Playing through a section of Metroid: Other M last week, I couldn't help but notice that the Wii title felt at times very much like the sort of game the developers said it wasn't: An on-the-rails shooter.
During his talk at the Game Developers Conference last week, Metroid co-creator Yoshio Sakamoto said the game was originally planned to be an on-rails adventure, meaning that players wouldn't have control of heroine Samus' movements, but would instead focus on her actions.
But, he said, co-developer Team Ninja changed his mind.
But when I played the game it seemed that perhaps they didn't manage to completely change his mind.
In Metroid: Other M much of the game play takes place as a sort of left-to-right side scroller. You hold the Wii remote sideways and play from a third-person perspective, controlling Samus as she jumps, shoots and morphs into a ball.
But in an interesting and literal twist, when you point the remote at the screen the perspective instantly changes, snapping to a view through Samus' visor. This shift in perspective also anchors Samus' feet to the ground. From this perspective players can look around, lock on to targets and fire weapons, but they can't move from the spot the character is standing on until they switch perspectives back again.
It felt, as I played it, an awful lot like someone found a clever way to introduce one of the stronger elements of on-the-rail shooters into a game that otherwise gives gamers complete control of their movements.
In a typical on-the-rail shooter, gamers have no control over movement, journeying from one encounter to the next at the whim of the game. This leaves players to concentrate on aiming and shooting, instead of having to worry about shifting around to avoid fire or moving between rooms.
I pointed this out to Sakamoto during my interview with him after playing a small chunk of the game.
"It's impossible to say that there aren't any remnants of design at all of a rail shooter," Sakamoto conceded, after I mentioned my observations, "but no, this is not something we imagined as a rail shooter at this point."
Sakamoto said that when designing a game like Metroid: Other M with a control pad and not a thumbstick you need to "bring new ideas and new approaches to how those controls for movement work."
"For example, if you were going straight on a control pad it is very much straight in the game," he said. "So while it is not an on-the-rail shooter, you will notice very much some guidance, especially when you are taking turns. We feel these are real positive experiences and additions to the game."
These blending of controls in the design decision were very much deliberate, Sakamoto said.
"If we had thought of making this from the ground up as a first-person shooter there wouldn't have been nearly as many opportunities for us to bring fresh design ideas," he said. "It wouldn't have been as fun. Similarly if we had aimed at it being solely 2D there wouldn't have been as many opportunities here."
Sakamoto broke off from his answer then to ask what I thought of the game. I told him that being a fan of the original series, I loved to see their return to some of those elements. But, I added, I don't think a game like Metroid could be made now because people would expect more from the experience.
He seemed to agree.
"Remember, 2D Metroid, if you just shot at the right height lined up at the target the bullets were going to hit the enemies," he said. "A lot of people played those games purely out of habit, because they were so immersed in that world at that time.
"As you said, some of those games you just couldn't make now. They have a feeling that has been lost to some extent. But we wanted to bring a little bit of that old feeling back while melding that nostalgia with the evolution of the gameplay experience here."