiar with the stage design in Other M. Where some Metroid titles encourage exploration at your whim, Other M features a more linear, guided path to follow. Every time Samus finds a Navigation Booth (the game's data recording and health-restoring rooms), her map to the next Navigation Booth is filled out for her, and the path is almost always quite linear. The game even occasionally locks the door behind you (literally or figuratively) in order to keep you on the provided itinerary. I don't mind linearity in games, but one of the stronger aspects of Metroid is a sense of discovery and freedom when progressing through the adventure, even when the invisible hand is leading you. I never quite felt that way in Other M, and only at the very end of the game did I find interesting connections between spaces on the map. Time will tell if the sequence breaking aficionados will find tricks to bypass Other M's restricting stage design, but my money's on "no." Physical hurdles aside, the emphasis on an evolving storyline and the effect it has on unlocking abilities just makes it seem impossible.

Metroid Other m Stomp

+ Ooh, she's a killin' machine!
Metroid: Other M is controlled entirely with just a Wii remote, held sideways nearly all of the time. This stunted setup was a deliberate attempt to recreate the simplicity of a NES game in a modern production. Playing a 3D action game with a digital control setup almost always causes problems, but Samus manages better than you'd expect. The mostly corridor-based stage design allows for ease of movement even with just eight directional inputs, auto-aim smartly targets the enemies in Samus' line of sight, and the evasive maneuvers and finishing moves are simple and fun to pull off. You'll also be pointing at the screen to trigger a first-person mode, where you can lock onto targets and fire missiles. This mechanic seems to ape the behind-the-visor view that the Prime trilogy used to put the player in the game, but it actually manages to sever the immersion as you rotate the controller between the two positions and deal with the sudden change in perspective on-screen. Again, like the digital controls, it'll get the job done, but still feels less than ideal. I can't help but think how incredible the combat system could have been even with just the addition of the nunchuk, but I still had a blast bounding away from enemy attacks and retaliating with energy beams of my own. And some of the later abilities you'll earn are pure joy in motion.

- "It worked in THAT game, so why not Metroid?"
There are three smaller experiments within the larger paradigm shift that is Other M that remind me of other franchises, and they don't quite have the effect that I assume was intended. The first is an over-the-shoulder Resident Evil 4-style viewpoint that occasionally pops up during anxious or claustrophobic situations. Samus moves slowly and cautiously, arm cannon at the ready for danger to emerge...but the tension is never really there. It's obvious that nothing harmful is going to lunge out from the darkness a la Capcom's zombie horror because you can't do anything but walk, so these segments tend to just slow down the pace before the next cutscene where something actually happens. Experiment number two forces you into first-person mode during a cutscene and doesn't move on until you notice something in the environment. It feels like those "point out what's wrong with this picture" sequences in the Ace Attorney series, and the answer is usually just as arbitrary or unclear as what Phoenix Wright craftily uses as evidence in court. Finally, the third experiment is an extension of the second: a few boss battles take place entirely in first person, with Samus stranded on the spot and only able to fend off enemy attacks by shooting first. One of these segments late in the game is easily my biggest disappointment in Other M, replacing what I was hoping to be an interesting boss fight with a clunky Time Crisis wannabe. Thankfully, all three of these experiments are infrequent, brief, and quickly forgotten.

Metroid Other m run


Final Thoughts

Video: Samus and friends shine like a new car in the FMVs and look convincing enough in gameplay. The typical adventure environments can occasionally get ugly up close, but overall it's one of the better-looking Wii games, for sure.

Audio: Other M lacks a soundtrack but packs plenty of creepy ambience to keep you feeling isolated on this ghost ship. The voice acting may be unwelcome, but at least it isn't unbearable.

Story: Can't say I enjoyed much of Samus' inner monologue, but the story outside of Samus' head kept me intrigued more than I expected.

Gameplay: Combat is definitely flashy and fun, but it's somewhat automated and a bit clunky with the transition from NES-style to pointer controls. Exploration and puzzle elements return, but are a bit lighter than in previous titles.

Challenge: I only died a handful of times through the adventure, thanks primarily to the easily-abused dodge function. Occasionally the path forward is hidden or unclear, and finding some of the missile and health expansions provides some mental exercise.

Pacing: The cutscenes can get a bit on the lengthy side, especially near the end, but otherwise the game provides a decent balance between playing and watching.

Fun Factor: Bringing Team Ninja on board to handle the combat was the right decision. What they've managed to do with just three buttons and a D-pad is impressive. And though exploration has been toned down, there's still a sense of fulfillment in solving Other M's puzzles and finding out what challenges the next area holds.

Longevity: You'll clear the game for the first time in about ten hours. Another two or three will be enough to find all the upgrades.

Extra features: There's a Hard Mode acquired after completion that serves as a real challenge, as well as a Gallery for viewing concept art and a Theater to watch the game's cutscenes and key gameplay sequences in movie form.

The Verdict: This review may read a bit negative, but really, the pros absolutely outweigh the cons. At its worst, Other M is still a great action-adventure game. If you're expecting the successor to Super Metroid or Metroid Prime, you're probably setting yourself up for disappointment. Other M is a cinematic 3D action game first and a solitary exercise in exploration and puzzle-solving second. The mix makes it feel unique among both action games and classic Metroid adventures, but its oversimplified approach to each keeps it out of the upper echelon of either. I had my qualms while playing through Other M, but I still had plenty of trouble putting the controller down and walking away, and that's the sign of a great game.

Metroid Other m Higgs