Metroid: Other M realizes my worst fears. That this Team Ninja-developed sequel to Super Metroid would be an overdone turkey with all the corn and gloss of a Ninja Gaiden game but none of the panache and class of a, well, a Metroid game. The warning flags were all there: the announcement of Team Ninja as the developer, the early footage of fractured-looking gameplay, the none-too-encouraging promise of a “story that will explain things”, and the constant reassuring from Nintendo that they’re involved and that means everything will turn out okay.
If the 45 minutes I played of M:OM is any indication of how the game is, well, everything is not okay. If there was a disclaimer at the very start that said “This preview is an early build” or something then I didn’t see it. I get the feeling this is it. With a month to go until release this seems to be the final build. Which is distressing.
M:OM feels like a game with an identity crisis. It has blue doors and some enemies from the first Metroid. It also has energy tanks, hidden items and a mini-map in the upper right corner. However, the fixed camera, long empty hallways and intermittent battle arena areas suggest a Ninja Gaiden/Kingdom Hearts mash-up starring someone who looks like Samus Aran. The camera’s fixed, just like Ninja Gaiden with combat about as good as Kingdom Hearts II. Shooting enemies shares all the excitement of swatting flies — with auto-aim. All you have to do to clear a hallway is stand still and mash one button until all the enemies are dead.
To switch things up the game allows you to point the Wiimote at the screen to enter Samus’ point of view. Doing this allows the firing of missiles, which some bigger enemies need to take them down. Switching perspectives can be disorienting, even tiresome, constantly switching from holding the Wiimote sideways with two hands to pointing at the screen with one hand, all while keeping track of enemies swarming around you. It shakes things up so you’re not just auto-aiming the entire time, but that’s about all I can say for it so far.
The Wiimote also lets you recharge Samus’ health and missiles when things get dire. It does not make the game any easier. One good thing is that the difficulty is more in line with Ninja Gaiden — perhaps too much. Enemies took big chunks of health out of me, though that could be due to me fiddling with the perspective-switching too much in the middle of a heated battle.
The wall jump returns, although it’s more like Ryu Hayabusa’s. It’s very easy to do and it’s very fast. Nothing like the reflex-based jump from Super Metroid. Which is okay in this case. The super-precise wall jump was the only annoying thing about Super Metroid.
What isn’t okay is Nintendo’s continuing insistence that we’re all dummies. Just as Twilight Princess and recent Mario games constantly remind you of abilities you have or what items do, similar constant reminders pop up for what you can do in Other M, such as the health regeneration or certain QTE moves. It’s okay to see once in a tutorial capacity, but every damn time?
That’s the brunt of the gameplay. The game seems to flow very much like Metroid Fusion. Follow orders from someone named Adam, go to a flashing checkpoint on your map, fight, repeat. Since Other M is Fusion‘s prequel it goes to great lengths to explain who Adam is, because we were all dying to know apparently.
Unfortunately we get way more than we bargained for. Other M is a cutscene-driven game with bad voice acting. Samus speaks for the first time ever in a game with a sleepier, more monotone delivery than Milla Jovovich in the Resident Evil movies. It’s kind of heartbreaking how lousy it gets when even simple lines like “It’s confession time” lack any intention or feeling. It really feels like she’s speaking in an emotional vacuum. It’s no help the actual writing is as cold and mechanical. At its worst it’s cheesy, heavy-handed anime nonsense. A scene involving Samus and her many reasons for giving her commanding officer sass drags on and on. I just didn’t care why Samus was giving a thumbs down instead of a thumbs up. Worse, I couldn’t skip it. I pressed every single button on the Wiimote yet the dumb overdirected cutscenes continued unabated. This redundant schmaltz was forced upon me. I couldn’t believe it. In the year 2010 there is a game with unskippable cutscenes. My god, even the first Metal Gear Solid had skippable cutscenes in 1998.
This is why Link doesn’t speak, why he should never speak, why anyone asking for Nintendo’s IPs to get more cinematic are wrong, wrong, wrong. Let Heavy Rain and Metal Gear and Assassin’s Creed take care of the movie-like presentations and stories. Let Call of Duty and Medal of Honor and Gears of War worry about blurring the line between Hollywood and video games.
Nintendo, you’re still at the top because you make games that revel in their videogameness. Metroid: Other M could fit that mold, but from what where I stand now it looks a lot like any other modern game with all the terrible traps they often suffer — that is, questionable game design coupled with a terrible story. I expected this game to wow me. It’s the new Metroid game. It’s not another Prime, not some pinball thing. It’s the new honest-to-god 2D-style Metroid, something we haven’t had since Zero Mission in 2004. Something we haven’t had on a home console since 1994. We waited a long time for this, so I hope my initial impressions are just that. I hope it’s just the first 45 minutes that are shaky. I hope the full game blossoms and wows me like an adventure starring Samus Aran ought to. That’s not unreasonable, is it?
But hey, that trailer sure looks sweet! Still don’t care about the space marines clogging everything, but grappling hooks, plasma beams, icy environments, speed boost?! That’s the Metroid I want to play. And I didn’t even realize there’s a dodge ability. It looks like the game does get better! MAYBE?!