In August 2010, the so far latest Metroid game was released. Metroid: Other M is perhaps one of the most controversial video games to be released in the past years: From its first day, fans were completely divided on liking or not the game. Criticism came from all over, and while some of it was fair, some was overly harsh, and to this day the Metroid and gaming communities haven’t come to terms with it. Here, I wish to express my opinion on the game’s quality and its reception. I do not expect to put a final nail to a coffin already filled with them, as more will certainly come, but I felt that I needed to expose my thoughts on the matter. I hope you enjoy.
Oh, and here’s the obligatory spoiler warning:
E3 2009. Nintendo had just shown us not one, but two new Mario games for Wii. But they weren’t done yet. Reggie Fils-Aime said that there was something else they were going to show. Something to please the “hardcore” Nintendo gamers. The screen faded to black and proceeded to show us a Team Ninja logo, which was soon joined by a Nintendo one. Well, that’s peculiar. Space, explosions and a space station. We wondered what that could be. And then – “Any objections, lady?” Boom. Metroid fans around the world stopped caring about anything else. A new game was being announced for Wii, and it looked incredible.
Soon enough, people started picking the trailer for Metroid: Other M apart. It contained familiar Metroid elements, like Adam Malkovich and speed boosting, but it also had unusual features: A mysterious black dude saying “remember me?” and Samus introducing herself with her voice to a mysterious woman. Well, that’s the nature of teaser trailers.
From then until August 2010, hype for the game only grew. People everywhere were excited to try out the new game. But then, when the game was released, something happened. The game… wasn’t what most fans expected. Because of the game, the Metroid community was never the same again. Friendships ended, families were torn apart and forum threads were iced.
Two years have passed since then and most of the radiation from the web-based nuclear war has faded. But the game still hasn’t found peace; it’s still a bringer of chaos in many discussions. To celebrate the game’s anniversary, I decided to give it another go – reviewing it in retrospect. I’ll analyze each element of the game and will give my opinion on what was done right or wrong and why. And then I’ll give my own thoughts on the whole repercussion of the game.
It all starts with the making of the game…
You see, Metroid: Other M was developed by Project M, a partnership between Nintendo Software Planning & Development (SPD) headed by Yoshio Sakamoto, Team Ninja led by Yosuke Hayashi, and D-Rockets, a company focused on creating computer-generated video. Though an initially intriguing idea, the joint-venture wasn’t really a recipe for success. Nintendo SPD’s previous works consist of 2D Metroid games and simpler games like the WarioWare or Rhythm Heaven series. Sakamoto-san, although a talented developer, had very little experience with 3D games. That’s where Team Ninja steps in. Aware of his lack of experience, Sakamoto-san pursued another team of developers to aid him. He ultimately opted for Team Ninja because he was fond of the studio’s Ninja Gaiden series. And, to create the cutscenes that would take part on his vision of the game, he contracted D-Rockets.
With three talented teams working together, nothing could possibly go wrong, right? Well, let’s just say talent isn’t a cumulative attribute. Like mentioned above, Nintendo SPD had never developed a 3D game. Team Ninja had never developed a Wii game or a game centered more in mood and exploration than action. And D-Rocket’s cutscenes, although of high-quality, were used to present one of the game’s most criticized elements, the story.
Metroid: Other M features a blend of gameplay elements that, for the most part, works surprisingly well. Most of the game is played in a third-person perspective. You control Samus using nothing but your favorite Wii Remote (in my case, it’s golden and has a Triforce on it). The D-pad moves, 1 shoots, 2 jumps and A activates Morph Ball. That’s it. It’s a control scheme as simple as the one in New Super Mario Bros. Wii, but for a game far more complex. The result of this is a fast-paced game with an unique combat system.
As opposed to many other games that use a separate button or analog stick to make the character dodge, Other M implements a feature called “sense-move,” in which Samus boosts herself out of an incoming attack when the player taps the D-pad at the right moment. It may sound simple and easy, but you’ll often find yourself sense-moving exactly towards another enemy’s attack. It makes the battles fun, engaging and, since they’re usually not too long, not too repetitive.
However, there is a twist. If you turn your Wii Remote so it points to your screen, Samus will enter first-person mode. The advantage of this is that you can look around your whole environment and can shoot missiles, but you cannot move. In first-person mode, you are a stationed turret that can easily blast enemies, but are vulnerable to their attacks. If you’re quick, you can turn back to third-person mode and sense-move your way out of an incoming attack, but the most accepted solution is simply to avoid using first-person mode during a battle unless necessary. The missiles usually aren’t worth it.
In many ways, the third-person combat feels like in the 2D Metroid games. Contrary to the Prime Trilogy, where Samus is slow and resilient, this Samus is agile but vulnerable. Enemy attacks often deal a lot of damage, and if you don’t dodge enough of them, you’ll find yourself looking at a game over screen more than you’d like. But there’s also a catch here: When you find yourself with critical amounts of energy, you can point your Wii Remote skyward and hold A to replenish your missiles and a certain amount of energy. It’s a peculiar mechanic, but I would’ve probably prefered if there were energy drops from enemies, since it would also give the battles more of a reason.
Perhaps the worst aspect of the gameplay is how Samus only collects two new power-ups, and one of them had already been seen on the Prime games. Samus’ activation of powers is story-driven, with Adam allowing her to use her suit’s functions as she needs them. It works, but it just isn’t as interesting as finding that glowing artifact that gives you a new and mysterious power to explore with. The moment where she acquires the Diffusion Beam ends up becoming one of the most satisfying ones in the game because of it.
The level structure is overall great. The way the Bottle Ship’s rooms fit with each other is very reminiscent of other Metroid games, in particular Fusion, which also took place inside a space station. Despite the game’s linear nature, there is a lot to explore in the Bottle Ship. Item hunting is as strong as ever in the game, and finding all of them requires putting your exploration instincts to the test. Defeating all enemies in a room rewards you with the position of items in your map screen, but not all of them will show up at first (the hidden ones appear once you beat the game) and you’ll often have to give up trying to get a certain item until you come back with more suit upgrades. Due to the game’s fixed camera, first-person mode comes much in handy here. Some Morph Ball tunnels or other secrets can only be found by searching from a certain angle.
The Metroid series has always been known for its quality soundtracks. Melodic yet atmospheric tunes have been a key element in the series since the first game in 1986. Other M is an exception to that rule. It features a high-quality orchestrated soundtrack composed by Kuniaki Haishima that, for the most part, is only used for ambient, nearly silent, music. Some of the series’ classic themes were remade for the game and sound excellent, but those are few and rarely heard. While ambient music does give the game the mood it needs, we’ve come to expect more melodic music from Super Metroid and Metroid Prime. Those songs are part of why we remember those games so well, and Other M didn’t have the same impact.
The other part of the game that’ll affect your ears is the voice acting. Jessica Martin, playing the role of Samus, often narrates the events of game through monologues, in which her voice is somewhat lacking in emotions. It seems like Samus is boringly remembering the events. However, she does much better in actual dialog (though still not ideal). Most other characters – that speak much less than Samus – are voiced well, and leave little more to be desired. Notably, Mike McGillicuty does a truly excellent job as the voice of Anthony Higgs (a.k.a. Remember Me Guy). His voice is fun and charismatic just like Higgs’ character.
It’s quite clear that Other M pushes Wii’s hardware very close to its limits. Most of the time, it runs at a smooth 60 frames per second at 480p, even in large environments, but some fights will noticeably cause slowdowns. It’s not enough to ruin the game, but it can get annoying. The facial animations are pretty good considering the hardware and some of the 3D models, especially Samus’ suit, look great. The overall look of it is good, but if you stop to pay attention to details, you’ll find many less-than-pretty elements, with low-resolution textures and low-polygon count models.
As for the look of the environments, there are essentially two types of room in the game: The cramped, often claustrophobic space station rooms and the environment simulation areas. The former type is where you really get a Metroid feel. However, many of those rooms were too “clean” to feel realistic in the environment they were in. They didn’t seem to have been taken over by the station’s creatures. And the latter type – large rooms that simulate jungles, swamps, deserts, volcanoes and frozen lands – are well-designed, but very different from what we expected from a Metroid game.
The enemies are mostly based on ones we’ve seen before in the 2D entries of the series, and were very well adapted to 3D models. You’ll recognize Zoomers, Desgeegas, Skrees and many other classic enemies. They look as ugly as they should and deserving of a missile to the face.
D-Rockets’ pre-rendered cutscenes are nothing less than beautiful. High-quality textures and models, with great lighting and smooth anti-aliasing, they certainly look excellent, even compared to HD games. However, cutscenes are there just to look at. And they make you wonder how good it would’ve been if the whole game had that graphical quality. Bonus points go to the transitions between pre-rendered and real-time cutscenes. There’s not a second of loading time and make the transition mostly seamless.
The biggest question is whether it looks better than Metroid Prime 3: Corruption or not. The answer is that it technically does, since Corruption often shows its GameCube origins (though it hides it very, very well) while Other M is a full-blown Wii title. But their considerably different art styles make it a tough decision. The Prime games are more realistic, while Other M is almost anime-like. They both have their great and not-so-great visual moments.
The single most controversial element of Metroid: Other M was its story. Even if you survived through the game’s gameplay, sound and visuals, it’s the story that hits. A story full of plot holes and unexplained details. But the plot holes were tolerable, weren’t they? What the fans complained the most about was Samus’ characterization, which, according to them, made her seem like a weak character.
Three scenes in particular are most criticized by fans: The “Hell Run,” when Samus has to go through Sector 3 without activating her Varia Suit, Samus’ encounter with Ridley and Adam’s unshown death. People say those scenes make Samus weak because she follows Adam’s orders without contesting him and because she reacts to Ridley’s appearance in a rather unexpected fashion.
Other M’s story is centered around the consequences of Samus bringing back the baby Metroid from Metroid II from SR388 and handing it over to Galactic Federation scientists for research. Samus expresses how she regretted that decision many times throughout the game, and she has a good reason to do so. The scientists were able to extract Ridley’s, Mother Brain’s and the infant Metroid’s DNAs from her suit after the events of Super Metroid, and that’s what ended up causing the disaster on the Bottle Ship. However, Samus often expresses that regret in a motherly fashion, seemingly thinking of that Metroid as her own child and of her responsibility. And the game does no effort to hide that. From its title (M:OM, M-Other) to various elements in it (“Bottle” Ship), it expresses that Samus does indeed have a motherly instinct.
But, at the same time, Samus knows that the Metroid is nothing more than a biological weapon. She knows Metroids should be destroyed, and she goes to Sector Zero to do just that. But of course, Adam stops her.
I’m not going to repeat old arguments for one side or another. We’ve all gone through that before. Let’s just say that the story wasn’t utterly terrible, but it was deeply flawed. It could’ve worked better, maybe. Some aspects, like Ridley, Sector Zero, the Deleter amongst others could’ve been used better and made more interesting. Sakamoto-san, who was director, producer and writer for the game, would probably have made a wiser choice by choosing a skilled writer to help him out with the story.
The Internet may have put a larger-than-deserved stain on Other M‘s reputation. After so much time talking about the game without actually playing it, I was delighted to notice that I was enjoying it more than the Internet had me expecting. Although certainly not one of the best games in our favorite series, it is a solid game, with flaws and qualities that may make anyone love it or hate it. At the very least, it was a game trying something different in an industry that often fears taking risks.
The risk taken might have ended badly, but all in all, Metroid: Other M is a game full of lessons. It contains many things that were done right and many others that were done wrong. Considering how the game was received, a future Metroid game will try to stay away from its concepts as much as possible. Let’s just hope that it learns from the good lessons instead of the bad ones. And, certainly, Nintendo will think very hard before releasing another game. They wouldn’t want to repeat what happened.
It’s unfortunate what the game did to the Metroid community, by tearing it apart. Two years later, the eye of the hurricane has passed, but some of its destruction still lasts. Let’s just hope another one doesn’t follow.
© 2012 Renan Greca