After all these years of spelling Metroid a certain way, Nintendo and Team Ninja go and pull an Other M on us. How will the assembled video game critics handle this new consonant?
Of course there's more to the new Metroid than another M. The team behind Dead or Alive and Ninja Gaiden are on the case, and somehow they've managed to resist the urge to make Samus' armor jiggle when you jump, no matter how old you tell the game you are. Sure, she's wearing makeup under that armor, and her hair is in her eyes, but it could have been a lot worse.
Just ask those video game critics I was talking about earlier.
It is curious that Nintendo delegated this game's development to Team Ninja, given the latter's penchant for brutally difficult (Ninja Gaiden) and voyeuristic (Dead or Alive) games. Other M is neither; it's essentially an origin-story-as-told-in-flashbacks, sandwiched between an ostensible homage to classic 2D Metroid games (what with its third-person fixed-camera 3D landscape), and a jarring first-person mechanic that feels like it's designed to placate Johnny-come-lately Metroid Prime fans. Often enjoyable and occasionally frustrating, Other M doesn't always know what it wants to be.
It's startlingly cool to see a Nintendo character behaving so viciously. However, the actual combat mechanics never truly evolve, with no unlockable moves you'd find in any other Ninja Gaiden or God of War-style game. Yes, there are new weapons and abilities a la past Metroid games, but they're more for exploration and item collecting, so they barely affect your combat strategy. Eventually you'll start running past all the various creatures in search of your next objective or cleverly hidden power-up. And once you start avoiding the combat… well there goes one of the game's biggest bullet points. But that doesn't make Samus' acrobatics any less exciting.
In Other M, as it should be, lonely wandering is still the order of the day, and the game is actually almost everything Metroid fans have been saying they've been after: a genuine sequel to Super Metroid, with an intelligent third-person camera and plenty of time to revel in the good old gadgets. Tending to favour a side-on perspective, Samus Aran's exploration of various spooky spaceship corridors and holographic outdoor environments is entirely evocative of the series' early 2D days - and yet, the game is hardly a throwback. Team Ninja hasn't run aground with Metroid; in fact, it's hit an enviable sweet spot with a game that acknowledges the franchise's history while finding room to employ some of the smarter tricks that Retro Studios dreamt up in the Metroid Prime series.
In the past, players would have to hunt out information in the environment if they wanted to know a bit more about the backstory. This time around, series director Yoshio Sakamoto wanted a prominent story. Not only a story, but Samus' story. This means we get to know the character better than we ever have before. Other M takes place directly after the events of Super Metroid and follows Samus as she investigates a distress call from a nearby ship. Here we are introduced to a team of Galactic Federation troops, some of whom Samus recognizes. During the events that follow, we get to hear her inner dialogue about past events and relationships. Maybe it's this self-reflection that contributes to the feeling of a tiny environment.
Whether or not Other M is the definitive vision of Metroid will probably be down to personal preference; it pushes the series in new and interesting directions, and takes a number of fairly significant risks – a move that may not go down well with everyone. There is no question, however, that it offers the kind of well rounded, finely tuned experience that we've come to expect of Samus and as the linearity of the earlier parts of the game give way to more freeform exploration, it's clear that it does everything it can to satisfy both newcomers and series veterans alike. The biggest criticism we can level at the game is its length; while by no means a short adventure, with no other modes of play being offered the degree of replayability you'll get out of it is dependent on the pull of collecting all the hidden items.
I was skeptical of Other M. I thought it would not just be inferior to the wonderful Metroid Prime games but to earlier Metroid side-scrollers. I still can't say that it is better than most of them, but it is nonetheless a very good game. It is exciting to play and terrific to look at. It is a master-class in mixing gameplay genres, even though it is hobbled by a bad decision regarding its controls. Anyone with an appetite for classic Metroid combat and exploration will be satisfied with Other M. Those who wish to think of Samus as a grown-up without daddy issues may not be. Still, this is a fabulous Wii game that shows how thrilling it can be when sequel creators choose not to design it safe. This is a brave game, one that players would benefit from experiencing.
Enough M's to spell mmmmm.