Following the Metroid Prime series on the GameCube and Wii, Nintendo handed Samus Aran to Tecmo’s Team Ninja, most famous for its Ninja Gaiden series — and perhaps most infamous for its Dead or Alive jiggle-fests. Fans of the space adventure series were hoping to get more of the former than the latter, and for the most part that’s what the collaboration delivered. With a return to Metroid’s third-person perspective, but with a mix of the first-person targeting first introduced in the Prime series, Metroid: Other M bridges the lengthy gap between Super Metroid and Prime‘s Game Boy Advance sister title, Metroid Fusion.
Like Fusion, Other M has a larger emphasis on story development than most Metroid offerings, which is its most controversial aspect. Fully-voiced cutscenes appear throughout the adventure and, while passable, they are definitely stiff and awkward at times. Most of the real fanboy teeth-gnashing comes from the characterization given to the previously blank slate heroine; I didn’t let that distract me and instead focused on the gameplay.
Most of the game is in a third-person perspective, with Samus able to move in all directions as space allows. The Wii Remote is held in the “classic” sideways alignment for this action, with the morph ball mapped to the A button since the down direction actually moves Samus. Beams/bombs and jumping are handled by the 1 and 2 buttons, respectively. If you want to use missiles or Samus’s grapple beam you have to shift into a largely immobile first-person perspective by pointing the Remote at the screen. You can still fire your beams in this mode, and by using the B button to look around you can lock on to enemies and objects; only when locked on can you fire missiles. While the missiles — and especially super missiles — pack an enormous punch, you have to offset that advantage with the drawback of being a sitting duck while you aim. It’s an interesting tension, but for the most part unnecessary except in specific circumstances. The charge beam will usually get the job done, even if it takes a few more hits, and it’s much easier to use the new Sensemove evasion technique and finishing blows when in third-person mode.
Sensemove causes Samus to automatically evade an enemy’s attack by pushing any direction on the D-pad just before that move hits. If Samus is charging at the time, her charge increases dramatically to provide a potent counter-attack. That’s not to say that Samus is invincible while she’s moving, but this dodge-and-blast is often a crucial tactic that will carry you through almost any battle. Sensemove does work while aiming, but it is trickier due to the perspective change. Finishing blows can be performed against most enemies that are Samus’s size or larger, either by jumping on top of them (not advised against spiny enemies, obviously) or by running into them while charging your beam. If the enemy has been weakened enough, Samus will put it away much earlier than just blasting it would have.
These new additions, along with the fact that Samus does her own aiming when in third-person, combine to create insanely fast-paced, fluid combat that is really fun once you get the hang of it. In exchange for her new evasive moves, however, Samus has lost much of her ability to recover energy. There are no power-up drops in Other M; instead, Samus can concentrate (hold the remote straight up and hit A when her health reaches a certain threshold. If she doesn’t get hit while in this stationary condition, she recovers to a given energy level — which is a mere one energy tank until you find some upgrades. Concentrating also replenishes missiles, and while this can be done at any time it isn’t that helpful if you’re not using that many missiles. In fact, the missile upgrades Samus picks up only add one more to her payload rather than the traditional five and it’s hardly noticeable.
There are two other main types of hidden upgrade in Other M: the standard energy tank returns as usual, along with “energy parts” that function like a piece of heart in the Zelda series, and “accel charge” items increase your charge rate. And outside of two specific upgrades — a diffuser beam and seeker missiles — that’s all you get. Samus actually has retained all of the upgrades she earned in Super Metroid (minus the X-ray visor, it would seem), but isn’t allowed to use most of them when she reunites with her old Galactic Federation commander Adam Malkovitch. His reasoning is sound — especially his strict forbidding of her extremely dangerous power bombs — and this is actually one of the few times that Samus being de-powered at the start of a new adventure makes any sense.
Unfortunately, what doesn’t make sense is the way she regains them. As Samus progresses, Adam will give her the go-ahead to use equipment that will aid her. However, he doesn’t do this right away, and often will make some maddening timing decisions. For example, Samus has to rush through several rooms (without the help of her speed booster) filled with the energy-draining heat of scorching lava before he finally allows the use of the entirely defensive Varia suit. Even worse is the time after Adam is removed from the narrative (which would probably be expected by anyone who has played Fusion); the fact that Samus doesn’t immediately return herself to full power at this point is downright absurd, and she takes some truly unnecessary punishment because of it — although one section is admittedly much cooler before she activates the appropriate upgrade.
Logic issues and largely shaky storyline aside, the action in Other M is enough to carry it through to a recommendation. The occasional break in that action, like when Samus is locked into first-person mode while you hunt down whatever key plot element you have to find, or when she’s in the slow-moving “exploration mode,” actually detracts from the experience much more than the story for that reason. Still, the boss battles are all epic, the minibosses challenging, and the last portion of the narrative overcomes the general weakness of the presentation and is quite gripping. If you can avoid focusing on the cutscenes, the only obstacle should be the awkward control scheme, but you should have that nailed down within the first hour. My playthrough lasted around ten hours total and I managed to collect less than 50% of the missile and energy upgrades — some of which are only available via the post-credits extra mission in which you have full access to the station with all of your cool toys. It’s not quite the ground-breaking achievement that Prime was or the timeless classic of Super Metroid, but Other M holds its own in the Metroid mythos and is worth a pick-up if you’re a fan of the series.