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Metroid: Other M (Wii) artwork

Metroid: Other M (Wii) review

"That's the problem with Metroid: Other M. It's a game that clearly understands what makes a Metroid experience great, so every time it chooses not to use that knowledge I'm left scratching my head and asking "why?""

The first hour of gaming in Metroid: Other M is spent running through a powered down science station so dark that it actually hurts the eyes to try to keep track of whatís happening. This makes two platforming sections unbearably painful and turns one room, in which you have to find a small morph ball opening to proceed, into an unintentionally difficult puzzle. This trek is punctuated by monotone posturing from Samus about how sheís a terrible person with an occasional flashback to her as a snotty teenager. The whole thing ends with a distinctly unpromising fight against a boss that looks like it was designed on the N64.

Warning: do not judge the game by this first hour or you will be missing an incredible gaming experience.

If you can push past this painful opening, then suddenly the lights will come on, the aliens will start crawling out of the ventilation shafts, and the old Metroid music creeps into the corners of the soundtrack. And things keep on getting better from there.

Disclaimer: except when they return to the monotone posturing and some more painfully ill-designed sections.

See, that's the problem with Metroid: Other M. It's a game that clearly understands what makes a Metroid experience great, so every time it chooses not to use that knowledge I'm left scratching my head and asking "why?"

The first thing you'll notice (once the lights are on) is how beautifully immersive the game is. Whether you are running through lava caverns or overgrown jungles, you will feel like the entire game has changed to suit the new locale. The environments can affect your play just by the way the look, making you tread carefully in the ice caverns or stop to check for enemies behind the camouflaging foliage of the jungles. Then, when you think you've gotten the hang of everything, the game will throw something new at you. An avalanche may chase you down a collapsing mountain or a tall room may suddenly flood with water and starved aquatic beasts.

No matter what danger she's facing, Samus is a joy to watch. Her poses seamlessly shift between running, dodging and returning fire, illuminating with each move such details as the tenseness of her muscles and the rise and fall of her hurried breathing. You may be platforming across a frozen tundra when a space pirate leaps out at Samus. With the tap of a button, youíll send Samus into a spinning back flip, watching as she does the splits in mid-air to avoid the space pirateís swipe at her. The action slows almost imperceptibly, just enough for you to witness Samus as she twists around and releases a burst of energy at the pirate. She lands in a half crouch and digs one knee into the ground as she grips the barrel of her gun and fires off three more shots, enough to freeze the space pirateís deadly claws. Then the view goes first-person as Samus lines up a missile shot. The blast knocks the pirate down and Samus is on him not a moment later, pulling him into a headlock, pressing her cannon against his skull, and finishing him in a spray of Zebesian blood.

Youíll never get tired of watching scenes like this unfold, not least because youíll feel in complete control of the dance. The controls are amazingly simple in Metroid: Other M. Everything is done with two buttons and a control pad. Pulling off the acrobatic dodges is a simple matter of moving away from an attack at the right moment. Missles are fired by flipping the remote around to point at the screen and then tapping the fire button. Again, itís about timing. Point at the wrong time and the enemy will be on you before you can get off a single shot. Get it just right, though, and time will slow down to provide you with the chance to lock onto a target and fire a missile that explodes out of your cannon in a burst of smoke and fire. Nine times out of ten, your shot will crash into your enemy only moments before he can pounce on you. Everything is designed to be tense, but smooth. If you fail, it means that your plan was a fraction off, not that the controls didnít respond. More often, though, you wonít fail. Youíll succeed by a hairís breadth. Remember playing the original Metroid and having to escape the planet before it self destructed? Remember how you made it to the elevator with only seconds to spare? Every moment in Metroid: Other M feels like that.

Well, almost every moment.

Inexplicably, the few puzzles that are in the game involve the first-person viewing mode, in which Samus cannot move except to look around and the player has to try and find a specific object in the environment to scan in order to start a cutscene. With few clues as to what you should be looking for, sometimes these turn into frustrating random-point-and-click fests. Itís like being forced to read Highlights for Children magazine until youíve solved all the hidden picture puzzles, only no one has given you the list of what the hidden animals are.

Also, Samus walks reaaaaaally slowly during these sections. Oh good God, how slow she walks. I can't accurately describe this to you. It's like a loading screen that you steer.

Metroid: Other M thus severely lacks the action-puzzle element that weíve come to expect from Samus Aranís forays. The morph ball does get used quite a bit so that you can navigate into closed areas of the science facility or get around blockage in corridors, but these detours feel weak compared to the complex uses of the morph ball in the Prime trilogy.

One other area the game struggles with is linearity. Perhaps it is because of the inclusion of the elusive character of Adam or because science facilities all look alike, but one canít help but recall Metroid Fusion when playing Other M. Except that Metroid Fusion had a linearity about it that allowed for a quicker, more action-based experience than its predecessors. At the same time, it felt constricted and lost that feeling of exploration that has come to define the series. Metroid: Other M attempts to provide that same linearity mixed with the backtracking of Super Metroid and the result is molasses.

Samus is told exactly where to go at each stage of the adventure, with little access to rooms outside of the scope of the current objective. Her map even shows here where items are (though of course she has to figure out how to get them on her own). This system works really well when youíre in an area with a lot of scripted events. When youíre running through a lava lake with a giant fire wyrm on your tail, dodging and jumping every time its jaws snap too close, youíre probably not thinking much about exploration. However, the less adrenaline-fueled sections can make a player feel like they are going through the motions, just holding down the direction pad until they get to the next event.

I have to give credit to Other M for it's ballsiness. It refuses to be limited by defined genres. It is a third-person-shooter designed like an old school side-scrolling game. It is also an on-the-fly first-person-shooter that rewards the player for activating the change in genre at the right moments. People are not going to be able to tell you what kind of a game Metroid: Other M is using established labels. It is undeniably new, breaking ground in places that we hadnít even realized needing breaking yet.

I'd like to say that's it's biggest problem. It reminds me of when the first Metroid hit the market. A game where the player scrolls the screen? A game with a password system? A game with no directions given to the gamer? A female protagonist? It is incredible that a series can continue to introduce fresh concepts with every new title.

But while this accomplishment makes Other M feel like the innovative games that have come before it, it's lack of truly clever level design holds it back from being a true equal among such classics.


zippdementia's avatar
Community review by zippdementia (November 02, 2011)

Zipp has spent most of his life standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox there. Sometimes he writes reviews and puts them in the mailbox.

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