I’m disappointed to say that the Metroid series has been a gap in my video game playlist for years. It was only just last year that I played Super Metroid, a game that (if I could) would get a 10 on our site with the disclaimer “because reasons” and nothing more. Since beating Super Metroid, I have dipped my toes into the scant but diverse Metroid lineup and, most recently, played what is probably the least loved of the series. What’s sad about Metroid: Other M is that it does so much right gameplay-wise. Team Ninja and Nintendo co-developed a title that uses only the Wii Remote (no attachments) to create an action-packed, Ninja Gaiden-akin experience, but with a blaster. Where Metroid: Other M fails utterly is what was originally touted as its selling point: story.
I’ll put my back to the metaphorical elephant in the room for now. Metroid: Other M is one of the most impressive looking Wii titles. The cutscenes bring Samus’ world to new, stunning levels. The most notable of these is a recreation of Super Metroid’s most climactic scene and, while I only just played that title, seeing that moment beautifully rendered must have been indescribable for long-time fans of the series. The in-game graphics use the Wii’s capabilities to its fullest. I’d say only a boss or two fall short and reveal the hardware’s graphical limitations. While Other M is less labyrinthine than many of the Metroid titles, there is a lot to explore in each section of the game, and backtracking and hunting for secrets will give Samus the edge she needs to get through some of the game’s tougher challenges.
Engaging enemies is a mix of mostly third-person with the occasional first-person perspective. By holding the Wii Remote sideways, players use the D-pad and 1 and 2 buttons in third-person mode, which surprisingly makes play feel dynamic but with the tried and true simplicity of the NES controller. Samus always aims at the target nearest her in the direction she is facing so it is effortless and satisfying to run down a hallway and blast the dozens of enemies littering the halls of the facility. With more difficult enemies, Samus can quickly dodge an incoming attack by tapping the D pad and, depending on the enemy, even use a finishing move with varying degrees of flair. Nothing feels better than watching Samus put her cannon to the head of an enemy, send it to its maker, then leap back into action for the next volley. Simply put: the third person gameplay is really engaging. It is a game of knowing when to dodge, jump, and shoot, and I felt responsible for every failure. Sometimes dodging isn’t enough though, and it it important to step back from the fray and cleave down clusters of enemies from afar.
The shortcoming to other M’s playstyle is the occasion wherein players switch to first person mode. By pointing the Wii Remote at the screen, the game becomes a point-and-shooter from Samus’ perspective which is necessary to fire missiles and critical, directed hits at big enemies and bosses. Since Samus is firmly planted to the ground in this mode, it is only a matter of moments before she is struck by an incoming blast or striking enemy, which feels like a betrayal to the quick and dodgy third-person perspective. It is the dependence of the quick switching between perspectives that allows cheap hits and frustrating moments. When health was low and the moment critical, it was the jarring transition between the fun third-person and limited first-person that ended my play sessions. With a miniscule amount of health remaining, Samus also has the ability to regenerate her last health bar if players can remain still and find a safe place to recharge; this small addition makes boss battles all the more intense. First person also rears its head throughout the story, forcing Samus to look around and examine things. This stopping the action in its tracks decision is both off-putting and frustrating because at least two of those times I could not figure out what the game wanted me to look at. Once I even spent 20 minutes stuck in this limbo, desperately searching for something to progress the story.
As I mentioned at the beginning of the review though, there is a big but to the passable gameplay and, I’m not doing anything new or difficult by panning Metroid: Other M’s story. Samus has recovered from her previous encounter fighting Mother Brain (a renegade AI) and Ridley (a dragon-like monster responsible for the deaths of Samus’ family) and is again adrift in her spaceship. For the first time in the series, our lead character is given a voice, the delivery of which is, for the most part, baffling. Samus reflects on the past and interacts with others with what is either clinical coldness or what sounds like disinterest. The dialogue isn’t too helpful either, as Samus often over-explains metaphors or chimes in with a monologue to explain something better expressed through interaction. Despite that, she receives a signal from a “bottle ship” (the first of many heavy-handed mother metaphors) and, during her investigation, encounters a team from the Federation, which includes a former co-cadet of Samus’ and, more importantly, Adam, a father figure and former commanding officer. After little nicety and more slowly explained history by our monotone heroine, Samus and the team work together to investigate the bottle ship for the source of the distress signal with Adam taking charge.
And… the elephant in the room rears its ugly head. Samus, arguably one of the most interesting female characters in video games up until this foray, becomes a character that things happen to. Because of the potential damage Samus’ weaponry could have on the base, Adam only allows certain weaponry to be used as needed, unlocking different abilities only as the game demands. While this is touted rightly as anti-feminist, what really bothers me is the disparity between Other M’s gameplay when matched with the story. While in control of Samus, players mop up enemies and feel the power of her concussive blasts as she fells giant enemies. Throughout the story however, Samus fails to have any agency whatsoever. (Mild spoilers ahead). Samus is limited in what abilities she can use at the command of a man, she stands frozen in terror in the face of an old nemesis (that she has fought at least two times bravely to date) and is then jostled to action by a man, she is later incapacitated by a man and proceeds to watch helplessly as that man goes into what would have been the most interesting level of the game, and, finally, just when I hoped Samus would do something in the final moments of the game, the rebelliousness and moxie that she internally claims to have are then acted upon by (you guessed it) a man. The ending of Other M is anti-climactic and, more egregiously, ended with little to no input by either the player or Samus herself. It is head-scratchingly frustrating listening to Samus go on at the end of the game, forcing a theme that hadn’t really played out until the final act. On top of it all, she delivers those lines lifelessly.
Metroid: Other M is a passable, B game playwise. In fact, with the exception of the awkwardness of third to first-person perspective, I enjoyed a vast amount of the action. I understand too that story does not make a game. However (and this is a big however) story should not go out of its way to impede and diminish play. Other M is only the third game in the Metroid series that I’ve completed and even I feel like this game betrays Samus as a character. Metroid is best when enemies put the pressure on Samus and she, armed and ready, takes a stand against those forces. Action becomes the story; play imitates art. The tension of those fights binds us to Nintendo’s femme fatale in a metal suit, a woman so apart from her peers. Metroid: Other M makes Samus out to be inexperienced, damsel-like, dependent, passive in her own destiny, and, worst of all, so very boring to listen to.
Vinny Orsillo | @VinnyOhGames