If there's a franchise in Nintendo's library of games that still manages to get me excited, it has to be Metroid. You can have your Mario and Zelda titles, but Metroid will always have a special place in my heart.
That's not to say that I can't be critical of the series. I have a hard time going back to the original Metroid on the NES because it's too dated for modern gamers. If I were to suggest a Metroid title to introduce someone to the series, the NES title would be at the bottom of my list. However, I'm not sure that I'd suggest Metroid: Other M as an introductory title. Other M is great and I had a lot of fun with it, but there were a few disappointments scattered throughout my adventure.
Let's start off with the good stuff, and there's plenty of it in Other M. The game kicks off with a bang, setting the tone for the game with a fantastic CGI-rendered sequence that depicts the final battle of Super Metroid. Other M is set shortly after the Super Nintendo classic, with Samus feeling regret over the death of the Baby Metroid and setting off into the quiet of space for some solace and time to think. Her journey is interrupted by a distress signal that leads her to the Bottle Ship, a large research vessel with a team of Galactic Federation soldiers led by Adam, under whom Samus served during her brief stint as a soldier. Samus tags along on the team's rescue mission, but they quickly uncover a small conspiracy.
Bottle Ship might sound like a boring location for a Metroid title, since it's just a spaceship and Metroid fans have grown attached to different planet locations in their space adventures. However, the vessel overcomes those obstacles by showcasing a number of virtual reality sectors within its hull. Each sector has a different theme, such as lush jungle environments and fire- or lava-based obstacles. There's even an ice sector that is reminiscent of Phendrana Rifts from the Prime series.
The virtual reality stuff isn't necessarily foolproof, though. Some damaged sections reveal the cold, gray interior of the ship through small rifts in the environment. It's quite a cool effect. There are also some puzzles that involve shutting down or turning on the virtual reality set pieces in order to progress to a new area or hidden item, so it's nice to see that Other M manages to integrate this concept into the gameplay.
Other M has a healthy blend of puzzle-based sequences and action gameplay. I was a little hesitant because Team Ninja is primarily known for its action titles, such as Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive, but the puzzle elements definitely haven't been dropped in favor of pure action.
There are plenty of secret areas to access, hidden items to find, and some familiar puzzle-solving sequences to progress the story. The game doesn't appear very open at first, but after you gain access to the speed run ability and super missiles, you'll realize how many hidden areas are in the game. Sometimes you won't be able to reach an item until you've unlocked the necessary equipment, so don't get hung up on finding every little item until you've unlocked a good amount of gear.
From a story perspective, the reason for Samus' early gear restriction is a bit of a stretch. Typically, Samus arrives on a planet and has her gear stripped due to some damage or interference, so you'll spend a large amount of time re-gathering your gear at different spots on the map, usually in tandem with a new area that requires you to use that new item. That holds true in Other M, except Samus isn't without her gear.
She has decided to not use any of it until Adam authorizes her to do so.
Now, I can see the point of that when it comes to weapons. Power bombs and super missiles can cause a lot of destruction and mayhem when used in close proximity of run-of-the-mill human soldiers, but it's ridiculous to limit the use of a Varia Suit or speed boost. When you are able to use the Varia Suit, which keeps you from receiving heat damage in high temperature environments and reduces overall damage, you've been taking heat damage for a while. Adam calls you right before a boss encounter, which is certainly helpful, but where was he an hour ago? It doesn't seem like a logical workaround from the typical Metroid setup, and while I like the attempt to change things up, it doesn't seem particularly well thought-out.
Other M is a 3-D representation of classic Metroid, so it's the game that I thought we'd get when the Metroid series hit the Nintendo GameCube. At its core, Other M feels like a throwback title that's been updated for modern play, while taking Morph Ball controls from Prime and throwing in a few additions, like the ability to quickly dodge enemy fire and enter a first-person view for precise targeting. It feels like the Metroid games I enjoyed as a kid and the Game Boy Advance Metroid titles I enjoyed as an adult. If you're a fan of the series and you're hoping for something more in tune with the pre-Metroid Prime games, then you'll likely love Other M.
The controls are very easy to pick up and play, and you only need the Wii Remote. The d-pad controls movement, which feels a little odd in a 3-D action game. I think the Nunchuk's analog stick would have provided more precision, but movement and jumping have some safeguards to prevent you from accidentally stepping off a platform or missing a small jump. If you run up to the edge of a platform, Samus will pause instead of simply going over, so you have to intentionally miss a jump to fall down.
The 1 and 2 buttons fire your main weapon and control jumping, respectively. If you want to enter first-person mode, you can point the Wii Remote at the screen, and it'll switch the view so you can precisely target enemies or objects and fire away. If you hold down the B button while in first-person view, you'll lock on to those items; depending on what you're trying to attack, this could even trigger missiles. It's worth noting that you can only fire missiles when you're in the first-person view. You can't switch between your main weapon and missiles like you can in most Metroid titles.
Finally, Samus has a couple of other new abilities, one of which is dodging enemy fire at the last second. This is achieved by pressing a direction on the d-pad prior to movement. There's a small trail of green light that'll let you know your dodge was successful, along with a temporary and intentional slowdown effect. If you time it right, you can also hold down the 1 button to build up a quick charge shot with your beam so you can quickly counterattack. This tactic is great for larger enemies and most boss fights, but it's pretty easy to pull off.
The other ability comes from some flashy kills, and you've probably seen it in video footage since E3. It's another thing you need to master for some of the tougher fights. If you manage to stun an enemy, you can walk up to him and hold a direction on the d-pad to initiate a small animation sequence. During this sequence, you need to hold down the 1 button to charge up a shot. If it's successful, you'll deliver an instant kill or cause a high-damage attack to the enemy.
Other M is quite challenging, but thankfully, it's not on par with other Team Ninja titles, which are notoriously difficult. I faced a few continue screens, but the game is generous with checkpoints, which will allow you to restart in the room you died (or a room or two before), so you don't lose a lot of progress. Boss fights can be challenging, but they're mostly pattern-based affairs, so if you're patient enough, you'll be able to waltz through a lot of encounters. I found some of the larger normal enemies to be tougher than boss encounters. You'll also frequently encounter save points, which also double as map rooms to reveal small bits of the map that tie into your current objective.
It's nice to have frequent save points, as the enemies don't drop health-recharging power-ups like previous Metroid games. The only way to get a full charge is to run into a save point. You have the concentration ability, which allows you to do a quick health recharge if your health dips low enough. The default charge will only fill up your initial health bar and not your additional energy tanks, but you can find power-ups scattered about the map that'll increase the amount of health that a concentration charge will fill. Concentration is also used to recharge your current missile count, and both actions are done by tilting the Wii Remote vertically and holding down the A button.
The soundtrack for Other M is really solid, full of ambient music that is sometimes barely audible as you run around Bottle Ship. However, as I write this review, I'm struggling to think of a particular standout track or area, and I can't really name a sequence. Fans of the series' more iconic tracks will be happy to know that there are a couple of light remixes of familiar arrangements, but the game really delivers a unique sound without relying heavily on what's come before in the series.
While the game seems to imply that Samus isn't going to be alone by introducing the Federation soldiers, most of your adventure is done solo, so the game still delivers the same sense of isolation. There's the occasional cut scene that'll have you interacting with other people, but you're not going to be stuck doing fetch quests for a chatty commanding officer or trying to escort unarmed civilians around the ship.
The voice-over work is mostly solid, with Samus being the only exception. The voice actress comes off as distant and doesn't convey emotion extremely well, but I wonder how much of that is intentional, considering Samus' mood throughout this title. The game has a couple of lengthy cut scenes, but the voice acting isn't bad enough to make me turn off the volume or hope for an optional language track.
There are sequences where the third-person view changes and comes in close behind Samus' back, much like a Resident Evil 4 perspective. This view is used to heighten the tension in particular moments, but during these sequences, the only thing Samus is able to do is move extremely slowly. You can't fire your gun, you can't jump, and you can't go into Morph Ball mode. It's a pretty useless effect, and there are a couple of sequences where it goes on for far too long, bringing the action and fun to a temporary halt.
Metroid: Other M is a damn fine game that's worth checking out. It won't take the top spot as my favorite Metroid title of all time, mostly due to some minor pacing issues that slow down an otherwise entertaining adventure. I really enjoyed the title, aside from my complaints about the funky third-person view, the game's silly excuse for limiting your arsenal, and Samus' somewhat timid voice acting. If you've been looking forward to playing the game, then it won't disappoint you in the slightest. The story was certainly developed with longtime Metroid fans in mind, but it's also nice that the game is easy to pick up and play for Wii owners who don't have much appreciation for the series. Other M is definitely worth picking up and totally worth the wait.
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