Metroid: Other M is a disappointment by any measure
I was an excited 6 year old when Metroid II: The Return of Samus was released for the Game Boy. I've been a huge fan of the series ever since. It's been literally years since I've bought a Wii game, but I knew I wasn't going to pass up the next game in the Metroid series, even if some of what I was seeing in trailers seemed a bit out of place. Things like free missile and health recharges definitely seemed strange, but if they worked within the context of the gameplay, then who really cares?
After all, who didn't complain when they heard that Metroid: Prime was going to be a first person shooter? It seemed like a horrible decision for a series that up until then had relied heavily on Samus's jumping abilities. Despite being unorthodox, Prime ended up being easily the best game on the Gamecube. With that in mind, I was more than willing to give Other M a fair shake. Unfortunately even my deeply obsessive love for the series couldn't mask the fact that this game has some serious problems.
The first thing you'll notice when booting up the game is that this is a story heavy Metroid game. Metroid: Fusion had some story elements as well, but this is the first entry of the series where Samus regularly speaks and interacts with other characters. We also learn a bit more about Samus's past, which could have been totally badass, what with her being raised by the Chozo and all. Unfortunately all we really learn is that Samus was in the military and left for reasons that I won't reveal here, but frankly aren't very interesting anyways.
Much has been made of Samus's maybe sexist relationship with team leader Adam Malkovich. I find this kind of strange considering how similarly the game is structured to Metroid: Fusion. The computer that gives you orders in Fusion is even named after Adam. There's plenty of precedent for Samus being an order follower, so I don't see the point in making a big deal out of it now. That said, the way Adam slowly doles out Samus's upgrades is extremely frustrating. It's true that finding your upgrades in hidden Chozo statues doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but at least you get a legitimate feeling of accomplishment as you discover new areas and Samus becomes more powerful. Here it just feels like Adam is playing games with you.
The most blatant example comes when you enter the fire/lava zone of the Bottle Ship. You're expected to push through the entire zone fighting enemies while also having to deal with your health constantly dropping due to the heat, a situation that caused several deaths on my part. It's not until right as you approach the boss of the zone that Adam finally deems it necessary for you to "turn on" your Varia suit. If we're really supposed to believe that Samus is in a life or death situation, how can we sympathize with the guy who's only apparent function is to withhold the equipment Samus needs to complete her mission?
After raging out for a few minutes, I started to question whether I wasn't being unfair. After all, this upgrade system wouldn't seem all that weird if the game didn't have Metroid in the title. Unfortunately, even if you try to separate Other M from its predecessors, the action still doesn't hold up. In order to compensate for the limitations of an NES style d-pad in a 3D game, the developers have given Samus a catch-all dodge ability that can be activated by tapping any direction as an enemy strikes. The mechanic is very forgiving to the point where you can continuously tap a direction and never take damage. Combine this with the aforementioned free missile and health recharges and even the most difficult of boss battles becomes overly simple. I found that by the end of the game, I was ignoring the clunky missile mechanic because it was essentially the only way to make yourself vulnerable to taking damage.
The Bottle Ship is also probably the weakest setting for a Metroid game yet. Again, like Metroid: Fusion, the ship is broken up into 3 seperate insular zones that only become interconnected after you complete the game and are given free reign to explore (and fight another pathetically easy boss). The effect is much closer to a tiny Mario overworld than the complicated interconnected web of tunnels and caves we're used to in the series. The zones themselves are also very linear, rarely giving you the opportunity to branch out and explore.
Finally, this game can't be reviewed without mentioning the absolutely terrible pixel hunt sections that pop up about a dozen times throughout the experience. Sometimes without warning, the game will switch to first person view and task you with scanning a random object in the environment. These sequences are by far the most difficult and frustrating aspect of the game, as it's rarely clear what you're supposed to be looking for. One of these took me nearly an hour to find and I almost quit the game on several occasions because of them.
I really had high hopes for Metroid: Other M. Retro set such a high standard with the Metroid: Prime series that I was automatically sympathetic to anyone trying to take the series in a new and interesting direction. Unfortunately, the problems in Other M are just too prevalent and pervasive to make it recommendable. Hardcore fans of the Metroid series will be turned off by the game's linear structure as well as the portrayal of ex-badass Samus Aran. Those just looking for a fun 3rd person action game for the Wii, will be disappointed by the game's lack of difficulty and short length. If you're a big fan of the series, Other M might be worth a rent, if only to keep up with the series story. Everyone else should just close their eyes and pretend like this game never happened.