When it comes to games with a legacy, few are as long-lived or as beloved as “Metroid.” The Nintendo classic follows the yellow-and-red-armored star-hopping bounty hunter Samus Aran and her repeated run-ins with the titular race of life-absorbing creatures. Her latest adventure, “Metroid: Other M,” is at once a dramatic departure from what’s come before and a loving tribute to everything the series has been. There are a few definite stumbles, some easier to overlook than others, but one thing becomes abundantly clear after playing through the game: This is an undeniably faithful “Metroid” experience.
“Metroid: Other M” falls between “Super Metroid” and “Metroid Fusion” in the series mythology. The planet Zebes is destroyed and the race of jellyfish-like creatures that has been such a problem for Samus are presumably gone along with it. The game opens with the bounty hunter being dispatched as part of a squad of Galactic Federation soldiers tasked with investigating a seemingly dead “Bottle Ship.” Thus, the adventure begins…
Energy tanks, missiles, morph balling, bombs, a corridor-based, gradually opening world… all of the basic motifs of the series are present and accounted for. There are some tweaks, such as being able to recharge your missiles (and some health) at the cost of being defenseless for a short time, but there’s no doubt about it. This is “Metroid.”
The game’s controls could have been a disaster. The game world is a 3D one with fixed camera perspectives, but Samus is controlled (primarily) by holding the Wii remote horizontally, like an old-school NES controller. The auto-targeting isn’t perfect, but having the ability to dodge — by pressing in any direction on the D-pad before an enemy strikes — creates a fire, fire, dodge, repeat sort of rhythm. The action is fast and simple, but fun nonetheless. There’s some added complexity in the form of a first-person mode; pointing the remote at the screen switches perspectives. Samus cannot move, but players can fine tune their aiming — essential for finding the game’s secrets — and examine environments.
Combat is forgiving, yes, but that doesn’t mean “Other M” is lacking in challenge. Bosses, mini-bosses and some of the more powerful enemies require deft switching between first- and third-person perspectives.
Team Ninja crafted what is definitely the most story-driven game in the “Metroid” series. The presentation isn’t perfect (more on that below) and some of the story turns lean towards being melodramatic, but fans will definitely appreciate the added personality.
A 2D Girl In A 3D World
The “God of War”-like 3D presentation (i.e. a 3D world with fixed camera perspectives) creates some really cool scenes and is generally fun to navigate. The big problem really is the controls. Navigating with the D-pad, especially for some of the game’s more challenging platforming sequences, is an exercise in frustration. Fortunately, the game is more about combat than precise jumping.
Poorly Contrived Boundaries
From the start of the game, Samus is equipped with ALL of her weapons and tools: super missiles, power bombs, wave beam, ice beam… everything. The limitation? She’s not AUTHORIZED by the team’s leader to use these tools. It would be silly to start with everything unlocked of course, but the reason concocted for limiting Samus’ abilities in “Other M” is head-achingly stupid.
Forced Perspective And Endless Cutscenes
“Other M” is HEAVY on the storytelling. It’s an engaging tale, as mentioned above. But there are a lot of cutscenes and they frequently run for far too long. There’s also an abundance of forced perspective moments. The worst are “find the pixel” first-person minigames; the target is rarely obvious and the lock-on zone for Samus’ crosshairs is so frustratingly tiny that I spent upwards of 10-15 minutes probing around the screen on more than one occasion. There are also times when the camera pulls in close behind Samus and her pace grinds down to a slow walk, “Gears of War”-style. The abundance of these, along with the lengthy cutscenes, really detract from the experience.
Not only is it a pain to navigate a 3D landscape using a D-pad, the first/third-person switching, while innovative, isn’t terribly smooth. There’s a brief slowdown when switching to first-person, which is a great help during boss fights, but fumbling with the remote is flat-out unwieldy. There’s no reason why both of the key control issues couldn’t have been solved by incorporating the Wii’s nunchuk and tweaking the button mapping a bit.
“Metroid: Other M” is an authentic experience that will please many fans of the series. Unfortunately it is also fundamentally flawed in some potentially game-killing ways. If you can get past the occasional frustrations, there’s a lot of fun and fan service to be had.
Note: Make sure you stick around through the endgame credits. There’s roughly an hour or so of additional game to play, more if you choose to explore.