Metroid: Other M is perhaps the most contentious title in the entire Metroid series, and that all comes down to one decision: the desire to flesh out the stoic bounty hunter Samus Aran as a character. It’s a noble goal and one that could have benefited the series greatly, but it’s done with so little care and in such an amateurish manner that other game series might not have been able to survive after damaging the personality of their lead character so greatly. Despite this, the discussion of 2 hours of cutscenes that amount to maybe 1/5 of the game time has overshadowed the gameplay of Other M, and it’s easy to lose track of those elements with so much focus on the problematic story elements.
While I don’t intend to spend too long tearing down the story, Metroid: Other M does try to emphasize it heavily, making its cutscenes unskippable and spending quite a bit of time building up its backstory. There are people who can just ignore the story and focus on the gameplay instead, but if you do wish to engage Other M as the designers seemingly intended, you’ll find it hard to dismiss some of its poorly thought out elements. Immediately Metroid: Other M tries to establish a theme with all the subtlety of a hammer to the head, Samus reflecting on the death of a baby Metroid, receiving a distress signal called the “Baby’s Cry”, supposedly named for being as urgent as an infant’s cry despite an S.O.S. usually means people are at risk of dying so it’s clearly named just to fit this poor framing, and it brings her to the BOTTLE SHIP which is a spaceship shaped to resemble a baby’s bottle. Underlying themes can be an effective storytelling device, but the game crams each element in your face and has Samus reflect on everything with a fairly wooden performance from her voice actress. It’s clear the character can emote, she has one or two scenes where the walls come down, but when discussing most anything, the voice actress reads her lines with a flatness reminiscent of Ben Stein. The mother and child themes are overt but easy to just laugh at and move on from, but when Samus arrives and begins learning about the Galactic Federation’s secret bioweapon development, things begin to get even worse as the story tries to take a look inward at Samus’s character.
For some reason, Samus in this game is reduced to a subservient girl ruled by her emotions. Samus Aran, by this point in her history, has taken on countless horrible monsters, blown up a planet, and attempted to wipe out an entire species. While it is important to consider a game as a standalone piece as much as we consider it a part of a greater canon, Other M ensures you cannot dismiss the elements of the previous games where she did execute such bombastic and emotionally rigorous missions with a cool head by bringing up the past repeatedly and often with accompanying flashbacks and narration. The fact the past is referenced so much makes a scene where she has an emotional meltdown at seeing her old nemesis Ridley again after fighting him in nearly every Metroid game before this one unusual, and those old missions even inform the “authorization” system, wherein Samus is told she cannot use certain weapons she acquired on previous missions as they risk collateral damage on the BOTTLE SHIP. It’s not a poor idea necessarily, but it’s used unilaterally even towards features that could not cause any harm like upgrades to her power suit to resist environmental damage. The man authorizing which old upgrades you can use is Adam Malkovich, and much of the problematic narrative elements come from his relationship with Samus. Her old instructor when she worked with the Galactic Federation, we have multiple scenes where Samus seems to be incredibly concerned with how he feels about her, Samus’s will bending to his constantly to the point where, even when in a lava area where she’s being cooked in her suit and taking damage, she won’t activate the feature that will cool her off until Adam finally authorizes it. Even stranger, in Samus’s monotone narration to herself, she’ll often note how angry she was with other people demeaning her for being childish or a woman, but then she notes how honored she is to be called something delicate like “Lady” by Adam and she notes she’s thrilled to be taking his orders again.
The plotline seems to have the goal of declawing Samus as well, many boss encounters ending with a foe escaping or some other character coming in to wrap things up. Even if we don’t look at the character motivations, the plot has a few other glaring structural errors, like how the game brings up the idea that one of the soldiers helping you is a traitor but the game unceremoniously wraps that up without your involvement. A boss enemy escapes at one point of the game just to be swept under the rug in a sudden cutscene later as well, the game trying to build up mysteries only to abruptly tie them up without satisfying closure. Perhaps the biggest issue with it suddenly deciding to do something rather than building up to it properly is in one of the final battles as an ability is authorized with no real indication it is, and if you don’t use it, you’ll die. The player is meant to somehow intuit that they can now use this skill even though the very moment before it is required it is still unauthorized. Ultimately, Other M’s plot degrades its heroine, creates plot holes and hastily wraps up its elements, but I think one huge improvement could have been made by removing the odd choice for us to hear Samus’s thoughts so often. Many of her problematic lines crop up here, and she often just reiterates information that she just learned for no real reason. It would require some adjustment to the story of course, Samus and the other characters having to talk out loud more, but without these constant cases of Samus laying out everything for the player with no subtlety, the themes of motherhood would be slightly more subtle, Samus wouldn’t be gushing about this “brilliant” man that lets her roast in metal armor for no good reason, and the plot’s pace would just be faster in general and make it easier to push through to play the actual game.
Metroid: Other M tries to convert the exploratory action of previous Metroid titles into a 3D environment, and while the Metroid Prime series did so with a first-person perspective, Other M has the camera positioned to give you a better view of Samus in action. In fact, action is definitely a heavy focus of Metroid: Other M, the combat given a heavy emphasis as you explore the simulated environments inside the BOTTLE SHIP. Despite it being a huge spaceship, the interior of this vessel has a surprisingly decent amount of visual variety and environmental variation, with a lava area, ice area, grass area, and of course some more expected sci-fi interiors. Areas pack their own unique organisms for you to fight with, and Samus has quite a few ways to deal with the foes she faces. As her upgrades are authorized over the course of the game, Samus will go from a fairly standard beam to one that can charge and blast away groups of enemies with ease, freeze them, or even pass through walls to hit them. Your basic beam is your main means of attack, although you can use it in a few special ways like flashy attacks where you hop aboard an enemy to blast them or get in close to a downed enemy and obliterate them. Your cannon will aim at the nearest enemy automatically to try and keep it fast paced, but while it’s not totally reliable, it does mean the battles can be quick when they need to be. Your defensive options are a bit more limited though, in that besides just moving about, your only other answer to incoming attacks is a dodge roll that can be activated fairly easily as long as you press left or right when an enemy strikes. The dodge is effective, but perhaps too effective at times, the player easily able to hold their own in a battle by tapping the directions over and over and dodging when it actually registers to avoid damage. Battles are still definitely snappy despite this though, and as you get more upgrades, blasting apart weaker enemies definitely gives you a sense of gradual power growth. If you do falter in these fights, death isn’t too punishing in Other M, usually starting you in the same room you died in, and you even have a recovery method you can use in a pinch if you can find an opening to use it.
There is one big combat option you have besides your basic arm cannon though, and that would be your homing missiles. The only problem with them though is the clunky integration of how you fire them. To try and marry 2D Metroid’s action style with the first-person view of the Metroid Prime games, you can turn your Wii Remote from being held sideways to pointing at the screen, Samus standing in place and refusing to move as you point your cursor at what you want to launch your missiles at. This leaves you incredibly vulnerable of course and it feels unnatural, although the gameplay is already a bit awkward in the other mode since the Wii Remote’s D-Pad is not perfect for a full range of 3D movement. Most of the time, missile use isn’t done in high-pressure situations, and in some boss fights it is even well-integrated like the Ferrocrusher mining vehicle battle and a rather goofy looking lava boss using it nicely. However, some bosses will not let up when you have to enter this mode, making their battles more of a chore as they can easily land free damage on you and drag out the process of hitting them with missiles. A pair of worms that basically can only take damage if you shoot them during brief windows of opportunity show the issues with this first-person mode quite well, although it’s more a poor implementation of the idea than one that completely ruins the gameplay. A more annoying gameplay feature is when the first person mode is required for what amounts to a pixel hunt, the game locking you in that mode and having you look around an environment until you find a very specific spot they want you to look at, sometimes without any clue what you should even be looking for. Another odd moment of forced gameplay comes in a fairly slow forced walk during attempts at dramatic story moments that basically amounts to you trudging along waiting for a cutscene trigger since you the only thing you can actually do is walk during those moments.
While I have certainly been accentuating the negative, one thing Other M should be commended for is some excellent world navigation, one that transitions the Metroidvania approach of exploring environments as you gain more skills well into its 3D world. The BOTTLE SHIP is full of little optional upgrades to increase your health, missile capacity, and how long it takes to charge your arm cannon, the game communicating their presence well but not giving away just how to get them. The map will have a dot where one is, but they are often hidden behind navigational challenges, the player having to scour the area for suspicious spots to access these power-ups. Samus can curl up into a morph ball to squeeze in small spaces and there are visual hints about what to use to gain access to new parts of the room, the game quite often showing you suspicious areas or power-ups just out of reach so they stick in your head for you to return to later. There are plenty of little puzzles to solve to get your goodies and the design of the areas accommodate their combat well despite also being designed for this secondary aspect of exploration, the game even squeezing in some surprisingly subtle storytelling elements like when you find an area ravaged by the boss you’re about to face without Samus commenting on it for once. There is definitely a lot of potential in the world design and when there are breaks between cutscenes to explore it, so it’s not hard to see why some people can look beyond the story elements and still find an enjoyable game.
THE VERDICT: While Metroid: Other M took a lot of risks, it’s a surprising level of rigidity that undermines the game. The insistence that the game can’t use the Wii Nunchuck means the controls are limited and awkward, with first-person mode stiff and dodging made too easy to fit the limited control method. The attempt at writing a more meaningful story for Other M could have paid off, but the commitment to internal narration leads to dull introspection that only uses the basic stereotypes of female behavior to create Samus’s personality. With a more creative or at least less overt narrative and more accommodating controls, the parts of Other M that are more inspired like well-crafted area design and a snappy combat system that only just falls short could have set Metroid down a new path of 3D action and exploration. What we are left with instead is an enjoyable action game interrupted too often by its failed attempts at being something more.
And so, I give Metroid: Other M for the Wii…
A BAD rating. How much the narrative bothers you will definitely determine whether or not you can enjoy the game, and I know people who essentially write this game off just for the damage it did to the series canon and characters, but the plot is not so overwhelming as to overshadow the game underneath. If it were an adventure game or visual novel the strength of the plot would be the deciding factor, but Other M’s action isn’t terrible. In fact, it borders on being decent or even good save when the game forces in disruptive shifts. It does not surprise me Other M has its defenders because it’s not impossible to push past the flaws and enjoy the stuff it does properly, but the game does not want you to ignore those features and that will undermine the experience for many players. Other M’s gameplay design is not a lost cause, and in a game with a less controversial story, it could definitely be a fine way of transplanting 2D Metroid’s ideas into a 3D style.
While my rating is not exactly the middle-ground between people who say Other M ruined the Metroid franchise and those who think its a strong step forward for the series, I did try to give it a fair shake without discounting either side of the game’s design. Metroid: Other M is a mix of story and gameplay, the flaws in one counterbalanced by the strengths of the other, but not enough of it works that it could achieve at least an acceptable mediocrity.