Flashback: Metroid: Other M

Metroid: Other M… now here is a game that really infuses gamers with a passion. Love, hate, disdain, joy, there’s a lot of emotions that come into play when discussing this game, but never indifference. Since its release, I’ve always wanted to write something about Metroid: Other M for the site, but as time passed, I just felt it was too old to talk about. The surprising thing about the internet though is old wounds die hard. Various discussions have given me opportunities to discuss the game, but it never quite felt right until now.  Since Nintendo has moved over to the Wii U, talks of the next major Metroid game pops up from time to time, and these usually center around the missteps they took with the last Metroid game, which happens to be Metroid: Other M. I wanted to throw my hat into contention and talk about the game for better or worse.

When it comes to Metroid: Other M, there is a lot to discuss. Do you talk about the way the game portrays the main character of Samus Aran, the voice-acting, the scripting and pacing, the game design choices or the narrative?

Luckily enough for us, it’s a very simple question to answer. There’s really no way to talk about this game, positively or negatively without touching on the narrative of the title. It is the one element of the game that is woven throughout every single aspect if the release. From the way it effects game play to it’s larger role in the debate especially in regards to Samus.

Let’s be up front, I won’t make a case to defend the story of the title. For the most part, it fails utterly and completely at most things it attempts. It’s not redeemed by the quality of the voice-acting nor it’s pacing/placement in the core game. Hell, I would say there’s very little in the way of redemption for the narrative at any point in the game. And just to throw salt on the wound during your initial play-through none of the story is skippable.

That said, the narrative aspect does work in some places, and in others the idea is novel, but the execution is poorly handled. The first area would be the relationship between Adam and Samus Aran. Fans of the Metroid franchise know who Samus is, we’ve had over half a dozen adventures starring her. We’ve seen her eradicate numerous metroids and Space Pirates. We’ve seen her do some heavy-duty damage to planets. We know that she is an extremely capable bounty hunter and a bit of a loner. We’ve seen her get assistance before as well in Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, and that didn’t turn out too well. This game attempted to explain why Samus was a bit of a loner.

The game explains that Samus was a member of the Galactic Federation, and her commanding officer was Adam. The game hints that there was some romantic feelings between the two, but it could also be read as a father/daughter relationship. Either way you look at it, Samus was a naive, and somewhat rebellious young girl and Adam was the authority figure she attempted to impress. When a rescue mission goes south, and Adam doesn’t trust Samus to rescue his younger brother, Ian, Samus departs from the Galactic Federation and goes into business for herself. As we’ve seen in previous Metroid games, she gets the job done pretty damn well.

When she lands on the “Bottle Ship”, she meets up with her old Commanding Officer and some of her former Federation squadmates. Samus wants to prove that between her leaving the Federation and this current mission, she has grown and matured as a person. She does this by deciding to listening to her Commanding Officer’s orders once more. I actually thought it was a great idea. How do you show someone that you are no-longer hot-headed and rebellious? By doing the things that you hated doing before. On paper, it is a fantastic idea.

Sadly, video games aren’t on paper, and need to be played. Metroid: Other M has the largest case of a divorce between narrative and game play that I’ve ever seen. There are some odd restrictions placed upon the player for the sake of the story that in-turn makes the main character seem dumb by proxy. At some point wanting to prove a point has to come AFTER self-preservation.

You all know what part of the game I’m talking about! I don’t care how much you want to stick to the narrative, the fact that a character can and won’t defend themselves in such a situation is beyond stupid, and really just a poor design. I realized they wanted to escape the Samus losing her powers staple, but even for this one segment, it would have made a bit more sense. Having her capable of withstanding extreme heat, but deciding its best to tough it out until Adam authorizes it is just a poor decision. And really encapsulates what is wrong with the narrative of this title. Some interesting ideas, but not well executed for the game they designed.

That’s the narrative, here is where I will defend the game until.. who knows when, it is a great action game. And divorced from the narrative, it is the strongest and most brutal that Samus has ever seemed. She is a more than capable warrior, we all know that, but it doesn’t necessarily always come through in the games. While I’m a huge fan of the Metroid Prime games, due to them being in first person, Samus always kind of felt a bit sluggish and clunky in them. The older games allowed her to be quick, but wasn’t as nimble due to technology. She had some great jumps, but that was about it.

Other M just threw it all out there. Samus had her blasters and her missiles and her huge arsenal of weapons. But she was also quick, nimble, agile and deadly. She dodged, evaded, leapt, spun, twisted and turned as she danced around enemies. She could dodge enemies attack while offering a counter-attack of her own in one swift movement. She assaulted foes from above and shoved her blaster down their throat to finish them off. For once, we saw Samus Aran, not just as a capable bounty hunter, but why she is one of the best in the business, and why she has survived so long on her own.

Which brings us to the only thing that I think the narrative gets correct. Samus doesn’t carry around standard issue weapons. She is a walking tank, and does a ton of damage. One of the reasons why Adam requests she doesn’t use her entire arsenal is because she’s a threat to whatever is on the space station, friend or foe. Hell her most powerful weapon, the Power Bomb is never authorized for use in the game, and only comes into play during the climax and the subsequent clearing out of the space station AFTER everyone else is gone.

If the game had found a way to build around this narrative, it would have been much better off for it.

The game play wasn’t perfect, but the segments that were poor were really kept to a minimum. While, I agree that the “Spot the Difference” first person scan segments were tedious and way too precise, there were only like 4-5 of them in the game. The over-the-shoulder segments were novel ideas to build the tension, but never really went anywhere meaningful. More of a missed opportunity than terrible game design.

The last aspect I mentioned at the start of the article was Metroid: Other M’s place in the Metroid franchise. I don’t mean canonical. It’s laid out that this game takes place in-between Super Metroid and Metroid Fusion. What I mean is portrayal of certain elements from the Metroid franchise. The predominant ones being Samus’ character and her interactions with Ridley in this game. On the first, I will not say a lot because it isn’t my field of expertise. I realize that someone people feel that this game.. feminized Samus to a fault. In previous games, she was a smart, cunning, powerful and independent woman. In this game, she is stuck taking orders from a male commander, and even puts herself in danger to impress him. I can clearly see the argument and why some would take issue with it, and there’s really no but here.

The other thing, I can speak on a bit more than that. Samus has battled and done away with Ridley in several other games before this. Depending on Nintendo’s mood with the Prime franchise, there are at least two other encounters between Samus and Ridley in Metroid and Super Metroid. If you want to include Metroid Prime and Zero Mission remake, then you can chalk up 3 more encounters with Ridley. The point is, the space station in Other M isn’t her first dance with him.

The logic is that she’s dealt with him before, and knows she is more than capable of killing him. The problem is, she has killed him and killed him again and again and again. At some point, you begin to wonder if he could be killed and if he will continue to haunt you for the rest of your days. This is one aspect of Other M that I think is just taken the wrong way. It’s sort of like a video game method of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Ridley has been a presence in Samus’ life since she was a young girl. She has done battles with him and bested him, but he kept on coming back. It’s not too different from the relationship between Sarah Connor and the various Terminators or Ripley and the Xenomorphs. There is an initial shock that kind of leaves them unable to act, but once they get over that hump, they know what they need to do and they do it with gutso. Yes, Samus is saved by Anthony, but ultimately it is Samus who defeats and kills Ridley finally. It’s one of the few scenes, I didn’t have issues with. Ironically, I feel some people took issues with it because it was the one thing the game didn’t over-explain.

When I set out to write this article, it was partially to try and explain why I ended up liking Other M. I mean simply put, I think as an action game it works well. Now that I’ve gotten all my thoughts out on the page as well, I realize that while I did dislike the narrative and felt it hampered parts of the game. There were some parts of it that worked better in hindsight. The game’s flaw was really in its execution of its narrative ideas.

Ultimately, I would love to see another game in Other M’s modl, perhaps with less emphasis on the story.

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