METROID: OTHER M – Review
METROID: OTHER M is a videogame developed by Project M, published by Nintendo for the Nintendo Wii. It was directed by TAKEHIKO HOSOKAWA, YUSUKE HAYASHI and YOSHIO SAKAMOTO.
Shigeru Miyamoto has had some pretty inspiring ideas in the past. The last genius idea attributed to him that I can remember was turning the third-person perspective of Metroid’s gameplay into a first-person perspective. The jump from 2D to 3D is a dilemma every classic, pixelated game eventually has to solve and Metroid’s case was particularly difficult. The franchise actually skipped the Nintendo 64 generation simply because Nintendo could not come up with any viable idea. Now, the first-person perspective solution made so much sense (thanks in large part to the sensitive efforts of Retro Studios) that it became hard to think of future 3D Metroid games in any other way. So that was my first interest when I approached Metroid: Other M: a game that was probably what most gamers had in mind for a 3D Metroid before Metroid Prime was created.
Directed by three people, Metroid: Other M is mostly Yoshio Sakamoto’s brainchild, who was also the game’s writer and producer. He was the person who directed Metroid Fusion, my absolute favourite Metroid game (and I have played them all, even the Pinball one). So that was the second reason I was anticipating this game.
Other M, however, doesn’t feel like a Metroid game. Until now, the franchise hasn’t really been about Samus Aran or her apparent loneliness, but about the place she is in. This concept is inverted in Other M with controversial results. In the end, despite the game’s boldness, Other M is a soulless affair filled with innocuous good intentions. It is schlock.
First off, the title and game cover. I never really liked the Other M title. What does this other M refers to? I first assumed it’s for metroid, but the game never really touches the subject. Still, while the meaning of the title is vague, the structure is not. Other M is an anagram for Mother and the abbreviation of the game is M:OM. There were others references to the motherhood theme in Metroid: Other M. Some of them quite random too. But because Sakamoto never actually develops this theme, only repetitively states it, that ended up being a source of irritation. Meanwhile, the game’s cover proves that Nintendo of America is still all about placing Samus as much as it possibly can on the game cover without any regard for style or justification. If there was a cover worthy of praise it’s the Japanese cover, which is not only elegant but effective in conveying what the game is about: to know who this person inside the Power Suit really is.
Other M starts with the right foot with an awesome recapitulation of Super Metroid‘s ending. This is something I like about Sakamoto: the guy always makes sure to establish his games within the franchises storyline. However, you will quickly notice Other M is more vapid than the Metroid Prime trilogy. Those relied a lot on Samus’ introspection and the information around her. Here you will breeze through the non-memorable chambers of the Bottle Ship while regretting the absence of the Scan Visor. The Bottle Ship feels like a watered-down version of Metroid Fusion‘s Biologic Space Laboratories. There are fewer areas but more empty corridors. The Bottle Ship lacks a sense of place. It is supposed to be a research station, but there are only a handful of places that really feel utilitarian. Here I was, playing through the game, when I suddenly started thinking: Shouldn’t there be more chairs around here?. There is an interesting puzzle mechanism of dealing with holograms that project Forest/Desert/Snow environments but, ultimately, it feels like the graphic direction was variety for variety’s sake. There doesn’t seem to be a direct relationship between the graphics and the game design.
Gone are the scanning and the need to find missile expansions or collect energy capsules (Samus can now restore through the new Concentration Mode, which basically means she conjures ammo out of thin air if she thinks hard enough). Because of this, now there is rarely a motive to linger inside a given area in Metroid: Other M. However, once in a fight, there is a palpable sense of emergency when you enter first-person mode to shoot missiles, as you lose mobility and peripheral vision. Overall, the battle mechanics are serviceable but nothing else. The occasional sources of frustration are new problems that we never had to bother with in Metroid Prime: the eventual imprecision of Samus’ auto-aim, the fact Samus can only move in 8 directions in a fully 3D environment and when you inadvertently enter Morph Ball mode instead of firing a missile as the control setup changes depending on the Wiimote’s position. That being said, most of those delightful Morph Ball puzzles of the Metroid Prime games are gone. It’s almost as if Sakamoto resents the Prime games.
Which brings me to another point that puzzled me: the music. Never has the music in a Metroid game left me so unimpressed. Most of the classic tunes, including the one when you get new items, are gone. I would have commented on the music that’s left had I been able to actually remember any of it. An inexpressive soundtrack only adds to the game’s vacant sense of place.
There were things I liked, though, Samus’ portrayal one of them. Note here that I won’t get into the whole Ridley controversy. The fact Samus may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be excused by the fact older Metroid games didn’t have the capacity of convey such response while the Metroid Prime games offer the possibility Samus’ PTSD might be in effect even then: note here how she practically doesn’t offer any reaction until Ridley’s introduction is over. The problem was the way the PTSD was introduced in Other M: suddenly, Samus literally becomes a little girl. Never has the game (or any other game in the franchise for that matter) offered any context to what traumatic experience Samus suffered in her past – quite the opposite in fact: as far as the gamer is concerned, Samus has never had any problem dispatching Ridley, with the notable exception of the encounter in Super Metroid‘s Ceres Space Colony. That’s why I believe the problem with Samus’ reaction to Ridley in Other M has more to do with alienating the player than the reaction itself.
Still, IGN and I may be the only people who liked Samus’ deadpan and superflous delivery – but for completely different reasons, I’m sure. IGN’s Craig Harris is far too amazed with the fact Nintendo is finally embracing contemporary storytelling with motion-captured acting and voice-over to offer any real criticism. He gladly sticks Nintendo’s work on the fridge.
But me, I like it because Samus’ voice is lifeless. This would probably be something lamentable in most other games, but I find it suits the Metroid franchise well. It makes sense. After all, we are talking about someone who acted like the Exterminator up until Metroid Fusion. Of course she should sound like a robot! What did people expect? It was highly improbable that this character, who didn’t feel like speaking for decades, suddenly had something actually interesting to say. And this is better that the treatment Mario and Link have been receiving. In order to appeal to the maximum number of people, Mario and Link were suppressed of any real personality. They’ve become mere vessels of obvious emotions. Samus, however, is bratty, puerile and naive – and while these traits are a step away from the battle-hardened-mercenary-with-the-heart-of-gold image fans have created inside their heads, they don’t stop Samus from excelling in her job.
The problem is the other characters, who are equally sterile and shouldn’t be. You get the feeling that the Galactic Federation team you meet at the Bottle Ship would be tremendous bores at a dinner party. They are so underdeveloped, you will only remember them by their physical traits. Their captain, Adam Malkovich, is the worst case considering the plot largely depends on the player creating a relationship to him for it to work.
Ultimately, Adam Malkovich sinks Metroid: Other M. Or rather, the ludonarrative dissonance involving him does. Ludonarrative dissonance is when gameplay elements (ludo) conflicts with the thematic elements of the narrative. This is, for example, the source of the puzzled feeling some people have in GTA4, when the plot determines that Kate is Niko’s real love interest. While the story keep telling us we should care about Kate, the actual game mechanisms makes her to be the least interesting choice for gamers, considering her dating process is not only the most complicated one but also, unlike the potential internet girlfriends, doesn’t award the player with any kind of special skill. For people to care about Adam, his presence should be helpful to the gamer. What happens, however, is the exact opposite: more often than not Adam is a burden and a source of frustration. He is always against the player: either by arbitrarily locking doors so you don’t break from the game’s linear progression or by not allowing you to use your own weapons until his authorization. As a result, you don’t care about him nor his squad, which is vital for a game whose main selling point is the plot.
The issue of authorizing weapons is comical and barely justifies the reason why Samus doesn’t start the game with a fully powered suit. Sure, Adam gives a well enough explanation for why Samus shouldn’t use her Power Bombs in particular, but that’s it. The weird thing is that the team felt it was necessary to justify the lack power-ups, while still randomly scattering ammo expansions throughout the Bottle ship. The game doesn’t offer any justification of the aforementioned Concentration Mode either. I really don’t know what is worse: to add such insulting attempts to justify the game mechanisms or to willfully ignore any justification and simply accept these idiosyncrasies, a la The Legend of Zelda series.
The main consequence for the authorization issue befall on the game’s pacing. Because there are no power-ups to find, the beginning of the game consists mainly of following Adam’s orders to investigate the area. I use quotation marks because one can’t really investigate when the game only offers us a linear path to walk on. Thus, it doesn’t take much time or many impersonal corridors to realize there is a clear lack of purpose to advance behind this Metroid.
Having said that, the plot eventually picks up the pace… only to end shortly thereafter. There was also a whodunit subplot about one Space Marine who was assassinating his squadmates, which I enjoyed it. The game never tells you outright who the traitor was and my initial impression was that Project M simply forgot to include a resolution. However, after thinking about it, I came to applaud the decision as I’ve reached the conclusion that such a resolution wasn’t really necessary to begin with. With all the hints given, it’s pretty easy to figure out who the traitor is by yourself at a certain point. More importantly, when that point finally comes, the question of who the traitor was simply doesn’t matter anymore.
Together with its ludonarrative dissonance, it is the writing that puts the final nail on Other M‘s coffin. Those who have played Metroid Fusion can easily detect Sakamoto’s writing style. When used in moderation, like in Metroid Fusion, it’s certainly not a bad style. However, moderation is not the word I would use to describe Sakamoto’s work in Other M. Here, he has invested in game’s writing like a feverish Marquese de Sade after months of solitary confinement without a quill. The result is an incredibly bloated script. Dialogs are often unintentionally humorous while Samus’ soliloquies are unnecessary exercises of tautology. For everybody who wondered why Samus Aran was a quiet protagonist, here is the reason: aside from describing her feelings, she never has anything interesting to say.
Worst of all the script is not only pure verbiage, but also ineffective in the few points it tries to make. It assumes things without bothering to develop them. Besides the PTSD example, I could quote how Samus keeps telling how Adam is her best friend, although we never see a sample of such relationship. Instead, the game wastes several cutscenes showing them saluting to one another and walking in opposite directions. Some scenes are affected and give the impression the developers take their audience for granted, like when they juxtapose a flashback we’ve already seen with the scene happening right now just to make sure every single person will understand the already obvious parallelism. Other scenes grant us with flashbacks that simply should not happen as they were outside the characters’ perspectives. Add a bunch of plot holes (that I’ll refrain from explaining here due to their spoilerish nature) and the result it such an insubstancial mess the game is barely able to fulfill it’s main objective: to put the main characters, Samus and Adam, in the situation presented to us in Metroid Fusion.
Frankly, I doubt this game would get the favorable reception it has received had it not been a Metroid game. The game is not horrible, mind you. It’s just mediocre. It’s also the worst game in the Metroid franchise – even worst than Metroid II: Return of Samus (which has aged terribly). There will be no “See you next mission” from me this time.
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