I’ve been a Metroid fan ever since I played the NES original at a flea market in 1991 and bought it immediately. Since then, I’ve seen its side-scrolling gameplay evolve on the Super Nintendo, original Game Boy, the GBA, and clearly influence the Castlevania series. The series hit the GC, Wii, and DS in the FPS-esque Prime games, which were a major departure due to the first-person view, but also executed first-person adventure games about as well as the side-scrollers represented that genre thanks to razor-sharp controls and an incredible atmosphere.
Team Ninja’s inaugural entry for the series attempts to merge the two play styles together by providing a first-person aspect and a side (and top-down) view for a retro flavor in an effort to give players the best of both worlds. It also puts more emphasis on the plot than any Metroid game before it, with some of the Wii’s best-looking cinematics. This approach results in a game that is very much a mixed bag.
Other M’s gameplay will be immediately familiar to anyone who’s played the series before - guide Samus through a large, carefully laid-out area (in this case, a space ship) while using an overhead map to navigate a maze of corridors and waves of enemies. Your efforts are rewarded with new equipment, weapons, and epic boss battles. The third-person gameplay features run ‘n gun style play with platforming mixed in - exactly like the side-scrolling entries even with the 3D world to roam in. The first-person method is mainly used for more precise projectile attacks and to scan scenery for vital information.
Thankfully, scanning isn’t as big a part of things as Prime, where it dragged on. As usual, you’ll lose most of your powers early on, but they’ll be restored by Adam, your commanding office when you reach a certain point in the game, as opposed to finding them throughout the world. This is a new spin on things, and attempts to add some realistic logic to things, but ends up being illogical because of the logic holes it creates. For some reason, Adam wants you to suffer a bit in lava before allowing you to activate the power that will protect you in it. This whole thing reeks of an attempt by Team Ninja to reinvent the wheel when it wasn’t necessary - the traditional series convention of finding the powers scattered about was perfectly fine and worked for decades, it didn’t need to be changed up.
The third-person gameplay is definitely the thing that grabbed everyone’s attention when Other M’s first trailer was shown. It’s largely fantastic. Fans will geek out when they first get to control Samus in the third-person for the first time since the GBA‘s heyday, and this part of the game is incredibly thrilling. You’ll fight waves of enemies and also have to solve some light puzzles, which work well at giving your tired trigger finger a break. The fixed camera perspective works nicely at replicating the forced side view of the 2D Metroids, while also allowing players to embrace the freedom that three dimensions of movement bring. Unfortunately, Team Ninja has stripped away some freedom, possibly due to that freedom of movement, by utilizing auto-aiming for Samus’s basic laser rifle - you do have to manually aim missiles, but her standard attacks are pretty much automated, and that definitely takes away a little something. In execution, it doesn’t hurt the game as much as one might think since it does make the game easier, and therefore less frustrating, but throughout the adventure, the thought does come to mind that it would be nice to at least have the option of manual aiming.
The controls for the third-person gameplay are fantastic, with the NES-style control setup working perfectly and allowing you to do everything you’d expect to do in an older Metroid game with the same kind of crisp controls the series is known for. Unfortunately, the first-person gameplay doesn‘t control quite as well. Setting it up just awkward - you have to point the Wii remote at the screen to activate it, and the shift from third to first-person is jarring. The first-person view is also pretty awkward to use as a means to fight enemies because you can’t move - you can only look around from a stationary position to examine the world or blow things up in it. Aside from the design issues, it does control nicely - aiming with the pointer is a breeze, even if the lack of full movement prevents this from working as well as the Prime trilogy with the pointer.
Other M picks up at the conclusion of Super Metroid - with a gorgeous CG recreation of that game’s finale. Afterwards, you’ll hear about Samus’s crisis of conscious caused by the self-sacrificing Baby Metroid. While dealing with that, she trains and answers a distress signal on a massive ship. In doing so, she finds her ex-allies of the Galactic Federation, and agrees to work alongside them to find out who sent the distress signal. You’ll learn about Samus’s past, her problems within the Federation, what led to her exit, and a whole lot of other stuff you probably never thought about when pondering the series’ canon.
The idea of increasing the level of plot in the series by making use of CG movies is a sound one. After all, the series has a lot of history to work with, and having this directly follow Super Metroid starts Other M off with a bang. Unfortunately, that represents the peak of the cinematics because it relies so heavily on action and so little on dialogue. After that, they become quite boring. They‘re visually striking, but suffer from tons of exposition and awkward, somewhat stilted dialogue. They also state the obvious far too often for my liking, and the hammy acting kills whatever drama they’re trying to build up between the characters. It turns out that Samus is a far more compelling character when less is known about her, and you’re forced to read into things in order to get the backstoy as opposed to having it drilled into your skull through long, drawn-out unskippable videos.
Thankfully, outside of the laughable acting, the game’s audio is fantastic. The creepy atmosphere aboard the bottle ship is heightened by ambient sound effects, while the usual noises of missiles and laser fire sound as good as they always have. The music is fantastic too, and varies between subdued in cinematics and in calmer points in the game to incredibly intense during boss battles. Sadly, the classic item-acquisition sound effect is missing. I’m not sure why - even the newer Zelda keep that series’ equivalent in the newer entries, but it’s gone and it definitely takes away from the experience slightly.
Despite some low-res environmental textures that look far worse with the first-person viewpoint, Other M is a stunning game to look at most of the time. There’s usually a ton of action going on at once, and yet never any slowdown. The character models and environments show as much detail as one would expect from a top-tier Wii game, and the cinematics are truly the system’s best-looking ones yet. The best part of Other M’s aesthetic is the mood created by the usually dark and dimly-lit world. It’s always creepy and unsettling, and makes venturing into new areas far more intimidating.
Metroid: Other M has a lot of flaws, but winds up being greater than the sum of its parts. No matter how annoying the voice work is, or how disappointing the first-person view is, the core game itself is always fun. Blasting waves of foes never gets old in Other M, and while it has changed many series traditions, it has kept that all-important one alive. Team Ninja’s first Metroid isn’t their best effort, but is good enough to where I want to see them make a sequel, fix what doesn’t work here in the form of the voice work and wonky first-person gameplay, and release the game that this one felt like it was going to be from the beginning. Other M is a recommended buy for series die-hards who will be able to look past the cinematics and enjoy the core third-person gameplay offered up, while it’s a riskier recommendation for newcomers, I think it still offers enough to get them into the game - just be sure to warn them to mute the TV during the cut scenes and they should be fine.