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First Impressions - Metroid: Other M

As I dusted off my trusty Magic 8-Ball to peek into the future of what Metroid: Other M had in store for me, I was not prepared for the rather unorthodox answer that awaited me.

“Man, you better hang on, ‘cause this is going to be one rocky ride.”

I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen that come up as an answer before.

The all-knowing plastic sphere was right, though. Other M has been tossing me around like a roller coaster, with thrilling highs that kept me begging for more and terrifying lows that left me wondering whether I wanted to keep going at all. 

To put it simply however, it can pretty much be boiled down to one simple statement. When the game shuts the hell up and lets Samus do her Samus thing, it’s a mighty good time. When it attempts to derail the proceedings with needless cutscenes, horrible voice acting, and bad writing (none of which you can skip, by the way) things go sour really damn fast. And I do mean fast. 

After 15 minutes with Other M I wanted to put it down and never so much as see it ever again. If the disc happened to end up on fire and at the bottom of the ocean being eaten by whales or something too I wouldn’t have complained. What I’m saying is that Other M makes a horrifyingly off-putting first impression.

Samus has long been one of my favorite video game heroines. This isn’t because she’s even a particularly compelling character. I read an article which posited that Samus inspired respect but not empathy. I think that’s a great assessment. She may not be a particularly human character at all, but she’s darn fun to play as and represents what has to be one of the greatest examples of the silent protagonist done right. Her lack of humanity blended seamlessly with the barren worlds around her and lent the Metroid franchise a beautiful sense of loneliness that wouldn’t have been possible with dialog. 

Cue Other M. I spent most of the first 30 minutes watching rather than playing. The voice acting is not quite ear-bleeding, but has that annoying persistently mediocre quality that, when coupled with the truly abysmal writing, is hard to tolerate. It wasn’t five minutes in that I started actually laughing out loud at stupid dialog, a trend that would unfortunately continue. 

See if you can make it through even this opening cinematic without the promise of gameplay on the other end. Betcha can't!

Even worse, the Samus in Other M isn’t the Samus we know and love. In trying to introduce empathetic elements into the character for players to latch onto, Team Ninja have created an entirely different character. This new Samus isn’t believable as the gal I romped around Zebes with and I don’t believe she ever will be. She comes off as a subservient, overly feminine caricature.

Would the Samus you know let someone get away with calling her “Princess”, of all things? Does the phrase “Samus has decided not to use missiles or bombs until Adam authorizes it” sound like something you’d expect her to think? Does she seem like the kind of woman that fills every possible second with her own bland brand of pointless internal narration because she can’t shut herself up?

I think not. Whoever this girl is, she’s not Samus.

But just as I was about to give up, the game actually got out of my way for a little while. Suddenly, all felt right with the world again. I was exploring lonely passageways, rolling into a morph ball, and blasting things with missiles (once the almighty Adam had approved them, natch). 

Ok, so Other M presents a decidedly streamlined and action-focused take on the Metroid universe, but the gameplay is something I could learn to live with, different though it may be in some respects from what I’m used to. There’s no doubting that the controls seem more than a little awkward, but I don’t think it’s a game ruining type of awkward. Enough to spark plenty of warranted debate about whether it would have been better off with a more normal control scheme, certainly, but I don’t think controls alone should turn anybody away. 

The presentation is really magnificent. It’s a perfect blend of old school 2D goodness and Prime-inspired 3D immersion. The camera subtly shifts as you’re running down long hallways, the graphics look good save for a hefty dose of jaggies, and even within my first hour the environments had already shifted from bland spaceship interior to a far more interesting jungle locale. 

Other M is experimental to be sure, but I actually applaud that. Especially coming from a company so fond of merciless stagnation in its endless line of sequels, it’s refreshing to see new ideas injected into such a long-running franchise, even if not all of them work. You can’t ask for change without hitting a couple of rough spots along the new path, after all. A cleaned up, polished sequel to Other M’s blend of 2D and 3D Metroid is an exciting prospect.

But will I be continuing past my initial session with the game I am currently presented with?

It was a tougher call than I had initially thought it would be. I mean, it’s Metroid. How bad could it be, right?

Well, luckily for Other M, the dead weight of an insultingly bad story is the only thing holding me back from a good time. That’s a hefty price to pay for fun considering how intrusive the storytelling in my first hour proved to be, but the last half of my first session showed me the potential for fun is here. Once the terrible introductory exposition was out of the way, things thankfully went a lot more smoothly, though it still sent a shiver down my spine every time the game took control of the camera for fear that someone might begin to speak. 

I’m still concerned for the future of my time with this game. “Outlook hazy”, my 8-Ball might say. Wonky controls or an unwelcome focus on action might bring this title down yet even if the brain-dead plot doesn’t. The first hour provided me with a glimpse of light on the horizon, so I will attempt to chase it and see where the game takes me. I only hope the true spirit of Aran lurks in here somewhere, despite the impostor under the command of my D-Pad. 

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