Mixed results: Infendo reviews Metroid Other M

Infendo

Metroid: Other M is easily one of the most anticipated games of the year, but does it live up to the hype? In this critic’s opinion, no. Although a beautiful looking game and at times rewarding, it’s the other stuff that makes Other M a top contender for “weakest Metroid ever.” Primary among them: the developer seems to have been more concerned with making a movie rather than making a good game. And we all know game makers should stick to their day jobs and get out of the movie business.

Hollywood-inferiority complex aside, Other M has moments of brilliance. The majority of the game is played with a fixed camera angle from behind, as you move from room to room. Some rooms are designed like a 2d sidescroller, and others are like a 3d free roam, similar to old Crash Bandicoot games. Using the D pad while holding the Wiimote sideways like a NES pad, Samus can move in any direction. At any time, you can point the Wiimote at the screen and you are instantaneously taken into first person perspective. The effect is really polished and slick. Team Ninja obviously spent a lot of time on making sure this effect works properly, and it shows.

Once you are in first person perspective, you can shoot baddies and scan items. However, you cannot move Samus in any direction. The B button pulls triple duty in this mode. It scans items, locks on enemies and also locks you into first person perspective. This becomes handy as you are looking around rooms because you will switch out of first person as you look to the sides of the screen if the Wiimote loses contact of the Wii sensors. So B is used to lock you into first person.

Because the game only requires the Wiimote, you have a limited amount of buttons for a very complex character. But Team Ninja did a good job of simplifying the controls to take advantage of the shortfall of buttons. Jump is mapped to the 2 button. Fire is mapped to the 1 button and morph ball is executed by pressing A. When in morph ball, 1 and 2 buttons work the same. To get out of morph ball, press A again. By holding the 1 button, you power up your arm cannon or bombs. Upgrades are automatically added to your arm cannon and there isn’t a need for a hud to switch between various upgrades or cannon types as in Metroids of old. I like this a lot, as the controls really need to be as simple as possible given the decision to play with just the Wii mote.

The controls aren’t perfect, however, and do lead to some frustrating moments. When battling rank and file enemies such as flying aliens or ground crawlers, the controls work fantastic. When you are battling medium to big bosses, the controls are about as frustrating as any game I’ve recently played. The reason, the smaller enemies can be killed easily by button mashing in any perspective. You can just run around and slam the 1 button all day and kill all the baddies you want. The gun auto locks on the nearest enemy and without any troubles, you pulverizing the aliens to oblivion.

The bigger enemies are a different story. These baddies require you to switch between the normal perspective and first person perspective. The big problem, you can’t move while in first person mode. This is immediately frustrating as you battle the first main boss. You are required to lock onto him with missiles and that can only be accomplished in first person mode. However, you are a sitting duck in first person mode because you can’t move. It takes too long for your missiles to lock on and in the meantime, you just get man handled by the boss. It seems as if the timing is just not right between the amount of time between attacks from the boss and the amount of time that is required to lock on with you missiles. The boss can move that much faster than you can lock on. If the lock on was a little faster, this would not be as frustrating as it currently is.

I think Team Ninja was aware of this shortfall and they seem to have included some gameplay mechanics to compensate. First, you have unlimited missiles and potentially unlimited health. When you want to replenish your missiles, you hold the Wiimote vertically and hold the A button. It takes a few seconds and once the charge is completed, you have all of your missiles back. No longer do you need to find missiles laying around the room. You just make your own at any time.

Health is almost the same. Once you have taken the beating of your life and are on the verge of certain death, the screen informs you that you can hold the Wiimote vertically and hold the A button to replenish your health. It’s like drinking a red potion in Zelda. But like I said, you can’t do it all the time. This only works when you are below 25% health. It takes a little longer to replenish your health and it requires a full charge. If you get hit while charging your health, you have to start over with the charge. You can and will die while attempting to recharge your health especially during the boss battles. If so, just continue and try it again.

Overall, the controls work well and the new mechanics are welcome and relevant to Other M. But the switching from 2D to 3D, as impressive as it is, doesn’t always empower the player with the best available controls (that is, split second speed).

As for presentation, Other M looks and sounds fantastic. The graphics and effects make for one of the best looking Wii games to date. Samus is highly detailed and very shiny. (She is wearing metal after all) The lighting is dark at first, but as you restore power to various areas of the game, the atmosphere lightens up. Details emerge and the world becomes vibrant and lively. The sound works well on a stereo TV. I don’t have a surround sound system, but I can imagine it sounds good if you do. When you hit a save point, little sounds start spewing from the Wiimote speaker. I always like when developers find a way to use that little guy.

Now, I want to discuss the main complaint I have with Other M. Unfortunately, it is so big and glaring that it really takes away from what would otherwise be a great game: THE CUT SCENES. Giving Samus a voice was the worst idea in the history of ideas. I know Metroid fans have been clamoring for this for a long time. All I can say is, be careful for what you wish for. Team Ninja has turned a video game fantasy into a nightmare. Samus is a whiny soul searching brat. Instead of coming across as the sexy confident bounty hunter we all thought she was, she turns out to be nothing more than a rebellious and insecure teenage girl with a daddy complex.

The worst part, you can’t bypass these cut scenes and are forced to listen to this dumb blond as she tries to figure out who she is and why she is. And there are a lot of these cut scenes. The first hour of gameplay is at least a third cut scenes. Reportedly, players can unlock a two-hour film presentation of every cut scene somehow upon completion of the game. But I don’t know why you would even want to torture yourself with that, though. The computer-generated acting is that bad, and detracts from gameplay in a disappointing way.

The linear level design is also questionable. In fact, I believe I may have overlooked an important part of the game while exploring, with no way back to the area that I need to access in order to advance the game. If so, I will have to reset my game and start over, forcing me to sit through the heaviest of the torturous cut scenes. If I can’t find a way around this, this will go down as a major design flaw. I have spent over an hour and a half trying to figure out a way back without success. Lame.

Even if I can successfully find a way past this point, it’s still a design flaw in my opinion, as clues aren’t properly given. Not that I like games that are overly easy, but I’m way past the point of acceptable problem solving. It’s a line Team Ninja should have steered clear of.

Conclusion

Other M is a weird game. I don’t see it appealing to anyone other than hardcore Metroid fans. Also, I’m not sure the hardcore Metroid fans will enjoy Other M like some of the other games in the series. Some will, but I think the flaws in the game are going to be enough to turn off a good chunk of hardcore fans, especially as word of mouth spreads. If you are on the fence, rent Other M or wait to hear reviews from friends with similar tastes before spending $50. If you’re already set on buying Other M, don’t say I didn’t warn you of its shortcomings.

Three stars out of five. (more here)

Review based on incomplete play-through (50%) of retail copy of the game provided by Nintendo.

RATING SCALE

***** = A masterpiece. Not to be missed by anyone, including veterans and newbies. Furthermore, it advances the medium. Think Wii Sports.
**** = A great game but more of the same. Would be enjoyed by all that play it. Think Mario Galaxy 2.
*** = Good if not average game. Playable. Good and bad things about it. Fans will like it. But it falls short of greatness.
** = Bad game. Poorly executed. Not worth your time.
* = Unplayable. A joke. They get one star for publishing a game.