Saturday, October 2, 2010

'Metroid: Other M' - Review

'Metroid' has always been one of my favorite game series.  I've played just about every 'Metroid' game ever created, the one exception being 'Fusion', and for the most part, I enjoyed every one.  Some more than others, of course, but, even with the slight variations, they've all essentially felt like a 'Metroid' game, with the possible exception of 'Hunters'... and 'Pinball'.  To me, 'Metroid' has always been about running, jumping, and exploring.  Story has always taken a back seat, not because I wouldn't be interested in exposition in a 'Metroid' game, just because it's never been a focus of any of the games.  Now, with 'Other M', there's a 'Metroid' game that gives plot a front row seat, but does it really deserve it?

'Metroid: Other M' was developed by Project M, a group consisting of developers from three companies, the bulk being from Team Ninja, and published by Nintendo.  'Other M' is a serious change to the 'Metroid' franchise.  Every previous game has just had a token plot.  In 'Other M', not only is there a huge focus on story, Samus also has a voice and talks... a lot.  The game is also presented in a pseudo 3D/2.5D format with a first person view when you aim.  This is an attempt to give people the "best of both worlds," the pure awesomeness of a 2D 'Metroid' with a sprinkling of the perspective from the 'Prime' series.  Finally, in the list of major changes, are some gameplay alterations.  Gone are the health and missile pickups that used to drop from enemies, instead you can "concentrate" to regain missiles at any time and health whenever you are almost dead.  Also missing are suit upgrade pickups, instead, you must wait until it is absolutely necessary to unlock upgraded armor, beams, and missiles.

The game takes place immediately after the events of 'Super Metroid' and begins with a flashback to the final battle with Mother Brain.  For me, a huge fan of 'Super Metroid', this cutscene alone makes the game worth playing.  At least for me, seeing the ending of 'Super Metroid' in fully rendered 3D was quite magical.  After the recap of the ending, you're shown recovering from the battle in a Galactic Federation hospital.  You then have to go through a mini tutorial level and deliver your debriefing of the events of 'Metroid II' and 'Super Metroid' before you're able to leave the station.  The game cuts to an undetermined time in the future when you intercept a "Baby's Cry" type distress signal.  You decide to investigate and discover a derelict Bottle Ship and, upon landing, discover that a Galactic Federation ship has apparently beat you there.

Shortly after entering the ship you discover a rather small platoon of Galactic Federation soldiers that just happens to be led by Adam Malkovich, Samus's former commanding officer and surrogate father.  You decide to join the team and as such, decide to follow Adam's orders to the letter.  From this point on, he is essentially "Other M's" Chozo Statues, as it's up to him to decide when Samus can use various suit upgrades.  Many people complain about this and I kinda agree, but for a different reason.  It downplays the exploration element and removes that sense of discovery you would get when you'd find a new powerup.  Instead it's now "Use of Ice Beam is now authorized," which provides nowhere near the amount of satisfaction that hearing the upgrade music instills.  However, there are two instances where you acquire upgrades from defeating bosses, but when compared to the rest of the game, these feel awkward and makes no sense.

Speaking of music, and I usually don't, since I don't often notice it in games, I felt severely disappointed by the lack of 'Metroid' music in 'Other M'.  Rarely, if ever, was I reminded of 'Metroid' music during my playthrough, though I would occasionally notice what seemed to be a traditional 'Metroid' melody, but maybe it was just my imagination.  That's not to say the music is bad, it just doesn't feel right for a 'Metroid' game.

Another thing that feels wrong is the lack of health and missile pickups.  Without these, I killing enemies is a waste of time unless needed to advance.  The "concentration" feature kinda works for missiles, though I rarely needed it as I almost never used missiles unless it was absolutely needed, as the first person interface is a chore to use, especially during battle, but it's an absolute mess when you try to use it for health.  It works, but if you need to use it for health, chances are you're not in a position to use it.  You're likely being overwhelmed by enemies in a locked room and, while the game seems to take some pity on you if you're trying to use it, most of the time you'll get hit before you're done recharging.  These two features, I hate to use the word, "casualize" the game, basically adding in regenerating health and ammo.

Initially the controls felt iffy, but once you learn to let go and let auto aim, it really starts to work... for the most part.  I would occasionally yell at the TV for choosing to shoot at the enemy far in the distance instead of the one that was 3 feet away and rapidly closing.  The lack of a lock on made some of the more acrobatic battles a little more difficult than they needed.  I would often get frustrated when I'd dodge an attack then fire a shot away from the enemy.  I briefly touched the first person controls but they deserve revisiting.  More often than not I would go into first person mode and either be facing the wrong way or would quickly move in and out of first person mode because I didn't have the Wiimote aimed properly.  It's also extremely clunky to have to turn the controller on it's side, especially during some of the battles where you need to use a missile to damage or defeat an enemy.  The game tries to help by giving you a second or two of slow mo when you first enter first person mode, but it's never enough.  By the time I would flip the controller around and get the aim just right, I'd see a projectile coming at me which would hit me, knock me out of first person mode, and screw up my aiming.   The platforming, however, is pretty spot on and works surprisingly well considering you're using a D-Pad to control in a 3D environment.  Outside of one time, when I didn't notice there was another platform I could shoot down to shorten the gap between jumps, I had no more instances of the game not jumping where I wanted to than in any other game.

The game keeps the tradition of picking up missile and energy tanks to increase Samus's missile and health reserves and it adds E-Recover Tanks, which increases the amount of energy Samus regenerates when she concentrates and increases the health level she must be at to concentrate, Energy Parts, which are basically heart parts from Zelda games, and Accel Charges, which increases the speed at which Samus's weapons can charge.  Compared to other games, the world feels smaller, so exploring in an attempt to find 100% of the items is less of a chore.  The game also adds markers on your map once the main game is completed... I don't recall if any previous game did this, but it's a nice touch regardless.  Unfortunately there is no real bonus to getting 100% besides unlocking hard mode and a few additional pieces of concept art.

I guess I need to talk about the story... it's not great.  Not because of the "changes" to what was "known" about Samus, as most of the preconceived notions about her that were crushed by this game were merely speculation and conjecture by fans.  Instead, it's not great simply because of the quality of the writing.  If feels like a high grade B movie and has a decided Japanese quality to it.  I don't mean that in a bad way, it's just the writing has a distinct Japanese cadence to the way the dialog and thoughts flow and I'm not a huge fan of that style.  I was ecstatic to finally learn more about one of my favorite video game characters of all time and I didn't have much of an issue with the things the people complain about most often... if you forget what you thought you knew about Samus and just go by what the game tells you and accept that Samus is a human being, not some emotionless android, everything fits.  There's also one plot point that I've heard some people say was abandoned and never resolved, and it's just not exactly true.  They never spell it out for you, no, but they do resolve it.

Ultimately, 'Other M' feels like a mixed bag.  The story doesn't feel "A" quality and some of the gameplay changes rub me the wrong way, but it still feels like a Metroid game and controls wonderfully once you learn to stop trying to micro-manage it.  At one point when playing I thought "This is the 'Metroid' game I've been waiting for since I bought a Nintendo 64."  I didn't mean it in a negative way, just that this is what I thought was the logical advancement to 'Metroid' was when I had a N64, that this is what a 3D 'Super Metroid' should feel like.  Call it fanboyism if you must, but if this game had no connection to the 'Metroid' name I would probably rate it a 5 or 6/10 but just because it is 'Metroid' I'm going to give it an 8/10.

This review is based off a single playthrough of the game on the normal difficulty level with a completion rating of 100%.

1 comment:

  1. Zero Suit Samus' palette swaps may be references to the Justin Bailey in its various appearances. Her blue costume is a reference to the Zero Suit in Metroid Prime 2: Echoes and the Justin Bailey in Metroid Fusion, Its really awesome. I just collect for mine METROID at PIJ.