Alright Metroid fans, strap yourself in for a shock
While I'm sure Nintendo's swimming in their pool of money to really notice, I kind of feel sorry for the company at times. Home to some of the game industry's most beloved franchises, they're also targets for some of the more finicky fans and like Capcom, I bet it's tough for them to figure out what to do with these franchises. If you make the same kind of game every time, fans cry that they're just milking the franchise, banking on nostalgia or just plain being lazy. Change the formula however and they're ruining the series and going away from what made the series popular and acclaimed in the first place. So in comes Metroid: Other M, arguably going to be one of the strangest and certainly divisive triple-A titles released in the fall. With Team Ninja at the helm, known primarily for violent games with bouncy breasts, this game introduces a change in perspective and control method and the most voice acting that's been in a Nintendo title in a good while and so if there's any title that personifies the "Try before you buy" rule, it's Metroid: Other M.
Taking place directly after Super Metroid where Samus, with help from a Metroid, defeats Mother Brain (in a gorgeous cinematic), Samus answers a distress call onboard the Bottle Ship. But unlike prior adventures where it was Samus vs. everything else, there's some Federation officers and her former commanding officer, Adam. But there's no squad commands or being helped by AI a la every-other-military-shooter-in-existence, as Samus explores the Bottle Ship by herself and investigates what's going on. We also see some of her backstory in the service as well as her history with Adam.
The story is certainly going to be one of the more controversial aspects as not only does Samus have a voice for the first time (and one you'll be hearing a ton of, too) but there's also the supposed "ruining" of Samus. Personally I don't agree with it but I can certainly see why it would get people up-in-arms: a character we can project our own thoughts and attitudes on is now becoming an actual character and it might not equal what we think. Some occasionally poor writing and clunky dialogue aside, I thought Team Ninja did a surprisingly good job at giving the woman some depth, especially considering Team Ninja's pretty spotty in this area. The actual story that's being presented has some pretty excellent pacing and the focus seems less on exploration and searching every nook and cranny to just playing the game. Every time you pick up the controller you'll find new areas, see new story and fight new creatures which cuts down on those "now where do I go?" moments.
Another change is the actual gameplay as there's some familiar ideas as well as some completely brand new ideas that makes it hard to describe to people what it's like. You can't just say "Grand Theft Auto in the Old West" like Red Dead Redemption, you'd have to do some kind of twisting of words involving first-person shooting, 2D which can transition into 3D action all done by an old-school control scheme. Other M is controlled by holding the Wii remote sideways a la NES controller where D-pad is movement, A button is morph ball, 1 is jump and 2 is to fire which of course can be held for a charge beam attack. Samus also has a move called the "SenseMove" where pressing the D-pad before getting hit will result in a dodge move or going near to an enemy and doing a cool finishing move. It's a cool mechanic but sometimes it feels automated and it feels easy to abuse since you can just hop around with your beam charged up, land on their heads and blast them right in the face. Missed? Just jump some more. Samus also auto-aims in the standard viewing mode which at times can be both weirdly un-fulfilling yet really efficient.
But that's not all as pointing the Wii remote at the screen has Samus go into first-person mode a la the Prime series where she can scope out the environment, find cloaked enemies or shoot missiles. The switching between the 2 didn't feel clunky once yet it can be slightly tricky to actually take the time in battle to fire some shots off as being in first-person leaves you immobile and while I can understand why they made it so you couldn't (otherwise you'd do it the whole game, making you wonder why Team Ninja didn't just do Metroid Prime all over again), it can be tough in small corridors or small rooms to actually get some shots off without feeling like a sitting duck. However there is one thing I do not like with its inclusion and that is these specific spots where you're locked in the view and have to scan the environment to uncover that one thing that will advance the story. It's hard to tell what to actually look for and the game doesn't quite give you a hint how to find them either.
Despite the slightly mixed reviews the game received prior to release, I knew I'd end up buying this anyway since not only do I miss playing as Samus, but the game looked intriguing enough to play however the question would become: did Team Ninja do a good job with it? Well I should say first up that this isn't a misunderstood classic that people were unnaturally harsh to and it's also not an outright failure that never should have been made but rather this was a refreshing and completely daring look at one of Nintendo's flagship series. Not all of it works and the stuff that works does so incredibly well that it makes me more receptive to wherever Metroid can go in the future. Metroid: Other M may not live in the same pedigree as Metroid Prime or Super Metroid but as a longtime fan, I can honestly say I had fun playing it but it's not for everyone either, longtime fan or no. To paraphrase a wise man: unfortunately no one can be told if Metroid: Other M is worth it, you'll have to play it for yourself.