Metroid: Other M
Three words and a letter. No, we’re not forgetting how to count and talking about the game’s title, rather the whoop-inducing splash screen at the start of Other M’s debut at last year’s E3. There can’t be many gamers who can claim not to have been excited when ‘Team Ninja x Nintendo’ preceded the impressive first showing of yet another reinvention for the classic series – the guys behind Ninja Gaiden and Dead Or Alive have been given a chance to make the Wii shine and, in doing so, breathe fresh life into the series following the Prime approach, which was clearly starting to run out of steam a little by the time it landed on Wii.
Other M takes elements of the Prime ethos and blends them beautifully with concepts and designs from the original 2D games, all the while building on these foundations with a few new tricks for the series. And if the pace and atmosphere demonstrated in our recent play test can be kept up, series fans and newcomers alike should be delighted with this high-profile developmental crossover.
The one bad thing you could say about the original demonstration is that it didn’t really give you any idea of how the game actually played, though it turns out there’s good reason for this. Other M employs a complex control scheme that sounds unwieldy but quickly becomes natural – during regular play, the Remote is held in the sideways, ‘NES’-style position, meaning full three-dimensional control on the D-pad. This is almost an alien concept outside of handheld titles in this analogue world, though the team has obviously worked with this in mind and many of the rooms and corridors can almost be navigated as if this were a 2.5D Metroid. But even when it does fully embrace the third dimension, the action doesn’t falter, and a friendly targeting system for Samus’s shots prevents things from getting messy and overly complex.
The real fun, however, starts when you point the Wii Remote at the screen. This change of position drags the camera behind Samus’ visor and to a viewpoint Prime players will be instantly at home with, and though you can no longer move while in this first-person mode, aiming and shooting works just like it did in those previous 3D outings. This is a great way to scan environments for collectibles or objects to interact with, also serving as a great way to pick off enemies at will or target weak spots manually. It all came together in our first boss encounter, where a giant purple blob… thing showed up and attacked Samus’s team (yes, ‘team’ – we’ll come to that in a moment). The third-person view was used to dodge its attacks and take up an advantageous position, from which you’d have to get behind the visor and target specific points when they became vulnerable. It’s an all but seamless transition, and one that will no doubt be implemented cleverly as the action evolves, but the signs of something special were there even in this early-game encounter.
Ah yes, the ‘team’ thing. Now, it’s widely accepted that part of what made the original Prime such a bona fide classic was the feeling of isolation and loneliness that came along with exploring the vast locales of the hostile planet. Those that cite this as the title to seemingly forget this clearly don’t have clear memories of Echoes or Corruption, where Samus chatted at length with some freaky alien ghost dudes. It is, however, fair to say that Other M takes this a step further, not only giving Aran a voice but also letting her narrate the tale and interact with other characters along the way. But in context, it works – what worked for Prime almost becomes irrelevant when Team Ninja takes the reins, its action-heavy influence twisting and moulding this into a very different Metroid experience.
And there are times when the intrinsic influence of the likes of Ninja Gaiden shine through, not least in the new dodge mechanic. As an attack comes in, a swift tap of the D-pad away from the incoming strike or projectile triggers a cinematic evasive manoeuvre, allowing Samus to escape harm and prepare a counter attack, provided you haven’t foolishly ducked frying pan in favour of fire. It looks the part and is almost an essential inclusion given the game’s newfound pace – rooms can quickly grow dense with enemies if you’re taken by surprise and you need something like this on your side for just such an occasion.
Also on hand, should you need a little pick-me-up after a hard-fought battle, is the Concentration mode. Holding the Remote upwards while holding the A button allows Samus to gather her composure and regain a little health – plus it was almost hinted that this could also be used as a way of reloading or recharging the special weapons that crop up later on in the mission.
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From the first portion of the game, Other M seems to set its stall out early in terms of control. By which we mean it has two key mechanics – NES config for general play, Remote pointing for first-person fun. These two gel remarkably well once you get used to the gun-slinging feel of flicking a wrist to point at the screen on command, though it’ll be interesting to see if these are built upon as new abilities and challenges present themselves. Is this a thinly veiled way of us saying ‘we hope they don’t put any stupid, forced motion control bits in later that break the game’? Pretty much, yeah. It’s clearly an easy trap to fall into for many Wii developers, and it’d be a shame to see this go the same way as so many other ‘almosts’. But Team Ninja’s quality hallmark on this bad boy is basically visible from space, and we can’t see gimmicks coming into play unless they genuinely add to the experience. Fingers crossed then, just in case.
The handling of such new toys is another example of Team Ninja mixing things up a little, at least in the introductory section we got to play. Rather than have Aran mysteriously robbed of all her powers and weapons for Contrived Reason #27, here the presence of the other characters is reflected in this stifled progression. With Samus working with a military team in what she explains to be her first joint endeavour as a bounty hunter, orders from on high dictate what armaments can and can’t be used. With the heroine taking her orders from a former officer from her time in the services (where, both curiously and amusingly, she is still depicted sporting her clearly-non-regulation Power Suit in a flashback), tools and abilities are slowly authorised as events unfold.
Bombs and missiles both therefore get a relatively early outing, while more potent goodies will have to wait. Early on, head honcho Malkovic states authoritatively that he will “not be authorising the use of Power Bombs,” though dramatic irony wins the day – having already done the tutorial on how to use them, you pretty much know he’s gonna be eating those words a couple of hours into the game.
Other additions to combat that raised questions from the first bits of footage were the melee attacks and grapples and, to be honest, there’s still some mystery surrounding these even now we’ve pulled them off a bunch of times. It seems as though such close-quarters moves are triggered instantly when you’re all up in an enemy’s face, though with so much shooting going on it’s equally viable that the beam button simply changes to a melee button when you’re within range.
Either way, it’s hard to complain about Samus Aran basically doing wrestling moves on whatever stands in her way – it’s cool when Leon S Kennedy does it, it’s cool when Travis Touchdown does it and so help us, it’s every bit as cool when Nintendo’s bounty hunter gets a go. It’s a mechanic that could also be integrated into more complex strategies as the game goes on, with boss battles in particular likely to make you run through your entire repertoire in order to taste success.
And that’ll also mean getting to grips with the ever-entertaining Morph Ball mode, which returns as expected and operates in much the same way as it does in Prime. You can still perform bomb jumps by sitting on your own explosives (and indeed double bomb jumps, though we’re not sure the game’s structure will allow these to be so easily exploited for sequence breaks as in the Prime games) and tight gaps and tunnels can still be explored by rolling up and rolling out – the fixed camera can make such openings tricky to spot occasionally, meaning a trip to First-Person Town to scan your environments carefully if you want to grab all the goodies along the way. Scanning as a game mechanic is all but eradicated, a natural evolution given the upped tempo of the game, though you’ll still have to get behind the visor if you want to check up on certain items, enemies or contraptions in the world.
It must be said that the recent announcement that Other M will be upon us within a few months initially took us by surprise but, having gone hands-on with Team Ninja’s take on one of Nintendo’s most respected franchises, it’s clear to see that development is all but finished. The polish is impeccable, the team clearly every bit as capable of making the Wii sing as it is of under-dressing impractically proportioned females – it still feels like a fairly unlikely collaboration if we’re honest (what next? EA Sports doing Mario Golf? Criterion doing F-Zero? Actually guys, if you’re reading…).However, the results speak for themselves.
You might not like the idea of Metroid becoming a straight action game, and that’s fine. But that’s not what Other M is. The constants of exploration and immersion are still key pillars in its construction, the cranked pace and curious blend of viewpoints seemingly obscuring these for some critics but they’re undeniably there. It might not be Metroid as you know it, but the same could have been (and was) said of Prime when that first rocked up. And if we recall correctly, that didn’t end too badly for anyone involved…