the artistry and psychology of gaming


Metroid: Other M

Metroid: Other M

Before we begin, I’d like to say that I’m a huge fan of the Metroid series.  Other than Metroid: Zero Mission and Metroid Prime Hunters, I enjoyed each of Samus’s adventures; Metroid Prime Pinball doesn’t count by virtue of it being more Pinball and less Metroid. Even Zero Mission was good until the end, when you had to collect the remaining upgrades.  That said, I was stoked to play this, as it was the latest installment in a series of which I am quite fond.  I was even cool with the perspective-switching gimmick.  What I got, however was something that continued Metroid Prime 3‘s downward slide into mediocre sludge, but I’m getting ahead of myself.


First and foremost is (or at least should be) the most important part of any game: the game.  Despite writing for Gaming Symmetry and believing in our mission statement, I’ve always been a firm believer in “Games are games first and stories/art/movies second”, even for RPGs.  I’m not a story or graphics basher, I just think of them as toppings on the game’s sundae, not the actual ice cream: the substance beneath it all.  At any rate, the gameplay is a mixed bag.  First of all, a Control Cross (or D-Pad, if you prefer) in a 3D game isn’t really the best idea.  A joystick is capable of more sensitive, 360-degree movement, whereas the Control Cross only gives you 8 directions.  In this game, it makes moving around a bit awkward.  That said, the camera moves around for you in many places, adjusting your direction and making the whole thing much less of an issue.  The beams aim themselves, too, and don’t do too bad a job of it; it’s very easy to hit your target in third-person mode.  Better yet, ShineSparking controls better than any other game in the entire series; it’s never been easier to blast in the direction you want.  Since you’ll be spending the most time in third-person mode, it’s a good thing that the controls work fairly well, despite a few design flaws.

As far as first-person mode is concerned, imagine Metroid Prime 3, remove the ability to walk around, and add the ability to dodge any attack by shaking the Wiimote before it hits, and you’ve got it.  The thing is, though, I felt it could have been done away with if the designers had mapped an unused button (say, the “-” button) to switch between beam and missile like virtually every other Metroid game out there.  It would probably have been a good idea, too, since the auto-aim is so good that you don’t really need the lock-on and it is difficult to switch back and forth between perspectives in an intense battle, and sometimes doesn’t work as it should, but it was nice to be able to look around and scan things to see how to break them.  It’s not how I would have handled it, but it works, for the most part.

Combat is mostly fluid, and even the over-the-top quicktime event finishers come in handy, but I have two main complaints.  One of which is that the dodge is not quite what I’m used to; I’m used to flicking a different stick and dodging in that direction.  In Other M, you tap the direction in which you want to dodge right before you get hit.  It’s not necessarily bad, but it does take some getting used to.  The other problem I have is also related to dodging: it’s Metroid!  I’m not used to dodging, at least not in third-person perspective.  In any Platformer, if something’s coming at you, what do you do?  Jump!  Well, that’s not going to cut it here.  Again, it’s not that it’s bad, but it goes against everything I’ve learned since 1987 as a gamer.  In fact, there’s a tough enemy that will damage you severely if you ever jump in its presence.  That was really hard for me to figure out, and even harder to do.  On the other hand, it’s not all bad; the bosses are a lot of fun.  Sure, they don’t measure up to some of the insane, often puzzling bosses in the Metroid Prime games, but they each have their own particular way to be beaten, and it’s like a little puzzle.  All of them are challenging, but none are frustrating.  For that matter, the whole game is challenging enough to be engaging, but not to the point of frustration, save maybe a few enemies that have no clear method of defeat.  I’m not the greatest at 3D games (perhaps because, in real life, I have no depth perception), but even I was able to get through this without much swearing.


The graphics are a mixed bag as well. Don’t get me wrong; what’s there is done very well.  The graphics look good and make a fairly convincing three-dimensional environment and the transitions between perspectives are done well.  However, my problem is the lack of creativity.  Metroid Fusion, a Game Boy Advance game, had 6 massive sectors, whereas Other M had only 3.  That’s not intrinsically problematic, but if you only have three, can’t you make them something other than grass/forest, ice, and fire?  What about a desert, or a dark area, or a cave, or an underwater area, maybe even a swamp or something, anything a little out of the ordinary?  There are so many different biome archetypes in videogames, some of which don’t even exist in real life; why would you go with such overused choices?  Yeah, the ice area looks pretty cool, especially in some of its watery areas, but the fire and tropical areas are so standard.  Kirby’s Return to Dream Land had a gorgeous fire area completely out of the ordinary; even Kirby 64 had a really cool visual take on lava and that was 2 generations of gaming ago.  The same is true of Paper Mario and its jungle.  Another thing: I know that making an area dark makes it spooky and atmospheric, but it’s sometimes it’s annoying not being able to find small things, whether you’re trying to get into them or keep them from killing you.

Oases of Beauty material... except it's only a few screens.

At times, the character design bothered me a bit, too.  When I first saw the trailer, I wondered why Samus was wearing a lab coat.  In the game, I found out that there is another character that looks an awful lot like Samus; why design two characters to look so similar, especially when the cast is so small?  There are also 2 Galactic Federation soldiers that I simply cannot tell apart.  If you can’t make faces look distinctly different, at least give the characters different hairstyles or something.  Another unwelcome design idea is the numerous, gratuitous shots of Samus’s “goods”, undoubtedly from Team Ninja.  I get it, you like blondes and you like staring at their boobs and asses.  Please refrain from destroying games that the rest of us like.  Samus is a battle-hardened warrior, not some hentai floozy.  While I am, indeed, attracted primarily to women, by no means do I wish to view them all as puppets to dance for my sexual fantasies.  I found Adam Malkovich to be a very attractive man; why not zoom in on provocative areas of his body?

Maybe it's just me; I can't tell blondes apart.

On the other hand, the enemy design was fantastic.  The new enemies were colorful and interesting in design.  The enemies from 2D games in the series even looked good in 3D.  While I’m not big on 3D, I do like seeing enemies from 2D games presented in 3D.  I love 8-bit games, but sometimes, you really can’t figure out what a sprite is supposed to be, and seeing it in 3D makes me appreciate the sprite even more.  The bosses in this game were especially cool, and Samus’s design is also well done.  I remember a scene later in the game in which Samus has a conversation with a researcher.  The shining red and orange suit with her bright green visor looked really cool against the dark blue and purple background.  I would have liked to see Samus’s armor in a different color than the standard yellow-to-orange, but the purple glow you get later in the game is a nice touch.  The ending had some really nice visuals, as well.  So, while I spent a lot more time harping on the negative aspects of the visuals, I did find this to be a rather aesthetically pleasing game overall.


This is where the game really suffers.  The game didn’t really try as hard to be a game as it did to be a movie.  A B-List horror movie with a Sci-Fi setting, at that, because Jason X was such a great movie that a juggernaut like Metroid needs to emulate it.  You have your crew of Galactic Federation soldiers that have very little personality, but despite the 40 lines they have between them, they have better voice acting than the main character, who uses a flat tone of voice as though she’s reading for a book on tape; more on that later.  The plot’s main purpose was to elaborate on the relationship between Samus Aran and Adam Malkovich, who was sort of introduced in Metroid Fusion.  I’ll admit that this has potential, because after finishing Metroid Fusion, I thought it would be interesting to learn more about him.  The problem is that Other M doesn’t really show their relationship so much as mention it, so the moments they have together in this game aren’t likely to elicit an emotional response from most people.  Besides, since when is Metroid about whiny, angsty melodrama; isn’t that Squenix territory?  To me, Metroid is about action, puzzle solving, and treasure hunting in an isolated, alien environment.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to a Metroid game having a story told in a traditional way, but if you insist on making this a story-heavy game (a stupid idea because it’s a game, not a book or a movie), at least put some effort into it.  Sure, you know what’s going to happen to certain characters because of the events of Metroid Fusion, but Lufia 2 had the same obstacle and it did a great job with its story, so that’s no excuse.  The cutscenes seemed overly long, but I think that’s just because they just weren’t anything special.  You might remember the battle against Mother Brain in Super Metroid being #2 on my Top 10 Most Epic Boss Fights at GameFAQs, and I still stand by that.  There is a cutscene in the beginning of the game that shows that battle.  As great as you think that might be, it removes everything that made that battle so special and just becomes another bland cutscene.  Sure, maybe it’ll make you remember how you felt the first time you fought the battle, but aside from that, it’s got nothing.  Some of the scenes were just weird.  Seriously, there were at least 2 cutscenes that left me wondering just what had happened.  I don’t mind cutscenes, but this game went so overboard that it seemed like I would only get about 15 minutes of gameplay before the game would yank the controller from my hand and play itself for 5 or 10; it breaks immersion just a bit.  This is Metroid, not Final Fantasy 10.  This game just tries too hard to be a movie.  I hate it when games do that, but to make it worse, it’s not even a good movie.  The plot’s riddled with cliches, the camera angles and lighting are often trying too hard, and most of the characters are forgettable or painful to watch.

No way! He's only been dead forever half a dozen times before!

Speaking of spectacle over substance, while I liked a lot of the finishers in that they were handy and flowed well with combat, I couldn’t help but feel like the game was shouting “Hey!  Look!  Did you see that!  It was awesome, wasn’t it?  Yeah!  I mutilated him!  Just like that game with the Greek guy with the sword chucks!”  Most of the time, when my lady would compliment my skills by noting that something that I did looked cool, I’d sarcastically respond, “Yeah, that was totally what I was going for.”  Sure, the game made it easy to look like you know what you’re doing, which is kind of cool, but it made it seem like the game was just trying way too hard to appeal to the God of War crowd.  Another problem with the presentation was the “suspenseful” moments when Samus would creep slowly through corridors.  During these sequences, you couldn’t shoot or morph, meaning you also couldn’t drop bombs.  Not only was this annoying because it was slow and had the awkward controls of a 3D game from the Genesis/SNES era of gaming (think the original Resident Evil, but worse), it was also impossible to build suspense by doing this because if you can’t defend yourself, there won’t be any enemies to attack you; what’s the point?  In fact, you’re usually supposed to carefully explore these areas and find something, so why have awkward controls and camera angles?

This is not an isolated incident

Perhaps the worst part of the game was the character development.  As previously mentioned, Samus’s narration is completely flat and without emotion.  Samus is a battle-hardened bounty hunter, so it makes perfect sense that she be relatively emotionless.  The problem is that, in the actual game, she’s so emotionally fragile that it makes her character designers seem downright misogynistic.  She’s emotionally unstable throughout the entire game, and it gets worse as you go.  Now, any Metroid fan knows who Ridley is; he has appeared in nearly every game in the entire series.  Since Other M takes place between Super Metroid and Metroid Fusion, that means that Samus has battled Ridley at least five times, depending upon how you count Zero Mission.  When she encounters him this time, she has a nervous breakdown that dissolves her suit.  How can a battle-hardened professional monster hunter, who has battled the same creature five times freak out like this!?  This isn’t Samus, it’s a blow-up doll copy of the 1950s view of women, and a discredit to the industry as a whole.  There’s a reason this game has been slammed by nearly every video game critic out there.  On the positive side, I do really like what they did with Adam’s character, which gets the designers bonus points, since he’s the whole reason this story exists.  He was noble and mysterious, and I like that in a character.  It’s just too bad that they destroyed the main character in the process of fleshing him out.

This isn't a flashback; she really turns into a little girl when she sees him.

Aside from Adam, though, there was another thing I thought was presented really well in this game: the quicktime events. Yes, it was really annoying not having any sort of prompt that there was a quicktime event happening, resulting in a lot of damage and quite a few instant deaths until I figured out what was going on. The thing is, the lack of giant button prompts and the fact that my choices are limited to jump, shoot, or dodge was a fantastic idea. You know what irritates me about quicktime events? The entire point of them is that your character will do something that looks really cool, so that you can see it without being a god of thumbs, but you can’t watch them because not only is most of the screen taken up by the button prompt, but it’s also usually a random button, so you have to focus on the prompts, rather than the stylish action your character is performing. This game does away with that; you can watch the character and always know which button to press because you know what you want Samus to do. See, it blends cinematic action and interactive medium; that’s the point of quicktime events!


In all honesty I can only think of a few moments in which this game actually has any music. I know that atmospheric music is a big thing in Metroid and a staple of the series, but Super Metroid had some of the greatest music of its time; Other M’s score is mostly just ambient background noises. Sure, you hear the Metroid theme on the title screen and Ridley’s theme is heard too, but they’re so watered down. Remember how epic a feeling the opening theme from Super Metroid created as the text retold the stories of the first two Metroid games? Well, take that and remove every single part of it except the bassline and you have it in its Other M incarnation. Wait a minute, I believe that song was more than just a constant dubba-dubba-dubba-dubba-dubba-dubba-dubba-dubba with the occasional voice coming through. There was an entire melody! It had brass to give it that powerful, epic feeling! Remember that!? I guess not. The other part of sound is the sound effects. Most of them were pretty standard, but some of them sounded kind of goofy. At times, it (along with all of the unnecessary melodrama) made it hard for me to take the game seriously. I’ve already talked about the voice acting, so I won’t reiterate that here, but let’s just say it factors in with dragging the score down. In summary: no new music, watered down old music, not much music, sometimes goofy sound effects, and subpar voice acting; the sound is trash.


Most everyone knows the clichés of a B-List horror movie and can recognize one fairly easily, so why is the game presented in this way? Well, the short answer is that this is what the industry thinks the modern gamer wants. Think of the last few game trailers you’ve watched. Now, think of the last few movie trailers you’ve watched. See the similarity? You see, most gamers aren’t satisfied with games anymore. There was a little bit of Samus’s back story in the Prime subseries and in Fusion, but gamers wanted more. We don’t want a hero! We want someone who’s human; someone who’s like us! That makes her interesting! There were some cinematic moments in the Prime series but gamers wanted more. This game is really short, so to get all of this “more” in, it has to be crammed in there. The community raved about games that are cinematic garbage, and look where it got us. Now, something like this comes out and everyone complains about it. I’m not going to launch into a big, preachy speech about what cinematic rubbish games have become, but I will say this: Team Ninja is only partially to blame for what’s happened here; the gaming community has spoken, and only the loud, stupid voices among us were heard.

I know, Sweetie; just close your eyes, and the fans' outrage will take care of it.

All in all, this isn’t a bad game.  Sure, it’s a cinematic trainwreck, but the gameplay (still the most important part of any game) is fairly solid.  It’s not as solid as Super Mario World, Sonic 2, Mega Man (pick a number), or even most of the Metroid series, from whence it came; I’d put it more on par with something like Michael Jordan: Chaos in the Windy City.  That is to say, the controls aren’t perfect, but they work fairly well and the end result is something unique.  Since the game is so short, I would recommend renting it, sooner than buying it, but I do own it and will likely play it again in the future.  So, while it is one of the weaker entries in the series, it’s had a lot of tough competition!  Like I said, there are maybe 3 games in the series I didn’t love and one of those was good until the last hour or so.  Just give this game the benefit of the doubt and see it through to the end. I’d say it’s worth your while, even if the purpose of the post-game is completely stupid.

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