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Solo Gamer Review: Metroid: Other M

Solo Gamer Reviews are dedicated to the gamer who does not play well with others, doesn't care about multiplayer modes in his or her games, and who absolutely despises things like multiplayer achievement points. These are reviews for guys and gals who prefer to play with themselves, and thus games will be penalized if developers spend more time on slayer deathmatch options than on the single-player experience. We solo gamers prefer a well-thought-out story, an immersive universe, and hours upon hours of enjoyment without having to shoot an endless horde of twelve-year-old punks in the head over the Internet. So throw away your WiiSpeak and your X-Box Live headset, and all hail the solo gamer!

Metroid: Other M
METROID: OTHER M
Release Date: 08/31/2010
Platform: Nintendo Wii
Developer: Team Ninja
Publisher: Nintendo
Sites: Official | IGN | Gametrailers

Last year, I listed 7 things I hoped to see in the latest installment in Nintendo's Metroid franchise, Metroid: Other M. Now that the game is finally out, I can say that it only fulfills about half of those hopes, and it does have a few flaws and odd design choices. It doesn't matter, though. At the end of the day, this new take on Metroid is mostly successful and incredibly awesome.



STORY

Screenshot
A beautiful cutscene retelling the unforgettable ending of Super Metroid starts the game
No doubt the biggest change from previous games in the series is that Other M maintains a deep focus on story. Taking place between Super Metroid and Metroid Fusion (making it, chronologically, the second-to-last game in the overall story), this game follows Samus as she answers a distress call on an enormous Galactic Federation research station called the "BOTTLE SHIP." Once there, she encounters a group of soldiers that include her former superior officer from when she had briefly enlisted in the military, Adam Malkovich. There has been some kind of accident, the ship is crawling with creatures, and there doesn't appear to be any survivors. Samus agrees to work with Adam to search the ship for clues to what's happening.

Throughout the game, Samus narrates the action. This is, at times, the weakest part of the story, because Samus' ponderings seem largely irrelevant and obvious. For example, very early on in the story, she explains that, because of how things are on the ship, she knows that she'll have to cooperate with Adam. Then, a few moments later, Adam tells her that they'll have to cooperate. There are plenty of other examples of Samus' narration being reduntant (not to mention wordy), and these often lead to extended flashback cutscenes. The cutscenes are informative and important for the plot, but like Samus' narration, they go on too long, are repeated too often, and are ludicrously heavy-handed in that familiar Japanese anime way. There's this thing with Samus giving a thumbs-down, for instance, that the cutscenes earnestly over-explain, but it never actually makes sense. By the time the action is paused for yet another overwrought cutscene for the third or fourth time, even the most patient gamer will probably sigh in annoyance.

However, the story itself is exceptional, with twists you won't see coming, characters that make sense and act appropriately, and possibilities that aren't over-explained. There is one slightly hokey twist at the end, but otherwise, the twists are all logical and necessary, despite their unpredictability. This makes for the strongest story in the entire Metroid canon, and it succeeds in wrapping up several dangling plot threads left over from previous installments. It's hard to explain what makes the story so great without spoiling it, so all I will say is that players need to be patient and wait for the plot to unravel, because one can't fully appreciate it until everything is revealed. Rest assured, there is plenty of fan service.

Samus, as a character, is also successful. It was undoubtably a gamble to give her a voice and spend so much time elaborating on her character and backstory, since she has been a blank slate for much of the nine previous games. However, the writers walked the thin line between bad-ass space bounty hunter and deeply emotional female protagonist without resorting to cliche. Some fans will probably be disappointed in her portrayal, but that is inevitable given that different gamers have developed different ideas as to what kind of person Samus really is. Sure, she talks way too much and tends to state the obvious whenever anything happens, but she still acts intelligently and never makes any choices that feel out of synch.

[Story: 8 - The story is great, but the storytelling can be tedious]



GAMEPLAY

Screenshot
There is plenty of action here
Metroid: Other M, in terms of gameplay, is an interesting hybrid between the classic 2-D games in the series and the 3-D Metroid Prime games. The game world is a fully realized, three dimensional space, but Samus is controlled from a third-person view using a camera that, while not completely static, only points in one direction (except during certain boss battles). The Wii-remote is held like a classic NES controller, but it can be pointed at the screen to seemlessly enter a first-person view in order to fire missiles or find hidden items. Unfortunately, Samus can't move while in first person, a design choice that is awfully restricting and frustrating, especially during boss battles.

However, the third-person controls are incredibly successful. Samus can dodge incoming attacks with ease, using only a tap of the directional pad, and her aim is largely automatic. The camera is always in the right place, though because it only points in one direction, you will occasionally find yourself running towards it firing at enemies you can't see. The controls are fluid, intuitive, and always responsive, so you will never feel like the controls are responsible for your death. It is also refreshing to play a Wii game where you don't have to wave your arms around like a monkey on acid. The only complaint I can find with the third-person view is that, every once in awhile, it can be hard to gauge a precise diagonal jump.

Occasionally, you'll enter a room or scene where the camera slides behind Samus' shoulder and she "holsters" her arm cannon. These parts are rare, but they are frustrating because you are forced to walk at a ridiculously slow pace.

As for difficulty, the game is just right. Much of the basic running and gunning is easy, but the boss battles--both big and small--can be challenging. Indeed, the final boss battle (which is epic, by the way) is easily the hardest part of the game. Never does the game feel breezy or impossible, and that consistency is refreshing from the Nintendo Wii, where far too many games are pathetically easy.

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These guys are no match for Samus' acrobatic takedowns
Interestingly, you no longer collect health or missiles from fallen enemies. This encourages you to master your skills, but it also allows you to run through sections of the game without feeling the need to kill anything. Ultimately, I like this decision, but it would be even more successful if there were fewer save stations, the only places where your health and missiles are refilled. In the game, there is a save station for every five or six rooms, and that is just too many.

Like other Metroid games, the map is large and there is plenty of backtracking. However, the game often locks off certain parts of the map for completely arbitrary reasons, making it more linear than it needs to be. This is especially notable late in the game, when you have access to most of your upgrades but aren't able to roam the ship for collectables you know are there. This arbitrariness extends to your upgrades as well. You start the game almost fully equipped, but Samus "chooses" not to use her upgrades until she is authorized to do so. While I'm sure somebody behind the scenes thinks this was clever, it's just silly at times, like during boss battles where the only reason you can't use super missiles or power bombs is because you're not allowed to. At the same time, however, you still have to find energy tanks and missile upgrades scattered throughout the ship, which seems incongruous with the intent of the upgrade unlocking mechanism.

For this reason--along with a criminally short play time of about ten hours, even with lots of backtracking--the end will sneak up on most players, like it did for me. You actually beat the game before you have access to all of your upgrades and before you can collect all the energy tanks and missiles. I have a real problem with this. Granted, there is an "epilogue" where you can use all of your toys and can go to every single part of the ship, but what's the point in finding all the energy tanks and missiles when the hardest part of the game--the final boss battle--is already behind you? Yes, there is another boss battle in the epilogue, but it's nowhere near as hard.

[Gameplay: 7 - The gameplay is a huge success, but strange design choices hinder what would otherwise be excellent]



PRESENTATION and SOLO GAMER SCORE

Screenshot
And they say the Wii can't do graphics
The presentation is, in a word, perfect. These are the best graphics you will find on the Nintendo Wii, hands down. The cutscenes may be flawed by over-writing, but they are beautiful enough to beat many games on the more technically superior systems. The art design is also successful, with vibrant colors that aren't lost in the dark, drab setting. The lighting is effective, explosions are satisfying, and characters are well-crafted, especially the big bosses.

The music is exactly what you expect from Metroid games: dark, ambient, and intense. There are classic themes scattered among new ones, and the music always sets the correct mood. The sound effects are the same: lots of familiar blips, sweeps, and pops, but plenty of new sounds too. As for the voice acting, it is never unnacceptable or cheesy, though it is also never exceptional. Samus herself is given the best voice actor of the bunch, and that's good, because it is also the most difficult voice to get right.

On top of that, the game is chock-full of fan service. I don't want to ruin the surprises, but there are things in this game that I simply didn't expect because they are too incredible. There was one part in particular where I said to myself, "No, they didn't do that! That's too awesome!" There are also a few really neat touches, like having brief story recaps during the loading screen when you start playing from your save file. Still, I do have one minor complaint: there aren't multiple endings or extra bonus scenes for completing the game under certain conditions, which as far as I know makes Other M unique among Metroid games.

This game is also a perfect match for the solo gamer. There are no multiplayer modes or online leaderboards, not even a high score aside from the obligatory item percentage. Heck, there isn't even any downloadable content. And even though there are other characters in the game, Samus does indeed spend the vast majority of the game by herself, exploring desolate environments while battling her own isolation. This is a solitary experience, and as the multiplayer in Metroid Prime 2: Echoes will attest, Samus does not play well with others.

[Presentation: 10 - Just perfect]
[Solo Gamer Score: 10 - No game could possibly offer a better solo gamer experience]



CONCLUSIONS

Samus in her Zero Suit
You do get to see Samus in her chesty zero suit pretty often too, so there's that
Metroid: Other M is a worthy addition to the excellent Metroid series. It may not be the best one, but it is definitely not the worst. The gameplay is fun and exciting, the story is deep, intelligent, and satisfying, and the presentation is unmatched on the Nintendo Wii. Team Ninja has taken the series in a new and bold direction that is both familiar and fresh, and here's hoping they get the opportunity to make another game like this, only without the odd design choices that are holding them back.

Hardcore gamers need to get over their juvenile hatred of the Wii because this game is proof that Nintendo's system can cater to them if they let it. Even if you haven't played a Metroid game before--in which case, you are a very strange person indeed--you will probably enjoy Other M, though some parts of the story may be lost on you. Metroid fans, on the other hand, absolutely must play this game; I promise you won't be disappointed.




FINAL TALLY
STORY: 8
GAMEPLAY: 7
PRESENTATION: 10
SOLO GAME SCORE: 10

TOTAL SCORE: 8.75

Even though it is flawed and way too short, Metroid: Other M is a solid Metroid game that pushes the Wii to new heights.




-e. magill 9/07/2010








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