The story of Metroid: Other M has been one of sheer cynicism and initial sceptisicm, followed by gradually growing cautious optimism, until now, finally, as the release of the game is less than a month away, unbriddled anticipation.
Announced at E3 last year as a collaboration between Team Ninja and the original development team of Metroid games, Metroid: Other M instantly stood out for a variety of reasons, most of which did not go down well with long time series fans. The game’s self proclaimed focus on placing the story and the narrative paramount alarmed many- whereas the Metroid universe is exceptionally rich, and its characters enigmas, there has been a sense of desolate mystery surrounding the entire Metroid setup that has appealed to fans in so many ways. Samus Aran, for instance, the series protagonist, has a dark backstory that has often been hinted at in all Metroid games, but never really been elaborated upon. The fact that Other M sets out to tell a clearly definied narrative, via means of in game voiced cutscenes, displeased quite a few, who preferred the Metroid Prime games’ more passive methods of storytelling. Then again, the fact this is probably the first Nintendo game to truly go for a cinematic feel worried many Metroid fans- experimenting with new stuff is always welcome, and adotping new age techniques even better, but did Metroid have to be the scapegoat?
What probably worried fans even more, though, was many of the seemingly baffling design decisions that all made it seem as if Other M would be a drastic step down for the Metroid franchise, an issue only excaberated by the fact that Other M was immediately following the superb and impeccable Metroid Prime trilogy. For instance, the developers have made the decision to adopt a control scheme that mirrors that of the original NES game- a good idea if you’re making a 2D game, but Other M sees Samus traversing loads of 3D environments. How could you possibly negotiate 3D movement with a D-pad?
There was more- the transition from third person view to first person, which the game allowed, was alleged to be shabby; the game looked too action oriented for many Metroid fans’ comfort, who felt as if the Team Ninja influence was resulting in a deterioration of what had made Metroid, Metroid; there were those who felt that the introduction of other human characters effectively spelt the end of the sense of isolation that has pervaded all Metroid games, and that ultimately led to those games having great atmosphere.
Now, however, with each subsequent hands on that we’ve been offered, our reactions continue to get more and more positive. There is no doubt in my mind that Metroid: Other M not only has the potential to shine as an excellent Metroid game, and an excellent Wii game, but also as one of the best games this year, which is truly a difficult feat. Hit the text after the jump to see five reasons why Metroid: Other M could be the best game of 2010.
Check the latest trailer below:
Earlier the object of much criticism, it seems now that Metroid: Other M’s control scheme has grown on us all. Holding the Wiimote sideways so that it resembles a NES controller, Metroid: Other M relies on the D-pad for movement, thus leading to the quandary of controlling a character in a 3D space with only eight possible directional inputs, but it works surprisingly well, and after a time, it just comes naturally to you.
What actually makes this transition to this rather eccentric control method is the fact that Metroid: Other M has the exact same controls as the other non Prime Metroid games before it. Long time Metroid fans will instantly feel at home, as their fingers will make naturally for those very same buttons to perform the very same moves that they’ve been doing these past years. For newcomers, this minimised control scheme represents a tidy, utilitarian and elegant method of controlling a game that otherwise might appear hopelessly complex and formidable.
Moreover, the game fully embraces Metroid Prime’s legacy by incorporating a first person mode, that lets you see from inside Samus’ visor, if only temporarily. While you are in first person mode, you’re immobile, though you still can turn 360 degrees on the spot. You can also perform a quick, evasive manoeuvre, if your enemy attacks. The first person mode is controlled logically using the Wiimote’s pointers, and is activated simply by turning the Wiimore so that it points at the screen- that is, a simple adjustment of the controller’s orientation allows you to switch to first person on the fly. As seems to be the case with the game, this might take a little getting used to at first, but in the end, comes off as naturally logical and intuitive.
Everything about the game’s control scheme- from how movement is handled, to how the first person to third person transition is exectued, from the quick run and gun gameplay to how Samus recharges her health tank, it all takes a little geting used to, but once you’re acquainted with the control scheme, it seems flawlessly subliminal, as you begin to wonder what other logically viable method of control the developers really could have used. The controls in Other M are exceptionally tight and well thought out, and are certainly the best this year, second only to perhaps Nintendo other big console release earlier this year.
4. IT’S FAST PACED, HIGH ON ADRENALINE, BUT IT REQUIRES YOU TO THINK
Metroid: Other M comes across as a bit of a shock after the slow and deliberate pacing of Metroid Prime. The Team Ninja influence is instantly apparent here, as this is probably the most fast paced action oriented Metroid title ever. Enemies assuage you almost constantly, in vast 3D arenas, highly reminiscent of Team Ninja’s Ninja Gaiden games, and you must take them down, and take them down fast, because they’re capable of doling out some serious damage. However, it isn’t a simple matter of run and gun- while the game’s auto lock feature makes it easier to ensure that you find your target, simply spamming the fire button will get you nowhere. You need to think fast, and think on your feet, if you’re to take your quarries down. Metroid: Other M presents you with several different means of taking down your enemies, and all of them work differently on each enemy, each time.
For instance, you could switch to te first person mode- it allows you to have greater precision, so that you can properly target your moves. It is also the only time that you can fire your missiles, which are otherwise unavailable for you. But the fact that you are largely immobile makes this an impractical consideration if you are being assaulted on all sides, though it works best if a single enemy is all you have to deal with.
Conversely, you could stick to third person mode, charging up your beam cannons, and firing, confidently knowing that your hit will hit the mark. However, it takes a longer time to take your enemies down this way, since the standard moves in your repertoire are also undoubtedly the weakest.
The third method of combat is probably the one that is most influenced by Team Ninja’s Ninja Gaiden games. Metroid: Other M allows up close, melee combat, and there are quite a few lethal moves available at your disposal. Most notably, Samus has quite a few special moves that are restricted to melee combat only, and all of them are devastatingly powerful. The downside here is that melee moves place Samus in quite a compromising position, as you’re required to get up close with your enemies, which makes you indisputably vulnerable.
The possibilities with this game’s combat are endless- add to the three basic styles of gameplay mentioned above the vast range of weapons in Samus’ arsenal, as well as some of her special moves, such as the Morph Ball, and what you have on your hands is a game that features fast paced frentic action, but one that requires you to think quickly and on the spot, and often improvise, making do the best with what you’re given.
The Metroid games have always been amongst the most atmospheric games of their respective eras, and that, ore than anything else, is what has truly set them apart from all other games. There are those who aspire to be like Metroid, and nail all aspects of the gameplay and execution perfectly, but still fall short of the greatness of Metroid games, and that is because they lack the key ingredient to Metroid’s success- it’s atmosphere, that is rooted in the feeling of desolate isolation, of the overwhelming helplessness of being stranded, all alone, in a highly adverse environment.
With Metroid: Other M, things have changed a little, though. The fact that you are no longer alone- at least, not technically, since you find other
Galactic Federation crew from time to time- should come as bad news to some. However, it is a pleasant surprise, how the game manages to incorporate these other characters, because they are a requirement of the story, and can still make you feel alone and isolated.
Make no mistake, in Metroid: Other M, you are alone. All alone.
You’re left to fend for yourself in hostile environments, vast locales where you know your team mates are, and yet you never maintain contact with them. It’s a feeling of panic, and of overpowering dread, as you don’t have the support that you expect, and feel the dawn of the feeling of isolation. The fact that Other M is fast paced and high octane tends to compund the sense of panic, and add to the urgency, making you feel more afraid and frightened than ever before.
The atmosphere is greatly helped by the game’s beautiful visuals and great aural effects, all of which impress upon the vastness of the intimidating locations where we are now stranded, and all of which serve to impose even more panic upon the player’s psyche. Metroid: Other M makes good on it’s promise- it is a true Metroid title through and through, and that is because of its atmosphere, which provides an interesting spin on age old Metroid formula.
2. BLENDING OF GENRES
You might be tempted to call Metroid: Other M your typical run of the mill action game. Certainly, Nintendo seems to have, rather worryingly, concentrated more on the action side of things with Other M, and while Team Ninja are excellent developers, having made the superb Ninja
Gaiden games, after all, Other M looks surprisingly unremarkable. In a year when we’ve already had an overload of action games, with the spate not looking as if it’ll stop anytime soon, there seems to be little reason to invest in the newest Metroid title, for those that are not fans of the franchise, anyway.
However, there’s more to Metroid: Other M than just that. I think I may here unhesitatingly say that Nintendo’s latest blends two genres so expertly that it soon becomes hard to tell one apart from the other. On the one hand, we’ve got the age old Metroid platforming and backtracking, rooted in the concepts of exploring your environments, and, via careful scanning, finding the way out. On the other, we have the much publicised fast paced run and gun action, which is incredibly varied, and offers so much more than is immediately apparent.
In Other M, you will play two games- traditional third person Metroid, and a new age, faster, more relentless one. It is an expert fusion of two vastly differing style of play, and it lends Other M with its own unique identity, and gives it the potential to outperform other games this year.
1. IT’S (STILL) METROID
You know, let’s face it, very few other games have the calibre or pedigree of Metroid games. And there’s a reason for that- Metroid games are just
that darned good. Unfailingly, each Metroid title has been amongst the best titles of its time, and that is because each title has stuck fast to what it is that makes Metroid Metroid.
With Metroid: Other M, though you might be tempted to think otherwise, that is how things remain. Take away all the trappings of the newfound focus on combat and action, all the pretensions of the game wanting to tell a story, and what you get at its core is what is still quintessentially Metroid. You still have to explore the environment thoroughly if you hope to make any progress. You still have to gradually structure your power ups, gaining new powers that allow you to enter previously inaccessible areas. You’re still all alone, possibly more than ever before. You still face of inventive bosses, all of whom have to be defeated imaginatively, after a bout of quick thinking. At it’s heart, and beyond it, Metroid: Other M is still Metroid, pure, unaduletrated, distilled.
In the end, it all seems to come together- the atmosphere, the graphics, the soundtrack, the gameplay, the tight controls, the swift platforming, the expert combat moves, even the somewhat corny story, told through voiced cutscenes. While we’ve played too little to be entirely sure, what we’ve played is exceedingly good so far, and seems to establish Metroid: Other M as a hell of a game.