Often when I look at the cool toys today’s youth gets to play with, I think of how great it must be to be a kid today. It’s a feeling only enhanced when I focus my sights on today’s videogames. Games today are so much more immersive, so much more seamless, and can truly be wonders to behold. Perhaps though it was Sir Isaac Newton who explained that best by stating “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
One of the greatest videogame reveals ever – and something I distinctly remember learning for the first time – occurs in the original Metroid, when you find that this person who has been blasting their way through level after level, destroying everything in their path and folding up into a pretty sweet ball and dropping bombs is a girl. Whether or not it should have struck anyone playing as a major reveal, I think, almost universally, it did and is a classic videogame moment.
Now, of course, everyone (at least everyone who plays videogames) knows the name Samus Aran and a lot of Samus’ story. Although the games in the franchise haven’t followed a linear timeline (later titles have backtracked to earlier moments in the series, filling in blanks), we all have a decent idea of who this bounty hunter is, and is something we’re now learning even more about. The newest Metroid game, Metroid: Other M, while it may take place after the events of Super Metroid and before Metroid Fusion, does spend a lot of time telling us of Samus’ backstory, and tying in the new bits fairly well with the old ones.
Rather than getting sent off on a mission at the beginning of this new title, Samus, still depressed over the events that occurred at the conclusion of Super Metroid (the game opens with a new cutscene depicting them), hears a distress signal which she follows to an old space station. There, she meets up with some nice folks she knows from the Galactic Federation and is quickly off helping them get the systems up and running and generally figure out what’s going on. Plus, as you may have expected, the space station is full of baddies – some familiar, some new – just itching to be killed. The specifics of that story though we’re not going to ruin for you here, you’ll need to play the game to learn exactly what’s happening.
Developed by Team Ninja, Metroid: Other M is both very similar and very different from any other Metroid game you’ve played (or not played). Unlike the Prime trilogy, Other M is not a first-person shooter… mostly. Played solely with the Wii remote, the majority of the game is viewed from a third-person perspective as you make Samus run, jump, and roll in a ball in any which way you possibly can (and as well as the D-pad will let you) to advance to the next objective… mostly. You see, while the above action takes place – and you can fire your beam weapon – by holding the Wii remote sideways, if you point the remote towards the screen, the game smoothly transitions to a first person perspective from which you can both fire your beam, examine objects (as one did in the Prime trilogy), and fire missiles.
It is all pure genius. Except for when it isn’t.
While the transitions are smooth and it’s a cool little trick, you can’t actually move when in the first-person perspective. You can turn your head (slowly), but you can’t dodge an enemy attack (one of Samus’ new tricks in this title) or roll into a ball or do anything but stand still and fire. Not only that, but all too often you’re going to find yourself switching into the first-person view and not looking anywhere near the direction you think you ought to be looking; take five seconds to orient yourself correctly and you’ll likely find yourself having gotten smacked to the floor and knocked back into the third-person view. It is true that the game does simply put you into the first-person perspective in the exact direction you were facing in the third-person one, but trying to lineup where you need to be facing in one to see what you want to see in the other is not all that easy.
Part of the problem with this may lie in the game’s third-person view auto-targeting system. It is a system which you’re going to rely heavily on as there is no real way to manually target an enemy in the third-person. To target in third-person mode you just look in the general direction of the guy you want to fire at and the computer makes you hit them, but that doesn’t help when there are a lot of enemies near one another or some high and some low – the game will choose who gets taken out in what order (and that doesn’t always work out for you or Samus). Consequently, you get used to Samus turning her gun towards an enemy in the third-person and find yourself left high and dry and turning your head slowly in the first. You will also find yourself incredibly frustrated at first by the lack of missiles in third-person mode.
I won’t spend a lot of time discussing the fact that lefties out there are going to need to break with Nintendo’s suggestions (and the illustration shown at the opening of this title) for safe Wii use by, preferably, detaching the Wii remote’s wrist strap from the remote or, at the very least, simply not using the strap. It is impossible to have the wrist strap on one’s left hand with the remote held horizontally and if the strap is on the right hand it’s impossible to utilize the remote in the left hand when pointed at the TV. While you can leave the strap attached and not use it, that causes the strap to fling about, be quite annoying, and increase the amount of time it takes to reposition your hands when going back to third-person mode.
Yes, that little bit of extra time it might take is a killer, and that’s because Metroid: Other M is a fast-paced game. Samus is fast, enemies are fast, all the action is fast. It’s the kind of title where you are probably going to find yourself dying repeatedly until you work out the exact right strategy for taking out the various baddies, and there are lots of baddies and lots of different strategies needed.
The game does slow down when Samus is exploring the environs, and that is a substantial portion of the title. As is the rule with Metroid games, the environment is very large with plenty of rooms, lots of backtracking, and tons and tons of hidden secrets. While you do go things somewhat linearly, there is almost always stuff to go back and collect later, once you have the proper equipment to do so, which does add to it. The graphics are good if not outstanding and it is really and truly enjoyable to keep revisiting the same rooms over and over again, although it would be better if enemies didn’t respawn almost every time you head back into a room you just left. When you get lost – and it’s entirely possible that you will as you figure out how to proceed to your next goal (there is a map with a handy-dandy ping to tell you where some bonuses are and where you ought to go) – spending the time to reclear a room over and over again as you search for the right next step can become monotonous.
There are certainly other issues with the game, things that will cause you to yell in fury, things like Samus’ utter instance on running into so many rooms. Doesn’t she know by now that when she runs into a room the door is going to close and lock behind her? Apparently not, because she does so repeatedly, the doors lock repeatedly, and there will almost always be some creature who emerges from behind a wall or the ceiling or the floor to try to pound her to smithereens. If she would only proceed with a modicum of caution through doorways she could save everyone so much trouble.
However, the game overcomes all the above deficits and issues by creating a new Metroid title that feels like both an homage and something new and wonderful. If you transported that little kid from 1986 who just had his mind blown learning that Samus was a woman to 2010 and sat him down in front of Other M, the game would be utterly recognizable and he would be able to progress smoothly in it. Yet, it is a title that takes full advantage of the Wii’s motion-sensing controller without making it feel like a gimmick.
Metroid: Other M features tons of power-ups, oodles of hidden items, and more enemies than you can shake a power bomb at. It has a great story, good production values (this marks the first time Samus has been given a voice), and good graphics and sound. It may not be perfect, but it does prove that even if she’s a girl, Samus Aran can hang with the big boys.
Metroid: Other M is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Animated Blood, Violence.