Delayed Reactions – Metroid Other M: The truth is in the game
For People Who Like:
Metroid Series (Prime, Super Metroid, etc.), Ninja Gaiden by Team Ninja, Aliens, Shadow Complex.
+ Classic Metroid feel with a twist
+ Easily performed dodge maneuvering
+ Special moves convenient to Wii remote
+ Smooth camera work
+ Classic item hunting exploration
- Story is unflattering to character’s strengths
- Some gameplay elements break pacing
- Item hunting can get restricted from linearity
I’ve been hearing a lot of people say they’re holding back on getting Metroid: Other M because of mixed reactions to it. It seems that because of all the negative press regarding its story, too many are passing on this title. Let me tell you this, go play it. The game is full of the classic side scrolling Metroid action that we’ve been wanting to see. Despite whatever hitches it may have, none of it gets in the way of being able to enjoy the gameplay. If you like Metroid, especially if you like Super Metroid, this is a must play as far as I’m concerned. It makes me want to go back and play older Metroids.
I’ll get to the story issues later, but for now let’s get into the more important stuff; the gameplay. The camera follows you largely on the side scrolling plane with an occasional shift to chase/follow perspectives. The camera shifts are very clean and I never felt like the point of view negatively affected my ability to control Samus. I originally felt like I wanted an analogue stick to play it, but I quickly realized I didn’t need it because the game does a great job at locking you into the desired forward path even if the camera has shifted a few degrees in favor of a more interesting view. I’ve complained before about 3rd person games not providing enough stylization of the camera. This game doesn’t suffer from that too much. Yes, it’s a locked camera perspective, but it plays around with the angle constantly to highlight different things in different sectors.
One thing I was most skeptical about when I saw trailers for this game was the ability to provide adequate controls for the seemingly complex acrobatic moves. Now that I’ve played it, I have to say they pulled it off perfectly within the context of a retro style game. Most of the moves are context based, which means that timing is more important than having numerous buttons. Dodge moves are performed by pressing the directions on the D-pad at the right time. While dodging, if you hold the fire button, your charge attack will charge instantly allowing you to fire a full power shot by the time you hit the floor. Performing the move feels as satisfying as a multi hit combo in something like Team Ninja’s Ninja Gaiden. Specialty moves require you to jump on the enemy, or run into them while they are on the ground injured. These instances trigger flashy moves or executions. They don’t work in every context though, so it’s in the player’s interest to learn which enemies are vulnerable to it and when.
The rest of the game generally plays like a classic Metroid game. There’s exploration, gaining new weapons to open new areas, big boss fights and simple shooting controls. Where they threw in a curve ball was the addition of a Prime-esque first person view, another aspect I’ve heard mixed reactions about. Again, let me set the record straight in saying this mode is hardly a chore to use, it’s not required in the majority of the game and I think any condemnation of it is an overreaction.
Normally the game is played in classic controller mode, on its side. The first person mode is triggered by pointing the controller at the screen. You only have to switch to if you want to use a missile, super missile or if you want to look round. You could go into it for a gallery shooting style if you so chose, but it’s not nearly as effective as just shooting the enemies from the side view because of how efficient the auto targeting is. When you enter first person mode, Samus cannot move, so as long as you plan your use of the missiles accordingly, you won’t have any issues. Any time I saw an enemy making a swipe at me, I just pointed away and pressed dodge. It wasn’t awkward to do and it was satisfying to pull off.
The only complaints I have about the gameplay are some attempts at what I can only imagine was supposed to be immersion and suspense. There are a few points that the camera locks right behind Samus, making the controls clunky, shutting off all her powers and forcing her to walk. This usually only happened in elevators and the women’s rest room (not a joke), but occasionally happened in a few story based instances. These sequences took me out of the game. You have to walk around until you trigger whatever it is you need to trigger, or until the person you’re chasing stops lightly jogging away from you.
Also there are some “hide and seek” sequences where you’re locked into the first person mode. You have to find an unmarked thing in the environment and scan it in order to continue. I always had a hard time finding whatever it was and I usually found it after a few minutes of shooting everything in sight. It broke up the pacing of the action in an unfortunate way.
Lastly, the game is surprisingly linear. Metroid has always been about exploration and unlocking new paths. While you do have a pretty good degree of freedom, there constantly feels like there’s a lock door at your back making certain backtracking impossible until very late into the game. This wasn’t really detrimental to my experience, but seemed annoyed when I got a new ability and couldn’t go back to use it immediately.
Even with the latter few complaints, and especially before I get into the story critique, let me say this one more time. The core gameplay in Other M is classic fun. The things any Metroid fan wants it to do, it does well. If you like Metroid, there’s no reason for you to pass on this game. If you’re new to Metroid though, it’s still fun, but you might find some benefit in playing Super Metroid first.
With that said, the game takes a very unflattering approach to the Samus character arc. I won’t spoil anything, but the basic concept is that a biological weapons project on a vessel called the Bottle Ship goes awry and a distress call is sent out. Samus intercepts the call to find that the Galactic Federation squad she used to be a member of and Adam, her old commanding officer, is on the ship investigating what went wrong.
This is where things start to get tricky. The game feels like she’s crashing someone else’s party. Samus has always been a lone bounty hunter, and she still is here. Adam is basically what she has left of a father figure, so she agrees to abide by the team’s rules. She never really feels like she belongs there though. She’s the most powerful one there, but now she has to sit shotgun to someone else’s mission. Samus is a strong, assertive character, but she’s in a position here where she has to play obedient soldier. It creates a very odd disconnect for the player, like your full potential isn’t being met.
Now here comes the main objection. It’s not a good idea to tell an origin story in the second to last game of the chronology. During the cutscenes, Samus is constantly in soliloquy. Everything is told through flashback and recounting, even though there are new characters around that could be used as a bounce board of exposition. Even still, the game doesn’t describe in good enough detail Samus’s history, especially her history with her arch nemesis Ridley. One of her most meaningful moments is based on this information, yet the player doesn’t get it in the scope of the story told in this game. The game revolves around a few glimpses into her relationship with Adam and her time at the federation, nothing else. I was at a loss when emotional things happened pertaining to her childhood, things that were vital to understanding her emotional journey.
The game paints her as a rebellious, instinctive type. She’s basically a rookie Captain Kirk without leadership qualities. The problem is that the game never really shows how she’s grown over the course of her history. She still comes across as a rookie. Characters are most interesting when they have some fatal flaw. Samus has some interesting flaws that shape her character’s vulnerabilities, but in order to get a sense of her character’s development, it’s just as important to see where they are now in addition to where they came from. The game takes too much time drawing parallels to her present day self rather than depicting a change.
And stick around for after the credits. Not only is there an awesome boss fight, but Samus snaps like Tom Hanks from “Cast Away”. It’s kinda creepy actually and doesn’t add anything to her character in my opinion.
I’ve heard people complaining also about Abbie Heppa’s review from G4 and the “sexist” concern that Samus is taking directives of a man she doesn’t ever need. There’s some reason for this argument, but it’s mostly overreacting from both sides. Virtually none of the character’s weaknesses have to do with the fact she’s a woman. The only thing that being a woman unfairly shaped was her assumption that she would have to be rebellious to be taken seriously as a solder in the federation. Everything else is human. Men have to follow the orders of a superior officer too, men show fear when faced with their worst nightmare, so let’s take it down a notch. You want an example of a moody male character, talk to Max Payne. One of the levels takes place entirely inside his own nightmares. Fear and weakness just makes for a more interesting character.
No matter how strong willed a character is though, how many weapons they have, or how powerful they are, it doesn’t matter when you start pitting them against forces like the “government” or “jurisdiction”. A bounty hunter holds no power in this scenario, so in turn it makes Samus seem far weaker than she actually is.
This didn’t play to character’s strengths in the slightest, but again, it wasn’t enough to detract from the pleasure of playing the game. If you’re going to play this game, just remember you’re getting it to play it. You don’t have to go back and watch the game as a movie if you don’t want to. Incidentally, the story plays much better without the gameplay in between. I’d almost say skipping all the cutscenes and watching it in full afterwards isn’t a bad way to go. The important thing is that I had Metroid branded fun playing this game and so will you.