Nearly two-and-a-half decades since the Metroid saga’s 8-bit debut, we know precious little about the woman underneath the bounty hunter’s powersuit, save for a few fleeting scraps of history and a special connection to the titular space-terrors that she hunts. Samus is a blank slate, a cipher upon whom we have — until now — essentially imprinted our own personal interpretations of badass-chick-with-a-gun. Now, in Metroid: Other M, Samus (looking like a CGI stand-in for Veronica Mars‘ Kristen Bell) finally gets a proper introduction that amounts to more than “wears a bikini underneath her armor if you beat the game inside of two hours.”
It is curious that Nintendo delegated this game’s development to Team Ninja, given the latter’s penchant for brutally difficult (Ninja Gaiden) and voyeuristic (Dead or Alive) games. Other M is neither; it’s essentially an origin-story-as-told-in-flashbacks, sandwiched between an ostensible homage to classic 2D Metroid games (what with its third-person fixed-camera 3D landscape), and a jarring first-person mechanic that feels like it’s designed to placate Johnny-come-lately Metroid Prime fans. Often enjoyable and occasionally frustrating, Other M doesn’t always know what it wants to be.
The game’s opening cut-scenes find Samus decompressing from the events of Super Metroid, which — among other things — involved the destruction of a Metroid hatchling that the bounty hunter had developed a maternal bond with. Amidst this internal narration, Samus answers a distress call from a derelict space station, only to find her former Galactic Federation teammates already investigating the vessel’s mysterious situation. Samus opts to cooperate, and we’re off and running. Between Samus’ vacant-voiced pining over the dead Metroid, and some of her old friends’ quirky mannerisms (something that I suspect boils down to a cultural disconnect over in this hemisphere), the game’s story starts out kind of goofy, but gets progressively more interesting and creative as you move along.
Samus’ exploration of the oddly named Bottle Ship unfolds at the whims of squad commander Adam Malkovich — or, as I like to call him, Daddy Issues. Daddy Issues steers Samus from save point to save point, directing her to explore the facility’s trinity of conveniently environment-coded sectors and eliminate any threats she encounters. Herein lies Other M’s central defects (and I’m not talking about Samus’ steadfast commitment to decommissioning her powersuit’s functions until Daddy Issues authorizes them… even when it results in logic-lapses like not activating her fire-resistance when she reaches the lava sector).
It doesn’t take long to figure out Other M’s combat — and once you do, it’s a pretty brain-dead affair. You can take down most of the everyday buggers by spraying and praying; the aim assist takes care of the details, and Samus’ charged-up beam guarantees a constant rain of death (especially when you realize that her dodge move insta-charges the beam and requires no coordination beyond rapidly tapping the D-pad whenever you’re in any sort of danger). Miniboss-caliber monsters require more delicate touches, usually involving a) getting close to a prone foe and/or leaping atop them to deliver the coup de grace, or b) flipping the Wii Remote toward the screen and firing off a first-person missile or two.
This mechanic irritates me for a few reasons. For starters, it’s the mandatory missile mode; a third-person Samus is restricted to her beam and her bombs. Combine this with the fact that you’re immobile while seeing through Samus’ eyes, and it becomes a sort of weird forced handicap, especially during otherwise-manageable boss fights. For an extreme example, one late-game boss — who moves very fast and hits very hard — necessitates several volleys of charged-up super missiles as you struggle to evade his relentless assault. Time your missile onslaughts with anything less than perfection, and you’re probably screwed. A reasonable challenge is fine; severe difficulty on account of crippled controls is not.
On the flip side, the first-person view is the ubiquitous solution to just about every environmental roadblock that Other M throws at you. Stuck at a dead end? Protip: Look around for whatever thing you need to shoot. Yes, I’m being slightly reductive here, but Other M’s puzzles rarely amount to much more than this, with a few infuriating portions going so far as to handcuff you to first-person mode and force you to pixel-hunt for whatever tiny little thing the game wants you to observe, or endure event battles that feel like misplaced arcade light-gun shooters.
My point is, the first-person mode does multiple disservices to the game, alternatively rendering it painstakingly simple and oh-god-I’m-going-to-snap-the-disc-in-half frustrating. I can’t help but wonder if Other M might have benefitted from a solid commitment to one camera angle or the other; as-is, it does two things half as well as it could, and that’s a shame. As I said earlier, this game seems like it’s made to cater toward two factions of Metroid fans, and in trying to please everyone, I don’t think it’s going to entirely please anyone. The majority of the game gets by OK, just with constant reminders that hey, look, we’ve got this totally noninvasive first-person mode for no especially good reason.
All told, Other M is a sum of imperfect parts and compromised ideas. Yes, it tells its story well, and layers some long-overdue context on a character we’ve known and loved for decades. Yes, its split camera angles weaken the combat and puzzle mechanics. And yes, despite my laundry list of complaints, I mostly enjoyed the game (though, to be transparent with you, a little part of me wonders if I’m blinded by nostalgia for Metroid’s 2D days). This is not the Metroid game we deserve, but it will do for now.