Metroid Prime was a blindingly confident reinvention of Super Metroid. Taking the back-tracking side-scroller and morphing it in to a first person ‘adventure’, Prime was a surprise console-seller for the GameCube. It’s perhaps unsurprising then that Team Ninja’s 2.5D reimagining of Samus Arun was met with opposition from fans. As is too often the way with fierce fandom, the studio’s clearly translatable experience from the Ninja Gaiden series to Nintendo’s bounty hunter were largely dismissed by those who held the Prime trilogy dear, and had no interest in seeing it defiled by another developer with another direction.
This is a shame as Metroid: Other M is a proficient and unique Wii gaming experience , but that I will return to. What is worse is the short-sighted hypocrisy required to say that Other M (which wears its alternative credentials both on its sleeve and its title) cannot exist in the same universe as Prime. As far back as Mario RPG there have been coinciding 2D and 2.5 Mario titles, and yet Paper Mario was never rejected as a false heir to Super Mario World. New Super Mario Bros Wii did perhaps usurp Super Mario Galaxy 2 in terms of sales in 2010, but given the success of both it would be foolish to say the former was to the detriment of the latter. With Retro Studios (Prime’s developer, no less) taking Donkey Kong Country Returns back to basics and the continued success of Zelda’s Wind Waker-styled DS series, the real question is can Other M exist as Prime’s controversial alter-ego, or do gamers’ expectations doom them to a fight to the death?
If Other M must be considered a reboot then at least it learnt from the best. Much like its predecessor it’s a bold, imaginative title that plays to its platform’s strengths. Holding the Wiimote sideways only highlights how deliberate Nintendo were to evoke the classic NES controller design, and so the use of simple jump, attack and context-sensitive moves really free the game from clutter. It plays as a smooth, third-person run-and-gun shooter with a forgiving auto-aim that allows many rooms to be blasted through with a true bounty hunter’s disdain for complete clearance. When a locked door breaks the flow to introduce puzzle-solving or force a showdown with more elite opponents it can jar for a moment, but these interruptions are brief and it’s rare that you’ll find yourself idle and directionless for long.
Other M’s strength is in its speed. When you are storming through rooms, small enemies explode brightly, the clean, polished visuals slide past without a hint of slowdown and the notorious delay of doors allowing following rooms to load are pleasantly short. In motion, Other M is one of the most attractive games on the Wii. The problem is that this is undermined by the secondary use of the Wiimote, where it is pointed at the screen to scan for objects and fire missiles. A remnant of Prime’s first person perspective, the Wiimote-only control scheme (no others are available) dictates that Samus stand still for the duration, and transitioning between the two controller positions remains unwieldy and awkward through-out the game. Auto-aim also continues in this perspective, but its single target lock-on mechanism can frustrate as you repeatedly attempt to target a hive only to not be able to see it for the bees.
Aside from the unusual perspective, the other greatest change is featuring a Samus Arun that speaks. It’s fitting that the game where she appears onscreen more than just when she is reflected in her visor is the one where her character is explored the deepest, but it’s in Other M’s narrative and – most importantly – its voice-acting that it makes its greatest misstep.
The cutscenes themselves are beautifully animated and artfully arranged. The game begins with a fantastic summary of Super Metroid which positions the instalment in the Metroid canon while explaining very little to non-initiates. The problems start here, as Samus’ laconic voice-over retells her battle with Mother Brain before transitioning with merciful speed to her stumbling across her former commanding officer and his platoon. It doesn’t take long to tire of this bored narration and odds are you’ll soon decide this version of Samus is not a personality you’d like to spend the rest of the game with, which is especially disappointing given that the rest of the cast’s performances are vastly superior.
As you hear the popularly dubbed ’emo Samus’ tell of her past it’s revealed that this fiercely independent warrior is propelled by a deep-seeded father-complex with her former commander. This unfortunate narrative direction also finds its way in to the gameplay, as early on you will naturally be experimenting with the controls and turn in to a morph ball, only to find out the commander ‘hasn’t authorised bombs’. While this smacks more of a cheap invisible wall than an anti-feminist agenda, it’s still a disservice to the self-sufficient bounty hunter of the previous games – not to mention a forward-thinking female protagonist of gaming’s history, who is still remarkably enlightened by today’s standards.
The flaws in Team Ninja’s attempt to develop a more action-oriented, ‘cinematic’ Metroid title are all the more disappointing for the number of areas they succeed. What they have produced is an exciting, atmospheric Wii action title that has the potential to invigorate core-gamers’ interest in the console and bring the Metroid universe to those who found Prime alienating. Perhaps Other M was always doomed not to escape its parent title’s shadow, but it deserved a chance and Team Ninja have definitely succeeded in creating the ‘Other’ Wii Metroid title – given the competition that’s no great slight.
A Metroid game for those who dislike Prime games, or at least can accept an alternative.