Team Ninja's take on Metroid doesn't just give the game a new look, it changes Metroid's entire perspective, literally, and gives voice to a heroine we've never really heard speak.
Following ten months of near-total silence on Team Ninja's feverishly anticipated Metroid: Other M, I finally got to strap on Samus Aran's arm cannon and peer from behind her green visor today.
The Metroid: Other M demo began with a story-heavy cinematic that immediately hinted at the game's more narratively rich focus.
Samus, suspended in the air by baby metroid, is facing Mother Brain-looking far more menacing than she ever did in her 8 bit days. Assisted by the mini metroid, Samus lets off a killing blow before narrowly escaping. We flash forward a bit to a medical ward where Samus is recovering, and we learn planet Zebes, Mother Brain, and Samsus' "nemesis" Ridley have been destroyed. In a dramatic change for the series, most of this exposition is delivered by the usually silent Samus. Her extremely feminine voice-not to mention her busty Zero Suit frame-could have fans, fearing Team Ninja's tendency to sex-up their female leads, crying foul, but the approach did inject more personality into a character we've been dying to learn more about.
Following this set-up the game begins proper, as Samus (and I) are walked through a tutorial not unlike those presented to Master Chief at the start of the Halo games. The basics of movement and combat are learned in an arena-style room. The biggest surprise here are the controls themselves; only the Wii's remote (no nunchuck) is used to complete Samus' latest bounty hunting quest. Held horizontally like an old school NES pad, Samus is controlled by the D-Pad, firing is mapped to the 1 button, jumping to the 2 button, and morph ball action to the A button. Holding 1 also unleashes a more devastating charge shot. In an even more surprising turn, and one that'll surely please Prime fans, pointing the Wii-Remote at the screen shifts the perspective to first-person. From here, players can scan objects, lock-on targets, and fire missiles.
The shift from third- to first-person perspective works pretty seamlessly. It takes a bit of getting used to, but it's not nearly as jarring as you'd expect.
Let loose in a space station, cluttered with the expected corridors, vents, catwalks, and other metallic structures that "clanked" nicely under Samus' heavy boots, I was able to experiment with the unconventional controls. Taking out spiky wall-crawling baddies and winged beasts was a breeze in third-person mode, although the directional/assisted targeting hybrid was not always spot-on. And scanning items in the environment felt much like it did in the Prime games; Samus remains stationary as you move the camera with the pointer and lock-on vital items with the B button.
I got a much better feel for the mechanics when faced with challenges that required both modes.
During an early boss encounter, where a purple-people-eater-like enemy erupted from an infected corpse, I was tasked with strategically switching between the two perspectives.
While acrobatically avoiding the alien's enormous limbs, a group of Galactic Federation Army soldiers - working with Samus in this particular mission - temporarily froze its death-dealing appendages. This was my cue to switch to visor mode, lock-on the enemy, and unleash a tentacle-severing missile blast.
A later battle - without my GFA back-up - saw me employing similar tactics; in a small room, two hives continuously spawned flying enemies. I needed to swiftly keep the buzzing nasties at bay in third-person mode, but also shift to the visor mode to destroy the spawn points with missiles. Both battles offered only a hint of how the two perspectives will be used individually and cooperatively, but the potential for engaging and dynamic alien-thwarting and puzzle-solving is definitely in the cards.
While they weren't utilized much in this brief hands-on demo, I also got a glimpse at some of Samus' other trademark moves. Tooling around in her morph form while dropping bombs will feel instantly familiar to anyone who's ever shown a Space Pirate the business end of their arm cannon, and wall-jumping is equally intuitive.
Visually, Other M looks impressive enough, although the limited environments shown in the demo really didn't let it shine beyond the tried-and-true space station backdrops.
Weapon and ambient sounds were top-notch, as was the voice acting. Absent, however, was the moody score that's become synonymous with this atmospheric series.
That vibe was also robbed a bit by the presence of plenty of NPC characters. The aforementioned GFA soldiers, while helpful in taking out the big bads, didn't help sell the affective sense of isolation usually associated with Samus' adventures. On the other hand, their presence hinted at the potential for some rich storytelling. At one point we learn Samus once served with the GFA, and now one of her former superiors seems to be throwing a wrench in her bounty hunting business.
Despite this series being one of my all time favorites, I always felt the Prime titles - as good as they were - weren't the truest of Metroid experiences. While I appreciated the action from behind the visor, I missed seeing Samus in all her baddie-blasting glory.
It seems Other M may be poised to offer the best of both worlds with its two unique play perspectives. The combination of third-person, first-person, and even some Shadow Complex-like 2D/3D gameplay, coupled with the promise of a rich narrative arc, and whatever other tricks Team Ninja has up their sleeves - and I'm sure they have a few - could position Other M as the Metroid title that finally keeps faithful fans happy while also introducing rookie intergalactic bounty hunters to one of gaming's most cherished series.