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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?