Review: Metroid: Other M
From a distance, Metroid: Other M appears to be the series’ return to its side-scrolling adventure roots. And after the success of Shadow Complex, the traditional Metroid game seemed like an idea worth revisiting. But just hours in to the game, it becomes clear that the “return to form” angle surrounding the game was an invention of the Nintendo fan base rather than the intention of developer Team Ninja.
It should be made clear that Other M is a Team Ninja game with Metroid characters, rather than a Metroid game brought to you by Team Ninja. The most obvious indication being in the more action focused gameplay, which stands out in a series which has always prioritized exploration first, combat second.
Considering the developers past, I suppose the games direction shouldn’t come as a surprise. In concept, the action focus is not an outside developer breaking the fundamentals of the franchise, but a smart move to play to their strengths. My tastes aside, Ninja Gaiden is considered a benchmark in character-action games, and it is no stretch to imagine their brand of meticulously designed combat in the Metroid universe.
Unfortunately, Team Ninja has designed Other M under a set of rules which ensure that kind of quality could never be.
A major obstacle for the designers seems to be limiting the control options to Wii remote only, on its side. For 2D exploration, the Wii remotes directional pad is as capable as it has ever been in the games past. When the viewpoint changes to 3D combat arenas, the player is left with clunky 8-direction controls, and will immediately miss the smooth, intuitive roll of the joystick they have taken for granted the past sixteen years. No dual-analogue sticks mean that aiming is done by automatically targeting the closest enemy that you’re facing. This puts double the work on the already taxed d-pad, and never felt natural.
Another bizarre choice is allowing missile fire to take place only when in first person mode, a non-sensical integration of Metroid Prime’s mechanics initiated by pointing the Wii remote at the television. This means when you need to shoot missiles (which you will often), you’ll have to reposition the remote in your hands, as well as put your character in a state of immobility. Often, by the time you reorient yourself and aim at the enemy, it will have knocked you down and out of the first person perspective, starting the entire process over again. The mechanic may seem like the developers trying to work the many Metroid tropes on to a control scheme with limited buttons, but the third person perspective leave the B button unused, leaving me at a loss for the need of the mechanic at all.
The game really needs to be experienced to understand how important these antithetical control choices are in a game where action is so clearly the focus. This is not just Metroid with more enemies, but a real meat and potatoes action game that would quickly check off a list of the genre’s cliches. Long hallways and divided by rooms which act as combat arenas. Boss fights are everywhere. There is an elevator stage where you fight off drop-in enemies, a la Street of Rage. This game takes you through the history of action game scenarios with your hands tied.
The exploration, like the combat, is another example of something that is not like classic Metroid, and far more importantly, also don’t work. The series is known for its first act ending contrivances which strip Samus of her equipment. They have always seemed like a way for Nintendo to have their cake and eat it too, in having a continuity to the game events while maintaining an identical progression system in each game. You’ve got to applaud Team Ninja for trying to contextualize Samus’ loss of items in the games story, but do so in a way more damaging than in the series’ past.
Instead of losing her items in a physical sense, Samus just promises not to use them until instructed by a superior. The “authorize item” structure of Other M creates these bizarre moments when you’ll know which item you need, but will have to take a beating until cued dialogue allows you to use them. Not only does this particular contextualization make little sense (would Samus really let herself burn until her Varia suit was authorized?), but it removes from the equation the idea that, no matter how the items were lost, there was a sense of accomplishment in finding them.
Even with all of my complaints, I’m still clinging to the idea that there was something here. When things started to go wrong on the station Samus had landed on, the camera went in close behind her shoulder as I slowly turned her around corners. In these visceral moments, I loved that Team Ninja brought me in even tighter. They wanted me to feel it in my gut, and for that moment, I did. Though they did wrong in so many ways, in these moments, they did right by abandoning the tradition of Nintendo.