3D gameplay on a Wii Remote? Why not use it to paint the Sistine Chapel instead?



Metroid: Other M (2010)

Whenever we’re asked whatever it is we fear, we usually come up with all the stock answers; the dark, eerie clowns, Professor Snape. For me, it’s spiders. And not having the correct knife and fork with my boeuf bourguignon, that’s always ghastly. And also that one about always being watched by ducks – a real kicker when you live between a river and a canal, like I do. But one of the real fears we never reveal to others is our fear of change. We love the status quo, don’t we?

But this is no time to celebrate English dad-bands, because I’ve got a new game to get my head around. And rather than it being something typically indiscreet like Goat Simulator or Kim Kardashian Hollywood, it’s actually the latest addition to the Metroid series. Oh, rejoice! Or should I really care? Given that we’ve had a bit of a saturation of Metroid lately, owing to the 3 samey although brilliant Metroid Prime games?

The curiously titled Metroid: Other M promised something new, though, and it was a highlight of an otherwise cack Nintendo E3 showing in 2009. That odd and vaguely sinister PR man Reggie Feezamay arrogantly informed us that Other M would be the new sliced bread in Nintendo’s space adventure series. But when we take a look at the game’s eventual sales, things suddenly don’t look so good.

Even the usually unflappable Reggie couldn’t quite get his head around it: “It’s a great game. The consumer reaction because of the quality has been strong. We’re doing a lot of thinking about why we didn’t get there [to a million sales]. I think the marketing was strong, advertising was very good, the social media we did was very positive,” he deadmanwalking’d at the time.

After three Prime games, Metroid couldn’t realistically keep going with the same team, the same focus, and the same first-person perspective. You’d think it was high-time for another 2D Metroid instead, to take its place alongside Super Metroid and the 2 GBA titles. Right?

Well, Nintendo or Team Ninja or whichever company’s suit made the final decision on the direction of the latest Metroid seems to have been violently misinterpreted. I imagine the suit in question managed to write the words “Two-dimensional” as his or her first bullet point in the plan to design Metroid: Other M, and possibly they put a little asterisk underneath it saying “Ahh, hai, to be controrred with Wii Lemote on its side”.

But then something was lost in translation, wires were crossed, the game went to full 3D anyway – and this ridiculous Wii Remote control scheme stuck. So before you’ve even shot a Space Pirate in frustration, radical changes to the series begin to take shape. This impossibly goofy control scheme is the first of the many strange and uncomfortable new avenues that this game forces you to travel down. In the vein of an irritated girlfriend on holiday with arms perma-folded, Other M is absolutely the one calling the unreasonable shots, and all you can do is swallow it and acquiesce.

Let’s just say, I’ve seen the controls of Other M described as “inventive” more than once. Now I want to tell you, despite my wanky exterior I’ve never once been part of a marketing boardroom meeting – I wouldn’t know my green lighting from my blue sky thinking. But I can tell you with absolute certainty that “inventive” in gaming always means that the developers bravely tried to do something completely out of whack. Better than that, the suits selling the game even attempt to pass it off as something exciting and new and must-have. But as night follows day, this sojourn of theirs into La-La Land doesn’t pay off in any possible way, and players are left scratching their heads and wondering why things had to change for the worse.

And not only that, we’re left nursing our thumbs too, after Team Ninja’s frankly ridiculous attempt to make a fully 3D game environment stick on a Wii Remote turned lamely on its side. Look, short of a Classic Controller or a GameCube controller, just about any Wii game is going to be bogged down by constipated controls one way or the other. It’s one of the reasons why the Wii’s reliance on motion controls, more accurately termed waggle, deserves to be rubbished. But Other M runs the full gamut of control crimes: 3D gameplay on a tiny D-Pad, hardly any face buttons to speak off with certainly no camera options, and some pointing at the screen and pixelhunting as well for good measure.

If Other M wanted to take the Metroid series in directions that it’d never Morph-Ball-rolled down before, then please trust me, that is absolutely fine by me. Yes, I’ve talked about us all being frightened of change. And yes, I may revel in buying the exact same Legend of Zelda game every four years, and indeed the same FIFA game every 12 months. But even a gummy-toothed old stick in the mud like me would never want to step in the way of true innovation and new ways for Samus to do her thing.

But the decision to take Samus’s tried and tested first-person movements from the Metroid Prime series, throw them out the window and instead bring things back to the old NES standard is absolutely hare-brained. It harkens unnecessarily back to the awful days when Samus was a he-robot and started out each day on Zebeth with only 30 Energy.

Not that Samus this time round is the vulnerable woman she was in Metroid NES (at least, structurally speaking). If anything, her power level has become scouter-breaking stuff. Let me paint a picture: Samus is there hustling through a nondescript hallway infested with spiky buggers, some above her head, some on the walls and some on the ground.

Oh, hang on a second, you can’t aim up or down or really in any direction bar straight anymore. And jumping still gets you nowhere near the highest targets. But it’s no problem, since turbo-tapping the fire button (and you cannot miss it, it’s one of about 3 possible inputs) just auto-targets any threat and blows ’em away. Convenient, but hardly much fun. It’s not as if the 2D Metroids had what you could call involving combat systems. But turbofiring weaker enemies and blowing away bigger enemies with charged beams plus a very cheap, input-sensitive instant dodge sets the game on a terrifyingly quick route to tedium. The whole flow of the game is dreadfully boring in fact, a crucial few notches below even average – and that goes for the combat as well.

With her famous Power Suit, Samus may be a terrifyingly strong character on the outside. On the inside, though, feminists will be raging as she’s portrayed as the most disappointingly meek and submissive I’ve ever seen her. There are data logs in Metroid Prime 2 that paint Samus out to be this unflappable demi-goddess at what she does. Near mythical, in fact.

Other M has a good laugh in the face of this reptutation though, and throws up a Samus who gives pre-teen cheek to commanding officers and is – I’m not joking – stunned into inaction by the arrival of Ridley, that vicious purple dragon who drops in on Samus so often that it’s little wonder he keeps missing auditions for Super Smash Bros.

I’m not too up on the chronology but I believe Samus had turbo-nuked Ridley several times before the events of Other M already, so why was nobody on Team Ninja aware of it? Could nobody have stopped such a ridiculous moment from happening? A moment that stands head-and-shoulders above any of the other farcical elements the game throws at you and that cuts through the legitimacy of the story in one fell swoop? It almost makes you forgive Samus’s insistence on waiting for her horrible worm of a CO, Adam, to give her permission to use the suit upgrades that she actually already possesses.

Yes, I’m not joking about that either. Instead of finding new upgrades, you’ve got to get permission from an oppressive man instead, which is just wonderful. This means that when Samus is prancing about a fiery area and the flames are really starting to lick her on the rear, she still waits for permission to upgrade herself from wafer-thin Power Suit to bulky, flame-resistant Varia Suit.

Samus’s superiors actually cite health and safety as a reason why you can’t give yourself better powers, in case you go into some womanly mood and try blowing a hole in the spaceship you’re on or something. Nice one, guys – the game that tries to tell more of the backstory of one of gaming’s stronger female characters only serves to get the feminists riled up instead. Not everything in a game has to be justified, but why even make a big deal to the player about this method of item acquisition? It cannot be justified. Everybody, and I do mean everybody, was going to laugh at it.

The second manner in which this game was supposed to change our lives is the storyline. In fact, it seems that the developers pinned their entire hopes on a yarn that some odd man somewhere in Japan had dreamt up for Other M. There are great story-based games out there, but to sell an action game on its story? It proves to be about as fruitful as an author fronting their book on its creatively crafted chapter titles.

Yes, it came as no surprise to anyone that the storyline is legitimately mutilating. I can give you the seminal Super Metroid’s story in one sentence: the one remaining Metroid has been stolen from captivity by Ridders, go foul him and the rest of the Space Pirates up and you win. That’s all you need to know. Metroid Prime and beyond have more complex stuff going on, trickier to explain – but it was only there if you wanted to consume it via scanning. And I did, every last drop, and each of the three games had lore for us that was a hell of a lot better than whatever Other M tries to tell us.

Not interested in story whatsoever? No problem! Even Metroid Fusion, occasionally pilloried for railroading the player and having plenty of talking including from Ms. Aran herself, didn’t ham things up so bad. With a sense of mystery and a properly creepy villain in the SA-X, Fusion’s narrative actually ended up fairly compelling. Most unfortunately, Other M’s much-heralded story unfolds over the course of cutscenes totalling two hours plus. And the lack of a cutscene skip function means you’ll never get that time back.

We haven’t seen Metroid since this game. And even if it’s only been four years, that is worrying. Still, there’s no point in being reduced to tears by this game and what it did, because sales and critical reception worldwide both ended up dismal anyway. Fortunately, this probably means a Metroid game like this will probably never be attempted again.

It serves as a nice message to the makers though: if you’re going to use the Metroid name, but also put your own spin on the series, then all well and good. But please do not try to do Metroid and then proceed to get every little titty bit of Metroid wrong.

In the meantime, a hiatus for the series after the saturation of Other M and the Metroid Prime trilogy is perhaps in order. We’ll be waiting a little while longer for Samus to sleekly make her sashaying return, but who’d say no to a 2D job on the 3DS? On that note, go take a look at Another Metroid 2 Remake – it looks set to confound even my worst expectations of fanmade games.

But at least the price of Other M doesn’t prove to be a big drawback for wouldbe players; I still wouldn’t recommend it, but this game can be had for peanuts, with chump change left over. And given how much Nintendo games tend to hold their value, that is probably far more damning an indictment than I could ever inflict on this game.

4 November 2014

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