kickinthehead's Metroid: Other M (Wii) review

Metroid Fan Service, for better or for worse

 Metroid Other M is the first 3D Metroid game to come out not related to the Prime series. Ever since the conclusion of the Prime series, a side scrolling 3D Metroid game has been all I've wanted, especially after the excellent XBLA game Shadow Complex which follows the same Metroid style of gameplay. Unfortunately, after the title screen came back up and I turned my Wii off, this game left more bad taste than good in my mouth. Metroid Other M's gameplay is very tight and fun to play, but its story plays out like god awful fan fiction.

Let me start off by saying what I like most about the Metroid games. Metroid is a unique franchise whose strength lies in its sense of isolation and the joy of exploring the game by unlocking new areas via new abilities. There are times the game is also about tension and action whether it's because you're being swarmed with enemies, facing a particularly nasty boss or running for your life 'cause shit is about to explode. Other M partially succeeds in this, but what it does with the story is not only bad, it's at odds with the new mechanics introduced into the game. 

 Shiny
Other M begins at the end of Super Metroid when Samus' life is saved by the baby metroid who helps her defeat Mother Brain. Zebes is destroyed and Samus is seen later tracking down a distress signal on a ship called "The Bottle Ship." When she gets there she encounters soldiers of the Galactic Federation including her former commanding officer Adam Malkovich. Pretty soon they find out that not all is well on the Bottle Ship, and there's some malevolent force that they need to take care of. Pretty soon, they're running short on soldiers and Samus goes all over the ship trying to figure out what the heck is going on.

Previous Metroid games were very light on story, and most of it was revealed from context or scanning computers and logs. Other M tells its story by Samus' completely flat voice over monologues and frequent cutscenes. It's painful hearing her voice over, and it certainly doesn't help that there's a lot of it. There's precedent for this kind of internal monologue, but in previous games it was relegated to on screen text. In the beginning, there are several flashback cutscenes to give you some backstory on Samus, and towards the end of the game there're a lot of cutscenes showing events, some of which probably could've been gameplay instead. One thing that the game does which is kind of cool is that it connects Super Metroid with Metroid Fusion. In Fusion Samus constantly references a major character from Other M during her internal monologues. 

  You dare suck my braaaaaaain???
Despite the very high production value of the cutscenes, I came away from the game hating the cutscenes more than enjoying them. Team Ninja knows how to make exciting action in their cutscenes, but they should realize that their dialogue really sucks. Some scenes, especially the ones showing flashbacks to Super Metroid are dripping in fan service, and it's very cool to see. The action cutscenes are extremely shiny with dynamic camera angles and well choreographed fight scenes. Did I mention they're shiny? It's a shame that the story bits come off as the worst kind of hammy anime script with awful and flat voice acting to boot. I don't know whether to blame the actors or the voice director, but clearly someone wasn't right for the job. If you take the cheesiest most melodramatic parts of Metal Gear Solid, combine it with Metroid and bad voice acting then you get the Other M story cutscenes.

Graphically Other M is pretty in line with the non-Prime games. The colors are very bright and saturated which is in keeping with the Super Metroid color palette. Except while playing I found myself longing for the more "realistic" art design of Metroid Prime. Everything in Other M from Samus to the monster design looks pretty cartoony and toy-like. The animation is good with some nice touches like the kickback on Samus' charge beam, her dodging animation and the fan servicey kill moves Samus has where she'll fire her gun point blank to a part of the enemy's body whether it's their face, torso or head.

 It's okay sir. I'm a professional.
The Bottle Ship is designed to create a number of different kinds of areas via environmental controls and holographic technology. So you're still going to have your jungle, lava and ice areas you expect from a Metroid game (or any Nintendo game really). Some of the monsters are straight out of classic Metroid, but there are a few new ones or interpretations of old ones which feel like they don't belong in a Metroid game either because the design is so grotesque or just really half-baked. There are more than a couple monsters who look like cartoony blobs with arms and legs. Some monsters look like they'd fit comfortably into a Ninja Gaiden game with their spikiness, multiple eyes and razor sharp teeth.

Team Ninja is best known for its Ninja Gaiden franchise and having fast and exciting action in its games. They definitely succeed in bringing this to Metroid, and it's that much more impressive it's done with only a Wiimote for the controller. Shooting is auto-aimed, and there's a handy dodge move achieved by pressing the D-pad when you're about to get hit. If you're holding the fire button while you dodge you'll instantly charge up your beam which readies you for a quick counterattack. Of course, Samus can turn into the morphing ball which is done by pressing the A button. From the get go you have the spring ball ability which lets you jump while in morphing ball mode. 

 Sorry, no scanning for you.
The other unique mechanic is by pointing the wiimote at the screen you're switched to first person mode and your movement is locked down. First person mode is also the only way that you can shoot missiles, super missiles and the grapple beam. I didn't have much trouble adjusting to this control, and there are some battles where it can be very exciting trying to find the right timing for when you point the wiimote to let loose some missiles or super missiles.

Samus has infinite missiles which can be recharged by pointing the wiimote upwards and holding down A. There's a brief charging period so you have to be careful when enemies are around. There aren't any missiles or energy to collect from fallen enemies. Instead Samus gets her energy back from save points. When your energy is very low, Samus can concentrate the same way she generates missiles and regain some energy. This can be especially tense during boss battles because you're completely immobile while concentrating. 

 "I will kick you to sleep!" -Nathan Drake
You're free to move in any direction, but usually the game confines you to narrow hallways that either go left and right or to the back and front depending on the shape of the room. Sometimes it becomes a strain on your thumb constantly holding the D-pad, but it works very well. Even though I had no problems with the control, my thumbs would've preferred an analog controller. The conceit this game offers for Samus' lack of abilities at the beginning of the game is that she has to be authorized to use them first. I could go with this idea for her weapons, but it doesn't work so well for her defensive capabilities. You'll literally go through entire areas full of lava where your life goes down every second you're there, and it's only several areas later before your commanding officer decides it's okay for you to use your Varia suit. I can go with the idea, but could've at least tried to make it a bit more realistic.

So why the heck does this rank low on my scale of Metroid games? Like I said, the story is awful. Team Ninja can't seem to reconcile its gameplay Samus with its cutsccene depiction of Samus. Going by gameplay, Samus is one hardcore bounty hunter capable of really freakin' badass looking moves like kicking monsters in the face, shooting their head full of plasma while standing on their back and stuff like that. Cutscene Samus has issues, which is fine, but there are a number of scenes where she just comes off as weak weak weak. This is Samus Aran who has basically eradicated an entire planet of metroids and single handedly taken on the Space Pirates of Zebes. Team Ninja's cutscene Samus is a difficult pill to swallow especially in light of gameplay Samus.  

 I'm Samus Aran, and man do I have issues.
Like I said in the beginning, Metroid games are all about environment and mood. There's none of that in this game. There's some original Metroid music in this game, but mostly the music is almost worse than silence. It creates no mood or sense of immersion whatsoever. I'm wondering if I'm asking too much, because it's possible an action oriented Metroid game would be at odds with an attempt to create that Metroid sort of loneliness and atmosphere. Then again, the Prime series had its highs and lows of tone with exciting action moments punctuating what was otherwise a very moody game.

This doesn't feel like a Metroid game to me. It has the trappings of a Metroid game, and it hits the same notes, but it's like a facsimile of a Metroid game. I was so not absorbed in the game that I found it quite easy to put down after an hour of gameplay. By the end of the game I was making faces as I hoped in vain that the cutscenes would come to an end. I just wanted it to end, and they even found a way to make the end credits cheesy. I finished the game in under 10 hours so it's also pretty short.

Playing this game makes me want to play the original Metroid Prime game again. When you play the Prime games it's clear that the team that made it really really loves Metroid. Metroid Prime and Other M are both made by fanboys of the franchise. The difference being that if you saw these fanboys as a convention, the Prime fanboys would be asking technical questions of the dev team, and the Other M fanboys would be taking their photos with the booth babes. There's a lot of love in the Prime games, and there's a lot of testosterone in Other M. But I guess that's what you ask for when you assign Team Ninja to make a Metroid game.

So should you play this game? The gameplay is still solid enough that I think it's worth playing. Once you get the hang of the combat it can be pretty cool and badass. Some of the boss battles while not hard, are still really cool to play through. I wonder if skipping cutscenes would make it more tolerable or not. I wouldn't pay the full $50 for this game, I'd consider it a rental or heavily discounted purchase.

My one request for the next Metroid game. Can we see Samus collect on a bounty?

2 Comments
Posted by Hailinel

Nice review, but Team Ninja didn't work on the game's story.  That was all Nintendo and D-Rockets.

Posted by CharleyTony

Less is more. In past Metroid games, the absence of story made it better than what we got from Metroid Other M. I would have done a couple of things differently in the gameplay department too... 
Compared to other franchises, Nintendo seems more willing to try crazy things with the Metroid IP. Before The Metroid Prime series, I thought that it was crazy to make an FPS game with Samus, but I was proved wrong. This new Metroid game didn't please me, but I might be too attached to the NES, SNES and GBA games to see things clearly.

Other reviews for Metroid: Other M (Wii)

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