A refreshing change from Prime
In spite of being a lifelong fan of the Metroid series, I didn’t race out and purchase a copy of the latest installment. I was fairly busy at the time it launched, and the initial reviews were mixed, so I stashed the game on my “To Do” list and moved on with other projects. Months after release, a good friend loaned me his copy with a fairly strong recommendation, though with the warning that the game was a bit on the short side.
There are a ton of save-points in this game (you can hardly go five minutes without encountering one), so I ended up playing Other M in short installments over the course of about a month. This method worked perfectly for me, especially after I noticed that longer sessions made the combat mechanics feel repetitive and occasionally boring. This is not to say that the battles or controls are not entirely thrilling or well-designed (they are); just that almost all encounters involve similar actions of quick dodging and blasting away via autotargeting, and the process gets a little redundant after more than an hour or so. Taking breaks between each session allowed the incredible design and unique, well-crafted controls to keep their appeal right up to the end credits.
Full Disclosure Regarding Prime:
I should state that I was (like everyone else) blown away by the first installment of Metroid Prime. MP1 was such an incredible reimagining of the Metroid universe—not to mention an excellent video game in it’s own right–it would be hard to find a self-respecting Nintendo fan who doesn’t hold it in high regard. I skipped the second Prime (Echoes) but later played the third (Corruption), though it took me more than a year to finish. Frankly, I tend to become bored with sequels that employ identical engines and gameplay, and Prime 3 was no exception. The combat was far too easy and I was constantly frustrated with the clunky handling of the 3D mapping system. I was more than ready for a new take on Metroid, a feeling which definitely informs my view of Other M.
(with that off my chest….back to the review at hand….)
There are two things that every review of Other M are required to mention: the unique hybridization of first and third person action, and the frequently-nauseating plot. I’ll cover the good one first, and only briefly mention the lame one.
Some players may not love the game’s conception as a alternating first and third person shooter; I’d argue that these gamers are overlooking the Nintendo-styled creativity and pure entertainment value of this new mechanic. The game employs a creative use of the Wiimote’s pointing abilities to achieve an entirely new style of action/adventure; when running, jumping, and exploring, the player holds the Wiimote on it’s side akin to the classic NES controller and views the game via automatic 3rd-person camera. But instead of relying solely on camera angles and autotarget run-and-gun, the game includes an additional layer of immersive interaction by allowing the player to enter first-person view at any time, merely by pointing the Wiimote at the screen. The user is instantly zapped into an in-helmet view that is virtually identical to the Prime games. From this view, you can examine your surroundings, deploy heavy artillery (such as missles), and scan nearby objects for useful information (though thankfully, the chronic object-scanning of Prime is not required here).
The transition between views is seamless and awesome, and provides that vital sense of classic Metroid exploration. The auto-camera regularly “hides” certain nooks and crannies that can only be found by entering first-person view, so a good deal of the puzzle-solving and item collection employ a mixture of visual and reasoning puzzles that require use of both camera modes. Nearly all of the tougher enemies and bosses require the player to alternate between views; practice is therefore encouraged. A player might dodge enemy attacks in third person view, then flip over to the first person to aim and launch a salvo of missles, then swing back to the third person to reposition Samus for another attack. The player’s viewpoint is a fundamental part of the gameplay and makes battles feel fast, frantic, and furious. It is incredibly entertaining (and genuinely freaky) when you switch out of a distant third person camera into first-person view and find yourself starting face-to-mandible with a hideous space-insect. As a result, combat encounters feel both lightning-fast and intensely intimate by combining the best aspects of a run-and-gun with an FPS. It will take a few minutes to master the technique of flipping the remote from sideways play to aiming mode, but I didn’t feel like the learning curve was onerous at all. Really, like any other Wii title that uses point-and-click Wiimote action, the player just needs to maintain a clear line of sight with the sensor bar, and remember not to wave the reticule off the screen. If you can master those basics, you’ll really enjoy the functionality of Other M’s control interface.
The plot: the less said, the better. Other reviewers (and any of your friends who have played Other M) have already driven this point home: the storyline of Other M, in which Samus’ backstory is fleshed out (and in which she speaks aloud for the first time, and all too often), is detestable hogwash. Samus comes off as a pouting, empty-headed girl, struggling with trite psychological conundrums such as: “I don’t like bossy people” and “I simultaneously respect and reject authority figures in my life, a tendency which causes me emotional confusion”. If you’re like many players, you’ll find yourself wishing that Samus had kept her silence and maintained the awesome dignity of an ass-kicking one-woman assault force, rather than descending into JRPG-styled introspections that pollute the game’s cut-scene mini-movies. Which is a real shame, because the movies themselves are well-rendered and graphically excellent. . . Samus’ personality is just unbearable.
To end on a high note, I’d really give Other M a positive review. The atmosphere and gameplay are almost everything you’d hope for, and it’s really cool to see what creative innovations Nintendo can bring to a more serious, mature title (Eternal Darkness 2?). The plot is a big flub, but the flavor of the game itself is classic Metroid: an eerie space outpost, overrun with aliens, brimming with mysterious puzzles and layers of secrets. Sure, the game is a little on the medium-easy side and indefensibly short, but I would give the game my personal recommendation, albeit with the reminder to keep some earplugs handy for when Samus launches into one of her whiny diatribes. She’ll shut up soon enough, and you’ll be right back to blasting those infernal brain-sucking space leeches.
Some comments beyond this point may include minor SPOILERS:
As of this writing, I’ve completed the main game but ran right back for more. When you’ve finished the primary campaign and the end credits have rolled, Samus can re-enter the Bottle Ship on a quest to locate “something that was left behind. Something irreplaceable. . .”. Like many great Metroid games, the fun now becomes the OCD collection of every last energy tank, missile pack, and tertiary item. The map indicates the general location of the missing booty and is a welcome help with this process, so you’re not merely wandering aimlessly through corridors of easily-defeated enemies (really, with your loadout entirely complete, you’ll roll right over almost everything in your path). If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself humbled by how many things you overlooked on the first go-round. On the other hand, the “irreplaceable” item isn’t terribly hard to locate and unlocks an additional ending to the game. And even if getting every last hidden object isn’t your cup of tea, I’d propose that the final battle and escape sequence is still worth the extra half-hour of your life, so just follow the blinking icon on your map and wring a few more minutes of fun out of this solid Metroid title.
As I close in on the coveted 100% complete, I’ve been reflecting that even though I don’t always fall prey to these “catch em all” scenarios, the obscure puzzles of Other M inspired me to feel new love for the game. I am genuinely enjoying the process of chasing down these final items, a process that allows me a worthwhile second chance to appreciate the game’s intensely detailed artwork and the occasionally impossible puzzle (how the f*ck am I supposed to grab that missile pack at the top of the tower in main sector residental quarters???). It might be fair to imagine that the game’s designers saw this ‘completionist content’ as a way to keep the main game accessible to newcomers while throwing the compulsive hardcore audience a few hours of extra Metroid action. It isn’t a perfect solution, but I’m having fun with it, and I’m going to walk away from Other M with a positive bank of memories.
Additional update, additional SPOILER alert:
I sat down for about 3 additional hours and completed the game with 100% of all items. I was a little disappointed that the only reward for the ultra-dedicated player is the option to begin a new game in Hard mode. I certainly don’t regret the experience of a few extra Metroid hours, but I doubt I’m going to play through Other M again in the near future. Too many other games are demanding my attention, and besides, I’ve had this game on loan from a friend for months. Maybe sometime I’ll pick up a used copy and test my mettle, but it’s definitely going to wait.