Genre: Metroidvania (sort of)
Developed by: Team Ninja
Published by: Nintendo
Platforms: Wii, Wii U
Feeling Like: Somebody Other than (M)e should write this
Oh, boy. From one infamous Metroidvania to another.
Samus Aran is an intriguing character, or rather the circumstances surrounding her are. It was a shock when Samus’ gender was revealed at the end of Metroid, but it’s not as if she became a female Mario; she didn’t become a feminist icon, or gain as much public notoriety as Lara Croft. Nintendo seems almost embarrassed by the franchise, and has all but abandoned it outside of Samus’ appearance in the Smash Bros. series. The last mainline Metroid game released? Why, that would be entry #269, Metroid: Other M. Eleven years ago.
It’s baffling, though I’m sure the answer has something to do with money. Sales have never been through the roof, but a group of hardcore fans will never let it entirely die. Super Metroid is still considered an all time classic and a mainstay in the speed running community. Some argue that it was the birth of speed running itself. The fundamentals of the Metroid series has a far reach indeed; it’s not called Castleoid, it’s Metroidvania for a reason. The concepts of a 2 dimensional world that involved exploration, combat, platforming and boss fights weren’t new in 1986 and they’re not new now, but there’s a reason these games are everlasting. With the recent Ori games, you could argue the genre has never been represented better. So…Nintendo, what gives?
It’s impossible to talk about Metroid: Other M without confronting the obvious; the story and character development may have irreparably damaged the franchise. Samus has always been strong, seldom relying on allies to rescue the galaxy. She’s in over her head, but she’s more than capable of rising to the challenge. She is Ellen Ripley with a power suit and don’t think for a moment that’s not where the original inspiration came from.
So when a large part of the story hinges on Samus obeying the orders of anybody, it felt wrong. Even worse, it was Samus taking orders from a man and she seemed awfully “damsel in distress” at times. She freezes up when confronting her biggest rivals, despite having faced them in multiple games prior to (this isn’t a prequel). She drones on and on with slow, emotionless monologues. She seems very pre-occupied with the feelings of others. Essentially, the antithesis of the core of her character.
It’s a real bummer, because aside from that no-so-minor quibble, I had a blast with the rest of the game. Team Ninja tried so many different tricks that something had to stick. The dynamic camera works better than I thought it would, I particularly loved how it shifted around when the action gets quiet and Samus slowly plods forward. The sound design of Samus’ footsteps and the tension of knowing a monster or space pirate is around the corner all add to a very effective atmosphere. It may be one giant space ship, but with all the environmental biospheres, it feels like a small planet. It’s easy to forget where you actually are, when you’re seeing jungle and snow and lava and then you turn the corner and the other side of the wall is endless space. It’s jarring, and a fantastic visual touch.
I’m still not sure what to think of the controls. You play it mostly with the Wiimote sideways, a la the original Nintendo controller. It’s…strange. I guess moving around was fine, the camera zoomed out and in accordingly so I never found myself lost. I got a little annoyed when the game forced you into first person mode to search for something. I guess I’m as blind in Metroid: Other M as I am in real life, because it always took me forever to find the clue. Samus also can’t move in first person mode. Hmm.
It’s a strange choice, considering how mobile and agile Samus is in the rest of the gameplay. The above screenshot isn’t a one time thing, you’re flipping around like a space robot ninja would, point blank blasting enemies in the face with no room to breathe. But, in first person mode, you’re a big fat turret waiting to be hit, unless you hit them first. Naturally.
I can’t lie, all it did was make me long for the Metroid Primes. The sublime design and shocking switch from a 2d platformer to a first person shooter led to one of the greatest games ever in Metroid Prime. The two sequels had some drawbacks, but you’ll find both on the 500, guaranteed. So Metroid: Other M’s first person attempt was like the rest of the game – messy. It also felt a lot more linear, which I actually didn’t mind as much. I’ve never really stuck to traditional conventions when it comes to what a game should be – if it’s fun, it’s fun. If it works, it works. Linear isn’t by default worse than open-world, they’re stylistic choices.
But I guess that’s the issue I have with Metroid: Other M. I really can’t tell if it works or not. Clearly it had some appeal, I had a better time with it than 231 other games. I loved screw attacking through hallways and deftly evading the horrors that would see me dead. Running around felt natural. The setting is incredible. For all the faults, it feels fresh and odd. I don’t think I ‘ve played anything like it before, or since. The sting of the story and character choices runs deep, however, and I can’t place it any higher on the 500 because of that.