It’s always refreshing to see a developer take a franchise and try to reinvigorate new life into it. Metroid: Other M is Team Ninja’s attempt at creating a more story driven, combat heavy game that really challenges the proven formula Nintendo is known to deliver. Unfortunately for the developer, it’s an attempt that comes with a few odd design choices.
The story of Metroid Other M plays out immediately after the events of Super Metroid and primarily takes place on a derelict station called the “Bottle Ship”. For the first time in the series, Other M features a stronger emphasis on narrative and a lead character that can finally talk, outside of your occasional grunt and scream from the last games. This is something that I have always thought the series needed to introduce; yet the way its implemented isn’t exactly how I envisioned it. Most of the character development for Samus and the supporting characters are told through cinematic flashbacks, but the cutscenes themselves mainly have Samus narrate them and the voice actor comes off sounding monotonous and robotic. This results in the story sounding drier and uninspiring, which I doubt was intended. Add to the fact that none of the other characters come off as anything remarkable, and it becomes harder and harder to get invested into the overall plot. I do have to say that the story slightly improves in the later parts of the game when a few key characters are introduced which kept me interested in the overall mystery surrounding the Bottle Ship. The mystery isn’t anything groundbreaking, but I thought it got the job done.
The narrative in the series is traditionally told through its atmospheric tone, where the levels themselves tell the story, and not the characters. I always hailed the past games for it’s intricate worlds and design. In the past, each area or zone you explored felt unique and different then the last. I’m surprised for a series known for its distinguishing worlds and captivating soundtrack that the sectors you visit in Other M come across as being hollow and soulless. I never felt like I was in any particular sector at any given time. You’ll stomp through a few ice, lava, and forest centric rooms depending on which sector you’re in, but the level design and the music choice for each sector don’t mesh together well enough to create anything memorable. An overall theme for each sector is clearly absent, and I think that blame lands on both the soundtrack and the art design. That isn’t to say that the world doesn’t look great, as this is probably one of the best-looking Wii games out right now. Some of the rooms themselves have interesting characteristics to them that make them stand out, such as the broken down laboratories and rundown crew facilities. I particularly liked the rooms that looked like lush forests when you enter them, but turn out to be holographic rouses when you “de-active” them. Think of the Holodeck on the starship Enterprise and you’ll get the idea. Overall I enjoyed venturing through each room individually, I just wish more effort went into creating a thematic feel to each of the three sectors you visit.
When you are not morphing into the proverbial soccer ball to solve a few rudimentary puzzles, you’ll be blasting your way through countless enemies and formidable boss battles. This is where you realize that the best part of Other M has to be the combat, but sadly it’s only when you’re fighting from a certain perspective. In the 3rd person view, Samus becomes a fully functioning fighting machine. The game features a fantastic yet easy to pull off dodge move which, if done successfully, can send an instantly charged shot to any of the cannon fodder you come across. It felt a lot like Team Ninja’s other game, Ninja Gaiden, where I was bouncing around the room taking down several enemies at a time. That combat is just as much fun now as it was then. The main problem comes when the player has to switch over to the 1st person perspective to fire missiles, particularly during boss fights, which is done by pointing the Wii Mote at the television set. Several key battles have you attacking enemies from the 3rd person view until you expose their precious weak point, and then take out said weak point with your missiles in 1st person view. More often than not you’ll come into this view disoriented and vulnerable because you’re either staring at the ceiling or the enemy’s toes. This ultimately leads to you missing your small window of opportunity and having to restart the entire endeavor over again. It took a while into my play through to get this process down, and even still I found myself not fully acclimated to this during certain intense battles. You can still shoot your regular shots in 1st person view but your nothing more than a defenseless turret as your movement is completely taken away and it feels like nothing more than a glorified shooting gallery. The game also sometimes features an atrocious photo hunt in 1st person view for items or trigger points that are so obtuse, they can lead you straight to the nearest online walkthrough because they are so clumsily placed.
It took a while for the palm print to finally subside from my forehead after I finished Metroid: Other M, but overall I thought the experience was worth taking in. The action really is the best selling point for the game and I think overall if you are able to step over a few bad design choices you’ll end up having a good time, just remember to have those inevitable groans ready when you run into the issues I listed above.