When Nintendo handed the reins of the Metroid series over to Retro Studios for the Metroid Prime series, hardcore fans of the side-scrolling adventure game were aghast – an American developer? In first-person 3D? This is not the Metroid we know and love! But the Prime games were spectacular, capturing the unique, desolate feeling of the previous titles and translating it to a next-gen environment. With the newly released Metroid: Other M, Nintendo is hoping to catch the same lightning in a bottle again courtesy of Japanese development company Team Ninja, best known for the all-action Dead or Alive and Ninja Gaiden games.
The resultant product, Metroid: Other M, is a game like no other. With unique presentation, controls, and concept, it takes the series and heroine Samus Aran in some new directions. For the first time, she’s given other humans to interact with over the course of a ton of cutscenes – over two hours of them, none of which are skippable. If you like them, beating the game lets you unlock a mode to watch them all in sequence. After the events of Super Metroid, Samus finds herself answering a distress call from a derelict ship and suddenly finding herself teamed with some Galactic Federation soldiers from her past. Once aboard, she encounters old foes and new threats while learning a little about… herself.
Team Ninja made their bones with brutal action games that focused on intense close-range combat, so it’s no surprise that the battling is the best part of Other M. Samus still has her usual beam weapons, but a greater focus is placed on countering and dodging enemy attacks, rather than just staying at a distance and plunking away. Samus can counter attacks with a defensive roll that automatically charges her beam to full power, as well as being able to finish enemies with close-range kills. One of the odder quirks about the combat system is that she can only fire missiles in first-person view (activated by pointing the Wiimote at the screen), and when in that view you can’t move. I can understand why that decision was made (to prevent players from playing the whole game in that view), but it still rankles a bit, especially when being hit by attacks knocks you out of the view.
One of the commonalities across the series is Samus’s gradually expanding her weapons and abilities as the game continues, allowing her to explore more terrain and conquer stronger enemies. In the past, this has involved her discovering upgrades throughout her adventure, which caused some people to ask what she did with all those wonderful toys in between games. Other M handles this quandary in an unusual, but narratively sensible way – Samus has all of her gear, but since she’s part of a military chain of command for the first time, she needs explicit permission to use anything out of the ordinary. Of course, that permission comes when you need it most, which is good for the plot’s momentum but kind of removes the thrill of discover from the older games.
Other M is a curious beast, straddling two design philosophies while never fully committing to either. You’ll get the most enjoyment out of it if you abandon your preconceptions about what a Metroid game should be and enjoy it as a big-budget AAA plot-driven title with exciting combat, some spectacular environments and a hell of a story. There’s no other game like it on the Wii, that’s for sure.