Metroid: Other M Review

Release Date: August 31, 2010
Developer: Team Ninja / Nintendo
Director: Yoshio Sakamoto / Yosuke Hayashi / Takehiko Hosokawa

Rating: 3/5

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Presentation – The first isolation of the game is how uncomfortable Samus’s thoughts made me feel. The player starts the game after waiting through god-awful self-effacing cutscenes of Samus going on-and-on about her life. You now are immediately shown that Samus is a woman, that the silent protagonist angle is now gone.

The next isolation is on what I am doing: how I am going over Samus’s abilities in a training room — something radically foreign to the Metroid series.

This is a ton of retrospection to start off this new mission. My first impressions were that “this is third-rate stuff and not Metroid.”

After landing on the Bottle Ship, a derelict facility, there is a strong horror-vibe of not knowing what Samus will encounter. What music there is is subdued giving the game world a colder, stark feeling with more resounding sound effects, such as Samus’s running foot steps. Samus’s armor, its orange splendor, looks perfect against the black halls. So do the energy shots she fires out.

Many different camera perspectives are shown: panned shots of straightaways at a slightly tilted angle. The dynamic fixed camera will automatically smoothly slide over (on a locked axis) the further in the player goes down a passage. Doing so enhances the unnerving darkness of running by long intimidating rows of machinery and other visual aspects associated with the Metroid aesthetic. There is a zoomed out overhead shot in more open areas and an over-the-shoulder view in elevators and other tight spaces. An adventure game search command is also smoothly incorporated by changing the view to first person and its utility is painless (scan area until you hover over the correct point – no repeated clicking on points of interest) — the perspective switching is really well put together. Very sci-fi.

Dark corridors, low health, quick death on both sides. When the action heats up Samus is relieved from living in her thoughts. Had the retrospection cutscenes and the tutorial preceding the Bottle Ship landing sequence been cut the impact of quickly flowing from room to short cutscene would have felt more horror-inspired but instead it feels like more waiting (or story-time).

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In the darkness of the facility are creatures lurking that creep out from various directions like dropping from ceilings to collide into Samus. Watch as Samus quickly pivots around shifting her arm cannon to zap oncoming bugs in succession as you tap the fire-button. Aiming is automatically done and is prioritized by enemy proximity and Samus’s faced direction to determine the target. In keeping with classic survival horror games, Samus must commit to engaging targets she is firing at, so she can stand still or run towards the target while firing but cannot run away while firing at them.

While in Metroid Prime it was a novel experience going from a first person view to third person as a tiny morph ball, in this Metroid game the novel experience is a gestural motion of pointing the Wiimote at the screen whereby the perspective shifts into a scoped vision as the player locks on targets to fire off volleys of highly destructive missiles [finisher]. I quite like it that way since switching the point of view to first person and standing still gives off a feeling of enhanced power like quickly drawing a gun.

The switching to first person by pointing the Wiimote at the screen is initially awkward: there is a learning curve when it comes to switching between grip styles, especially in high pressure situations. First there’s the pointing at the screen, then you have to hold down the B-button to aim around, and after hovering the cursor over a target press the A-button for missile shooting action — all of this has to be done while being mentally cognizant of now off-screen potential threats. Most importantly the sudden pointing at the screen with the Wiimote in pressured situations requires you to be keenly aware of what direction Samus is facing before zapping into first person (as that is the direction where you’ll be zoomed in at).

Once you’ve got it down it’s a solid mechanic that justifies the Wii’s pointer controls. The basics of control are met: being able to reliably aim at selected targets, being able to comfortably do so, and being able to do so while performing additional actions. It enhances the sci-fi feel switching forms and between perspectives. The problem with the beginning of the game is that it throws in monsters that seemingly teleport and become invisible which makes it more difficult to target them when switching to first person for missile action. Leave it to Tecmo to throw in hard mini-boss creatures right away when you are at your most awkward.

NEW ABILITIES

Introducing SenseMove. Dodge enemy attacks by inputting any direction on the D-pad right before being hit, which sometimes will lead to unintentional dodge triggering. And you will get hit if you have bad timing, which happened to me on the first mini-boss who lashes Samus with its appendages. Of interest is that slow enemies that drift or walk into you can’t be dodged via SenseMove. Dodges are sleek and the slight slow-mo effect is cool.

Introducing Concentration. Refill missiles at any time, health when at critical levels — this is performed by holding the Wiimote straight up. My initial thoughts were “what the heck is health regen doing in a Metroid game?”. Perhaps only more bizarre would be adopting auto-regenerating health ala Halo. But Concentration only restores 99 units of health and puts you at great risk of dying because to activate it requires that you’re immobile for several seconds. As for missile regen, it’s fine because enemies don’t drop missiles (or energy capsules for that matter) and backtracking in such a linear game to resupply would be annoying. And again, it forces the player to be immobilized in combat (i.e. that one time where Freeze guns are fired by Federation soldiers affording time to pull off Concentration in a boss fight.)

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OBJECTIVE

Running into the Galactic Federation soldiers is the first major encounter. You join them then immediately proceed to split up to investigate different sectors. This game’s focus is on stylish action and speed. Forget about getting lost and any major exploration as you’re on a direct course to point B. Whoosh!

Always something new to come upon; i.e., hanging on transporter trolley shooting missiles. With the game being so streamlined into action it seems the change from series standard missile tanks giving +5 missile capacity increase and instead having numerous detours for easy-to-find +1 missiles expansions is a sensible change in regards to keeping up the pace. Passages are prominently featured and serve to funnel Samus into rooms for combat.

Progression through the game is moreso felt by the amount of blood shed as opposed to areas searched (there is no reason for a map until the post-game). When you do search for something it is in a designated spot where Samus is locked in place forcing you to search the immediate area until you find the key area of interest to activate a cutscene.

Watch your step! Early on when your health bar is small, enemies do significant damage to Samus with each hit. There also are action sequences that can trigger ‘Game Over’ in an instant. Even ordinary simple-minded enemies like the slow-moving spiked enemies known as Zoomers are cleverly placed on the terrain around a room’s entry point where they can drop down and sidle into you knocking you down a chasm.

Running into a save room, making a pit-stop, the swirl around Samus that the camera does when saving — that’s sexy. And that is understating it: Metroid: Other M has the best-looking save room in videogame history from the door design to the white interior to the swirling saving animation. Exit out to return to the dark vacancy of hallways being lit up by bright colored energy blasts.

HUD – The charge beam gauge further gives the game a feeling of acceleration by starting out as a single cell in the color blue and “revving up” all the way to a full shining golden meter on the HUD. The mini map, however, is a highly unnecessary addition as this game is a roller coaster of motion through linear environments.

ON/OFF track. Level design is oriented like a race track where there is a going the “wrong way” and little room for diversion. Everyone makes a big deal out of “Hell Run”, a sequence where Samus must run in damaging heat. I enjoyed how F-Zero GX’d it felt. The QTE dodges in the chase sequence there are smoothly implemented. Running in general is pleasant, the auto-parkour over downed organic terrain is smooth, and the segments where you have to time jumps have a nice Crash Bandicoot feel to them. The linear paths allow you to keep a steady movement flow.

The Wiimote is held horizontally just like an NES controller and you move Samus around using the D-pad in a 3D space. A neat way the game smoothly handles making diagonals with a D-pad: A cool movement feature is the way the game subtly auto-corrects running around structural bends in that Samus’s direction naturally curves instead of careening straight into the wall that your held directional input unassisted would send Samus into. A lone feature which potentializes your held input into a longer sustained unadjusted duration. There’s a real sense of magnetic artistry in that type of speed control.

Metroid-Other-M-2

COMBAT

Deadly creatures shifting in-and-out of view: invisible lizards killing me in rooms, in a mine shaft; armadillo enemies buried movements coming straight for where Samus stands; the tense feeling as their entrance clears out Zoomers that reappear from jungle foliage after the fight when you are at critical health, which dramatically changes their presence from mere nuisance to death trap; and not forgotten are the seemingly-innocuous man-eating plants.

And for the beginning of the game, enemies really want to kill you. They slap you around, explode on you, and make you angry when you die. New to the series are close combat obliteration techniques: ‘Overblast’ and ‘Lethal Strike’. Invisible button prompts, which have lock-on guided actions (auto-aimed); i.e., a quality that movies have, of being able to watch something complete itself; an uninterruptible nature.

The jumping on a regular enemy’s shoulders and firing an energy blast and jumping away with your back to the explosion is badass. Throwing or blowing away enemies is fun. Giant boreworms are too fast to effectively recover from Concentration instead of using Lethal Strike. The charging of Samus’s arm cannon adds something to this whole process that makes it feel extra special that a regular gun or sword just can’t replicate. Beating them decisively is very satisfying.

The fact is that shooting enemies that circle around you was well done with the auto-aim firing system compared to P.N.03’s locked-on aiming on circling enemies where standard firepower would not hit. Resident Evil 4-style games do not let you seamlessly shoot revolving enemies; for one, the back turn is too slow to quickly dispatch enemies behind you, and two, even if you sped the back turn up the game isn’t designed, nor would you want, to be shooting enemies that have you surrounded in a circle — it is designed to break out of enemies circling you. The results are faster and more on-screen effects (e.g. multiple enemies on screen, faster lock-on, faster aim switching, faster shot-rate switching speed).

Missile firing lock-on eliminates trajectory complexity. Missile shots can’t be wasted or rewarded for good aim. One option: find time for opening ⇒ fire. The sensation of missile firing is enhanced by the first person view that distinguishes it from a powerful charge shot in third person. This adds more dynamism to the shooting visuals and complexity to the mechanics since concentrating a powerful shot that narrows your vision of what’s directly in front of you has an increased risk/reward factor. Skill in combat is centered around character placement and timing, on the ability to fire off missiles while your character is immobilized. Motion controlled first person aiming for missiles allows for fast aiming and makes sense for targeting given how pulled back the default third person camera view is.

The game got more fun when I got the controls down in combat. The fun factor kicked up again once the charge shot acceleration time decreases via powerUPs, which dramatically improves combat. There is something very samurai-like of being surrounded by tough enemies in a small room and dodging them as they dive-bomb towards you or fire shots at you.

Later on enemies becomes more susceptible to regular firepower without requiring missiles. A lot of enemies become transparently one-dimensional with their attacks. This results in enemies that are figured out rather quickly then steamrolled through. (The game punishes players who try to brute force their way through. I’ve sustained plenty of damage and deaths playing less cautiously.)

The first encounter with Zebesians has an artificial quality where laser attacks trigger SenseMove for easy and numerous invincible dodging. But in a surprising move after it appears Samus is too powerful to stop, the enemy AI demonstrates an improvement in learning by tactically retreating into narrow alleyways making it vastly easier to blast Samus and a tense situation in general. After that first attack by the high-tech Zebesians the subsequent encounters are much easier, even dropping below the threat levels of fighting off bugs. They shouldn’t be, and the combat reverts back to a state of emptiness with the enemy difficulty dropping yet again.

Having cool acrobatic action in this game and low-difficulty enemies is mechanically unrewarding. The easiness of activating SenseMove proves too invinciblity-inducing to worry about getting hit by any enemy, although I don’t recall using it in a broken manner until late in the game where you are pretty much forced to. While stunting all over barely active enemies looks cool, it feels hollow. There’s a stillness to the (auto) action where despite all the chaos happening on-screen the user feels far removed from it all as if nothing is actually happening.

screenshot_ bosses guide - metroid other m (metroid recon)

BOSS FIGHTS

The game is rampant with boss fights. Many boil down to lose once, win every fight thereafter. Fighting should be more challenging than that (and it is . . . on ‘Hard Mode’). It really does feel like enemies slack off after the first third of the game with their attacks seemingly becoming more telegraphed of claws raking the air and rush attacks.

Only one boss fight in the game has masterful sequencing and violence; it takes place relatively early in the game: The Hive fight. Samus falls into an unwelcoming nest home to kamikaze wasps. Watch your step while shooting at airborne wasps as their fallen colony members scuttle towards Samus. They can spit acid, latch onto, and explode on contact with Samus melting away significant portions of health. Things amp up when plant pods open up raining down energy spheres, and then you meet the queen.

It sounds tough, and it was at one point for me, however, the quality of this fight can drop off significantly if you perform too well. Watching an energy tank disappear off Samus’s health from an attacker’s damage is much impactful alongside the dodging around on low health versus watching a third of your health (default energy tank) disappear in ‘Hard Mode’ changes the experience from a 5-star boss fight in Metroid games to a mild encounter.

Boss fights are seemingly as fun as the lair’s design you fight them in, such as the lava-filled Sector 2. In there Samus uses the grappling beam mechanic for cool reeling in takedown attack cinematic against one mini-boss. Another boss has her running up on top of it. After a certain amount of boss fights, however, the fights start to feel mechanically rehashed, such as boss fights of Nightmare (x2), Queen Metroid, and Phantoon, who is much more aesthetic mayhem dodge heavy of the formula.

Ridley looks the scariest he’s ever been when out of a clear view in the intro of the cutscene where he is flapping by in blackness at a leveled height across the screen. However, when revealed the cutscene drags on too long overexposing him and diminishing his scariness. He is not close to being as fearsome and cunning / unpredictable as portrayed when in battle; his attacks come off as contextualized from a humanoid action game boss making swipes at Samus and doing a fire wave that must be jumped over all taking place in a fairly standard, although darkly-lit, action ring. The dodge maneuver of SenseMove proves to be extremely effective in nullifying incoming attacks making the Ridley battle one of the easiest fights in the game despite his quicker-than-average fire wave attack.

The vast majority of boss fights thereafter don’t use their vast numbers to oppress the player or their imposing size for encroachment. In Metroid Fusion the oversized bodies of bosses would severely limit movement options forcing players to quickly maneuver around the bosses’ motion or obtain a height outside the bosses range. If the player was unsuccessful in doing so Samus would get knocked about for big damage often into far more treacherous territory. In Metroid: Other M touching bosses and regular enemies does not hurt Samus unless their surfaces are clearly hazardous (i.e. spiky), and with one touch of a button they’re easily evaded with SenseMove. And one thing about SenseMove compared to failed attempts at manual dodge maneuvering in Metroid games is that it will never overshoot you off a platform.

Another big issue is how Samus is oversupplied with missiles one-third of the way into the game. Volleying off missiles shots is more time-consuming in Other M than other Metroid games, and the super missile shot (+5 missile cost) requires even more time. This could have led to boss fights where the player is standing still for lengthy periods of time firing off missiles, which would have diminished the fast-pace in combat. What happened instead of that were bosses that typically could only be damaged severely in certain (or critical) moments rather than under a continuous barrage of missile fire.

The last battles change things drastically. Here the player will die over and over again until they understand what must be done. This is survival horror to me: of catching the player off-guard*. The execution of the player remembering a forgotten technique leads to a confused event; a situation like this occurred when I played Maximo [PS2] where a one-off usefulness of a crouch attack is the only means of attacking a particular boss. Desperation ensures that the player uses an unauthorized weapon…

Two intense situations I found myself in using Concentration at 0 HP: First situation was where an energy blast narrowed in on Samus’s location, and the second, a one-time situation, where a powerful enemy and Samus traded hits resulting in the enemy being dazed and Samus entering concentration to recover health hoping to do so before the enemy finished her off.

In my opinion, the game’s combat engine works better for more hectic action of group encounters than for a singular creature. One issue I have with the game is that minibosses get the correct treatment of Samus being locked in a room with a monster while several boss fights have her in a large chamber, which fosters avoidance strategies. Being able to dodge sideways opens up too easy an escape route whereas in the 2D games you were forced to either jump over or go under the large moving boss mass. The game is rather forgiving by giving you a continue system that lets you restart the fight. Bosses don’t have a powerUP to obtain upon their defeat. In place of that Samus is authorized to de-limit herself either before encounters or mid-battle, such as the wave beam authorization that’s quickly authorized when enemies entrap Samus in an otherwise unphasable box of transparent panels.

Other_M_Official_Site_Screenshot_January

CUTSCENES

While the game is designed around acceleration, it routinely decelerates the player with cutscenes. Cutscenes range from (1) short to long, (2) past to present, (3) introspective to extrospective, (4) monotone to evocative, (5) nonsensical to non-canon. That’s quite a variety of ways of presenting cinematics. And experiencing all of it in one package disagreeable portions and agreeable portions makes for a challenging experience.

1. Cutscenes bordering on short films are bad. In the beginning you may need some popcorn for the cutscenes. After that the cutscenes are more reasonable, but I still think their encounter rate should be lessened so they are more of a special occurrence like in classic Resident Evil games. A 10 minute cutscene right before the final boss is Metal Gear Solid-levels of absurdity. Short cutscenes can blend in with real-time playing while long ones cannot.

Key bosses lack the suddenness of confrontation due to their introductory cutscenes. To me cutscenes equal a time of safety; they ensure the player is never caught totally off-guard, although this game noticeably likes to attack the player the very second a cutscene finishes. Metroid Fusion did boss entrances way better. In this game the whole stop or cautiously advance to boss appearing to player moving (or reacting) is stilted by the cutscenes.

2. Cutscenes that slightly advance the story are okay. Looking into a room from a small window using the Wiimote pointing controls was immensely cool. Cutscenes that rewind the story unrelated to the condition of the present environment or antagonist are not okay.

3. & 4. Horror vs Melodrama: Part of successful horror is discovering pieces of the past. Instead of reading a quick excerpt from a science log or journal like in Resident Evil, the player gets overexplained to about the past. This considerably reverses the direction of the action by taking the player out of the moment; the player enters a backstory of the protagonist while mentally balancing the past events unbeknownst to the player of their present environment. Knowledge that cannot be put into in-game use.

Obnoxious voice narration. Samus is going on-and-on about her life. It is extremely irritating. This game should serve as an example of why Nintendo should not allow voice acting in their games. Also, what is this Final Fantasy or Metal Gear Solid? It’s one thing to have a cinematic presentation to set things up like atmosphere and mood, it’s another to turn the game into a movie. Cutscenes serve as a prolonged downtime, which runs contrast to how action-packed the game is. Unbreakable sequences run counter to sequence breaking, a core component of Metroid. Almost feels like watching advertisements on TV shows waiting to get back to the action.

The chattier established Nintendo characters get the worse they become. Nintendo has great success with voice acting for 2nd party games like Eternal Darkness. I am just upset about shitty narration in this game. “My parents both died when I was at a young age. My squad leader was like a father figure to me” — no one talks like this. It comes off in a very anime way of cramming information in your head in the shortest time possible. With regards to conveyance there was a painful transition from text to speech.

On Day 2 of playing the game I realized my problem isn’t the voice acting, but when Samus slips into her own insipid narration. Self-effacing, uncomfortable, alien-like emotional sentiments to men. Heavy-handedness has taken the place of crypticness. Figure it out? Nope. It’s figured out for you. Some things come off much more dignified in text than speech.

5. The game cutscenes make a point of diminishing Samus’s character every now and then. You’re performing super heroic displays of strength but get rendered totally ineffective on two occasions that have been talked about on message boards ad nauseam: When Samus comes face-to-face with Ridley and the last encounter with Adam.

The freezing up in front of Ridley reminds me of that one scene in the movie Alien (1979) where Parker and Lambert both meet a grisly fate. And while it doesn’t feel good watching someone else save the day for Samus, the scene accomplishes a sort-of redemption act for both characters that leads to a pay-off ending. Now in Adam’s final scene, in spite of performing death-defying super heroic feats and having a suit that can withstand the severest of punishment, Samus is rendered totally useless by one shot from a stun gun weapon he is carrying. Not only does that bizarre power drop occur but the whole farewell scene is overly long, incredibly awkward and self-defeating with Samus in a pathetically weak emotional and physical state. After spending so much time following rules the scene of breaking them towards the end of the mission is surprisingly understated and of little satisfaction.

Metroid: Other M‘s story rewrites the Metroid story causing confusion on what Metroid games are canon. A cutscene establishing the circumstances surrounding Ridley would have greatly aided the story-telling (a flashed shot of kid Samus doesn’t achieve that).

CONCLUSION

What leaping into 3D for Metroid should be in comparison with how it turned out for the Prime series was not fully realized with this title. Metroid: Other M goes through the full range of emotions from Samus and the videogame rating scale itself. With the exploratory post-game and the sharp increase in challenge of ‘Hard Mode’, the game reinvents itself twice more.


IMPROVEMENT LIST

Scenarios

  • The tutorial is forced given that the player notably performs all the key actions beforehand in non-combat situations with one very important exception.

Boss design

  • The brontosaurus tree mimic that shoots deadly energy spheres at you from an orb on its back seems like something better suited for Turok [N64]. Outside the very first encounter, there doesn’t need to be a cutscene preceding each fight.
  • The first lava boss monster could have looked more imposing.

Combat

  • Increase enemy AI / aggressiveness
  • Add more undodgable stuff (crawling enemy, slow floating enemy, lava floor, etc.)
  • Increase enemy synergy
  • Add more use of ricocheting charge shot off sensor plates to hit enemies.

Cutscenes

  • Introspective dialogue comes off better read in English subtitles and spoken in Japanese.
  • The changed dialogue lines for the American release damaged the story, characterizations, and intrigue.

POST-REVIEW COMMENTARY

I chose to not compare using the striking contrast to Metroid [NES]. This game almost takes any minor complaint from the original and addresses it  (“Why can’t Samus aim downwards?” “Why is there no map?””Why are there dead ends?””Why are the passages initially samey and disorientating?”)

The horror direction here teases at being frightening. I can imagine the directors going: “We could make it scarier, but that’s not the direction we were aiming for . . . ” And it is a good question of why they removed the live-factor in freakishness from Metroid Fusion [GBA] by way of mini cutscenes.

There also is the question of replay value in turning fights into a singular puzzle piece to place rather than several moves to make as in a game.

GAME COMPARISON LIST

* – Detective Famicom Club has a horror moment of removing the much-used ‘move command’. Prince of Persia: Sands of Time [GC] has a bug that disables activating a much-needed special ability in a big group encounter.

Myself – Detective Famicom Club, Killer 7, Metroid Fusion, Ninja Gaiden 2, Resident Evil, Resident Evil 4, F-Zero GX, Crash Bandicoot, Sonic Adventure, Devil May Cry, Metroid, Battalion Wars, God of War, Smash TV, Breath of Fire V: Dragon Quarter, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, Bloodrayne, Genma Onimusha, Bayonetta

Naysayers – DmC, Castlevania: Lords of Shadows, Castlevania 64, Ninja Gaiden 3, The Legend Of Zelda: Skyward Sword, StarFox Zero, Megaman 64, Parasite Eve: The Third Birthday

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