Developer: Tecmo/Team Ninja
ESRB rating: Teen
Release date: Available now
We love heroes. And we feel very comfortable when they reappear for new adventures. The history of literature and films is filled with returning characters (not to mention the world of network television, in which our favorites star in as many as 23 new stories every year). Being a younger industry than the others, video games has comparatively fewer returning champions. One of these makes a highly anticipated return in Metroid: Other M, the first new game in the long-running series since 2007.
Apparently, writers and publishers didn’t get the memo about female emancipation; you can probably count the number of major heroines of the past on the fingers of both hands. Stepping into this particular breach is Samus Aran, blonde-haired, green-eyed bounty hunter and former member of the Galactic Federation army. Armed with a powered battle suit that can, among other things, roll Samus up into a ball so she can reach tight spots, she answers a distress call from a massive space station known as a Bottle Ship. When she arrives, she unexpectedly meets her former commanding officer Adam Malkovich and his team. She agrees to join them in their mission to locate survivors of some unknown disaster and restore power to the ship.
The most significant factor about Other M is its control scheme. The camera perspective depends upon how you hold the Wiimote. When you hold it parallel to the screen, you use the D-pad to move Samus in what is essentially a 3D platformer. She can go forward and back as well as left or right, when the scene allows it. But when you point the remote at the screen, the camera switches to a first-person view from inside the power suit. You can scan the environment by holding the trigger down and moving the remote to the edges of the screen, and it’s from this perspective that you fire heavy weapons such as missiles. The problem here is that you can’t move Samus while you’re in first-person mode, so you have to continually switch perspectives while in the heat of battle; make sure you heed the usual Wii startup warning about using the wrist strap, or you could find your Wiimote buried in the front of your brand-new 50-inch plasma.
Make no mistake—Other M is hard. It takes awhile to get acclimated to the controls, and the action doesn’t take very long to heat up. The Bottle Ship is almost impossibly huge, and you explore most of it before you’re done. During that exploration you have to fight many fanciful and nasty creatures, while searching for hidden powerups that add important extras to your suit, such as missile capacity and increased charge-up speed for your weapons. The graphics are impressive, considering the limitations of the Wii hardware, and the soundtrack is a fine addition to the overall experience. This is probably as good as a game is going to look on the Wii as it’s currently configured. Also, once you’ve finished the game, Samus returns to the ship to retrieve an unspecified item she forgot to collect. This gives you the chance to explore parts of the ship that were previously inaccessible, and lets you search for the powerups that you missed the first time.
Unfortunately, difficulty is not necessarily a bullet point. I like a challenge as much as the next gamer, but I found Other M to be the most frustrating game I’ve ever played. Most of that has to do with the awkward controls; this game would’ve been so much easier on the other consoles or on the PC, not to mention it would’ve looked amazing. But beyond the controls, there are other factors that conspire to make Other M raise a gamer’s blood pressure to unacceptable levels. Saving is by checkpoint only, which wouldn’t be an issue if the checkpoints were placed in logical spots. For example, there is no checkpoint between the major end boss battle and the end of the game, so if you have to stop playing before the credits roll, you have to beat the boss all over again the next time you play, not to mention re-watch the 10-minute cutscene that appears there. You are constantly backtracking during your adventure, many times with no idea whether or not you’re going the right way until you find your destination. In fact, once you get the big story reveal, you have to retrace your steps almost to the very beginning (I’d like to personally thank GameFAQS users Banjo_2553 and doublexguy, without whose walkthroughs I would’ve never finished this game). And then there are the bosses. Most games offer three, four, maybe even a half-dozen bosses to fight. Other M gives you 15 or 20, depending on your definition of a boss. It took me almost 16 hours to finish this game, and most of that was spent reloading saves and fighting bosses. Surely a good example of too much of a good thing.
There’s no question that Metroid: Other M is an artistic achievement, and you get a real sense of satisfaction when you reach the end. But I have to ask myself a question: Am I happy that I finished it, or am I relieved that it’s over? Although I feel some of the former, I have to say that it’s mostly the latter. In gaming, frustration equals work, and work doesn’t equal fun. Even after I finally got the hang of the controls, the frustration of playing this game was still there, which sucks the fun right out of it. And fun is supposed to be the bottom line, isn’t it?