By GrantHeaslip 58 Comments
I'm having a really hard time coming up with anything interesting to say about Metroid: Other M. My general attitude about it is one of ambivalence. The good stuff isn't great, and the bad stuff isn't terrible. It's an interesting game in a number of ways, but I can't say I'd recommend it.
The combat system was the single biggest drag on my enjoyment of Other M. It's severely lacking in depth, variety, and satisfaction; and the SenseMove (dodge) system is as close to broken as a game mechanic can get. I spent the first half or so of the game unaware of the degree to which SenseMove was abusable, but I hit a wall in the form of a giant bug boss that could take a quarter of my life with a single hit, did a bit of forum searching, and realized I could mash any direction on the d-pad and almost literally never get hit. It took me as long as it did to realize that fact because it was inconceivable to my gamer instincts that a game mechanic designed by a veteran developer could be so deeply broken.
Even setting aside that game-breaking (yet necessary in the latter half of the game) mechanic, there's just too little to the combat -- the vast majority of it consists of getting Samus facing in the general direction of enemies and releasing charge shots. I quite simply didn't find most of the game very fun. I didn't enjoy hunting for power-ups, I didn't enjoy the platforming, and I didn't enjoy getting stumped by way-too-subtle visual callouts of puzzle solutions as often as I did. I also didn't enjoy the way the story was so packed into the latter half of the game, leaving the first half with a series of arbitrary "go to this location" objectives.
It doesn't help that Other M (pre-credits, at least) ends on a couple of lame boss fights. The first is a boss that throws a Metroids at you simultaneously, all of which can grab you if you make one wrong move, and none of which can be damaged without forcing a dodge maneuver, hitting them with a charge shot, then going into first-person mode and hitting them with a missile without getting grabbed by another. The second is a forced first-person sequence in which you can see maybe 1/3 of the approach area, and hitting enemies requires locking onto an arbitrary point on their chest while they stand a foot away from your face. Both fights feel almost deliberately designed to expose the game's mechanical faults.
There is, especially at first, a lot of novelty to playing a game with just the Wii Remote, and the controls in general were snappy and predictable. I had my concerns about the 8-way movement and viewpoint switching, but neither ended up being much of a problem. The level of polish and general production values are commendable -- at the very least, it's kind of crazy to see two hours of cutscenes in a Nintendo game. The fixed camera, while necessitated by the design of the game, worked surprisingly well, at least when I wasn't firing blindly at enemies behind it.
Given that almost everything I'd heard about the game was complaining about the game's story and Samus' characterization, the story was pleasantly okay. Yeah, the way Samus needs authorization from Adam to use vital abilities is dumb, but if you take that as granted rather than insist on reading too much into it, what's left is passable by video game standards. I wouldn't say the story or writing was good -- even by the low standards of video games -- but it wasn't the irredeemable trainwreck I've seen described.
I think there's a lot to be said for Nintendo (Yoshio Sakamoto in particular, I think?) choosing to give Samus a more defined human identity. I've only ever played the Metroid Prime games, so I of course can't speak to the previous Nintendo R&D1 Samus characterizations, but I can say that I prefer Other M's imperfect Samus over Prime's robotic Samus. Real people get scared, act inconsistently, pine for approval, and regret past immaturity. Being a badass and being human shouldn't be considered mutually exclusive. Instead of calling a writer sexist for for depicting a mildly emotional female character, maybe we should be asking for similar levels of emotions in male characters. I also have a sense -- and this is idle speculation -- that Japanese game writing is more comfortable with dealing in emotion across the board, and the accusations of sexism are in some ways a result of the degree to which western developers have normalized emotionless, borderline-psychopathic video game protagonists. Again, yes, I know, some stuff in Other M is pretty hard to swallow -- that Ridley scene in particular struck me as out of character -- but I don't think everything about it was misguided.
In my eyes, the premise by which pre-Other M Samus has been deemed a Strong Female Character (or better yet, just a Strong Character) is flawed, or at least a relic of a time when video game writing consisted of a screen of badly-translated text and playing as a woman at all was extremely novel. Other M's writing and narrative presentation stumbled in a lot of ways, but I respect its attempt to drag Samus's character into the 21st century.