Metroid: Other M (Wii) - Review by Chris
With Retro Studios' Prime iterations of the Metroid franchise finishing up in 2007, there has been a substantial wait for franchise fans wondering where or what Samus Aran would be up to next. Fast forward 2 years to E3 2009 and those questions were answered when Nintendo announced a collaboration between themselves, spearheaded by franchise co-creator Yoshio Sakamoto, and Ninja Gaiden developer Team Ninja. Taking the blueprints back to the drawing board, the collaborative efforts of Nintendo and Team Ninja hoped to create a more emotional and plot driven Metroid game than any that had come before it, shedding light on and giving a voice to the main protagonist for the first time. But is this a worthy addition to a stellar franchise?
Taking place in the immediate aftermath of Super Metroid, Metroid: Other M aims to piece together the story of what happened to Samus between defeating Mother Brain and her encounter of the SA-X virus in Metroid Fusion. As such, you'll be presented with a much more story focused title than you've come to expect from the Metroid series and it's one that you'll either take to or won't. After a recap of the events which ended Super Metroid, presented in one of the game's beautifully created CG cutscenes, you'll go through a quick control tutorial before setting out in your ship. Before long, you receive a distress signal from a facility known as the Bottle Ship and so change course to determine the cause of the signal. Upon arrival, you'll run into a squad of Galactic Federation soldiers who also received the distress signal, and amongst them you'll find many former colleagues including Adam Malkovich, and this is a progression point for much of the game's story for that point on. The plot is filled with twists as you delve deeper into the mystery surrounding the facility making for a unique experience.
Gameplay follows the Metroid template very closely, but doesn't skimp on bringing in some new ideas. Those familiar with the earlier Metroid games will easily pick up the gameplay and even those honed on more recent efforts will still find it easy to pick up. It plays out like a 2D/3D hybrid, with Samus mostly moving on a 2D plane through the Bottle Ship, although there are many large and open rooms to explore in 3D, with dynamic camera changes in place to accommodate the changing architecture. The action remains as tight as before, with new mechanics such as dodges, auto-aiming and lethal attacks being brought in to accommodate the change to 3D for an otherwise 2D setup. The inclusion of these elements extends the catalogue of moves you have at your disposal and do make for excellent additions to the franchise but at time, the combining of those does make things too easy, although the game does feel trial and error in some cases until you figure out enemy patterns and utilise these techniques.
Your progression through the Bottle Ship is very much like previous Metroid titles, albeit a little more linear this time around. For the most part, you path to your next destination is always one way, with alternate routes generally being locked off to keep you on the main track and get you to your objectives. It does take away from the exploration element that has been such a key element in games passed, and will no doubt frustrate gamers who had hoped for a continuance of the slightly more open world nature that previous Metroid titles had presented, but it isn't completely gone as there are numerous missile, energy and accel charge tank upgrades littered throughout the game to find. You won't search out new power-ups for Samus rather you'll have new abilities unlocked for you once you've been given authorisation by Adam. It therefore gives a more plausible explanation of why your abilities have gone but does make the experience more linear.
One of the biggest changes this time around is the inability to collect health or missile items dropped by enemies. Instead, this has been replaced by a new gameplay mechanic known as Concentration, where you hold the Wii-mote vertically and hold the A button to recharge your missile supply or health. With missiles, you can replenish them at any time using this mechanic but with health, you're limited to using it when you are on your last tank and close to death. In most cases then, you'll usually be in some form of boss battle when your health reaches this limit and trying to use Concentration in these moments really brings the game and makes it harder than it perhaps should be, ultimately furthering the trial and error style of gameplay.
Another inclusion is the ability to change from a third person to a first person viewpoint just by pointing the controller at the screen. It works extremely and allows you to look around the environments more closely, but it's the only viewpoint through which you can use your missiles, making some boss battles difficult as you cannot move around while in this viewpoint. Similarly, certain parts of the game force you into this viewpoint and make you look for a specific clue to move the game on yet due to the game being darker in presentation, finding these clues can be difficult and they just feel like an unnecessary inclusion.
A typical run through of the game from start to finish will clock in at around the 10 hour mark, which may seem short in comparison to the Prime games but falls nicely in line with the amount of time you would have spent on any of the entries prior to those by Retro Studios. There is a small amount of extra content after the credits, mainly composed of a final boss battle, but other than that and the ability to locate all of the game's upgrades, which become visible on your map after completion, there's little else to the main adventure. Your after game content takes the form of a Gallery Mode, a Theatre Mode, which allows you to watch the entire game compressed into a 2 hour running movie which is a really nice touch, and the obligatory Hard Mode.
In an attempt to keep things as simple as possible, Metroid: Other M utilises a control scheme that makes sole use of the Wii-mote, held horizontally. The initial reaction to the controls will no doubt leave some players dismayed, with an urge of wanting to use the Nunchuk continuing to permeate throughout the runtime of the game. Yet, regardless of this want, the game's use of the d-pad for navigating both the 2D and 3D spaces is exceptionally well implemented and while the d-pad clearly doesn't have the accuracy of an analogue stick, this really is about as close as you could get to perfection with such limited input. It isn't without its issues, however, with the sections where the game moves into a third person view point behind Samus being very problematic for navigating the areas of the Bottle Ship.
The biggest inclusion to the setup is moving the controller from a horizontal position to pointing at the screen, changing the game into a first person perspective. It's something which on paper seems very invasive but when actually done it game, it works better than you could imagine. It's silky smooth in the transition from third person to first person. The only issue is that you're glued to the spot when in this mode which does make it slightly problematic for use in some combat situations.
Even with a new development team taking the reins, Other M retains a very distinct Metroid feel in the visual department. You'll get the obligatory linear metallic corridors, which you'll tire of seeing as the game drags on, as well as an array of varying environmental changes that have become stock elements in any Metroid game, such as lava, ice and jungle. While it may carry on certain traditions then, it by no means fails to leave an impression as the overall design of the Bottle Ship, even with its linearity, is excellent. General architecture may seem a little basic in some areas but the level of detail is extremely high, with well done textures. There are a few areas where the game doesn't quite match the standards of previous games visually, mainly coming from some average looking lava and foliage, as well as there being some slow down when there are numerous enemies attacking or when the colourful effects light up the screen.
All of the characters in the game, whether they be the humans, the smaller enemies or the gigantic bosses, all look fantastic and are animated superbly, with Samus' animation, along with many of the prominent human characters, being incredibly lifelike. Enemy models are composed of a variety of classic enemies and new ones designed specifically by Team Ninja. There's a good mixture on display and while the newer enemies don't quite match up to the returning classic ones, they're still extremely well designed. And fans of the franchise will delight in some hefty fan service in the form of some of the later bosses.
A large amount of time has clearly been spent on making the game's cutscenes, with both a mixture of in game and CG being used to portray both the events happening on the Bottle Ship and events prior to the current happenings and of the two, it is the CG which really stands out. Animation company D Rockets has been brought in for the CG production and every single cutscene they have produced is beautifully created to the point where it rivals the work seen in feature films. They really are incredible and are by far the best designed cutscenes in any Wii game to date. The transitioning between these cutscenes and the actual gameplay is handled expertly with a smooth transition from each cutscene into the gameplay.
While it won't necessarily leave as much of an impact on you as previous games in the series have, the music presented in the game is done extremely well and manages to crave out its own notation for a much more story orientated game. At times during the gameplay, the music can be found to be on the quiet side, sometimes even non-apparent, but it helps to create a tense atmosphere within the game's linear design. Things change dramatically when the game picks up in the action department, pulling in some more rock based tracks to compliment the change in pace of the gameplay while remixes of classic Metroid tracks pop up throughout the rest of the game. A scattering of orchestrated pieces are also placed throughout the game, mainly reserved for the various CG cutscenes, and these are beautifully composed to reflect the more emotional angle which the game is going for.
Each of the game's characters are fully voiced, including Samus who is known more for her silence than her grasp on the narrative. While some of the dialogue provided for the game is patchy at best, with some truly outrageous and terrible lines coming about, presumably, as a result of the translation from Japanese, the voice work is otherwise solid with fantastic performances being put in by all those involved, with the notable exception of one of the scientists early in the game. Some may begrudge the fact that Samus now has a voice, and one which at times can be found to perhaps reflect too much on some of the game's events, but the voice and the otherwise detached demeanour in which the lines are delivered perfectly paint the picture of a woman who is used to isolation rather than human interaction and, more importantly, someone who is still a human despite her job.
Despite some nagging flaws, primarily in the gameplay and longevity departments, Metroid: Other M is still a fantastic game, so long as you take it for what it is. It's a strong story driven title with fantastic production values which manages to retain the essential Metroid gameplay we know and love. Shifting the spotlight to focus on the narrative more than the action is a daring move but one that has not only granted Samus a voice but also the franchise with which it can tell a compelling story from now on. It doesn't quite match up to its predecessors but Metroid: Other M is still a worthy entry in the franchise.
Pro: Gameplay is action pack and enjoyable, story is expertly designed, presentation is top notch, controls are superb
Con: A tad on the easy side, not particularly lengthy, some intrusive and unnecessary gameplay elements
Final score: 8.4