Revenge of the 8-bit callus.
When you think of Samus Aran
, what comes to mind? Bounty hunting badass, cool and efficient alien exterminator, intergalactic hottie
who'd probably make you the girl during sex — all of these are excellent, perfectly reasonable answers. I doubt, however, that anyone would ever use the word "maternal" to describe Nintendo's resident heroine. Even her encounter with the baby metroid at the end of Metroid 2
ended in her pawning the cute little blob off to Federation scientists like some hapless teenage mom dumping a kid on her gram-gram.
But maybe, just maybe, we've misjudged the gun-armed girl. Metroid: Other M
does everything it can to portray Samus as an emotional, nurturing killing machine. The baby metroid is constantly referenced in awesome flashback scenes, and the game continually throws parent/child imagery and themes at you like a missile salvo.
Even the game's acronym is transparently deliberate: MOM
(had to get it out of the way sooner or later) is a very satisfying and strange-feeling chapter in the Metroid
saga. It's at once quite comfortable and familiar, while managing to present an unheard-of level of cinematic cut-scenes (for Metroid
) and radically different handling of Samus. The graphics are well done, especially the models and enemy design — bosses are undeniably cool and grotesque — but it does falter slightly in the environments, which never deviate from drab metallic/plant/ice/fire set pieces; most of the rooms in a given sector look nearly identical to each other.
This adventure marks a milestone in franchise history — Samus speaks! MOM
goes the distance with a plethora of CG cut-scenes that buck this series' (and most of Nintendo's flagship series') trends of silent protagonist and skeleton plot. A good chunk of this 10+ hour story is spent in flashbacks or dramatic scenes between Samus and the Federation troops she's working with on this mission, most of it narrated by Samus in a rather distant and monotonous voice.
The Commanding Officer of those troops is Adam Malkovich, whose only other appearance (so to speak) in the series came in Metroid Fusion
, the final game chronologically. If you haven't played that GBA installment I won't spoil any plot details for you, but if you have, then the events of this game are not gonna be a shock. MOM
is about bringing Samus to life in a way we've never seen before, through her interactions with friends and superiors. Adam is central to this purpose.
Also borrowed from Metroid Fusion
are the setting and linearity. Both games take place entirely in a derelict facility out in space, in contrast to the other planet-based Metroids
. Like Fusion
's ship is split up into different sectors that each house a specific environment. It also progresses along a linear course through those sectors. Whereas the typical Metroid
challenges you to find the correct path through a huge world, this one has a more Zelda-like
quality of challenging you to figure out the puzzles that will get you out of your current room and closer to the destination on your map.
The cut-scenes are a great addition, especially for those clamoring for more cinematic Nintendo games. But now, the reverse is the case, as there's actually just too much. Some of these cut-scenes drag on far too long for the amount of plot advancement they give, with often superfluous summing-up and introspection from Samus.
Don't get me wrong, it's not that I don't like having the cut-scenes. But this is not MGS
; there aren't convoluted plot twists, and as such we don't need 10+ minute interludes to explain what's going on. After a while I just wanted the characters to shut their traps so I could get back to blowing things up.
Particularly because it's really fun to blow things up in this game. The gameplay, at a glance, is Metroid
-as-usual, seeking out powerups hidden in every nook and cranny and using them to find your way to the next ones. But combat is a clear departure from the norm. Team Ninja clearly made their mark on this one — Samus runs and hops around more expertly and gracefully than ever before (not surprisingly, a lot like a certain Tecmo ninja
In fact, it makes for quite an odd feeling. On one hand, you feel like Samus has more mobility than ever because of her very acrobatic and fluid movements and some awesome finishing moves. She even has a new "sensemove" dodge to tumble away from incoming attacks. But in reality, you probably have less mobility here than in other Metroids
because of the restrictions around first-person view.
Most of the game is spent in third-person, where you'll hold the Wii-mote sideways and use the D-pad to run around, and '1' and '2' to shoot and jump. This control scheme brings back to your thumb what I like to call the "8-bit callus". (You whippersnappers who grew up on analog sticks wouldn't understand.) But I digress. When you want to go into first-person, you simply point the Wii-mote at the screen. The advantages of first-person are a better look at your surroundings and the ability to shoot missiles, although it doesn't make sense that you can only shoot them then.
The big disadvantage is that you cannot move at all unless you go back to third-person. While some people will consider this a definite con, it really adds a nice extra layer of strategy to the combat. You can't run around in first-person a la Metroid Prime
and just blast everything; you have to be careful about when to switch views or you'll be a sitting duck.
My only problem with the controls comes from the fact that there's no other scheme. The single-remote idea is a good example of thinking outside the box, brilliantly executed and easy to use once you overcome the initial awkwardness. But it's initially awkward for a reason — using the Nunchuk and its analog stick just feels better. Team Ninja was adamant that the single-remote scheme be the only way to play the game, and I can't help but be disappointed and confused. Sure, it works — but why not have an optional Nunchuk setup as well?
The only other quibble I have, and it's a minor one, is the way upgrades are handled. The developers found a clever way to work around the same old "malfunction or accident forces you to start with no items again" trope that kicks off the other Metroid
games. In MOM
, Samus has to follow Adam's orders regarding the use of weaponry and tech onboard the ship. You actually start with all of the items from Super Metroid
, since this game does take place directly after it chronologically, but you are only authorized to use your items based on the necessity of the situation.
For some items this makes sense. For instance, Adam won't let you use Super Missiles or Power Bombs right away due to the dangers such high-powered weapons pose to the integrity of the ship's structure. But other restrictions clearly have no logic about them and exist solely to keep you on that standard item-by-item Metroid
track. My favorite
is when you spend a good 30 minutes taking fire damage in the lava-engulfed sector before Adam tells you it's ok to activate your Varia Suit to ease the pain. Good thing Commander Malkovich isn't real or our troops in Afghanistan might not be wearing body armor cause it would make things too easy.
As a new entry in an established series, taking some bold steps in a bunch of new directions, Metroid: Other M
is a resounding success. There are some small issues that prevent it from being up there with Super Metroid
and Metroid Prime
, but they're just annoyances rather than anything serious. Other than a lack of choice with the controls and a little heavy-handedness in the presentation and direction, Metroid: Other M
superbly creates a familiar-feeling Metroid
experience that really isn't that familiar at all. And don't worry, your thumb will forgive you someday.