Wednesday, May 13, 2015
Metroid: Other M
Released on the Wii, August 31, 2010, by Nintendo, Team Ninja, and D-Rockets
Wii U Game Reviews Score: 8.0/10
Last month's Metroid Prime 3:Corruption review detailed my MIA Wii status. I missed out on the Wii's entire lifespan. However, I did spend those lost seven years as an interested bystander. I kept tabs on many of the new games that were released. Nothing piqued my interest more than 2010's Metroid: Other M. It looked so cool. A third-person 3-D Metroid? I had already missed the concluding chapter of Metroid Prime. Now I was gonna miss this?!
Life's not fair!
That's the best thing about it, though.
It's not very fair that a guy working two jobs, with a wife and kid and 600 hobbies still somehow finds time to not only play video games, but review them. That's the most satisfying part of this whole thing. I never thought I'd get the chance to play these games, but here I am, in my 30's, having the time of my life. On this great, unexpected second life of video-game playing, my most recent conquest was the previously mentioned Metroid Prime 3, the concluding chapter of the nearly perfect Metroid Prime series. Feeling that the least fair way to review Metroid: Other M, one of the most controversial games in the Metroid series, would be to play it immediately after tackling one of the series' most heralded entries, I immediately began playing Metroid: Other M in preparation for this review.
Why Was It So Controversial, You Long-Winded Gasbag?
Metroid games generally have one thing in common: bounty hunter, Samus Aran, wandering solo through a foreboding alien landscape, fighting alien monsters, powering up her metallic, weaponized suit. In Other M, Aran joins up with a Galactic Federation assault team, tasked with investigating a distress call from a huge, seemingly abandoned spacecraft, known as the Bottle Ship. The assault team just happens to be headed by Samus' old superior, Adam Malkovich. Samus was once a soldier for the Federation, but left because she was just too awesome to deal with their crap...until now. Upon sight of her old supervisor, the once badass loner Samus now becomes a subservient lapdog. That's pretty much the reason Other M has an awful reputation.
If you think about it, Samus takes orders from a Federation commander in Metroid Prime 3, as well, and late in that game, she assists a Federation assault team. No one complains about that.
That's Because People Are Lame.
While I don't completely disagree with you, people were not being lame in this case. These two games contain a key difference in their portrayal of Samus Aran. In Prime 3, and in just about every Metroid game, Samus is generally called on by the Federation because she is the only person awesome enough to take care of their problems. The cool general from Metroid Prime 3 might bark like Winston Churchill (and I love me some Winston Churchill), but when it comes to Samus, he knows his forces would be flailing around like worms after a heavy rain if not for her assistance. Also, Samus, like Link, the hero of the Zelda games, does not talk...in any game... before...ever. In that fashion, Samus' and Link's thoughts are simply your thoughts. In action, they are a cipher for you, while still maintaining awesome characterization in their movement and stoic silence. The Samus of Other M, in cutscenes, is not stoic. Even without Samus' costly, PTSD-induced inaction at vital moments of Other M, and her ridiculous and poorly explained adoration for Adam, Samus would be bearable if she would just shut the hell up.
So That's It! You're a Sexist Pig!
Maybe so, but that has nothing to do with my complaint here. In fact, when I heard people whining about Other M five years ago, I just figured they were angry because Samus was actually being portrayed as a woman. After all, she is...a woman. That's not it, though. It's that she over-narrates everything. A character might say, "This place is deserted," which Samus' internal monlogue will immediately follow with "he exclaimed, as he squinted his eyes." First off, I know he exclaimed it because I heard him say it. Second off, I know he squinted his eyes because the game showed the dude squinting his eyes. The narration is an insult to the player's intelligence. At this point in artistic history, "Show, don't tell" should go without saying, but the Samus of Other M tells everything.
There's Samus doing some Adam-pleading near the end of the game. In their first Other M encounter, Adam says something rather gruff to Samus, and the game then perfectly exemplifies what I'm complaining about here. "His words pierced my heart," Samus says. Not only is this sentence an abomination because it is being said by a character who is generally piercing monsters exoskeleton's with missile blasts--not having her feelings hurt--but also because a simple cutscene cut to a slightly pained expression on Samus' face after Adam makes the "heart-piercing" comment would have sufficed. It doesn't help that the narration is often woodenly read.
So what I'm saying here is that the actual problem with Other M is how the story is being told, not the story itself.
And actually, I feel like I've just gotten most of Other M's negatives out of the way. Let's get to the rest of the game.
Cool...So What's a Bottle Ship?
Glad you asked, because setting is actually one of Metroid: Other M's strongest assets. This is "the" Bottle Ship.
Turns out the Bottle Ship is a place where the Federation secretly attempted to transform a multitude of the galaxy's indigenous creatures into weapons of war.
Because these various creatures hail from various environments, the Bottle Ship is divided into several different climate zones. This satisfies an old childhood fetish of mine: the Bottle Ship is a Biodome!
There's also a jungle area, as well as a mechanized, laboratory area.
While all of these environments are now standard fare for a Metroid game, the very fact that this is, indeed, a biodome ship, makes the settings cooler. One particularly awesome touch is that certain computer-generated touches in several particularly massive rooms can be turned off or on.
For instance, one stunning outdoor environment
can be revealed to be nothing more than this
Thankfully, you can always hit the switch and turn the metal walls into a beautiful blue skyline whenever you wish.
As you can see, these areas graphically push the Wii pretty hard, and while they don't quite match Metroid Prime 3's level of excellence, they're still top notch. The abundance of color is especially appreciated.
The beasts that populate the ship are, for the most part, equally stunning. I say most part because there are one or two goofy looking critters roaming around, but for the most part, Other M features a wonderfully grotesque rogues gallery.
This hideous thing above looked even uglier when it was still alive (SPOILER: IT'S NOT REALLY DEAD).
Speaking of enemies, AI is really excellent. Combat in Other M can get pretty brutal: I haven't trashed talked computer-controlled creatures this much in quite a long time.
In third-person action, the player simply points Samus in the direction they want to shoot, and presses the "1" button on the Wii remote to fire away. "2" is for jump, and that sums up the basics. Run, jump, and shoot. The game also tosses a few "melee" moves into the mix. Time a jump onto an enemy's back and fire a devastating blast into their body from close range. Knock an enemy to the ground and time a dash forward perfectly to shove your cannon right down their throat for a kill-shot. Get too close to one another and grapple for a body-slam. It's all very satisfying, and just typing this is raising my bloodlust, and reminding me of the harsh epithets I reserved for my mightiest foes, as I scattered their ashes among the eternally wafting dusts of the galaxy.
Hey buddy, what are you looking at over there?
Just wait til I hit the ground...
That Was the Best Trash Talking You Did?
Leave me alone! Who even let you in here, asking all these questions?!
Anyway, combat is a pleasure and
Wait, a Few Minutes Ago, the Picture You Posted of that Ugly Monster Was Totally Not From the Third-Person. Just What Are You Trying to Pull Here?
Well, that's the thing. To keep things interesting, the player can point the Wii Remote at the screen to enter a First-Person Perspective. From this view, the player can fire missiles (or Samus' normal cannon shots), or investigate the environment more closely. Some enemies, particularly bosses, require the player to enter the first-person mode. While the player can aim freely, they cannot move geographically in this mode (unless they are swinging on a grapple or riding a mine cart or something). Thankfully, the transitional moments between first and third person are generally very smooth. I never died because I felt the controls were cheating me. I died because I needed to get better at Metroid: Other M.
However, Other M's first-person mode does harbor a major flaw. The view is also used in several non-combat situations. At certain points, the camera automatically goes into first-person, signifying that Samus must investigate a certain object to advance. Unfortunately, this portion of the game is a major drag. Often, the object in question is tiny. Imagine trying to find a cockroach in the picture below. That about sums it up.
Not to be outdone, third-person mode contains a similarly frustrating feature, where the camera suddenly parks behind Samus, and Samus can suddenly only walk very slowly...presumably to build suspense (this usually occurs before major storyline moments).
Let's get back to the good stuff, though, by exploring another of Other M's strongest aspects: sound. The game features a mostly ambient soundtrack (composed by Kuniaki Haishima), with rousing orchestral fanfare during boss fights and action-oriented cutscenes. The ambient portions are quite atmospheric and effective, while the orchestral pieces, the first orchestra-scored moments in a Metroid game, get the blood pumping. My favorite musical moment comes early in the game, after an adrenaline-pumping boss fight, the soundtrack becoming a quiet yet determined electronic amalgamation of Ghost In the Shell-type contemplation, martial drums, subtle strings, and whale sounds, as Samus dives into a newly opened aquatic area. Also, the five-note "Samus Enters" theme, played when Samus emerges from a save point, is as rousing as ever in its new symphonic form (though I must admit, I am quite partial to the synthesized version from the "Prime" series).
Sound effects are excellent, with ambient sounds really thickening the atmosphere. Enemy grunts, weapons' blasts are all as boomingly explosive as they should be. The only real detriment to the sound department is the game's voice-work. Line-reading is hit or miss, with Jessica Martin sometimes flawlessly convincing as Samus, and sometimes sounding like she is disinterestedly reading the elements off the periodic chart. Of course, with the some of the awful dialogue Martin had to bring to life, no wonder she sounds a bit robotic and detached at times.
You Mentioned Save Points Just A Moment Ago. How Do Those Work?
It's funny you brought that up because here comes one right now.
Wow. Good timing.
That's what I said every time I came across one in this game. They are the only way to re-fill your health-meter, outside of the ability to "concentrate" a little extra energy when you are near death (getting hit while "concentrating" cancels the process). Defeated enemies do not leave behind energy pickups.
Do You Also Come Across Suit Upgrades, Like In Other Metroid Games?
Yes. Missile Capacity Expansions (you can only carry ten at the start) are ingeniously hidden throughout the ship, as well as expansions that increase the amount to which your health meter can fill (the usual Metroid "energy tanks"). As usual, Samus can roll up into her "morph ball" to get to hard to reach areas, at times to progress through the game, at other times just to look for natural Samus enhancements.
Alright, Cool. Well, I'm Kind of Getting Tired of Reading Your Dribble. You Want to Wrap This Up?
Sure, and I'll do so with a quick pros and cons comparison.
People slag this game for its cutscenes and story, and rightfully so. While the cutscenes actually look aesthetically incredible, they do indeed suck in their storytelling capabilities, mainly due to a lousy script and lousy line-readings. However, the cutscenes aren't the whole game. They're not even a quarter of it. They're maybe a tenth at most. But they are, indeed, terrible. The gameplay is actually old-school fun, though, with a simple control scheme (you only use the Wii Remote, and mostly only two buttons of it, at that), frenetic combat, and some sweet boss-fights (against often massive, visually impressive foes). The game's switch between first and third-person view is fairly innovative, and almost always seamless.
People slag the fact that Samus is limited in which abilities she can use due to arbitrary commands by her superior, Adam. Every Metroid game features an arbitrary reason for Samus starting off weaker and gaining abilities as she progresses through her adventure. Sure, there are times where Adam waits a little longer than he should to say, authorize Samus' heat-resistant suit (I'd been catching fire for at least ten minutes), but from a storyline perspective, it does make sense that Samus wouldn't just unleash the fearsome destructive power of her power bombs and super missiles on an unfamiliar ship, until it has been deemed safe that she do so.
So flawed, yes. But also fun. Most of the time a lot of fun. Unfortunately, the time just isn't quite long enough. I beat Other M in about 12 hours, including its prologue, and even though I had only found 43% of Samus' total suit expansions, I felt little urge to get the other 57%. I had already proven my worth by besting all of Samus' foes. A couple additional hours backtracking for items I didn't really need did not sound appealing. I died approximately 25 times during that 12 hours, but never felt like it was because I wasn't powered up enough...it was generally because I just needed to play better. Players can also unlock bonus artwork with a higher completion rate, but I was happy enough with what I had unlocked with my 43%.
That said, I bought Other M from a clearance rack at Best But for $13.99. The game was certainly worth that. Ignoring the cutscenes, I feel like Metroid: Other M is 12 hours and $13.99 well spent. At 4+ years since Other M's release, with no sign of a new Metroid game on the horizon, maybe it's time you picked it up and gave it a shot.
In your face.