Metroid: Other M Review
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On 08/29/2010 at 07:36 PM by Chessa DiMola
With Team Ninja at the reins, players are in for a Metroid experience unlike any other.
I'm not sure who to recommend this to as I feel it will be very divisive for Metroid fans. All fans of the series should definitely try the game and see what they think, but don't be surprised if the game doesn't click. For action fans, this is a definite purchase.
Metroid is a wonderful example of how the passage of time and advances in technology have taken a beloved classic and slowly shaped it into an ever evolving gaming experience. The latest entry in the series, Metroid: Other M, is a title that shatters the mold of any Metroid game to date, creating an experience that might spark some controversy among the series' long-standing fans.
Being the direct sequel to Super Metroid, Metroid: Other M begins with a fantastic opening cinematic of the final moments of Mother Brain's life, where the baby metroid sacrifices itself to save Samus. Following the altercation, Samus finds herself back in safety and fully healed, putting her in good enough shape to start her training ahead of Other M's core mission.
It's in this training room where players will have their first opportunity to control Samus from a third-person perspective and become acquainted with the new controls. Though I was initially worried about how fluid her movements would be given that the D-pad had replaced the joystick, I was pleasantly surprised at how smooth every step and turn she made was. From shooting enemies, to turning into the morph ball, to switching between third and first-person, all of the controls felt natural, as if I had been using them for years. Even the new dodging system, a skill that absolutely must be mastered, was as simple as pushing a direction on the D-pad.
To say I was impressed with the initial technical aspects might be an understatement. In addition to the fluid controls, were absolutely stunning graphics and cinematics. It's fair to say that Other M's technical prowess is unrivaled on the Wii. Given this strong first impression, I was sure that Other M would be an incredible Metroid experience unlike any other; however, I didn't know just how accurate this feeling would be, in both good ways and bad.
As a Metroid fan, I have become used to exploring vast and widely varying areas, which is why I was a bit concerned when Other M seemed to be set inside of a space station. As I traveled through the ship I found myself mostly surrounded by metal walls, with little to differentiate one location from another. Even as I pressed further into the ship, the areas never varied from the generic space ship setting set forth in the beginning of the game, aside from a few token rooms. Instead of feeling isolated, I felt almost claustrophobic as I seemed to be doing nothing but running through tight corridors fighting challenging enemies in very close quarters.
Unfortunately, battling enemies is about all players will do throughout the entire ten to twelve hour quest. Though the enemies are greatly varied and most require a strict balance between offense and defense, the amount of action seemed to be very unnatural for a Metroid game. As players travel from one save point to another, the pattern is usually as follows: pass through several corridors with few-to-no enemies, proceed to an area that features the equivalent of a mini-boss, and defeat it. This same sequence of events carries through the entire game, with only a handful of puzzles present, few of which are unique enough to be memorable.
Exploration and searching for hidden items has been nearly eliminated, as players will not be able to acquire 60% of the power-ups scattered around during the main quest. Players are actually barred from returning to past areas once a new ability that would allow access to a power-up is gained, creating a very linear experience that is extremely out of character for the series.
Other M is basically broken down into missions, where a yellow diamond will be shown on the player's map, and their goal will be to reach it. Though Metroid has always given players some type of direction as to where to go next, the distance between each yellow diamond is incredibly short, as are the distances between save points. This aspect changes the battle formula quite a bit, as do a few new additions to the Metroid series.
When Samus' health is depleted to about 50 points, players can now charge up to refill her life bar. As players progress, they will pick up emergency tanks to further refill their health when it reaches this critical point. Given this new ability, players will notice that defeating enemies no longer nets them life, or missiles for that matter, which can also be recharged. In fact, if the developers didn't lock the exit door, players would really never have a reason to defeat the common enemies. Presumably, this was done because battling is the centerpiece of the game, rather than exploration which has always reigned supreme.
As you may or may not know, I am a huge fan of the Metroid series, and the removal of exploration did not strike the right chord with me. The lack of exploration elements and the suffocating environment feels unnatural for a Metroid experience. Being trapped in a spaceship for the entire game reminded me more of a Resident Evil game rather than your traditional Metroid experience. I'm not saying that Metroid isn't allowed to offer a new experience, but it seems that almost entirely removing the cornerstone of the series is not the wisest decision.
Furthermore, Other M lacks other key Metroid staples, such as the music and sound effects that have existed as far back as Super Metroid on the SNES. The lack of a true soundtrack is definitely problematic. Traditionally, Metroid has always featured a wide variety of tracks to convey the atmosphere of a particular setting. In Other M, the ambient soundtrack felt a bit too suppressed and rarely evoked any emotion in most situations. Even finding power-ups doesn't feel as satisfying without a little congratulatory jingle. The sum of these changes is an experience that feels quite foreign and many fans of the series may not be comfortable with the results.
Innately, these changes are not particularly negative, only for extreme fans of the series. In fact, those who have grown bored of Metroid will find most of the changes quite welcome. Honestly, though I am a major fan of the series and wasn't particularly thrilled with the tweaks, the game itself is still quite good. As a matter of fact, I would say that aside from a few issues, the experience was excellent. The following are a few complaints about the game in general, regardless of being a part of the Metroid lineage.
First, though the perspective shift to third-person feels very natural and hearkens back to the Metroid games of yesteryear, there are a few annoyances that come out of this change when in 3D. The most obvious is the lack of ability for players to focus on one particular enemy at a time. When running through corridors filled with enemies, Samus will shoot at anything in front of her, and generally will attack the enemy closest to her. This is normally not a problem but becomes a bit frustrating when you are trying to attack the one enemy in front of you who is about to ruin your day.
During other times in conflict, most notably in the mini-boss battles, the method in which you must dispose of the enemy is not always clear. For example, I spent an entire minute performing a final attack move on a certain enemy, and was confused as to why it wasn't working even though the game was allowing me to do so. I came to find that I needed to shatter part of its face first and then I could blow its brains out.
Points like this truly showcased that an internal Nintendo team was not on the project. Typically, players would be cued to complete a different action before being able to perform this finishing move, or they would simply be barred from performing the action at all. These moments provided some of the greatest frustration found in the game.
Again, I feel as if I'm coming off extremely negative about the experience as a whole. Ignoring the issues, Other M is often enthralling and always pushing players to progress through the experience. While the Prime games offered some interesting combat, there's something even more intense and engaging about the combat found here.
Switching back and forth between third and first person in battles is an extremely interesting mechanic that makes for some of the most dynamic battling ever found in a game. Players can no longer consider just the options in their current form, but the possibilities within first person as well, in addition to the standard third person form and morph ball form. In order to truly capitalize on these three forms, each provides a separate set of abilities, many of which must be utilized to defeat the various mini-bosses throughout the game. These abilities multiply as players push further and further into the game.
With battling at the centerpiece, it's no surprise that many of the general enemies are quite inventive, and in keeping with Metroid tradition, the bosses are also magnificent experiences. Typically these foes are grand in size and each are completely unique from one another. Another interesting side effect of removing health pick-ups, is that boss battles become that much more intense. Players must defeat the bosses with their current health stock, or risk death in order to charge. There is no better word to describe the feeling of losing all of your life and needing to perform a health charge other than desperation. It's not often that a game can evoke this emotion.
What's also nice is scouring the landscape for all of the power-ups after you have completed the game, though it's a bit frustrating that I wasn't able to do this before beating the final boss. The exploration that was lacking throughout does become somewhat apparent at this point in the game, which many Metroid fans will likely appreciate.
Another great aspect of Other M was the opportunity for players to delve into Samus' past, and get a glimpse of the woman inside the suit. While seeing Samus' evolution from defiant adolescent to bounty hunter was both fascinating and intriguing, I do have to admit that I was a bit put-off by how overly sensitive she was portrayed. By no means am I saying that every person, man or woman, is not allowed their time to be emotional, but it was quite hard to view the terrified, crying woman on the screen as the badass bounty hunter that she has been portrayed as up until now. Going forward, I would love to continue learning more about her character, however I could really do without hearing what thoughts are "swirling through her mind" every fifteen minutes.
All complaints aside, I think Other M is a good game, but one that struggles with its identity as a Metroid title. It's likely that when everyone has had their chance to play the game, the changes put forth here will be cause for great discourse and controversy over what defines a true Metroid experience. It will be interesting to see where Nintendo takes the series after this and how much of what has been presented here will reappear in future titles. In the end, Other M is full of action, great enemies and boss battles, a story to tie it all together, and a gaming experience that is intriguing, engaging, and just plain fun.