A Welcome Change
Compared to the previous titles in the series, Metroid: Other M is a different beast. A third-person action and exploration game like its side-scrolling predecessors, it allows movement in 3D space. The player isn't always allowed to go anywhere, even if they have the equipment to take on the challenges within an area that's been sealed off. The story is given more priority than ever before, and Samus isn't alone in the fight.
Yet, for everything that's different, the game is still Metroid. Cast in the role of series protagonist Samus Aran, the player must traverse the halls and environments of a Bottle Ship housing dangerous creatures in order to investigate the cause of the disturbances on board and locate any survivors. Over the course of the game, she'll gain access to abilities that will give her a greater edge in combat as well as the ability to explore otherwise inaccessible regions of the ship. Familiar characters, both friend and foe, make appearances, and of course, there's the ever-so-important and iconic morph ball.
A twist on the gameplay comes in the form of the way a first-person viewpoint is implemented. At any time, the player may point the Wii Remote at the screen, and the camera will shift to a view from Samus's visor. While in first-person, Samus can't run, but she can turn in a circle and look in all directions. She can only use missiles when in first-person, and she can also perform a dodge move to avoid attacks. There are also times when the game will force the player into first-person until a specific objective is complete, whether it be hunting for an item in the environment or fending off an attacker. The item hunts can sometimes become tedious, as what needs to be found is not always obvious and sometimes very difficult to spot, but they're relatively few and far between.
As far as game progression is concerned, Other M has more in common with Metroid Fusion than other games in the series. Rather than be allowed to freely explore the environment with only an incomplete arsenal as the obstructing factor, Samus's path is guided for the majority of the game by the nature of the game's story. This does ease up later in the game, however, and once the credits have rolled, an epilogue chapter becomes available in which Samus has free reign to explore the entire ship. Though some fans may not like this particular method of progression in a Metroid game, fans of Fusion shouldn't have any trouble adjusting to the guidance.
Above all else, the biggest departure that Other M makes is the emphasis on story. Set in the aftermath of Super Metroid, the story is told in a manner most unusual to a Nintendo title; with extensive cinematics and full voice acting for all of the game's characters, including Samus. There's been a lot of contention over the quality of the game's voice acting; Samus's in particular. However, I will count myself among those that like the way she speaks and the way she sounds. Though her narration may come off as flat and dry, there's a matter-of-fact tone to it. One that feels natural for a character who is recounting the game's events after the fact. Her character dialogue in the cutscenes themselves displays a great deal more emotion, as one would expect.
There are two primary stories being told in Other M. One is a recounting of certain events in Samus's past and an exploration of who she is as a person. The other is the investigation of the Bottle Ship, in which Samus provides aid to a squad of Galactic Federation soldiers led by her own former commanding officer, Adam Malkovich; a name that should be familiar to anyone that played Metroid Fusion. Despite the number of NPCs present, the game's sense of isolation is never particularly threatened. Samus is on her own for the vast majority of the game, and the other characters primarily only come into play during major story events.
If there's any particular flaw in the storytelling, it's that certain events may be confusing to players unfamiliar with the full Metroid backstory as conceived by series producer Yoshio Sakamoto. There is one key moment in particular that references an event in Samus's past that had never been explicitly stated or examined in the previous games. Some may find that Samus displays an uncharacteristic moment of weakness at this point when in fact it's perfectly in character for her to react in such a way based on what occurred in her past and the surprise she experiences in the present. Beyond this flaw, which can best be chalked up as a lack of exposition for the unfamiliar, the story is by and large incredibly well told through beautifully choreographed and detailed cutscenes that blend perfectly with the in-game action.
What Other M's story does best, however, is that it gives Samus more definition to her personality than ever before. Though her character was explored to an extent through her dialogue in Metroid Fusion, Other M takes everything a step further. Her thoughts, memories and emotions are all treated with importance; far more importance than those of the characters in Nintendo's two biggest franchises; Mario and Zelda. This is appropriate, given that of the three, Metroid's universe and story has always been the most cohesive and mature; there's a history, and its one that Other M plumbs to great effect with incredible recreations of moments from Metroid II: Return of Samus and Super Metroid.
The bottom line is, if you're a fan of the Metroid series, pick this game up. It's fair to say that you will enjoy it. Those that enjoy action games with a heavy emphasis on story may also find something to like, even though some plot points may be difficult to follow for those unfamiliar with the series canon. Other M is a fun, challenging game that takes the series into a new direction, and for everything it risks in experimentation, it's a resounding success.