I’ve never been a huge fan of Metroid games. I liked Metroid Prime 3, and have played Fusion and and the first Metroid Prime..but, in those games, when it hit me how nonlinear they were, I found the scope of the games to be a little overwhelming.
But, as is part of its draw, Metroid: Other M is drastically different from the rest of the series. First of all, the game actually features a fully voiced story sitting front and center. Second, it’s quite linear. Two things that the Metroid series are definitely a stranger to.
Metroid: Other M’s story is that of Samus’s past. It starts right after Super Metroid (I think that’s the one?), featuring an epic CG cutscene of the baby Metroid sacrificing itself to give Samus the power to end Mother Brain. Returning to Galactic Federation headquarters, Samus reports the results of her mission, and then sets out once again. She receives a mysterious distress signal however, coming from what appears to be a giant, abandoned Galactic Federation research vessel known as the Bottle Ship. There she soon makes contact with a squad of GF marines, there on a mission of their own. The squad is led by Adam Malkovich, who was Samus’ commander during her days in the military.
While there is a story here full of foreshadowing, twists and turns, that’s all just an excuse to portray Samus’s interactions with Adam, which in turn allows the game to spend a lot of time talking her past, consequently fleshing her out as a character. Samus has always been seen as the stoic type, a hardened combatant who does what she needs to to get the job done. That persona is shed here, for better or for worse, revealing the person under the battle armor.
Other M is still mostly a Metroid game, though. Stages still range from natural alien environments (courtesy of advanced holo projectors) to dark, deserted space ship corridors. You’re still saving and having your health refilled exclusively at save/map stations. And you’re still eliminating alien monsters with extreme prejudice.
But there are a number of things different, too. First and foremost is view point. Most of the time the game is in 3rd person view, where you control the game via the Wiimote, held sideways. The camera is fixed, but moves on its own frequently to provide better (and definitely more cinematic) views of the action. Kinda like in Sonic Unleashed, the camera also often switches to a 2D perspective, which is pretty cool in my book.
In 3rd person, Samus auto-aims her cannon at the closest enemy she’s facing, which works well for the most part. But for those times when you want to aim at a specific part of an enemy’s body, or look around your environment for clues (which you’ll be forced to do occasionally), you can point the Wiimote’s IR sensor at the screen to go into 1st person mode. Depending on your position relative to that of the Sensor Bar, this can and will take getting used to doing on the fly, and even with practice it’s still not something you’ll feel comfortable doing in the heat of combat. Also, you can’t move while aiming.
Speaking of combat, it’s probably the highlight of the game. Combat in Metroid: Other M is a fairly simple affair, but it’s fast-paced and fluid. As mentioned previously, Samus will do the aiming for you in 3rd-person mode, so your focus is on keeping her out of danger, and finishing the enemies off. Samus can use her back thrusters to dodge attacks by tapping a direction right before one connects. This will usually activate a split-second of slow-mo, and also give you the opportunity to immediately loose off a fully-charged power beam shot, which normally takes several seconds to charge. Nearly every enemy in the game can function as a sub-boss; meaning they can kill you in a surprisingly small number of hits. So this dodge function is an integral part of staying alive. Most enemies can also be finished off with cinematic flair, once they hit a certain damage threshold. One such finisher has Samus tackling her foe, with the two them rolling across the ground ending with Samus on top pinning it, and loosing off a charged blast. Another involves Samus headlocking an enemy and finishing it from there. For once, full-fledged bosses aren’t the only ones that get cutscene-quality finishers. This is definitely a cool thing.
What’s not cool, however, is the way Samus acquires upgrades to her suit throughout the game. The game makes it clear that Adam is special to her, serving as a father figure of sorts. Which is why, out of respect for him and his team, Samus basically shuts off all of her weaponry acquired throughout Super Metroid except for her basic power beam and morph ball bomb. She only enables them once more as Adam gives her permission to. This is all fine and good I guess, until you get to some scenarios where you have to wonder how silly Samus’s devotion to this policy can be. The notorious example is where you first enter a gigantic cave filled with lava. The place is so hot that without her Varia Suit functions activated, Samus gradually loses health as she runs through it. Does Adam not care enough for her health to immediately grant her access to her Varia Suit’s heat shield? Does Samus not care enough about her health to grant herself access? Who knows? We all understand this was done for the sake of difficulty pacing and such, but sometimes it gets absurd.
When you’re not wrestling enemies to ground or listening to Samus reminisce about the past, you’re running toward your next objective. Though it doesn’t feel like this, you really are usually just running from point A to B, then when you reach B, the route to C is revealed, and you run towards that. And so it goes. Uncharacteristic of an adventure game, there’s not really much in the way of puzzles in Other M. The only things stopping you from getting somewhere are usually enemies, or a path that can only be traveled using equipment you aren’t yet authorized to use. Perhaps as result, this is a pretty short game. I don’t have any real statistics for you, but I beat it after one day and one evening of play, and that was with some hunting around for extra missiles and energy tanks. After you beat it, there’s not a whole lot of reason to back, except for the usual collectible upgrades. There is a neat video gallery though, where you can watch all of the cutscenes unlocked thus far, and also watch all of them compiled into a 2-hour movie presentation.
The voice acting in Metroid: Other M ranges from cheesy to so-so. Samus’s voice acting in particular isn’t..quite what I might have expected, but your mileage may vary. The BGMs are serviceable, and do help the environments achieve the mood they may be aiming for. Overall, the audio in Metroid: Other M is really nothing special, but certainly not a bad thing.
The graphics aren’t bad either, though most of the character models have a “pasty” design to them, with some looking like they were sculpted out of Play-Doh, or something. I dunno, I’m used to the graphics on PS3, 360 and PC, so it’s difficult to comment fairly on the quality of graphics in Wii games. Basically, the graphics don’t detract from the experience.
Overall, Metroid: Other M is an interesting game, and was very fun while it lasted. However, it did make me realize something. Samus has always been a cool character. The game’s promise to expand on her personality sounded cool on paper, but now I wonder if I may have preferred to continue on just thinking of her as the mysterious and stoic intergalactic bounty hunter she’s always previously been portrayed as. Food for thought. As for my rating of the game? A 7.5/10.