|This is the Japanese box art. Which is awesome.|
I came into this game a skeptic, I must say. I began this journey expecting to hate it a lot, and criticize a lot, and be an angry video game nerd, but... I liked this game. Hell, I liked this game a LOT. Maybe I'm crazy, but I'd like another Metroid with this game's mechanics and style. It's just fun to play and it made me smile.
So, Other M was the second Metroid game to be released for the Wii, after the near-launch Metroid Prime 3: Corruption. While the third installment of the Prime trilogy focused on tight motion controls and a larger scale than before, Other M brought the series back to its roots in many ways, while mixing some of the new in, too. The game takes place after Super Metroid, a fan favorite and, in many ways, fantastic jumping point for the story of the Metroid universe. It is before Metroid Fusion, another critically acclaimed title in the franchise and one I've been playing recently, as well. I see many ties between Fusion and Other M- their objective-based gameplay, environmental puzzles, and usage of ridiculous monologues. But more on that later.
Instead of a first-person perspective, most of Other M's gameplay is 2.5D, featuring fixed camera angles of environments that can be explored in all directions. Some tight corridors don't require much exploration so it's nice to watch Samus sprint through them in a very Fusion/Super Metroid/Zero Mission-y fashion, but other rooms are very large with a number of intricate puzzles within. If you wish to observe the environment a bit more closely, however, you can point the Wii remote at the screen and it will switch to a stationary first person mode, allowing you to see all sides of the room as well as locking-on to enemies and obstacles. This mode does come with a price, leaving you vulnerable to attack by keeping you stationary, so switching back and forth from third to first person is necessary to grasp the combat system. However, you can sense move out of first person mode, but it's a tricky maneuver that takes time to master. Sense move is an integral part of the combat system and essentially allows you to dodge enemy attacks- a necessary function, seeing as even the lowliest of grunt enemies can take a decent chunk out of your health. Shots from your beam cannon will hone-in on enemies within your field of vision, and there is no way to aim your shots manually unless in first person mode. You can perform special techniques like overblasts- mounting an enemy and firing upon it, or lethal strikes- grappling with an enemy before letting off a devastating final blow. Sense moving takes top priority, though, as it allows you a full beam cannon charge if executed correctly, and full charges are much more devastating in combat.
In other words, it's a grittier, more action-packed style of combat for a Metroid game, but often it relies on exploiting an enemy's weakness or timing your reactions correctly in order to work smoothly. Skirmishes with more dangerous foes often require a switch from third to first person, and this is most often the case with boss battles. Samus can only utilize certain upgrades in her inventory in either mode- first person being used for grapple beams and the number of missile options one has throughout the game, and third person for... well, pretty much everything else.
I've stated before that this game seems to favor left-handed players, as the switch from third to first person can go much more smoothly, and I found the game's controls to be very responsive. However, mapping the lock-on button with the free-rotation option in first person is very awkward, as you can end up trying to look around but become caught by an approaching enemy. I'm not sure what could have been done to alleviate this, but seeing as first person mode is sparingly used and often for more stationary targets, I didn't have much of a problem with it. The third person controls are pretty much spot on and very enjoyable.
But combat is only one half of the gameplay, the other being environmental puzzles. Many rooms (a majority, in fact) feature puzzles and platforming elements that may require a bit of thinking or manipulation. In this case, the first person mode benefits greatly, allowing you to zoom in on environments to catch details you weren't fully aware of. Many of the puzzles in the game are extremely clever and require the use of both viewing modes, again. The game does a great job at making both of its perspective modes seem equally important and focal to its design.
Now, the way Other M goes about allowing you to use powerups is a little lame, and story-based, which is really Other M's crippling blow. The story is convoluted and very unlike the heroine we previously thought Samus to be- this is a traumatized, damaged woman with a lot of "daddy" issues. And while focusing on Samus' relationship with another character was part of what made Fusion interesting, it falters here. But there are some really interesting things about it to be noted, and I think the Cinema mode really draws attention to it.
WARNING, THE FOLLOWING CONTAINS SPOILERS TO THE STORY OF OTHER M. IF YOU WANT TO READ SOME PHILOSOPHICAL STUFF ON THE NATURE OF SAMUS, SKIP TO THE NEXT BOLDED TEXT.
Okay, so the narrative of Other M isn't really bad, and it doesn't defame Samus for what she did in previous games, but it does put her in a certain state of mind post-Super Metroid that we've seen she eventually overcomes by Metroid Fusion. The story has a heavy focus on parental relationships, with most dramatic scenes coming from that idea. It focuses on the relationships between Madeline and MB, Samus and Adam, and most importantly, Samus and the Baby. It's interesting that Samus talks about MB's first experience as a parental figure should be the moment she gained a soul, as that quote could be very well turned on Samus herself- having finished a mission where she actually felt a bound with another creature that was ripped away, she's given emotions and feeling that contradict the way they portray her in her early life- brash, no-nonsense, and strong. Therefore, I feel the emotions that Samus portrays in this game are limited to around this period only, and that the story was supposed to be about her overcoming it and returning to her "badass" namesake. That's a personal opinion, though, I suppose- but it did make tolerating the story that much better.
Another thing that's interesting is the Deleter plotline and how subtly it's introduced and manipulated. After fighting the storage bot, Samus concludes that there is a Deleter, but when Adam contacts her, his location is hidden from the viewer. Since Adam apparently knew "Madeline Bergman" was "no ally," perhaps he was trying to get rid of her, especially since the Deleter is seen not long after pushing KG's body into a lava flow. Perhaps there are more elements and nuances in the story than it seems, especially with how closely events tie into one another. In any case, I think that Team Ninja, and perhaps Sakamoto knew what they were doing when they added the cinematic mode to this game- it really does tell a much more fluent story of what is really occurring, and since the viewer isn't interrupted with gameplay or cutscenes, it is a much more cohesive experience. I don't know if that's a good thing or bad thing, though, considering it's a VIDEO GAME
OKAY, I'M DONE.
The thing is, Other M really becomes great when it devolves into a delicious scavenger hunt POST-credits, when the map becomes full revealed and all items appear. Seeing where some of the hidden items are will encourage exploration in order to find the places that are really "off the map", but the only problem is- this is after every boss fight and "story event", and requires you to have all of your abilities unlocked- so every "reward" you can obtain isn't really that special. More missiles, maybe a faster Charge Beam, Concentration amount, or extra energy tank (or part of one). It's no plasma beam, or spider-ball mode. But the puzzles and environmental elements of getting to these hidden items are still fun, so it's nice to play through in order to 100% the game, which... well, it doesn't really give you anything cool, but you could always challenge yourself to get through the game on Hard Mode.
Everything that Metroid: Other M does really well is tripped up by something it doesn't- and that's where a lot of fan criticism comes in. It may have had interesting exploration and platforming elements, well executed environmental puzzles, and a decent combat system, but it's marred by the limitations of the map until late game, far too jarring story, and wonky controls. But, if you play it as an isolated story, perhaps a retelling of the Metroid franchise, and get used to the controls, you may find yourself enjoying it- not for trying to be a Metroid game, but trying to be an action title with exploration elements.
Final Verdict: Other M features great presentation, design, and promise in certain ways, but falls flat in its attempt to appease hardcore Metroid fans from a story standpoint. Play it for an interesting action game, but leave your Metroid-y expectations at the door- this is a very different game.