M for Mysogyny.
I’d like to take a second to prove something. Remember how great Ninja Gaiden on the Xbox was? Remember the plot to Ninja Gaiden on the Xbox? No? Point proven. I feel like Team Ninja has had this problem for years, where they spend many hundreds of thousands of dollars developing elaborately spectacular cutscenes of strong visual quality, but with poor writing, voice-acting, logic, respect for women and other issues. Then I wonder: Why not just save millions of yen and not bother with those newfangled CG cutscene wastes of time? How about selling the games based on the strength of their eyelid-twitching fast gameplay? Would’ve made Ninja Gaiden a better game. Certainly would’ve made Metroid: Other M an infinitely better game too.
I can tell that a lot of dough was spent on the numerous in-game movies here. Cutscenes that can go on for minutes on end. Cutscenes that cannot be paused mid-way in the event that your bowels need to make a deposit at the porcelain bank. So Team Ninja definitely wants you to experience their CG “art” in its uninterrupted glory. I was simultaneously watching WWE Raw while playing through one late-game cutscene, and that one cutscene carried through several commercial breaks. This frustrated me because the professional wrestling program I was watching had better writing and acting than what I was experiencing on my Wii. Professional wrestling actually outdid someone, anyone in the field of storytelling. I mean, fuck!
Okay…there are SPOILERS ABOUND! You may want to skip the next two paragraphs if you actually care.
“Code name: Baby’s Cry. A common SOS with the urgency of a baby crying. The nickname comes from the fact that the purpose of the signal is to draw attention.”
Now imagine the drabbest, most depressed voice uttering that triple-explanation with less passion than your Grade 2 teacher. And I could go on about the plot points that drove me mad…so I will. Like Samus’s perchant for creating nicknames like “Baby’s Cry” and “The Deleter”, followed by her desire to explain, in detail, her reasoning for such complex nomenclature. Or her irrational fear of Ridley, a monster she had handily beaten 6 times over, both in normal, Meta-, Mecha- and Omega-Ridley forms. (Remember that this game takes place after the Metroid Prime trilogy.) Or how the Galactic Federation considers Metroids, a close-range-only organic parasite with no exoskeleton (or even bone structure), to be a viable military weapon, a strategic maneuver on par with recruiting the Foot Clan. Or how Samus is so vulnerable to Malkovich’s whims that she disables all of her Super Metroid power-ups out of fear of damaging survivors. Disabling explosive weapons that pass through walls kind of makes sense, but what is the rationale for disabling armour or jumping abilities? Why must Samus spend a good half hour in the volcano area roasting to near-death and five rounds getting outboxed by the fire monster boss before Malkovich authorizes the use of the Varia Suit? Hell, considering the 5 major planet-smashing adventures she’s been on prior to Other M, why does Samus show any sense of fear or dread at all? Why was any time and money spent introducing smaller characters, besides finding another avenue for which to demean Samus for her not-being-born-male? To make reference to that Super Metroid comic from Nintendo Power? And finally, I did manage to guess the game’s big plot twist before even removing the saran wrap from the box, one involving another famous M in Metroid history. But was very disappointed to find the big reveal not leading to the big nostalgic confrontation I’m sure many a Metroid fan were hoping for.
Okay, there are NO MORE SPOILERS ABOUND.
But as a final note, remember when people considered the big end-game reveal of the original Metroid to be some kind of thumbs up for female empowerment? Boy did Team Ninja just stick their dicks in your earhole here.
Unlike Ninja Gaiden, which was a stage-based linear action game, you kind of do need the plot of Other M to loosely remind you of your current goal or destination. So you can’t quite skip those cutscenes the first time you play the game. Worse, there are a few forced segments where you enter first-person view and have to play a hidden-object-scanning game to look at some specific logo or bed stain in order to advance the story. You sometimes don’t even get the hint of what company logo or rotting corpse or whatnot you’re meant to find, and I’ve spent annoying minutes blindly scrolling around the room. It hurts knowing full well that I’d be rewarded for my efforts with, what else, but another grand cutscene. Hence, a disclaimer: your first playthrough of Metroid: Other M will be your least favorite playthrough.
But Other M excels when the game reluctantly gives you full-body control of the female form of Samus Aran. The gameplay sits somewhere between Ninja Gaiden on the Xbox and Metroid… the NES version. It’s a sort-of 3D-ish side scrolling shooter where you move through mostly-constrained corridors gunning down harmless wildlife. You shoot a chargeable laser at enemies, and sidestep attacks by pressing the d-pad in a direction at the last minute. It’s a weirdly intuitive system that works in spite of current-generation preconceptions. Moving in a 3D space with a directional pad, for example, is less accurate than an analog stick. But doing it in this game gives a sense of immediacy, both in everyday sprinting from one area to the next and in quick-dodging enemy attacks. And I can appreciate a stripped-down button layout, as Other M is more or less a 3-button game. Gun button, Jump button, Morphing Ball button. Like every action game, Other M is about dodging enemy attacks and responding with a fistful of courtesy and gunpowder. Other M just outslicks those other games in the process.
If you can wrap your mind around some of the other unlikely nuances, you’ll find the game to grow on you. Like switching the Wiimote from a controller to a…ehh…Wiimote, pointing at the screen to fire missiles. It’s a strange concept, especially once you have to charge the missiles. But if you can rewire the synapses in your brain to comprehend controller-to-remote conversions, you will cope. And you will learn how to deal with the game’s various entertaining boss fights. Even if they’re not the most original enemies (a blob with tentacles and an eyeball for a weak spot,) they’re still pretty fun to slaughter with your ray gun. Assorted favorites from various Metroid games appear here, along with some new forces of evil, with the most memorable being the game’s hidden final boss that you can exchange glances with after the end credits.
The next issue to address, then, would be the game’s adherence to tradition. Just how Metroidvania is Metroid: Other M? The answer is that it is kind of Metroidvania-ish. There is a multi-pathed world that you can explore if you so desired. The game will usually tell you which save-point is your next destination, and highlight the general vicinity of hidden missile tanks, energy tanks and other tanks. Samus has a tank fetish. While both of these aspects may betray what old fogeys claim is the exploration-driven spirit of the old Metroid, they also encouraged me to revist old regions and actually grab those power-ups. Did I mention how much I hate the whole Adam Malkovich “I must give you permission to use your power-ups” business? I mean, besides the general harmlessness of most of those power items (those Morph Ball bombs can barely smash a toilet. And why disable the Space Jump? Is he scared Samus is going to crash into jumping survivors? Is Lebron James on this ship?) It also sucks out the novelty of getting a new ability. I miss the sense of reward that came in thrashing a difficult boss or exploring an ancient, abandoned temple-thingy to get a sweet new power of death or infinite air-jumping. Being given permission to start using the wave beam again is not quite as gratifying.
My gut reaction upon finishing Other M involved a whole lot of cussing. I mean, fuck. That storyline is dreadfully bad, almost a game-killer. But as I was struggling to think of other words to use in the review besides “fuck” and “FUCK!”, I started to replay the game and grab all of the hidden items. And then I found myself reaching the elusive 100% status. (A status I’ve only achieved with three other games this generation.) Then I started playing a new game, skipping all of those trashy plot bits. And that’s when my opinion started to backpedal a bit. Then I started to realize that this really is kind of a fun, twitchy action game of a different kind. And it seems like many a year since we’ve had a really solid action game that wasn’t aping Devil May Cry or God of War. So kudos to Other M. Metroid fans will probably like it. Action fans will probably like it. Just brace yourself for an exposition wet dump.
I mean, fuck.
3 ½ stars