I enjoy the Metroid games as well as the next Nintendo fanboy. I especially love the Metroid Prime series, a fact that’s popped up a few times in lists I’ve done here and there. So when I heard about a new Metroid game I immediately flipped out with excitement. And then of course I heard it was being developed by Team Ninja, known for being the developer that panders exclusively to two audiences: lowest-common-denominator men and gamers seeking a masochistic level of difficulty in games. I don’t fall into either of those camps with very few exceptions (Super Meat Boy would beg to differ on the latter claim). However, I didn’t instantly shrug off Metroid: Other M as a failed experiment. It wasn’t until after I played through it that I understood why it was a failed experiment. If you want a simple review, go check out the review done last year when the game first came out. And if you want to hear me, Kyle, and Bob Chipman discuss it a bit, go listen to episode 15 of our podcast.
Right now, though, I want to talk about exactly why Metroid: Other M failed to deliver the experience it was supposed to. There will be spoilers everywhere, so you’re now warned to watch out for those should you be either currently playing the game or just plain don’t want things spoiled for you. That said, join me for today’s Bad Games That Should Have Been Great with Metroid: Other M.
The obvious question on your mind is whether Metroid: Other M is sexist. I can very clearly answer that with a “No, not even the slightest.” The main crutch that people have been leaning on regarding Other M’s “sexism” has to do with Samus taking orders from her commanding officer, a one Adam Malkovich. I’ll get into that more later, but the short answer is that Other M is no more sexist than chocolate is racist, whatever that means.
A bigger question is, “Does Other M play as good as the other Metroid games?” The answer there is a much more definitive “No.” These controls aren’t even close to being as responsive as they should be. All you need to control the game is a Wiimote turned on its side, arguing in favor of a more simplistic play style for the Wii’s target audience. However, this is Metroid we’re talking about, a series with a following that specifically isn’t the Wii’s target market, i.e. casual gamers or people easily swayed by motion controls. Metroid holds the market on Metroid fans, just as Zelda holds the market on Zelda fans and Mario fans always flock to Mario games. Metroid is a niche market, even more so than the previously mentioned Nintendo franchises, so the only people that will feel the effects of simplified controls are the fans themselves, also known as “the harshest critics.”
In the fewest words possible, Other M’s controls do not work. They’re loose, imprecise, and at times are completely broken, specifically the parts of battle that require you to aim the Wiimote at the screen to fire missiles or a grappling hook. Anyone that has played Other M and wants to tell me that they thought the controls were great, fine, I’m not here to argue whether you can find enjoyment from the title or not. I will however point out that I’ve never once screamed at the TV/Game Boy during a Metroid game due to control issues prior to playing Other M. Every mistake in a Metroid game had previously been my fault, but Other M was the first time the controls were very obviously at fault.
I can safely make busted controls claim as the difficulty of the title backs up my assertion. Metroid: Other M isn’t very difficult at all, to the point of being almost too easy at times. I lost a few boss battles because the controls weren’t working (or the game didn’t tell me a key piece of information, such was when my ability to use Power Bombs was suddenly allowed again), but I was never on the edge of my seat trying frantically to defeat some tough foe.
A lot of the ease comes from the recovery system built in to the mechanics. Enemies no longer drop healing power-ups, instead allowing you to heal only at checkpoints. Still, during battle if you get down to a critical state, you can tilt the Wiimote up and charge your energy a bit, taking you out of the red and getting you back on your feet. You can be out of energy and still take a few strong hits before actually dying as the game has been programmed in such a way as to hold your hand the entire way.
This energy recharging is also how missiles work, too. Whenever you want to restock you entire supply of missiles, simply hold your Wiimote up and press A. What this means is that Missile Upgrades are especially useless, causing me to ask, “Why should I go searching for these?” In previous Metroid titles, every new Missile Upgrade meant 5 more missiles, which could mean all the difference in a nail-biting fight against a strong enemy, and going searching for a few extra ones could be the deciding factor against the final boss. In Other M, allowing a full recharge in a few seconds anywhere at any time makes every battle pretty simple, almost stupidly so. Each Missile Upgrade only bumps your total up by 1, but you don’t really find yourself making much use of those missiles anyway, even if you do have an unlimited supply.
Reason behind the lack of missile interest is the method required to fire missiles, the aforementioned “point at the screen” method. There is a delay between pointing the Wiimote at the screen and Samus actually allowing you to aim, a delay that the enemies you face are unaffected by. Once your targeting cursor is up, you still can’t just fire a missile. Rather, you have to lock onto a target before a missile can be fired. You’re also incapable of moving while in first-person mode, meaning in the time it takes you to point the Wiimote at the screen, aim, and lock onto your target, you’re essentially a frozen Metroid (a sitting duck for the layman). Lucky for us the difficulty is aware of the obvious pause time, making enemies have glaring openings for such an attack, or just deliver very little damage when they strike you.
Using a D-pad to control someone in a 3D space isn’t a deal-breaker. But you know what the Wii has that works even better? A control stick. And every system comes with at least one Nunchuk attachment for the Wiimote, meaning there’s no reason why that shouldn’t have been a control option in addition to the odd simplistic controls Metroid has been shoehorned into. This is the same complaint I have with the Zelda titles on the DS: Just because you can do everything with a button or two doesn’t mean you have to do everything with a button or two.
So now the point we’ve been anxious to hear: Why Other M isn’t sexist. I stand by the claim that Samus hasn’t been written as a weak female or a whining girl or anything like that. Far worse, Samus has been written like an imbecile, a carnal sin in my book. As a writer I’m very keen to judge the entirety of the game on the story or how the characters are handled. The Mass Effect series doesn’t have the most amazing controls and finds itself broken more times than it’s working, but the writing is enough to endear me to the characters and make me care about the plot. Other M was clearly written by Team Ninja, by which I mean it was written by a group of game developers rather than actual writers.
Don’t let me be misunderstood about this. Game developers aren’t necessarily bad writers, nor are writers necessarily good game developers. Writers do, however, specialize in plot and character development, making them better suited for the task of writing characters that make sense. You don’t ask the person cutting your hair if they can take a look at your hacking cough, just like you don’t let your surgeon give you a new hairstyle. Other M’s design team decided they were perfectly capable of sprucing Samus up with the latest “do” and it was a poor decision.
This latest hairdo is called “dramatic cut scenes” and is normally very fashionable in the video game world. Instead of telling stories via the gameplay itself, the game will stop entirely to throw exposition and character development at the player. Samus speaks this time, which in and of itself isn’t a problem. The problem is that what she says is utterly pointless and the girl they have voicing her doesn’t even try to add anything interesting to the speech, making me cry yet again that Jennifer Hale, Samus’ voice actress in the Prime series as well as the female Commander Shepard from Mass Effect, should have voiced Samus now that she needs to talk. Unforgivable.
All this culminates with one of the cleverest ideas ever to turn stupid at an alarming rate: Having Samus turn on her power-ups only when Adam tells her she can. Yes, that’s right, Samus starts and finishes Other M with all of her power-ups, including the Screw Attack, the Power Bomb, and the Gravity Suit. The explanation given is that Samus is called to a random research lab in space via an SOS, only to find it already being searched by the Galactic Federation with Adam as the Commanding Officer of the operation. Adam, having previously known and worked with Samus when she was part of the Galactic Federation, allows her to help him out, but he tells her she can’t use her upgrades until he okays them because Samus doesn’t have all the info on the research lab and may accidentally cause a problem if she, say, fires a Super Missile at a wall and rips a hole into space.
The explanation makes sense to me. “Sure,” I said. “She can’t use her weapons because she could cause an explosion or damage the very thing she’s supposed to be looking for.” That makes sense. The problem hits when she hasn’t turned on her Varia Suit while running through a room of lava, causing her to take damage because the Varia Suit has a heat sink that stops heat-based damage. What possible reason would she have to turn off the heat sink in her armor? And for that matter, why doesn’t she have her Gravity Suit enabled as well? Later on you’re running through water and finding it difficult to do anything, which previous Metroid players know means you will need the Gravity Suit later. You see obvious Grapple Beam spots but can’t use the Grapple Beam until much later than you’d prefer. None of these instances make Samus look weak or Other M to appear misogynistic. All they succeed in doing is make Samus look pants-on-head brain dead, a fix as simple as making Samus’ non-weapon power-ups acquired in the classic way of defeating a boss enemy.
See, there were a few things about Samus’ character that we knew from previous games, despite her never speaking or elaborate cut scenes to explain her past. We knew she was tough; she had to be, she was running around barren worlds fighting three-story monsters and taking enough damage to fell a yak. We knew she was agile; she had to be due to all the spinning and flipping and ball rolling that took place. We knew she could handle things by herself; she had to, as there were rarely any other characters present in the other games to offer assistance.
But, most importantly, we knew she wasn’t Effing Stupid. How did we know this? Because we were controlling Samus all those times and we aren’t Effing Stupid. Placing the concept of Samus’ ability acquirement into the plot wasn’t a bad idea, rather an idea I think was very smart, but once you try to explain Video Game Logic with Real World Logic, suddenly you have to have your act together, otherwise your mistakes can’t just be laughed off with a simple, “Well, that’s Video Game Logic for you.” Samus dropping her power-ups down a storm drain at the beginning of every game? Video Game Logic. Samus being issued orders when she can activate a potentially space station-destroying bomb? Real World Logic. Samus not turning on a heat sink when running through lava? Game Breaking Stupid.
Furthermore, a really startling thing happens during one particular cut scene late in the game. Samus’ arch nemesis, Ridley, appears yet again to screw with her since he has a higher rate of appearance in the Metroid games than Ganon has in the Zelda series. When Ridley shows up, Samus freaks out and doesn’t instantly fire upon him, instead going inside her own head to remember how terrified she is of Ridley since Ridley killed her parents and nearly killed her as a child. Many people will argue that what we’re seeing is Samus experiencing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, an argument that’d be entirely correct if we’d ever seen her react this way previously when encountering Ridley. Even considering Other M falls in the timeline after Super Metroid, that still means Samus has encountered and defeated Ridley twice. That’s like if in Super Mario Galaxy 2, Mario broke down and started weeping when he found Yoshi because he remembered the dinosaur saved him when he was a child.
Why is Samus just now experiencing PTSD? What makes this experience so special? Absolutely nothing. Team Ninja could have placed this freak-out in a flashback, but they made it immediate to the story, happening at that exact moment, mostly to allow for a side character to “die” as a result of Samus’ inability to act. It only encourages the idea that Metroid: Other M was poorly written.
The scene should have gone as thus: Samus rushes into the middle of the room when suddenly Ridley bursts forth and begins fighting her. Being headstrong and not listening to authority, Samus flicks on her Power Bomb and explodes in Ridley’s face despite her friend’s objections. This causes a reaction that doesn’t kill Ridley but brings the room down on her friend, seemingly killing him in the process. Samus learns how devastating her impulsiveness can be and vows to fight Ridley with a more level head. That’s how a scene is written to be consistent with a character’s motivation in mind. Otherwise, Samus doesn’t actually do anything in the game for herself. Despite being the character we’d assume is the protagonist, Samus never pushes the action along, rather just allowing it to happen around her and for others to push the action along. That is a badly crafted video game character.
All that aside, is Metroid: Other M the worst game ever? No, certainly not. And let me be clear, just because I found fault with just about every bit of Other M doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it or find it to be the best game ever. Different strokes for different folks. Bad Games That Should Have Been Great isn’t about simply talking about bad games. Rather, BGTSHBG is all about talking about games that could have so easily been better. Star Fox Adventures shouldn’t have been a Zelda-like experience. Dead Rising shouldn’t have been all about escort missions on a timer. Fable II shouldn’t have done just about everything that Fable II did.
Metroid: Other M should have controlled with a Wiimote/Nunchuk combo and had Samus voiced by Jennifer Hale. End of story, leave a comment, I’m tired of talking more than Samus.
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