Metroid: Other M attempts to take players further into the world of its cool, usually-silent, bounty hunter, Samus. Itâ€™s a bit of a revolutionary take for the Metroid line of games, which has primarily focused on tense action over lengthy explanations. With Samus telling us her own story for the first time, as well as a new approach to the Wii controller, Metroid: Other M has taken quite a few risks in making changes to whatâ€™s been a winning formula in the past. So do these changes make for an intriguing change for Metroid fans?
If youâ€™ve heard anything about this game so far, youâ€™ve probably heard loads about the abundance of story in the game. And yes: it is true. Other M kicks off with some back story to bring everyone up to speed with what happened to Samus at the end of Super Metroid. It shows us again her showdown with Mother Brain, and the way the Baby Metroid sacrificed itself to save Samusâ€™s life. Itâ€™s emotional stuff, to be sure. But this is just the beginning.
Samus is still recovering from this experience when she responds to a distress signal from a nearby space station, known as the Bottle Ship. Going in, she is surprised to find soldiers from the Galactic Federation, led by Adam Malkovitch, who was once Samusâ€™s superior officer, back before she left the Federation and became a bounty hunter. Seeing Adam again brings back a wash of memories for Samus, and she decides to stay and lend a hand â€“ for strange things are afoot aboard the station.
So thatâ€™s the setup, and by the time you reach this point, you will have already learned quite a bit about Samus, and seen her as the young, impetuous girl she was, back when she joined the Federation. Itâ€™s strange to hear her monologues after such a long period of silence, but itâ€™s touching as well. Others have commented disparagingly about her emotionless tone of voice â€“ but youâ€™d hardly expect a bounty hunter to sound like bubbly cheerleader, would you? In my opinion, it suits her.
And as for the inclusion of the extended backstory â€“ well, it may take some getting used to for some, but Iâ€™m of the camp that a little more background information on characters makes for a more interesting gaming experience. But thatâ€™s a broad statement, and yes, of course, if done without much thought, it can ruin a game. In the case of Other M, I do believe the intent to make Samus a more fleshed-out character is a sincere one.
But for all this talk of Samusâ€™s character, itâ€™s ironic that it's here, in Other M, that Samusâ€™s behaviour is at odds with her personality. If youâ€™ve played any of the other Metroid games youâ€™ll know there is usually some contrivance at the start of the game to make sure Samus doesnâ€™t start off with her full complement of suit powers. I think most gamers are happy to suspend disbelief with this device, and go along with the game â€“ after all, so much of what is great about games like Metroid is the gaining of new abilities.
But here, Samus is fully-powered (we know this, because earlier we get a moment to â€˜recalibrateâ€™ her suit and try out the new controls) but for some reason she chooses to not use her abilities until Adam â€˜letsâ€™ her.
OK â€“ ick. I know in military combat situations this is a believable scenario, however, Samus is no longer in the military. And worse â€“ she is often in situations where those very abilities sheâ€™s sworn not to make use of, would save her from injury and death. But she still wonâ€™t â€“ not until itâ€™s been authorised.
Anyway â€“ this aside, the gameplay is no different from earlier Metroid games: when itâ€™s on, itâ€™s furious, and thereâ€™s an intriguing array of different locations and bosses to fight. The controllers, on the other hand, are a completely new kettle of fish.
In Metroid Prime 3, movement and action was performed using the standard Wiimoteâ€“nunchuck combination that Wii players have become accustomed to. In Other M, these are changed to a three-way use of just the Wiimote. Thatâ€™s right â€“ the nunchuck is goneburger. Instead, youâ€™ll use the Wiimote held horizontally for the third person mode (using the cross-pad for movement). This usually works pretty well, though truth be told, the nunchuck is still more effective for controlling character movement.
Then, at certain points in the game, youâ€™ll want to turn the controller 90 degrees, still on the horizontal, to move into first person mode. This is the mode where you can search, and also shoot missiles, by moving a crosshair using the standard Wiimote pointer. Finally, by holding the Wiimote vertically (light-sabre vertical) you can, at times, recharge Samusâ€™s supply of missiles. And if youâ€™re running low on charge, also recharge her suit.
All well and good, I suppose, but I confess to having problems in switching from third person to first person mode. If you are in the middle of a battle and want to shoot a missile at a tough opponent, you have to move from one mode to the other. The movement of the Wiimote itself is quick, but then you have to try and very quickly get your pointer in the right place â€“ and the accuracy is not great. Itâ€™s a small squabble; you do get used to the controller setup pretty fast. But when youâ€™re in first person mode, Samus isnâ€™t able to move, and so you can often find yourself switching frantically from one mode to the other. Itâ€™s a tricky balance to get right.
Itâ€™s also worth pointing out that Samusâ€™s path through the story is pretty much stuck on rails throughout the game. This may or may not be a point of contention for you. But again, it seemed as if Adam had all the cards, and was holding them close to his chest. Only when he deemed you needed to go to a particular area on the ship, would he unlock the doors (or allow you, much later, to use the power bombs to blast open a stuck door). It didnâ€™t exactly take fun out of the game, but was again a small niggle.
Itâ€™s tough to review a game in a series as much-loved as Metroid. The trap you fall into is that you end up examining not the game as a whole, but the aspects of that title that differ from earlier titles in the group. Iâ€™m afraid Iâ€™ve done that a bit here. In any case, I do believe that Other M will be a must-have on the list of Metroid fans, especially now they have the opportunity to learn more about Samus and her life â€“ and so they will likely gobble up the extended cut scenes. For players new to the series, Other M offers some solid challenges, and classic Metroid gameplay, with lots of opportunities to make use of all the abilities Samusâ€™s suit affords.
While the Wiimote changes may irritate some, what I do like is that the game designers are still exploring the medium, still trying to work out interesting methods to give players more ways to interact with the environment. And it is this willingness to break the mold, to not stick with the formula, that makes Other M such an interesting addition to the Metroid family. Definitely recommended.