Metroid: Other M is a fascinating game, one that manages to feel both like a solid retro remake and an innovative new take on a beloved series at the same time.
This almost schizophrenic game design was, I believe, very deliberate, the product of having Nintendo's Yoshio Sakamoto and Ninja Gaiden creators Team Ninja work together on the game.
I spent about 15 minutes playing through a chunk of the Wii title last week at E3 and it felt very much like the result of a collaborative effort, but a result that managed to create almost two games in one.
To play Metroid: Other M you hold the Wii remote sideways and use the buttons on the face of the controller to move Samus through a part 3D, part platformer world of aliens and space bounty hunters. But, at any time you can turn the remote to face the screen and the gameplay shifts immediately, almost dramatically, to a first-person shooter view. In this mode you use the remote to point at the screen and pull the trigger under the remote to fire. You can't, however, move. You can control the camera, but your feet are stuck in place.
While the game feels very much like a classic, beautifully depicted Metroid title while playing it as a near side-scroller, it still has some of the flair of an over-the-top Ninja Gaiden game. The opposite is true of when you slip into the first-person mode. In this gameplay it feels more like the product of Team Ninja, with just a taste of classic Metroid style.
The best part is that you have total control over when you switch modes. This isn't a game that forces you between modes at certain set-piece moments. Certainly it's easier, when confronting certain enemies, to take them out in one view or the other, but nothing I saw seemed to require a specific mode.
While a chief component of Other M seems to be its deep story and an exploration of Samus Aran's character and how she became the person she is, my time with the game was centered solely on the action of the title. And it was quite a bit of fun, kicking off with Samus landing her gunship on an abandoned space ship after hearing a distress call and then discovering a group of Galactic Federation soldiers exploring the ship.
Although the most noticeable change that Other M brings to the franchise is this ability to smoothly shift perspectives on the fly, it's not the only thing the game brings to the Wii.
Because Samus is working with other people this time around, some of the rules of engagement have changed. The first is that there are rules of engagement. Despite being loaded up with all of Samus' special weapons and abilities, you wont' always be able to use them. Instead you'll have to wait to be granted permission from the Galactic Federation to use certain things, like missiles. This sounds annoying, but really it's just a way to avoid sending you all over a map on the hunt for power-ups that, really, you should already have.
The standard first-person gameplay felt very familiar, very polished and responded well to the Wii's button controls. The camera tracked nicely, allowing me to concentrate on the battles and puzzles, instead of having to worry over whether I could see everything clearly.
The combat was interesting, mostly because when you slip from one perspective to the next, it takes you a second to figure out where everything is and aim at something. It's not a huge issue, but it was the one problem I could see cropping up when facing more dangerous enemies.
My time running through corridors, shooting down relatively easy critters and solving mostly simple puzzles culminated with a boss battle that involved having to switch between ice missiles and regular fire power to defeat a purple blob with tentacles.
My time with the game wrapped up with another cut-scene featuring her former commanding officer, Federation Army commander Adam Malkovich, and a cluster of other Galactic Federation jar heads.
It was a short taste of what felt like a deep adventure, something I can't wait to get my hand on when it hits the Wii in August.
Correction: The original story misstated the perspective used when playing the game as a shooter. Other M plays as a first-person shooter at times, not a third. The game was also described as a side-scroller when it is not in fact limited to a single plane, though it does resemble, in many ways, the play of the earlier Metroid games like Super Metroid.