7 Things I Learned From Playing Metroid: Other MBy Michael Pearl
The Metroid series is one of the most beloved franchises in Nintendo’s stable – and that’s saying something. To analogize it’s significance in a slightly blasphemous manner, it’s the “holy spirit” in a trinity that includes Mario and The Legend of Zelda. The well of dedication runs so deep that some…devoted fans have been in a fervor as a result of some big changes to the next installment, Metroid: Other M.
During my hands-on time with the game last week, I was able to get a brief glimpse of some of these changes. Keep reading for my thoughts on the introductory segments, the new control scheme, and if Other M is worthy of the Metroid name.
1. Other M is a Metroid game
Maybe that’s an odd way to start a list compiling my impressions of the first 30 minutes of the game, but it needed to be said. Many gaming forum posters have been at best skeptical and at worst angry about some of the changes being made to this entry. It’s true – CG cutscenes, a fully-voiced Samus, the presence of a squad of space marines, and auto-aim is all new ground for the series. Despite these radical alterations, Other M still looked and felt like a Metroid game.
After running (and gunning) through corridors full of skrees and zoomers, I scanned the austere environment of the Bottle Ship facility in first-person mode (a la the Metroid Prime titles) and noticed a glowing object hidden on a railing. Turning into a morph ball, I rolled Samus into a vent and proceeded upward where I grabbed an energy tank. In another area, I noticed a door sealed with material that could only be destroyed with a Power Bomb. Unfortunately I wasn’t authorized to use that weapon (Power Bombs aren’t exactly conducive to the health of humans – shocking!), so the treat would go uncollected for the time being. And in yet another location was a ceiling vent that I just couldn’t reach with Samus’ current jumping ability. Where did she leave those high jump boots?
2) Control issues
The first thing I noticed about our heroine is that she is fast – maybe the fastest she’s ever been. Dropped into a training room right after the opening events (which are also the closing events of Super Metroid), I ran Samus around, jumping and shooting – like giving a sports car a test drive. Her movement speed is impressive, and thankfully the controls are up to the task.
Holding the Wii remote sideways may seem like an odd set-up considering the inherent limitations brought on by discarding the Nunchuck attachment, but within minutes I had a handle on moving Samus and taking out enemies. It was simple and easy. But it always is at first. My near-instant understanding of the controls slowed when I encountered the first-person section of the tutorial.
3) First-person fumbling
The trouble I had wasn’t a technical issue so much as a personal one. First-person mode worked, and it worked admirably. When I aimed at the screen the view quickly shifted to Samus’ eyes. This perspective change was accompanied by the HUD instantly curving to match her visor’s angle, and both enemies and environmental points of interest becoming outlined to draw attention. Holding B allowed me to look around freely with the aiming reticle, and the A button fired both regular shots and missiles via lock-on. I couldn’t move while looking through her visor (one of the control limitations I mentioned earlier), but reverting to normal gameplay was as simple as just not pointing the Wii remote at the screen. So, what was wrong?
The problem was the cumbersome action of physically maneuvering the Wii remote in my hand to point it at the screen, and then repositioning it for normal play. The whining of an inexperienced gamer, or someone with smallish hands clumsily grappling with a controller? The latter, for sure. I’ll concede it’s something I could possibly get used to doing, but as the only thing I really had to think about doing during my demo it’s worth mentioning as a gripe.
4) 2D, or not 2D?
Though the camera would sometimes swoop to frame the action in 2D, Samus never lost the ability to move in all directions. Granted, this didn’t affect my playing; I still breezed through hallways and bridges in a beeline. It filled my brain with fond memories of past single-plane Metroid adventures, but in reality it was a trompe l’oeil – a trick of the eye. I knew Samus was in a 3D environment, but the lack of analog movement and the position of the camera often made me believe it had switched to true 2D. And speaking of the camera…
5) Moving Pictures
The automatic camera handled the speedy action with fluid ease. It never lagged or became stuck on objects in the environment; it moved effortlessly and painted the picture I needed to see. I didn’t miss the lack of camera control once. If anything, it alleviated common aggravations I’ve experienced in other action games. I didn’t have to fiddle with an analog stick to move a finicky camera into a beneficial location in the midst of a heated battle, nor did I find myself wishing I could. Every moment – from an arena-based boss battle against a giant purple bug monster (pictured above) to rolling through ducts and tubes in morph ball form – was portrayed with precision.
6) Speed-runner’s delight
Maybe it’s just Samus’ swiftness and smooth moves, but Other M could be a speed-runner’s dream come true. I’m far from a practitioner of the alacritous arts, but zipping around levels felt so automatic and seamless that I might have a change of heart.
7) The Metroid pedigree
Though a direct sequel to Super Metroid, Other M reminded me more of the GameBoy Advance title, Metroid: Fusion.
Other M is set on a space station, and while that stung a little due to how I was now accustomed to traversing entire planets (thanks a lot, Metroid Prime trilogy!), a Nintendo rep mentioned how Fusion also took place in an outer space facility yet contained a wide variety of environments to explore. It was a not-so-subtle hint that even if players never took Samus planet-side (something he couldn’t confirm or deny), they still wouldn’t be left aching for diverse locales. A recently released trailer cements this news, showcasing an icy canyon and a veldt. A central elevator chamber containing three lifts to different sectors raised my eyebrows as well.