I can’t really avoid it anymore, can I? The time has finally come.
Alas, we must end the March of Metroid on a low note. The lowest note of the whole series. Because as great as the Metroid series is, not even it survived the shot in the foot that is Metroid: Other M. Abandon all hope, ye who play this game, for it is bad. Unspeakably bad.
Get ready. You’re in for a long ride.
Released on the Wii in 2010, Other M was going to be a big deal. Not only was it going to be the first third-person 3D Metroid title, but the trailer blew people’s minds. I still remember it, watching E3, “ooh what’s this here.” Nintendo teaming up with Team Ninja for something they called “Project M” and it certainly wasn’t the popular Brawl mod. Huh, some kinda space thing? Space marines? What’s this then?
“Any objections, Lady?”
This was the line that froze time. A thousand thoughts rushed through my head. It’s a Metroid game! He said the thing! Wait! That’s Adam! ‘Cause he was the one who says the thing! We’re gonna find out who Adam Malkovich is! Whaaaaaaaaaaaaa-
Other M looked like it was going to be the marriage of Metroid Prime and Super Metroid. Team Ninja behind it meant we were gonna get some good action pieces, and of course, the idea of finding out who Adam was was intriguing. I was a little disappointed, because I wanted to see the future of the series after Fusion, but hey, this looked to be the next best thing.
Boy, was I wrong.
The game starts with a bizarre moment of… symbolism? A destroyed space station, some comets, and then… space baby. Huh? The space baby is revealed to be Samus once the scene instantly fast-forwards to her fight against Mother Brain and her asking, “Why am I still alive?” If you want better context, this game won’t really give you any. If you haven’t played Super Metroid, you’re definitely lost at this point.
It turns out it was just a dream the now surprisingly (well, perhaps not surprising if you know Team Ninja well at all) well-endowed Samus was having, as the camera pans up her body. The unfortunate problem of Other M is that many discussions about it are about whether or not the game is sexist. I’m not going to speak too much about that since I feel when Samus’ design features high-heels that need not be there (and were in fact specifically dismissed by the artist for Zero Mission) and when camera angles focus on her rear end more often than they should (which if you’re wondering, “should” is never), the game speaks for itself.
The game makes a number of points that it will later contradict (this game is not very consistent) and Samus spends a few years… apparently not doing much after Super Metroid. She then receives a distress call called the “Baby’s Cry” from something called the BOTTLE SHIP. Why is it called Baby’s Cry? Well, because it’s supposed to attract attention, silly, unlike other distress signals which are trying to be inconspicuous. Samus heads to the call, thinking that “it was as if it were crying specifically for her.”
In case the subtle storytelling hasn’t quite made it clear, what with several mentions of “the baby,” babies crying for their mother, and BOTTLE SHIPs shaped like baby bottles, and Samus thinking the baby was crying for her, and the bloody name of the game abbreviating to M:OM, the theme of the game is motherhood. Something Samus is no doubt well-equipped for. (Well, I guess in this game she’s better equipped for it, if you know what I mean.)
Aboard the BOTTLE SHIP, Samus encounters a group of Federation Troopers, including an old friend named Anthony (who calls her “Princess” in an amicable, joking manner and he’s pretty cool), and the enigma that is Adam Malkovich, perfect military mind (Aran, Samus, Metroid: Fusion, 2002). The story from here follows their mission to find out what killed all the scientists on the BOTTLE SHIP.
The game puts a lot of focus on this story, even moreso than previous entries had been criticized for like Fusion and Prime 3. This is unfortunately to the game’s detriment. Cutscenes interrupt gameplay near-constantly at times, often giving you control for mere minutes or even seconds until the next lengthy cutscene. This wouldn’t be so bad if the story weren’t both terrible and terribly told.
Samus, with her incessant inner monologue, sounds about as engaged as a plank of wood. I don’t blame the actress behind her voice at all – she’s not given a lot to work with. It probably didn’t help that the game’s director himself, despite not knowing English, insisted on directing her. And outside her inner monologue, when she actually speaks to another character – her acting’s fine. Pretty good, actually. Every other character also seems to have put in a decent job with their role.
But the game constantly tells instead of showing. You don’t see Samus subtly react to Adam calling her an outsider, you hear Samus say, “That really hurt my feelings.” Nearly everything is narrated and explained in disgustingly large amounts of detail, and sometimes flashbacks happen to things that literally just happened for no reason. You’re not allowed to infer a lot throughout this game which detaches you from the experience.
Consider Fusion’s way of handling Samus’ inner thoughts. They didn’t interrupt the game – they only occurred on elevator rides, places where she’d logically have a bit of time to think to herself in a death-trap space-station. They were more about the situation and its facets, and they gave context, instead of simply exposition. Samus talks a little bit about Adam. Why? Well, we need to know who he is for the payoff at the end, and why she names the computer after him. But it’s kept short, and sweet, and we’re able to infer a bit. “His way of noting our trust,” makes it clear that they had a bond. “From anyone else it would have sounded sarcastic, but he made it sound dignified,” made it clear they had a mutual respect. Adam called Samus “Lady” as a sign of respect and honour, not as a joke.
In this game? It’s explained that he called Samus “Lady” almost entirely as a joke, and was the only one who did. As a way of “respecting her past” which is not well-explained. And her thumbs-down in response was her rejecting this title. That’s… not the way Fusion explained it at all. Huh? She then goes on to say that “everyone joking around about it made me get even angrier” as that exact thing is happening on-screen. The game’s trying to show Samus having emotions but she doesn’t seem to have any, given the droll way she says these things.
And look, I’ve no problem with Samus having emotions – it’s cool. We’ve seen it before in other Metroid titles. She rages against the machine in Fusion. She fires wildly at an incorporeal creature in Prime 3 even though it doesn’t work because she’s furious. She shows fear at times, she shows gratitude, she shows compassion. This game just did it bad. Take, for example, the… infamous scene with Ridley.
Clone Ridley (after the most idiotic of plot reveals, by the way) arrives on the scene and Samus breaks down in a fit of shell-shock. The game visualizes this by literally turning her into a child for the scene. You know, in case you didn’t get that she was scared of Ridley. (The symbolism is really bad, in case you didn’t notice.) The major problem is, it’s totally understandable that Samus would be afraid of Ridley, as badass as she is. He’s one of her greatest threats and he’s responsible for her being an orphan. But bravery isn’t having no fear, bravery is acting in the face of fear. Samus isn’t brave because she doesn’t fear Ridley, Samus is brave because she does fear Ridley, but kicked his ass six ways from Sunday anyway. I can understand Samus freezing for a bit as she tries to comprehend how the hell Ridley’s back for the seventh time or so. Just the slightest of hesitations, but just enough to let Ridley take advantage. That way even anyone who hasn’t played the other Metroid games know, “Whoa, okay, this guy’s a big deal.”
Here she stands still and cries for about a minute while Ridley just… stands there not doing anything. Making them both look like idiots and making Anthony, who is also there, not look particularly bright either since he’s not doing anything about it in the face of one of his best friends breaking down. I don’t get the feeling that, “Oh, Samus is really deep down just a scared kid.” I get the feeling that, “The people who wrote this really have no idea how to write anything that resembles a coherent script.”
Speaking of a coherent script, this game doesn’t have one. First they had to attempt to retcon the Prime subseries out of existence because of this game. Unfortunately most fans prefer to retcon this game out of existence, because this game makes no sense when compared to Fusion either. In Fusion it’s explicitly explained that Samus’ Power Suit can’t be removed while she’s unconscious. Here though? Evidently it was since she wakes up in her Zero Suit at the beginning of the game and we know she collapsed in her Power Suit. Internally, there’s a plot line about an assassin Samus unfortunately names “The Deleter.” I’m sure it sounded really cool in Japanese but that’s what localization teams are for because it sounds stupid here, and I don’t think they were going for the “Travis Touchdown” effect.
The plot is dropped. It exists only to kill the other members of the Federation squad, which could have easily been handled by the deadly creatures on board (and would have actually, gasp, advanced the internal story better because what dark intelligence could be killing highly-trained Federation Marines). And then said Deleter is himself killed. Off-screen, by something else. It is then that you find out who they are, and this is after quite a bit of running around with no mention of the fellow.
Adam himself comes off as idiotic. Samus finds out about the Deleter and even fights him at one point. Adam doesn’t comment on it. At all. Samus is told she can’t trust someone by Adam, but she’s not told why even though there’s a perfectly good reason that Adam actually knows but for some reason, he doesn’t tell her.
Samus herself accomplishes surprisingly little over the course of the game. Does she kill Ridley and avenge her family and friends? Nope. Does she kill the Deleter? Nope. Does she destroy the Metroid cloning program because of course there’s one? Nope! Does she stop the ship from crashing into Galactic Federation HQ? Nope! Does she even kill the main bad guy NOPE! Does she save the last survivor of the ship NO NO NO! What does she actually do over the course of the game? She kills a bunch of monsters, including the Nightmare from Fusion for some reason, and a Queen Metroid. That’s… about it. The Metroid thing doesn’t even take because hey, Fusion has a Metroid-cloning program as well. She finds out the Federation might be secretly evil, but… she still works for them in Fusion. I guess transporting Metroids was illegal? But the Federation used research from said Metroid to save Samus’ life. Could… somebody make up their mind here?
By the end of the game Samus has done nothing but solve a mystery by being told the answer. Everything else is accomplished either by the villain, Adam, or Anthony. Sure is a strong independent female protagonist. It’s really saddening, too. In Fusion she was a person of action. Sure she was told the mission, but she still had to actually do something and towards the end she made her own choice – destroy the station, even if it means sacrificing herself, because she knows it’s right. She fought the deadly creatures, she fought herself at maximum power even while she herself had the worst disadvantage possible. Samus in Fusion? Awesome, brave, and someone to look up to. Samus in Other M? A rather weak-willed milquetoast with little-to-no personality who’s… honestly kind of dim. Also did you know she’s a woman? For some reason that’s important now. It was no big deal in the Prime games, but here, we just thought you should know.
Boy that’s nearly two-thousand words on story alone. That’s how bad it was, it permeates the whole experience, not least of all because it interrupts the actual game so often. How is actually playing this game when it lets you?
To paraphrase the greatest philosopher of our time, Yahtzee Croshaw, the gameplay is infinitely better in that it’s merely bad. You control the game with the Wii Remote on its side. That’s problem number one, navigating a 3D space with a D-Pad. The game tries, bless its heart, to make it easy on you, as there are several parts where Samus gets “on a track” while running around a bend in a room so you don’t have to worry about making turns that much. But Samus is kinda speedy so if the camera isn’t in an ideal spot (and it often isn’t since each and every room only has one angle) you can wind up falling off of ledges and running into hazards.
Samus can shoot and jump, of course, and turn into the Morph Ball and drop bombs. That’s all pretty normal stuff. To fire Missiles, however, you have to switch to First-Person Mode by pointing the Wii Remote directly at the screen. There are many problems with this. First, now you can’t move. Great. There’s supposedly a way to dodge attacks in First-Person Mode, but since it requires pointing the pointer off-screen (which, you guessed it, puts you back in third-person), it’s very difficult to get working. Second, to free-look, you hold B. To lock on to enemies, you hold B. What? And thirdly, this is the only way to fire Missiles. And you are only allowed to fire Missiles while locked-on, and when locked-on, no firing Beams.
First-Person Mode’s kind of a wash. And then to make matters even more confusing, if you hold the Wii Remote straight up, Samus enters her “Concentration” stance. Holding the A Button in this stance will refill your Missiles. You can’t move or do anything else while in this stance. And you can recover health too, if you want, but it takes longer, and you can only do it when you’re already near death. You can also only recharge a small amount, whereas Missiles, pfft, have all the ones you want!
This… perplexing mechanic is meant to represent the fact that the Power Suit is held-together and powered by Samus’ own force-of-will. Aside from this being the worst possible game chosen to demonstrate this (and the fact that she can apparently be unconscious while exerting force-of-will), this mechanic could have very nearly worked. It’s basically an admission to players, “Hey, we know you’ll farm pickups, so here you go.” It’s good to use it after combat to replenish your stock. I don’t mind this.
It completely replaces pickups, though, and there’s no reliable way to refill your health but through the Navigation Rooms (which also save your game). This just ends up making the stretches between Nav Rooms annoying – after a particularly damaging fight, do you just want to press forward and hope there’s a Nav Room? Or backtrack to the last one you saw and risk the difficult enemies respawning? And why, oh why, block health recovery until you absolutely need it? It’s not even an “only during combat” thing which I might understand, even outside of combat situations, even when there are no enemies in the room, even if you’re below the maximum amount recovered but just barely above the threshold of the danger zone, the game stubbornly refuses to let you top off. This isn’t added challenge. This is just player-hostile design, especially since it encourages the player getting hit just to recover health. And since you’re always given a grace point just before death (as long as you are above 1 health, the next attack cannot kill you), sometimes the best strategy is to take a punch, backtrack a room, refill, and go back in guns blazing. That’s not like Danger Mario in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door where it’s one of many effective strategies. That’s just bad design.
Not that the game’s challenging. Samus has a move called “Sense-Move” where if you tap the D-Pad in any direction as an attack is about to hit you, she rockets in the direction you chose, nimbly dodging danger as long as you didn’t move her into the attack. And if you’re charging a Beam while in Sense-Move, it instantly shoots to max charge, meaning the best strategy is to just mash directions on the D-Pad while charging and then firing when charged. Samus’ auto-aim is pretty decent and you get an upgrade that adds splash damage to her Beams as well. You can also perform situational instant-kill moves and even jump on top of some enemies for extra-damaging manoeuvres. The only trouble is when an enemy appears that requires Missiles, and that’s just because the game’s controls are awful, not because the game is legitimately challenging.
And of course, the authorization mechanic. The gist is, Samus has most of her upgrades already, she just chooses not to use them in case Adam gets upset. First, not only does she do this before Adam asks her (though apparently he got the memo, somehow, even though at that point in time he didn’t want her anywhere near the mission), she does it at risk of her own life. I understand locking away the weapons – it’s a search-and-rescue. Be careful in case of survivors. Neat. Cool. I get it. So why am I running around a hot-zone, constantly bleeding health, and not activating the Varia Suit? Samus has it! She uses it once Adam tells her to! And this is the first time in the series where you’re forced to run around through hot-zones without protection!
One might argue, “Well, there’s Dark Aether from Metroid Prime 2: Echoes which was similar in concept.” Well, two things. One, that was actually part of the story. It was why the Luminoth were losing so badly. They could create technology to help them fight on Dark Aether but it was nowhere near as effective as the Ing’s ability to possess Aether’s creatures. It helped create the sense of claustrophobia and dread they were trying to get, even if it could be a little frustrating at times. It’s comparable to the time-limit in Majora’s Mask. Deliberate design choices to make a player feel like they’re trapped, which makes them feel all the more empowered when they can break free of the chains (learning the Song of Time and variants in Majora, getting the Light Suit in Echoes).
Two, Samus didn’t have the Light Suit on hand to easily activate at any given time in order to make her traversals through Dark Aether safely. Here, Samus has the Varia Suit… and she doesn’t use it. Even though it has better defences against enemy attack and protects her from heated areas. I don’t feel like I’m overcoming anything. I just feel like Samus is really, really, really stupid, and I shouldn’t feel that about the main character. Assuming she is the main character of this game still.
Finally, to kill the Queen Metroid, you have to use Power Bombs. Never mind that they’ve been deactivated for the whole game. Never mind that you’re allowed to charge them up to 99% even if you can’t use them. Never mind that the game doesn’t tell you they’re activated. And never mind that they weren’t in Metroid II so it’s not like you can use your experience from that game. You’re just gonna have to be psychic.
You might notice I didn’t mention exploration. There is none. Doors constantly lock behind you, backtracking is simply part of the railroad the game builds in front of you. You aren’t even allowed to find every single powerup in the game before fighting the final boss. There’s a post-final-boss part of the game where you can explore freely and fight a bonus boss in Phantoon (Why Phantoon? Because ghost ship!), but you don’t get to do that in Hard Mode, which doesn’t have any powerups whatsoever.
It’s astounding. Truly so. How much this game gets absolutely wrong. It can’t keep its own canon straight, even internally (I’ve barely touched on the many story issues). Not a single character is likeable, except for Anthony, and that’s just because he seems to not only be the only one who actually respects Samus (even though he calls her Princess – it’s obvious he does so in good spirits and is not only willing to ask for her help, but acknowledges that they could use it long before they actually need it) and he’s the only one who actually does anything throughout the story that keeps (Adam sacrifices himself to kill a bunch of Metroids but of course, it doesn’t take given Fusion).
The game was meant to answer questions raised in Fusion. What it actually does is raise even more questions. Mostly, “How?” How did this happen? How could the series director let it fall so low? How could anyone think this was a good idea? How the hell does Samus grow two feet when in the Power Suit? (Seriously – in it she stands eye to eye with the other Marines but outside it Anthony towers over her. She’s supposed to be 6’3″!) This game is just atrocious. Everyone has their own personal worst game ever. This is mine. It not only saddens me, it offends me.
It’s a golden missed opportunity. But it’s inspired some ideas from me. Mostly on how to fix it. I’ve always thought Adam was a character from Samus’ distant past. Like, before the first Metroid game. That the sacrifice she mentions in Fusion happened back then and she’s still never quite gotten over it. That makes their friendship much more profound – the fact that she still names a computer that as far as she knows has no soul or feeling after him, years and years and years later. Some scars take a long time to fade. Unlike Other M which for all we know could take place a month before Fusion. Makes the weight of Adam’s sacrifice not really feel that great in comparison since it’s only natural she’d still be mourning the loss of a friend.
But, like what they tried to do in this game, it would serve as a catalyst for Samus’ character. Maybe back in those days she was a hotshot, really cocky, and perhaps too sure in her own abilities. And she makes a mistake and to resolve it, well, Adam has to do the deed because he knows, deep down, that despite who Samus is now, he knows that who Samus can be is essential to galactic peace, far more than himself. And only one of them can get out alive.
Boom. Samus evolves as a character (she realizes that her brashness could be her undoing and that it cost her the life of her closest friend and confidant, and therefore, replaces her cockiness with simple confidence and self-awareness). Adam’s sacrifice has meaning (it resolves a story element that isn’t simply repeated later like the freaking Metroid cloning, and it’s actively Samus’ own fault, yet he decides to bear the consequences because he knows Samus will learn from this and will prove a better solider than he himself).
And I’ve always wanted to know about the post-Fusion era. Samus, well, now she’s part-Metroid – and as far as we know (and really, story-wise, honestly should be) the last one. She’s committed what is basically an act of treason – not only acting against the Federation, but destroying one of their research facilities and an entire planet. She’s become a rogue agent fighting against a corrupt society.
She’s… kind of become like a pirate in space… a Space Pirate?
Who knows what kind of fascinating inter-personal conflict could happen there? What if she actually has to work with Space Pirates in order to escape capture? What about her now Metroid-spliced DNA? What about her old friends from the Federation like Admiral Dane and Anthony? Are they in on the conspiracy? Or do they understand where Samus is coming from and simply have their hands tied? Do they let their hands remain tied? How high up does the corruption go? Who is the good guy? Who is the bad guy? Were the Space Pirates even the real villains this whole time- well, yeah. Yeah they were. But what if there was a group of them who were actually good guys this whole time and they’ve known that this was coming and whoaaaaaaaaaaaa
Come on, Nintendo! I’ve come up with other ideas you’ve ended up doing later, why won’t you do this one!? Just, y’know, don’t let Sakamoto near it. Please?
NOTE: I can only say so much and take up so much of your time. This review actually hit four-thousand words and yet I could use so many more and still not be repeating myself. But, fortunately, somebody out there already did it for me.
A fellow named Korval on TV Tropes wrote an entire series entirely on the story of Other M as told through the game’s theatre mode. Yeah, after you beat the game you unlock the ability to watch it as a movie, complete with cuts of pre-recorded gameplay. He decided to use this opportunity to judge the story “as-is” without the gameplay as much of a factor. He rarely considers pacing unless it’s in a self-contained series of scenes, and generally gives the game a fair shake, and doesn’t attack the director much if at all throughout.
Mother, May I See Metroid: Other M is long. Very long, it’ll take quite some time to get through it. But it’s an effective dissection of the story that covers just about every point imaginable. It’s even opened up my eyes to a few things I’ve missed, though I’ve written this review with purely my own interpretation.
I link to it simply because my own dissection of the story would be repeating much of what he says, and frankly, I don’t want to just be a parrot and this review is long enough.
Another good thing to check out is this dissection of 3D Metroid by the Gaming Brit, which I’ve watched many times and again, covers a few things I missed the first time playing (though I’ve seen this long before starting this blog, so I may have parroted GB a few times here). I don’t always agree with him, but this is one of the videos I agree whole-heartedly with and recommend giving it a look.