Nintendo had a lot of surprises during E3 2010. Metroid: Other M, as a surprise from E3 2009, was not one of them. The first game announced (but second to release) from Team Ninja after the exit of Tomonobu Itagaki and other members, Other M seeks to develop Samus Aran while expanding the series in entirely new angles — including a 3-D update more in line with classic entries — and retaining significant elements of the Prime side series by Retro Studios. The game was available on the show floor, and we were able to see firsthand how the title has been tuned and polished to a sheen.
Other M is mostly full 3-D, but with a locked, downward-facing camera that forces basic actions onto the ground in 2-D and removes emphasis from platforming puzzles. This will sometimes put play areas into full 2-D, particularly when Samus' signature Morph Ball ability comes into play. The result keeps the controls very simple but still provides for varied combat. This is the first Metroid game to offer melee attacks in addition to Samus' traditional shooting, and she can even pull an instant-kill moves on downed enemies.
Prime elements come into play when the player points the Wii Remote toward the screen. The camera spins to a first-person view from Samus' helmet, allowing her to precisely aim shots, fire missiles and scan things. However, Samus can't move while in this view, forcing you to constantly switch back and forth. The switch takes a bit of getting used to, but it proves very valuable for many tasks and is quick enough to not get in the way. Notably, the game's exploration actively encourages mixing modes, tightly integrating both into all aspects of play.
A more obvious change may be the heavy emphasis on story in Other M, including one of the very few times that we've seen Samus dressed like a normal person. Some scenes discuss her past, before she was an independent bounty hunter. It turns out she was a soldier in the Galactic Federation army — the very organization that hires her most of the time — and when she left, she may have burned a bridge with her old commanding officer, Adam Malkovich, who was heavily referenced in Metroid Fusion.
Surprisingly, when she investigates a distress signal, she ends up meeting him and his crew. They are forced to work together again while confronting more of Samus' past than has been shown in previous sources. Much of this is told through expressive cut scenes, capturing some of the finest elements of Team Ninja's CG talents. The history discussed in this title seems to completely ignore the entire Prime series; since that series was ironically referred to as "Metroid Gaiden," it's safe to say that this isn't changing.
Some story elements show up in the gameplay. For example, soon after encountering Adam's team, Samus and the group are attacked by a strange, purple creature comprised of several insects. Samus has to work with Adam's team, who use their automatic cover fire and freeze beams while she distracts it with missiles and destroys each arm. Several bosses shown in preview videos appear to be very similar to creatures from previous Metroid games, and this seems highly intentional.
The E3 2010 demo didn't reveal many new elements, but it did show that the game is highly polished and essentially ready for prime time. Metroid: Other M will be the first release to prepare for Nintendo's massive push for this winter, and it'll be a fine start indeed.
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