It must have been a worrying thought for Ninja Gaiden creators, Team Ninja when they were handed the reigns to one of Nintendo’s most beloved and successful franchises. After the truly amazing job Retro Studios did with Metroid Prime, Ninja really had its work cut out for it with Metroid: Other M, and taking the series away from Retro’s first person-based play was a bold move.
True, many said the same of Prime, and the move to first-person was initially met with the utmost cynicism. This soon melted away, though, and to this day the Prime series is still regarded as one of the best series ever made, with the original Prime being included in almost any game fan’s top 10 list.
Still, we’re not here to wax lyrical about Prime, but are here to find out if the highly anticipated Metroid debut from Team Ninja is able to carry the torch.
Set after the events of SNES uber classic Super Metroid, Metroid: Other M sees Samus Arran return from her mission on Zebes to a debriefing with the Galactic Federation. Right away, the usually stoic and silent Samus begins blabbing away, as if reading from a rather overly descriptive book. It’s a little awkward, and Samus’ wispy voice doesn’t really sit that well, and the script is far from smooth.
I was more than a little worried about the move to give Samus a real voice, and although it could have been handled well, here it isn’t really up to the job. I’ve a feeling this is all down to poor translation, but whatever the cause, Samus just doesn’t sound like she should.
Still, despite the iffy vocals, the story is as cool as ever, and seeing a full CGI rendering of Samus’ fight against Mother Brain at the end of Super Metroid (one of the best boss fights and endings ever, in my opinion) is enough to get your Metroid juices flowing, and with the pangs and twangs of familiar Metroid music backing things up, it’s all exciting stuff.
After debriefing, Samus flies off into the void and picks up a distress signal. Being the famous intergalactic bounty hunter that she is, she heads off to find out what’s going on. Arriving at a strange space station, she soon meets up with a team of Galactic Federation marines, lead by her former commander, Adam Malkovic. It’s here where we start to find out more of Samus’ past, which I’m not going to spoil, save to say that it’s clear this title is all about exploring Samus, so expect flashbacks and hammy delivery.
The game itself is where the real meat is, though, and Team Ninja has decided to take a rather unique direction. The end result is a kind of mash-up of classic Metroid, Metroid Prime and Ninja Gaiden. Primarily played from third person, using the Wiimote sideways (similar to Super Mario Wii) you control Samus using the D-pad and the face buttons. In this mode, Samus can run, jump, shoot, turn into Morph Ball and so on.
It’s the main mode of the game and is where you’ll do most of your exploration and combat. However, by turning the Wiimote and pointing it at the screen you enter first-person, Prime-style view. Here Samus is stationary and can’t move (a la Resident Evil), but can take precise aim, use missiles, and scan the area for hidden routes and secrets (although the scanning and recording of Prime is gone).
Transition between the two is silky smooth, and although it’s initially quite confusing and clunky, especially in battle, it does eventually become second nature. And it’ll need to be, as to succeed in Metroid: Other M you’ll need to use both, and often boss fights require a mixture of third and first person control to find weak spots and take advantage of them.
Both control modes are well implemented, although the use of the D-pad in third person isn’t as fluid as I’d have liked, and you’ll really miss the analogue stick, which would be far more suitable. Still, thanks to a generous auto aim, the combat is slick enough to make up for this.
Most of Samus’ usual abilities return, including a mixture of beam weapons, missiles, power bombs and the iconic Screw Attack, and other less recently used moves also return, such as the Sinespark and speed boost. Team Ninja has also given Samus some of Ryu Hayabusa’s training too, and she can wall jump and perform a range of brutal finishing moves, as well as use a sixth sense of sorts to quickly dodge enemies. Of course, as is traditional, many of these abilities are taken away at the beginning of the game, so you’ll acquire more as you progress.
These abilities wrap around a fast paced combat engine that feels very similar to Ninja Gaiden. In fact, Samus is far more like Ryu than her previous incarnations. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and it’s refreshing to see a sprightly, more aggressive Samus, but it does alter the gameplay quite a bit. Exploration and discovery take a backseat in this outing, and action and combat is the major focus. The result is a game that’s the polar opposite from the Prime series, which was far more about exploration and item finding.
This may or may not win over long time Metroid fans, and although there are plenty of secrets to find and places to explore, it a more restrained and linear outing than Prime. In fact, even the secret-finding, which was one of the highlights of Prime, is watered down somewhat.
Whilst Retro took steps the make finding secrets harder and more rewarding, only revealing secrets with a low level humming sound as you drew near (save in Corruption where you could acquire maps to hidden items), Other M returns to marking many items on the map, as seen in Super Metroid. This means that, although you may still not be able to reach items without the right abilities, and some items may still be tricky to find, most of the time you’ll be guided right to the item, removing some of the sense of achievement. Anyone who’s obtained one hundred percent on all three Primes will know what I’m talking about here, and it’s a change that many won’t relish.
What’s more, these secrets items have changed. You’ll still find missile expansions, but this time you’ll be looking for charge beam accelerators (charge faster), energy tanks, energy tank parts (four make up a full tank) and concentration mode boosts (more on this later). You won’t need to find some abilities either, as a few are simply granted at certain points, instead of being found.
Even with the various changes made by Team Ninja, I should make it clear that this is still very much a Metroid title, so don’t worry about an outing that isn’t true to its predecessors. Exploring the station is filled with Metroid staples, such as weird and wonderful creatures, many of which are variations on series staples, and boss fights are memorable and still require tactics, specific abilities and skill to take down.
Some of the changes made to Samus’ abilities are also quite welcome. Seeing her romp around in third person again will be something that the Metroid hardcore will like, and many areas of the world feel very much like classic Metroid.
This time around, Samus can refill her missiles at any time by using a mode called Concentration. By pointing the Wiimote upward and holding A, missiles are refilled, and if Samus’ energy is in the red, she’ll also regenerate a full energy tank.
This is a good idea, and although it will, no doubt, be abused by many who will purposely get injured in order to heal, especially in boss fights, it’s an addition that helps to keep the action flowing fast and uninterrupted.
Other M is a good looking game on the whole, and it has some impressive CGI cut scene work that Ninja has tired to blend in with actual gameplay. The in-game visuals are amongst the best on the Wii, even if they can get a little smudgy and pixellated at a distance.
Importantly though, it’s always fast and fluid, aside from a couple of instances of slowdown, and the irritating door loading so prevalent in Prime has been reduced, although still present occasionally. Even the story, which I was concerned about initially, has some great moments, and helps keep things moving along at a nice pace.
As a huge Metroid fan, I was hoping for great things from Other M, and although it certainly hasn’t managed to topple the mighty Prime series, this is a very enjoyable and playable title that manages to introduce something new to the Metroid world while staying true to the legacy.
It’s not going to please everyone, and I can already hear an army of Metroid fans scoffing at the new kid on the block, but taken for what it is, an action-focused original take on the series, it’s a success, and one that I can easily recommend. Just look past the dodgy voice acting and occasionally wonky script, and you’ll find a great game.Metroid: Other M is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.