I rented Metroid: Other M last week, and finished it yesterday. In the past I only got rentals for three days, but it seems Xtravision now allows you to rent stuff for a whole week. For £4, that’s not a bad deal, as a week is usually enough time to finish a modern game, or at least sink enough time into it to get a good feel for it.
For the curious, despite what the Games I Own section implies, I don’t own Metroid: Other M – my brother does! … yeah, maybe I had a good reason for listing it at the time, but if I were to continue keeping track of all my brother’s games that’d be a bit tough, especially since we’re on different continents now. I might quietly drop those listings sometime in the future unless I eventually own them myself or at least have some comments to make on them. (You gotta sit down and write a review on Other M, bro! You waffled far too much about it through email and on the phone to back down now. =P )
I split the review into headers mostly because I’m a lazy writer, but I guess it could serve as how disconnected the two elements are anyway.
Let’s face it, that’s what Other M is about. Don’t freakin’ deny it. The movie scenes are unskippable, the TV commercials focused only on the storyline, and you unlock the ability to watch the game as a two-hour movie once you finish it. That’s not the sort of stuff that screams, “check out our rich and engaging gameplay!”
As you know, I really don’t give a hoot about stories in video games. I will say that I was trying to pay attention to the story just to see what they do with it, though my word, it was difficult to pay attention. I never expect a video game to contain a good story anyway (read a book, people!), but the whole thing came across more like someone’s amateur novel than a legitimate piece of visual storytelling.
There’s the obvious setback of having some pretty bad writing and voice acting; the story reads like a bad anime script most of the time, and I get the impression the voice actors were in dire lack of a good voice director. Some of the acting isn’t bad, but some of it just made me cringe. I think one of the problems comes from how this is the first time Samus has proper lines of dialogue, and then simultaneously has far too much to say… and nothing worth saying. One would think an otherwise mute hero finally talking and narrating throughout the game might give us more insight into their character. Instead, Samus chooses to narrate the exact same stuff that’s happening on-screen. Give me a snarky catchphrase any day.
There’s also the matter of how Samus constantly talks about her commanding officer, Adam Malkovich, who was first seen in Metroid Fusion (though chronologically after the events of Other M; in Fusion, Adam’s just an AI reproduction of himself, so to speak). It’s been a while since I played Fusion and again, I just glossed over most of the story, but I recall Adam being a bit of a hardass military guy but despite his cold exterior, made a decent impression on her as Samus’ mentor and confidant (my brother thinks Adam and Samus were in a relationship, though I don’t know nor care – argue about it in the comments if you want!). Adam’s still a cold hardass, but Samus now spends most of her time just gushing over the guy, talking about seeing him as a father figure and such-like, but none of it really convinced me or made me cared about them as characters – it instead made me think, “show me this, don’t tell me this!” Yeah, they show you scenes, but it does little to show a good relationship between the two.
One of my biggest complaints was that despite Nintendo’s tooting and trumpeting over LOOK HOW CINEMATIC AND STORY-DRIVEN OUR GAME IS… there’s not actually much story to tell. The story only feels long because Samus feels the need to narrate the bleeding obvious and recap everything she’s seen so far at random moments. A good story wouldn’t have to bludgeon you over the head with the character’s inner thoughts, especially one in a visual medium because – oh, I don’t know, it’s got freakin’ visuals?
If Other M is Nintendo’s attempt to show they’re hip and “with it” and can do cinematic games too, they’ve done it pretty atrociously, as I found Samus a much more engaging character before this game. Having Samus speak and share her inner thoughts with the player didn’t show me a deeper side of her – it just showed she hasn’t much else to say outside of telling me what I’m seeing on-screen. Also, lots of maternal drama.
The game really bludgeons you over the head with the whole motherhood theme. Admittedly, exploring that in more depth in a video game could be interesting; like, how much Lara Croft change if she had a child? Other M has the mother theme running through the whole damn game (the whole game takes place inside a spaceship shaped like a baby bottle, for Christ’s sake!), but none of it feels any more engaging than what was implied through Super Metroid‘s story. The villain of the story then turns out to be evil because it’s got mommy issues, and Samus spends so much time at the start angsting about the infant Metroid that it just gets a bit tiresome.
This page has much better exploration of the times than I would have the talent or patience to do; it’s a very interesting read. I admit probably the easiest answer to the rather uncomfortable relationship (fixation might be more apt) between Samus and Adam is just the difference in gender ideals between Japanese and Western culture, though I’m hardly the expert to talk about that either.
Ultimately, the story for Other M just doesn’t do anything for me. The story comes across as generic and poorly localised, and the fact the game demands you pay attention to it hen it offers nothing special insults me more than anything else.
On the bright side? The visuals are pretty neat lookin’!
This is what we really want! So, is it any good?
… I’d never actually planned how I was going to start talking about the gameplay, so I guess just rambling off a list of the various gameplay modes will work, right?
The free-roam mode is the main backbone of the game. For exploration, it’s rather cumbersome; the camera is presented like a Crash Bandicoot game, always looking into the horizon no matter what direction you’re going, and there are no controls to alter it or rotate it in any way. This means you get less of a grasp on your environment just from the basic view alone, and quite often if you have to backtrack, you’re practically running into the unknown. It functions reasonably well despite that quirk, and the controls work quite nicely; Samus’ variety of movements all work well in a 3D plane despite only having a D-Pad and three buttons to work with.
The first-person view gets you a better view of your surroundings, and is the only mode you can use missiles in. That part gave me a bit of grief, as having to stop, glue yourself to the floor and then orientate yourself to where the enemy is from a new viewpoint is kinda awkward, especially when facing enemies that move or recover fast. It does give you one second of slow-motion upon entering first-person view, which is a nice compensation, but limiting missiles to this view only did always bug me.
SO MANY WOOOORDS
There are predetermined parts of the story where you’re clued to the spot in this mode and have to look around to find a clue towards advancing the plot. These bits seemed to be little more than pointless roadblocks, as either what you’re looking for is painfully obvious, or even already highlighted in the movie scene beforehand… or so damn obscure you can spend upwards of ten minutes glued to that same spot still trying to find whatever the hell the game wants you to find, with absolutely no clue regarding what you’re looking for. I don’t know what sort of challenge these scenes were meant to provide, but nobody buys a Metroid game to play Where’s Wally In Zebes, for crying out land.
Likewise, there are parts where you control Samus in an over-the-shoulder view, but these serve only to pad out the game and make shit look tense. You can only make her walk at a frighteningly slow pace, and nothing actually happens in those scenes. It’s about as much fun as it sounds.
Combat is intriguing. You run around in free-roam mode and have access to your beam, and can get stronger point-blank charged shots on your foes by either jumping on their heads or running into them when they’re visibly weakened. It can be fun and fast-paced, though it can feel very limited with only your regular beam at your disposal; switching to first-person for your missiles isn’t too awkward, but it just breaks the pacing for me, and using only charged shots for most of the game just gets a bit tiresome. Still, the cinematic look of them is very nice, and the boss battles are often nice and rewarding with Samus offering a very stylish finishing move on them once their health is drained. Definitely better than the bosses of Metroid Prime, no argument there.
There’s a strange feature called Concentration where if you’re close to death, you can run away and hold the A Button to restore one energy tank’s worth of health (this feature is also used to refill your missiles, though that can be done anytime; refilling your health can only be done when you’re nearly dead). I mean, yeah, it’s a nice alternative to the ol’ “don’t get shot for a while and your health refills on its own” feature that most modern games use, if only because refilling your health glues you to the ground for a good five seconds, meaning you have to use that time strategically so you aren’t smashed to a pulp in the middle of recharging. But the whole thing could’ve been avoided if the game actually had item pickups.
I’m serious, there’s no health refills or missile refills in the game outside of save points or the Concentration ability. What this means is that most combat is little more than distraction with no actual direct benefit from it. While in the other games defeating enemies would at least reward you with health or missiles, here you get zip. Did someone just forget to implement them, and the Concentration feature was just the quickest replacement they could think of? Or is it an attempt to make the game more appealing to casual gamers? It’s not a totally heinous feature (I wasn’t complaining about it during some of the boss fights!), but it just seems a strange thing to implement when the whole health and missiles thing had already been handled quite appropriately by the other games. No need to reinvent the wheel, buddy.
One of Other M‘s unfortunate downfalls is that exploration now feels a bit diluted, both because of the rather crummy camera angles, and also how lifeless the environment is. You’re not exploring actual alien planets, you’re just romping about a ship imitating their environments as habitats for breeding aliens. The authorization gimmick (where you don’t get new weapons or abilities until Adam says so) isn’t too game-wreckingly dreadful, since you’re still getting the abilities around the time you need them, but it loses the thrill of finding these items all by yourself and then discovering where they get used. Also, losing the ability to scan stuff drains the game of personality a little – learning about all the flora and fauna of these strange, alien planets was one of my favourite aspects of Metroid Prime, as it just added so much extra tidbits to an already beautiful game. It would’ve been nice to hear an explanation for why an insectoid tree-beast has the head of a duck.
I suppose the best way I can conclude is by saying it’s an intriguing game.
It’s not quite “Metroid in name only” like I was fearing, but it is quite different from the other games; I can’t deny that Other M‘s Samus Aran isn’t Samus Aran to me, and I didn’t really give a damn about her or any of the characters (so, no, the Ridley scene went by without comment. Still a really dumb scene though, and that page does a great job of stating just how bad it is if you actually tried to give a damn about series continuity). It’s been an intriguing experience to play it, and the fact I could finish it in a week of light play was a nice relief (I’ve been tempted to try and play Twilight Princess again, but there’s no way I’m sinking another five hours of my life just to get through that fucking tutorial), though I don’t think I’ll buy it. It’s been the perfect rental game though – £4 to own it for a week is enough time to finish the game and see all that I need to see. If anything, it’s nice that Nintendo are willing to let third-parties experiment with their properties, but this one just didn’t do as much for me as a regular game would’ve.