Friday, September 3, 2010

A Different Yet Mixed Take on a Beloved Franchise... The Metroid: Other M Review

Note: The gameplay videos might contain spoilers...

When Metroid: Other M was announced last year by Nintendo, fans were eagerly excited yet curious of how a different developer, Team Ninja, would handle such a beloved franchise. Departing from the successful and critically acclaimed Prime Trilogy by Retro Studios, Other M feels like a new refreshing take, yet familiar retaining elements from both the 2D and 3D games. I gotta give Nintendo credit for having the balls allowing Team Ninja to take story presentation to the next level with this game, which is something Nintendo has not been known for over the years. Samus Aran is no longer the silent bounty hunter we once knew from past games and now has a voice on things she has dealt with her past and the present. At first, it seems crazy that Samus having human emotions for once as if she is a more fleshed out character especially in this modern time of gaming. I also have to give Nintendo their kudos for taking a chance with Other M because it allows them to stray away from their philosophies and actually releasing a game that feels modern compared to their other franchises that continue to be on the same path such as the Mario and Zelda games. As a game itself, Other M is a different yet mixed take that is still a must-play for fans of the series.

Metroid: Other M begins with a retelling of events of Super Metroid, specifically the ending where the baby Metroid saves Samus from death by the Mother Brain and then sacrifices itself which leads to Samus finally defeating her nemesis again. The baby's sacrifice has been on Samus's mind after those events, which is why a familiar distress signal from an unknown ship calls her name to go there and investigate what is going on. Turns out the mission is more than just a random signal when the Galactic Federation gets involved as Samus decided to help them out again to figure out what is really on inside the Bottle Ship and come out of it alive. The story goes through many twists and turns in typical Japanese fashion, which is expected out of Team Ninja, to the point where familiar enemies return to attempt to ruin the mission. How is the story is being told in Other M is the major part of the game as there are lots of cutscenes in Samus's perspective where she tends to blab too much about what is going on and thinking how the Federation, specifically Adam Malkovich, the leader of the Federation unit sent to the Bottle Ship and her former boss, thinks of her. This tends to get annoying as the game progresses as you sometimes wish she can shut up and move on to the next part of the mission. Then again, I expect this out of Team Ninja especially with how they handle stories in their Ninja Gaiden games.

Despite the storyline being a major focus of the game, it is still the gameplay that fundamentally matters at the end of the day and Other M is indeed a different yet familiar experience for the franchise from the controls to the structure. Sure, there are the elements Metroid fans have been used to from the exploration, having limited abilities at the beginning to becoming a wrecking machine at the end, but it is how Team Ninja changed up these core elements and these changes do feel welcome even though you question yourself the design choices they ended up going with. An example of this of such a change is how Samus gains back her abilities. Usually in the Metroid games, something crazy happens to her that makes her lose those abilities in order to start from scratch to get them back again. Other M tackles it differently as Adam has to authorize the right to be allowed to use such weapons as the Ice Beam and Super Missiles, but sometimes this design choice by Team Ninja feels weird that they let you get used to being in hazardous situations for a little bit before Adam lets you use them. This is specifically the case with the Varia Suit where you're in a warm area for a good amount of time losing energy and wandering where's the suit when you truly need it. Other than that scenario, the timing of when Adam authorizes the right to use new abilities come at times when they make sense. Another significant change Team Ninja made with the core mechanics is how to gain back lost health and missiles. Instead of getting energy balls and missiles from defeating enemies in past games, you can replenish your missile ammo in a snap by standing still and recharging with the Wiimote held vertically holding the A button. The same goes for recovering lost health, but only when its low even though you have to do it at a safe spot, otherwise you would die and will die at such times. This is a design choice that works for the most part for Other M's action-heavy gameplay style reminiscent of the Ninja Gaiden games keeping the action going at a frantic and steady pace, but there are times as I mentioned a bit ago, where it is frustrating to find some time to recharge and you just want to take a chance to survive a tough enemy encounter in order to do it. The core Metroid formula is still in effect in Other M from exploring to find missile/energy tanks, backtracking a bunch to go to new areas that were previously unreached, Navigation Rooms as save points, and epic boss encounters, but the new changes to some parts of the formula are refreshing to what we're used to in past games.

The other major design choices being put in question are the controls in Other M. It is pretty clear that the developers wanted to make the controls as old-school as possible with the Wiimote being held sideways like a NES controller, but the limitations of such a control scheme makes you wonder how better this would play with a Nunchuk attachment. However, Team Ninja handled the limitations well for the most part especially with the game being a hybrid of both first-person/third-person perspectives. From the third-person perspective, the game controls like the NES game at its core shooting away at enemies with auto-aim and going to Morph Ball mode, but its the action-heavy mentality that kicks in where there are moments that the series has been Ninja-Gaidened and it is again another welcome change of pace. What I mean is that you're dodging away from enemies by SenseMove and countering with Charge Beam blasts, and finishing them off with Overblasts and Lethal Strikes which Samus goes in close doing something cool and something Ryu Hayabusa would do for the kill. Once you get used to the timing of SenseMove dodging instead of running and jumping around in attempt to evade, which will take some time at the beginning of the game, Other M's third-person combat is fun and satisfying when things click. On the first-person perspective though, it is a different story where you have to point the Wiimote at the screen and its the only way to use missiles in the game. The awkward part about being in 1st person is not being able to move at all when aiming and locking on at enemies to shoot missiles. If you're allowed player movement in this perspective, then it is just another Prime game in a nutshell combat-wise, which is why such a design choice was made for this. There are times in heated enemy encounters though where you wish you can move in 1st person to evade the enemies' attacks and also will be intense moments where you're only in 1st person to eliminate the opposition. In addition, there will be times where your controller won't be your best friend in heated combat situations where you struggle to switch perspectives when needed and when you're trying to recover lost health/missiles, you go in Morph Ball mode because your Wiimote is not positioned right. Those moments make the overall controls frustrating at times which would lead to deaths, but a generous checkpoint system is there to continue where you're left off especially with boss battles. Despite the flaws and weird design choices, Other M's controls do take time to get accustomed to, but when they work and click with you, a good sense of satisfaction comes out of performing the cool moves making Samus more badass of a character now.

The graphics in Metroid: Other M look pretty sharp from the gameplay to the cutscnes. The cutscenes are in CG and they look good for a Wii game as you will see lots of them throughout the mission as if you're almost playing a Metal Gear game to get character development and backstory. There are rare cases of slowdown when the framerate takes a dip, but it runs pretty consistently at 60 frames per second, which is expected out of Nintendo games to have that level of polish with no obvious glitches. In addition, there will be times where you will see the "now loading" prompt up on the screen at some hatches. As for the sound, there is little to no music most of the time when playing the game, but it does make the game feel ambient and moody. When the music shines though is hearing familiar themes being modernized, which would make fans happy. The voice acting, on the other hand, ends up flat specifically for Samus. Most of the time she just talks in a dull voice of the events and reflections of their past. Along with that, when she gets all emotional, it also feels awkward as if she takes a second to consume what in the world is going on. Other than that, the other characters' voices are okay as they do their job for the most part. It is however Samus's voice in the game along with the story full of twists and turns that makes Other M feels awkward at certain moments.

I feel like Metroid: Other M will be the dark horse of the franchise as it is a love/hate game. There will be both sides to this as some will appreciate Team Ninja's new direction and others that will not like such a dramatic change to what they knew and to Samus as now a modernly fleshed out character. The overall storyline feels very Japanese on how its presented with lots of CG cutscenes, but still highly produced with all the crazy plot twists. However, Samus's voice acting does make the story feel weird and bad as you would want her to shut up because she wants to keep rambling. The core Metroid formula is still intact in Other M as I like some of the new changes that were implemented even though how you gain new abilities can be awkward at times. It does take time to get the ball rolling especially with the overall gameplay and both the first/third-person controls, but when they click, they feel fun and satisfying unleashing Lethal Strikes against bigger foes. However, be prepared for frustration where you will fight your controller when things are not going your way. It is as long as the Prime games, which takes about a dozen hours to beat on Normal, but a bit longer if you want to collect every items for the 100% to unlock a harder difficulty where there are no pickups as it is just one tank and ten missiles throughout. It is indeed a must-play for fans of the series with all the fanservice it offers and for Nintendo fans in general. I appreciate all the risks Metroid: Other M is as a game, but those risks paid off as it is a different yet worthy addition to a beloved franchise.

Score = 8.5/10

  • A Metroid game with a surprisingly deep storyline
  • A new, experimental, and refreshing take on the beloved franchise by Team Ninja
  • Some changes to the core formula feel welcome
  • Feels like you're playing a modern game NES style, but Team Ninja did a great job handling the limitations of the Wiimote to a game like this
  • I like the action-heavy approach this game offers (Some would say Samus got Ninja-Gaidened, but it works)
  • Lots of fanservice for fans of the series (Bosses, familiar music being modernized, little details)
  • Samus's voice acting ends up flat and she can be annoying at times in the numerous cutscenes
  • The Japanese-like storyline can be a mess at times with all the twists
  • Weird design choices with some gameplay elements that may turn players off
  • Controller frustrations can happen in heated enemy encounters

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