Hey! Listen! This is part of an ongoing series called The Nintendo Wii-Try, where I go through my Wii collection and revisit some titles I never got the chance to enjoy. Start here if you’re jumping in.
A lot of people didn’t like this game. I can understand why. A lot of people hate this game. That, I don’t completely understand.
After finishing the excellent adventure that is Super Mario Galaxy, my eyes and ears craved something different. I wrote up a quick blurb that was saying, in essence, that I have no idea what to expect here. I picked up the game from Gamestop years ago and played it for maybe twenty minutes. I was also in the midst of playing through Metroid Prime 2: Echoes at the time, and well, Other M had a lot to go up against.
I’m happy to report, I finally, finally have this Metroid installment in my Done pile! And at 100% item completion, no less. I enjoyed the heck out of it. For the most part.
Metroid: Other M is Nintendo’s attempt to turn the franchise into a cinematic experience, and it absolutely delivers on precisely that. What it sacrified is a lot of what makes Metroid, Metroid. That isn’t to say that the combat is bad, or that exploration sucks, or that backtracking is absent, because all of those things are there and have had substantial changes made to them. But it’s abundantly clear that Other M was a very risky departure from an already beloved franchise. Fans don’t like change, particularly with a series that’s been running since the mid-80s, and this game absolutely represents some degree of change.
I have a lot to talk about today, so pour your drink or meal respective to your current time of day, and come along with me on my second journey into The Nintendo Wii-Try, with Metroid: Other M!
I’m going to come right out and say it, this is a classic case of a bad first impression, like going to shake someone’s hand you just met, only you use your left hand for some reason. They’ll always remember you as that weirdo that shook with their left hand, why and for the most part that’s what they’ll think of. It doesn’t render you a bad person in their mind, but who the hell does that, anyway?
Yeah, this metaphor is falling apart, but playing Metroid as a 2D side scroller after the Prime series establishing the home-console titles as 3D shooters was definitely a change of pace. Keep in mind that this is on the Wii, and motion controls are all the rage – not only that, but you’ll be jumping back and fourth between 2D and 3D, in fact you’ll be doing that a whole lot.
Of course, to match this new gameplay style, comes a whole host of control scheme changes. You’re greeted immediately as the game loads with a message instructing you to hold the Wiimote sideways, which isn’t necessarily uncommon for the Wii, but certainly odd, considering it’s really not made for this sort of thing. If you were coming from the Prime series you can certainly imagine how jarring this was – the Gamecube had piles of buttons in just the right places and those games felt tight, and even Prime 3: Corruption which was out three years prior did have some solid controls. The Prime Trilogy even saw a release to much critical praise and the verdict was in – Prime works great in 3D with a Wiimote.
The Controls of Doom
What also set the beginning of Other M apart is that Samus doesn’t lose her weapons for any real reason. No, what prevents you from using your weapons is a lack of authorization from your commander Adam. This immediately struck me as a bit of a glaring issue. The barriers to navigating literally every single Metroid game is that you lack the abilities, and immediately being told that all of your shortcomings are strictly a personal choice is troublesome, to say the least. It all felt so artificial, and it took me a bit to move past that.
You know when you’re playing a Metroid game in the early stages, and you’re in what I like to call “baby mode”? That’s when you are about as well-equipped as a baby. You get destroyed by any enemy you come across, and you can’t do a damn thing until you spruce up your arsenal. It’s a great time for the game, because it allows the player to start constructing this mental map of places to return back to once the appropriate skill or weapon is acquired. It’s core gameplay for Metroid and I saw that as a bit unforgivable that you never actually need to acquire anything, you just start using it when you eventually need it.
That being said, while you voluntarily give up abilities, you do gain some cool ones. The most pivotal addition to Samus’ move set is no doubt the new dodge ability. Right before an enemy attacks, they perform a little choreographed tell, and you can press a direction on the D-pad to launch yourself out of the way at the last second. It’s super fun, I really liked using this, although it can be argued that it’s a little bit OP. Very soon into starting the game, you’ll figure out that you can spam the heck out of the dodges, and with some practice, you can really avoid basically all the early game damage. It’s not perfect and it still requires some skill, but as the game progresses and you figure out the enemy tells, you will be spamming the Dpad.
So much so, that your left thumb might begin to resemble one of an Alaskan fisherman. It will be a gigantic callous, because the tiny D-pad of the Wiimote is in no way, shape, or form intended to be used in this manner! I got used to the gameplay eventually to the point where it didn’t bother me as much (or maybe my callous started to protect me…) but you’ll quickly be wondering why you’re not using the joystick on the Nunchuck to control Samus. No, really – I took breaks after about 40 minutes of play because my left hand was cramping something awful. It hasn’t felt that crappy since playing… Metroid Prime: Hunters. Dammit Nintendo, let me Metroid without developing carpal tunnel!
The controls can start to feel like they’re working against you. This is especially evident when jumping between 2D and 3D mode. 3D controls exactly like in the Prime games, in that you can look around (not actually moving though, just rotating to look around and lock-in on enemies), but it’s also the only view that you can fire missiles, Super missiles, your grapple hook, etc.
But wait – hold the phone here. You’re telling me that in the middle of being attacked by all manner of space monster, I’m supposed to flip the Wiimote from the horizontal position, to point it precisely at the Wii’s IR receiver, and somehow not get devoured in the process!? Why yes you are, and it’s an absolute skill akin to winning in a dual against a young Clint Eastwood. At one point I even moved my receiver closer and repositioned it, just to cut the time it took me to “re-align my Chi”. Which definitely helped, but let me tell you, nothing heightens tensions more than suddenly playing a first-person shooter in which you can’t even move around.
This is especially tricky in the boss segments. After a few inevitable deaths, you will start to notice that there are built-in pauses that are intended to let you zoom in, and to give you a quick second to find your cursor on-screen. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really help much, as you’ll still find yourself running into trouble.
Aside from the dodging mechanic, another very divisive change in Other M was the ability to recharge not only your missiles, but your own health. Yeah, you read that right. The game famous for finding ammo capacity upgrades lets you simply recharge them whenever. That’s easier said than done, as you’ll need to recharge them during stressful gameplay moments, and this feature, of course, requires a third Wiimote position – pointing straight up.
Do you have a Wiimote handy? Hold it in a horizontal gameplay position for a second, then quickly point it in front of you, and then point it straight up. It’s absolutely not easy to do at all, and the button to recharge your health or missiles is also the same button to go into Morph Ball mode. Imagine my surprise when I desperately needed a health refuel, but I accidentally sent myself into a Morph Ball. I died a lot to this unfortunately control binding error.
More control issues aside, the other problem I have with this is that it kind of… makes missile upgrades a lot less important. Sure, having a higher capacity prevents you from running out as often once you’ve found enough upgrades, but all that ends up doing is making the game harder before you’ve had practice (at the early stages of the game), and then once you’ve collected enough upgrades (and can probably recharge more reliably), you no longer need to recharge as often. It’s this disconnect that makes the idea feel a bit half baked. I wouldn’t have minded having to find missile drops from enemies; it doesn’t seem like this change was necessary.
Let’s focus on the good for a second, because so far I’ve only complained, and there are plenty of great things to talk about in Other M.
The Good Things?
This feels like a Metroid game, no doubt. The atmosphere is gorgeous, the (overly) frequent cutscenes look great, the voice acting is ok, I mean Nintendo tried here and they nailed the cinematic flow that they were clearly going for. Whether or not the story was actually good is something that I’d leave up to the player, because to be honest, I don’t play Metroid games for a story. I enjoy the atmosphere created by the level design and the music, and I play them to experience this atmosphere. I’m terrible at following stories in games – I am very forgetful, and very few games can me invested enough to pay close attention to details.
What I didn’t like was how Samus was portrayed as a fragile character throughout the game. She’s also very conscious about what others think about her, which seems out of place for formerly such a strong female character. There’s a strong motherhood theme, starting with the distress signaled described as a “baby’s cry,” but it’s almost used as a writing crutch to make her appear mentally weak. The ship in-game is also shaped like a bottle, I mean, they’re definitely shoving some motherhood themes around in here, but what is it all for? I suck at interpreting this type of symbolism, so I’ll leave it up to the interpretation of others.
Gameplay-wise, another positive, which really needed to be good to keep me going, were the boss battles. High up on the list of favorite parts of Metroid games.
The boss battles are just as complex as in the other 3D entries, and man! They can be really fun. This took me right back to the Prime games; the bosses are absolutely nuts and very entertaining to fight through. They are by no means easy, even forgetting the controls. Nintendo definitely did a great job balancing everything out and considering the control scheme in the boss (and mini-boss) designs. The issue is that most of the difficulty is inherent in the controls, rather than being programmed to be challenging. You’re probably sick of hearing about the controls, but Other M is basically a case study in building a game around a controller that was never meant to function in the way it was used. Either way, the boss battles were enjoyable, if a tad easy (again, once you master the controls, they become much simpler).
My favorite part of Metroid games is where, at the end of the game, you have all the tools in the arsenal to go back and grab all the collectibles you missed. Of course, for Other M, missiles upgrades don’t matter a whole lot with the recharge ability, and each upgrade only grants you 1 extra missile to your capacity anyway, but the energy upgrades are very satisfying to find.
What Other M does a bit differently is, after you beat the boss and complete the main story, you continue your save and have a bit of post-game to get through. There’s some extra story, but in particular the game offers you the chance to find 100% of the collectibles. There’s then an even more Final Boss that went down pretty easily, before letting you head back to your ship and complete the post-game. I went ahead and nabbed everything and had quite a good time doing so, but it also made me realize I’m not particularly a fan of the map design, all centered around a single elevator. Back-tracking is a core aspect of Metroid titles, but in Other M, it never felt nearly as fun.
So what’s the consensus here? Well, I’m glad I finally experienced this critical disaster of a game, and extra glad I 100% completed it, but I can’t help but feel more understanding now of the disdain towards it. With a messy story, themes that never materialize into anything, and pointless combat and button mashing, and a disastrous control scheme, it will take some deep love for the franchise to get the average player it. At least while maintaining a smile on their face.