Metroid: Other M
Developer: Nintendo/Team Ninja
System: Nintendo Wii
Release Date: August 31st, 2010
Co-created by Yoshio Sakamoto and the late Gunpei Yokoi, the Metroid series began on the NES in 1986 and was praised for its unique open-ended and non-linear gameplay, but had very long password sequences since the game didn't have a save ability. In 1991, Metroid II: The Return of Samus released as a direct sequel to Metroid, fully taking advantage of the cartridge's save ability by scattering save points throughout the large world. 1994 brought about the release of Super Metroid on the powerful Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Much to the dismay of fans, the series went into a hiatus for nearly a decade, and it wasn't until 2002 that the next title in the series, Metroid Fusion, was released. For eight years, Sakamoto didn't direct a Metroid title – excluding the GBA remake of the first Metroid (2004) – as Nintendo opted for second-party development house Retro Studios to develop the critically-acclaimed Metroid Prime trilogy. Since the Prime trilogy was finished in 2007, Sakamoto returned to create another Metroid title with many members from the Super Metroid and Metroid Fusion team, along with the help of developer Team Ninja. This new game, Metroid: Other M, promised to bring out the emotional side of series protagonist and galactic bounty hunter Samus Aran with CGI cut scenes and full voice acting, along with a return to the series' classic roots; many began to herald Other M as the second coming of Super Metroid.
Chronologically, Metroid: Other M takes place directly – literally a day – after the events of Super Metroid. All the Space Pirates have been destroyed due to the explosion on planet Zebes, along with Ridley, Kraid, and the leader of the Space Pirates: Mother Brain. The entire Metroid race was also destroyed during the explosion of the planet. Other M opens with an absolutely gorgeous CGI re-creation of the final moments of Super Metroid, as the baby Metroid who thinks Samus is its mother sacrifices itself to save the bounty hunter from Mother Brain's finishing attack. Using the powers granted to her by the Metroid in its dying seconds, Samus destroys Mother Brain with the hyper-beam. The sequences that take place afterwards depict Samus returning to full health as she's rewarded by the Galactic Federation for the destruction of the Metroid race and the Space Pirates. The heroine leaves the Galactic Federation headquarters in her ship and begins to drift through space, pondering the previous events; she can't get the thought of the baby Metroid out of her mind, how it took to her as its mother, and that it's no longer alive. At that point Samus receives a distress signal known as "Baby's Cry" that leads her to the Bottle Ship – a gargantuan space station.
Right from the get-go, it's obvious that story elements will play a large role in Other M. Early on in the game, Samus has many flash-backs and monologues. The voice acting for Samus during these moments sounds like that of an automated voice message; there are many pauses where people normally keep speaking, such as the following phrase "My name is Samus. I'm a bounty hunter. I work alone." The monologues are the inner thoughts of Samus, and when she's relaying events that just happened, such as the meeting of Galactic Federation troops on the Bottle Ship, she tends to state the obvious and repeat things. It's weird, too, because when Samus speaks to other characters in the game she sounds perfectly natural. Luckily, there are only a few monologues after the first 30 or so minutes of the game.
In addition to a heavy dose of story, Other M dives into the emotional side of Samus Aran, previously unheard of in the Metroid series. The only background known of Samus prior to Other M is that her parents were killed by Space Pirates, specifically Ridley, that she was raised by the Chozo -- an all-intelligent race of humanoid birds – and that she was once a member of the Galactic Federation military. From those details it can be inferred that Samus has had a tough life and has become a hardened warrior, especially by the time Other M occurs, since it's the second to last game in the Metroid chronology. Contrary to this belief, a softer side of Samus is portrayed in Other M. She still mercilessly kills enemies with no problem, but when she encounters her former Commanding Officer and members of her old team she becomes emotional and dwells on memories of the past. This aspect of the story can be somewhat believable since Samus has spent many years in seclusion, carrying out bounties given to her by the Galactic Federation by herself. The overall story of the game is interesting due to Samus' lack of information on the mission and a few twists along the way.
Other M starts off fairly slow; the game's opening cut scenes last quite a while, and even when players gain control of Samus it takes about an hour for the pace to really pick up. Compared to other Metroid titles, Other M is far more combat oriented -- many enemies may be on screen at any given time for players to blast away. Samus has a few finishing moves too: the Overblast and Lethal Strike. With the Overblast, Samus can jump on enemies and unleash a powerful charged shot into their head. Lethal Strike only works when an enemy reaches a certain low amount of health; Samus grabs the enemy, puts her foot on its neck to hold it down, and unleashes a devastating charged blast into its face. Both of these moves only work on certain enemies throughout the game, but they're very satisfying to pull off. The most genius addition to combat is the SenseMove – the split second before an enemy attack hits Samus, projectile or otherwise, players can double tap in any direction on the D-pad to slow-motion dodge out of the way. This makes huge firefights more manageable, and by quickly pressing the 1 button while dodging Samus will have a fully charged beam ready to fire. Combat in Other M is further encouraged through optional item pickups. When all enemies are cleared in a room, a blue dot will appear on the map in that very room on the location of the item – it's up for players to then find it themselves without knowing exactly where it is. Item pickups in Other M include Missile Tanks that increase missile capacity by one unit, the familiar Energy Tanks of the series, and Energy Tank Parts that work like heart pieces in The Legend of Zelda.
In returning to the series' classical roots, Other M ditches the first-person perspective of the popular Prime series for a third-person view. There are some sections of the game that play in a 2D side-scrolling fashion similar to Super Metroid, but most of the game has players controlling Samus in a full 3D space. Instead of using the joystick of the Nunchuck, Nintendo opted for D-pad control on the Wiimote by holding it horizontally, "NES style." The initial response isn't as intuitive as a joystick would allow, but it doesn't take a long time to adapt to it at all, considering players never have to align Samus in super specific spot or face just the right way to shoot something. In fact, there are two additions that solve the problem of blasting enemies without great precision when it comes to the direction Samus is facing. When running around shooting foes, Samus will automatically aim at the nearest or most powerful enemy in her range as long as she's facing its general direction. To even further dispel worry for the aforementioned issue, Other M allows player to enter the first-person view akin to the Prime series just by pointing the Wiimote at the screen. This immediately feels natural for anyone who has played Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, Metroid Prime Trilogy, or any first-person game on the Wii. When the cursor goes off screen players return to the third-person view, so to look around the B button has to be held down. The B button also lets Samus lock onto enemies, scan for a weakness, and check the health of a boss. The A button fires beam shots and missiles when locked onto an enemy or obstacle that's weak against missiles. Movement isn't allowed in first-person mode, which was the smart choice; the fast-paced, relentless action of Other M can't be done in with the first-person view of Metroid Prime, a game that had a slower pace of combat than Other M. However, a SenseMove can be performed in first-person by removing the cursor from the screen right before Samus is hit by an attack.
Four different areas, called Sectors, make up the "world" of Metroid: Other M. The Sectors vary from a jungle to an arctic region to a fiery volcano. Keep in mind that the entirety of the game takes place in the Bottle Ship; each Sector has computer generated backdrops to make inhabitants feel like they're in the given environment, but it's still mind-boggling how a volcano – not computer generated by the Bottle Ship – is in Sector 3. Due to the fact that players are actually in an enclosed space, Other M lacks that distinct Metroid feel, that atmospheric vibe that Super Metroid and Metroid Prime pull off so well. It's just not the isolationism – Samus is alone most of the time in the game – it's the lack of living environments. On a technical level, Other M is visually superb, with beautiful cut scenes, great texture details and other visual effects in-game, but never in Other M is there a moment similar to landing on Tallon IV for the first time in Metroid Prime; Samus exiting her ship as the cool rain pours non-stop from the clouds above onto the lush jungle of the Tallon Overworld.
Apart from the atmospheric presence, Metroid has always been known for its non-linear, open-ended gameplay. The games have been linear in the sense that there's one ultimate task, one final place to reach, but to get there players have to traverse the world with little or no general direction at all. Most notably in Super Metroid and the Prime series, new areas can be reached when an upgrade is obtained. Usually getting that upgrade requires back-tracking to previous areas that can now be explored with upgrades Samus didn't have when she first went through the area. For a good 90 percent of the game, Other M plays very similarly to Metroid Fusion, if not worse to some extent: players constantly know where to go next, thanks to a yellow dot that appears on the map. This takes away the open-ended gameplay the series has been known for. Additionally, most doors can't be opened until Samus has to go through that area to reach the next checkpoint. Not only until after players beat the game does the entire Bottle Ship become open to explore.
Another familiar part of the Metroid experience is changed up a bit in Other M: weapon and suit upgrades. Instead of discovering various beams and suit expansions that were lost by Samus or completely new to her arsenal, Samus has everything right from the start, and rightfully so, since the game takes place after Super Metroid. However, due to respect for her Commanding Officer, Samus decides not to use upgraded beams and suit powers until he authorizes her do to so. While this makes for a good plot mechanic, it's silly where the actual gameplay is concerned. For instance, when Samus reaches the volcanic sections of Sector 3 she takes damage from the immense heat, but authorization to use the heat-damage reducing Varia Suit isn't given until the area's boss. Beam upgrades are authorized as the game progresses, and include the Wave Beam, Ice Beam, and Plasma Beam. There are some upgrades that are actually obtained from enemies, however, such as the Diffusion Beam and Seeker Missile. There comes a point late in the game where Samus activates her abilities without authorization when she absolutely needs to, including the Gravity Suit, which is only a purple outline.
With all the low-points of Other M not exactly feeling like a Metroid title, the game's boss battles shine. Other M is a far more cinematic experience – by far the most for Nintendo – than previous games in the Metroid universe, and as such, so are the insanely epic boss battles. Not only are bosses huge in size, but they present a formidable challenge to players and get more difficult as the game goes on. Many of the bosses require patterns to defeat instead of relentless shooting. One boss uses an extreme gravity amplifier that makes missiles useless, so players have to freeze the amplifier before they can destroy its tough metal encasing with missile fire. On the cinematic side, there's one boss about four or five hours into the game that sent chills down my spine. It was a three-fold effect; the intro of the boss came off as mysterious to Samus and Anthony Higgs while it was clear to veterans of the Metroid series as to who it was, Samus' emotions when confronting the boss were believable, and it was an unexpected encounter.
I beat Metroid: Other M in seven hours and 28 minutes, but I had only collected 20 percent of the game's item pickups. After beating the game, players are able to return to the Bottle Ship as Samus find "one last thing" that can't be left there. Obtaining what Samus is looking for doesn't take very long – about 20 minutes – but this gives players time to collect every remaining item pickup. A total percent and percent for item pickups in each Sector is displayed on the map screen at this time, and the reward for reaching 100 percent is unlocking hard-mode. The extra portion of the game even features one last boss, which is much more difficult than the final boss of the main game.
Metroid: Other M certainly has its fair share of flaws, but there are still many great things about the title. While the majority of the game lacks the unique Metroid feel, the fast-paced action and intense boss battles will keep players on the edge of their seats. The cut scenes are outstanding and the story is interesting, despite the poor voice acting from Samus for a lot of the game. When it's all said and done, is Other M better than Super Metroid and Metroid Prime, or even the definitive Metroid experience on the Wii? Certainly not, but Other M is still an outstanding game in its own right that will hook players from beginning to end.