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Metroid: Other M

19:0429/08/2010Posted by Simeon PaskellNo Comments

Like many of Nintendo’s flagship titles, the Metroid series has managed to remain fresh through a number of iterations – from the 8-bit charms of the NES original, via monochrome adventuring on the Gameboy, a full colour refresh on the SNES and a leap into 3D and a first-person perspective with the much loved Prime trilogy – while always retaining the series staples of exploration, shooting, platforming, a haunting atmosphere of isolation and a silent central character in Samus Aran. The announcement that the latest instalment would be a joint venture between Nintendo and Team Ninja (of Ninja Gaiden fame) raised questions as to whether this might mark the end of Metroid as we know it; would the series be taking a sharp turn down previously unexplored alleyways? Now the fruits of this partnership are complete, we can see if Nintendo’s gamble has paid off or if Metroid: Other M marks a series in decline.

From the outset, Metroid: Other M feels like a game designed to upset series purists and, in fact, gamers in general by brazenly going out of its way to fly in the face of both series tradition and gaming convention. For starters, the once mute Samus has found her voice, with full voice acting featuring throughout. If that weren’t bad enough, Team Ninja have also thrown the analogue stick out of the window, instead opting to dump all the controls onto the Wii remote (which, for the most part, is held horizontally, NES-style). On paper, this latter decision seems mind-boggling – the analogue-stick ruled world we live in has arisen as a result of decades of controller evolution; the d-pad is used for 2D gaming and 3D games (of which Metroid: Other M is one) are controlled with analogue sticks – this is an unwritten rule…it’s also common sense. Fortunately, Team Ninja make excellent use of the d-pad, proving that not only is it possible to squeeze three-dimensional control out of a two-dimensional input device, but that in the right hands, such a scheme can excel.

Metroid: Other M opens with a lengthy cutscene depicting Samus’ final battle with Mother Brain from the end of Super Metroid, before she responds to a distress signal from a deserted “Bottle Ship”. Upon arrival, she is met by a team of Galactic Federation troops, amongst which are some faces from Samus’ past. It makes for a gripping introduction that shoves Metroid: Other M’s focus on narrative to the fore as well as giving Team Ninja the opportunity to flex its considerable muscle in the field of cinematic story telling.

Much of the first few hours with the game leaves you pondering exactly what it is that you’re playing – is this a true Metroid experience, or is it Ninja Gaiden wrapped up in a yellow and red exosuit? In truth, this stands as a testament to the bravery of both Nintendo’s choice of developer and the open-mindedness with which Team Ninja has approached the task given to it; at no point do you get the impression that the game is hemmed in by the series’ well established structure or that the developer has shied away from putting its own stamp on the Metroid universe.

Another thing that strikes you is how linear it feels. While Metroid has always revolved around simple objectives placed within an ever expanding world – and an ever expanding arsenal – for much of the first half of Other M, you find your self whipping around the Bottle Ship, skipping from one clearly placed objective to the next. It’s certainly a long way from the methodical room-scanning of Metroid Prime. This is in part due to the shift back to a third-person perspective and the added dynamism that this enables – Other M’s Samus is a far more athletic beast than the persona you assumed in Prime, with a running speed (and indeed, running animation) harking back to the sprite featured in Super Metroid on the SNES and an array of leaps, rolls and jet-powered dodges that would make Ninja Gaiden’s Ryu Hayabusa proud.

The return to a third person perspective also has another important impact on the game – it puts Samus back on centre-stage. While Metroid Prime’s first person perspective worked wonderfully, it did edge Samus – as a character – towards anonymity as the game focussed on putting you inside the Power Suit to assume the role of videogame heroine. Other M is as much about exploring Samus Aran as a character as it is about the exploring the game world – what is it that motivates her and who exactly is she? Nintendo have taken a big risk in this; stripping away the air of mystique that surrounds Samus is, in effect, stripping away much of what makes her so endearing. Luckily, Other M’s script, voice acting and characterisation are, for the most part, spot on. With numerous, beautifully rendered cutscenes exploring Samus’ past, her relationship with the other characters in the game along with explosive action sequences, Other M weaves a gripping space opera that, come the conclusion, manages to advance and evolve the Metroid franchise.

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