This is not a review of Metroid: Other M

I was thinking I’d have a personal review of the new Metroid up today, since I had plenty of time to play it over the weekend. But… I actually didn’t play it much. After reviewing Ys Seven, I just couldn’t willingly subject myself to a game with the exact same problem as the latest Ys: lots of sublime action interrupted by entirely too much compulsory, poorly-written, unwanted, and frankly unnecessary narrative. In fact, I’d say it goes a step beyond “unnecessary” and into “counter-productive.”

That being said, Other M is a really good game, and I don’t want to contribute to all this weird groupthink I’ve been seeing since the reviews began to hit. An alarming number of gamers who were seemingly looking forward to Other M saw mixed reviews and suddenly decided to bail on the entire game without even trying it for themselves. I’m admittedly annoyed by the contrivances of the plot and the gawdawful voice acting, but that doesn’t change the fact that the other 90% of Other M is a brilliantly crafted take on the Metroid formula. I’ll be playing through the game for myself once I’ve recovered from Ys! This weekend, though, I decided I needed a little time with Dragon Quest IX, since I’m 100 hours in on my file and enjoying a more-or-less chat-free experience in which I’m free to muck around as I please, exploring advanced game mechanics, without being forced to stop and sit through stilted cutscenes once an hour.

In some ways, I think Nintendo is making a mistake in bothering to make new Metroid titles at all. There’s no real benefit to it. Sure, fans clamor for them, but said fans also hold the series to the impossibly high standard of Super Metroid, a game whose success was a fleeting stroke of good luck. How do you follow up a work that many people consider perfection? If you stray too from its design (as in Fusion and Other M), you’re slammed for missing the point. If you replicate the design, you might get away with it by wrapping it in new tech (as in Metroid Prime) — but only once. Look no further than the Zelda series for a more fully realized example of what I’m talking about. Ocarina of Time was little more than A Link to the Past in 3D, but because it was in 3D it felt fresh and new. Twilight Princess was simply a more refined iteration of the same structure, and it’s suffered tremendous blowback for feeling stagnant and unimaginative. Wind Waker, on the other hand, deviated considerably from A Link to the Past’s structure, and the parts that were different are the ones people hate.

Nintendo’s brought them upon themselves, of course. Their approach to game design is often revolutionary, but once they’ve struck upon a great idea they iterate it almost mechanically to the point of nauseating redundancy. I’m sure Skyward Sword is going to sell well enough, but it’s been greeted with infinitely more skepticism and derision than one could have imagined facing a Zelda game 10 years ago. Nintendo’s adherence to formula isn’t always bad; the core structure of the Super Mario franchise has barely changed since 1985. But the Mario framework is much larger and more loosely defined than the templates for Zelda and Metroid; Mario’s is about running, jumping, and acquiring power-ups in a series of diverse levels grouped within large, thematic worlds. That creates a canvas for all sorts of creative expression, and with only a very few exceptions (mainly the first New Super Mario Bros.) Mario’s designers have maximized their freedom while still remaining true to the series’ spirit. Super Mario Galaxy 2 and New Super Mario Bros. Wii clearly share a common heritage, yet each one is a huge adventure bursting with brilliant new ideas in every stage. They form a one-two punch that demonstrates just how perfectly the Mario formula lends itself to invention.

With Zelda and Metroid sequels, on the other hand, Nintendo doesn’t merely replicate the big-picture structure, but also the specifics of flow, plot, and player progression. Mario games have a sense of progression only in that you know each world will offer more difficult challenges than the last; the other series, however, tend to force the player to gain the exact same skill set in the same order every single time. The specifics change, but not enough to prevent a sense of stagnation seeping in.

I think the best Nintendo can hope if they stick to this repetition-or-revolution approach is a release so offbeat and different that it becomes a cult favorite, a la Majora’s Mask. But that’s another fleeting stroke of genius we’ll never see again.

I’m increasingly growing concerned for the future of Zelda and Metroid. Nintendo desperately needs to rethink their approach to them; simply grafting a new interface onto game design that’s otherwise failed to change significantly since their 16-bit iterations is a gimmick that’s wearing distressingly thin. The biggest problem reviewers have had with Other M, I think, is that it’s essentially Metroid Fusion in 3D, just as Prime was Super Metroid in 3D. But it takes the parts that people didn’t like about Fusion — all the forced chatter, monologuing, and locked doors — and amplifies them, while the parts carried over from Super Metroid aren’t significantly improved, just more action-oriented. I’m not really sure who the game is targeted toward, but if they were hoping to appease Metroid fans… well, clearly they don’t understand the psychology of fandom very well. The people who are most inclined to enjoy it are also the ones who are the least inclined to give it a fair chance, their hands being full of so much baggage and all.

That’s why I adamantly refused to be assigned the 1UP review of Other M, actually. Well, I declined in part because I believe the site can benefit from other voices weighing in on legacy series, but I also sat this one out because I could see how different Other M is from its predecessors, and I was worried that — given the series’ influence on my tastes and my life — I wouldn’t be able to give it a fair shake. In playing it, though, I’m finding that isn’t the case. I’ve really enjoyed the game so far, and my distaste for the narrative isn’t because it doesn’t belong in a Metroid game or because they’re destroyed Samus’s character, bloo bloo bloo. It’s because the narrative is really badly written, badly acted and directed, and intrusively grinds the action to a frustrating halt. Yet Other M has also helped me realize that somewhere in the past year or two, I’ve stopped getting worked up about sequels to beloved franchises. Sometimes they’re good, sometimes they’re not, but they don’t diminish the classic games that I love. At their best, a contemporary sequel can reinvent and modernize a franchise; at their worst, well, I can just ignore them. But I don’t expect a sequel to some game I loved on NES or PlayStation to offer a shinier carbon-copy replica of that old game, which is, I suspect, what a lot of people do want. But this medium needs to evolve, and it’s important for legacy series to participate in that process rather than simply stagnate. I don’t think holding Other M side-by-side with Super Metroid and raging because they’re not the same experience would do anyone any good, and honestly I’ll take an uneven but ambitious attempt to reinvent a series a la Final Fantasy XIII over yet another predictable romp through a well-established formula.

Which isn’t to say I didn’t love the hell out of Mega Man 9, of course, but every rule has its exception.

Thankfully, Other M does make an effort to advance. Its cutscenes are wretched and invasive, sure, but they’re the most involved that have ever come from an internally developed Nintendo game. Other M’s plot bits come off with that awkward quality of early PlayStation games, because that’s precisely where Nintendo is in terms of narrative design: where everyone else was 15 years ago. Maybe the next time around, they’ll catch up with the rest of the industry and create something that isn’t quite so dated and cringeworthy. In the meantime, the rest of Other M is fairly predictable, but it’s expertly constructed and feels like a brilliant midpoint between the classic and first-person chapters of Metroid — and it’s saturated with a haunting sense of solitude that sends pangs of Super Metroid reminiscences shooting down my spine.

In the fact, the more I think about it, the more I wish I’d kept playing over the weekend. So I guess it does something right, eh.

42 thoughts on “This is not a review of Metroid: Other M

  1. This is probably the best non-review review I’ve read. I must confess to be in the group you mentioned (sort of). I haven’t bailed on the game, but I have been in a “wait and see” mode. But after this and another review I read, I think I will give Other M a shot. Realistically I need to finish a few games I already have first. Final Fantasy XIII being the big one, and I’m neck deep in Demon’s Souls. But Other M will be next I think. And I think I can get away with not beating Demon’s Souls and just getting Other M after beating FFXIII.

    I agree with your assessment of Nintendo’s big franchises. They feel pretty stale. They find something good (and it’s REALLY good at first) but then beat it to a pulp for a few iterations. The problem is they’ve been doing that for 15 years to where it doesn’t feel like revolution, just slight evolution (you can barely use that word though). Every Zelda game DOES NOT need a water temple and a fire temple for example. But it’s what we get.

  2. You have given me hope. People continue to tell me what Metroid is supposed to be in their reviews and every time I can’t help but think “that is not what Metroid is to me”. I still worry that the game will not meet my expectations. How could it? But I do believe that I will find something to like. Metroid Fusion in 3D? I can live with that.

  3. It’s such a shame that there’s going to be people that aren’t going to give this game a fair chance just because some reviewers have taken its flaws and blown them way out of proportion.

    While the execution this time was flawed, we should at least commend Nintendo on at least trying something new with the franchise.

  4. I’ve been playing this since Sunday and got pretty far into the game, and I must say that the complaints about the story are drastically overblown and hardly ever interfere with the gameplay. In fact, I enjoy the story for what it is, simple though it may be. The game itself is stellar, though not without some niggling complaints.

    I’m appalled by some of the reviews for Other M, tough. Sexist? Not as good as (insert game here)? Awful story? Talk about hyperbole. The cutscenes are short and only happen after long stretches of uninterrupted gameplay. Perhaps I’m not so annoyed because I’m coming directly from FFXIII, which DOES have obstructive cutscenes that do feature the most inane babble this side of a Dan Brown novel.

    In fact, I want to play Other M right now. And that, for me, is the most basic essence of the Metroid formula: the constant sense of adventure, progression, and new gameplay elements that suck you in and don’t let you go. You never know what’s going to be around the next turn. I can’t put my finger on it, but it’s something that only Metroid (and Metroidvania) games possess.

    Don’t sweat the small stuff, people. Game is pure Nintendo love, made specifically for you and me.

  5. After 25+ years of these games some people will be tired of them. When a new Nintendo game is announced I’m rarely super excited for it, but I know I will buy and play it because it will be a well crafted game. Nintendo is the comfort food of video games. By the time we are all sick of Zelda, Metroid, or Mario, there will be a new generation in place that hasn’t experienced Ocarina of Time, Super Metroid, or Super Mario World. And Nintendo should continue to make these type of games so the next generation can experience them.

    Other M is something different, and Nintendo should be commended for making it. The complaints about the story are irrelevant. What did people expect from the people that brought us Dead or Alive and the new Ninja Gaiden? My most pressing concern with the game is that the New Item theme is missing. I’ll just have to play with that track loaded on my computer and play it every time I find a missile expansion.

  6. Nintendo, more than any other publisher, seems to be in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation with their games. If they continue down the same path with a game series, they are derided for churning out more of the same. If they try something new and different, then they are called out for not “staying true” to the franchise (more often than not, by the same people who complain that Nintendo keeps re-hashing their games).

  7. @Tomm – It’s not the score, it’s the content of the review. I’ve bought games based off of bad reviews. Review scores can be like points in Whose Line – pointless.

    @Parish – As the guy who yells at people for disliking Ghostbusters 2 just because it wasn’t as good as the original, I’m not so sure people are raging just because Other M isn’t Super Metroid (Well, certainly SOME people are, but I haven’t been associating with them) or trying to ape it. The problem is there are fundamental things people like about that formula that seem to be missing from this iteration. If that seems paradoxical, consider Metroid Prime, but not just as Super Metroid with new technology – new abilties such as scanning brought an added layer of immersion and interactivity to the environment, while lock on made combat something special and not just regular old first person shooting in a Metroidvania. These improvements and changes appeal to series fans more than what Other M seems to do.

    This is not me saying that Other M is “doing it wrong”, but that its style doesn’t interest some folks enough to buy the game and there’s nothing wrong with that. Myself, I intend to give the game it’s fair shake at some point, I just don’t know when that will be – moving can really cut into your finances.

  8. I’m not really sure who the game is targeted toward, but if they were hoping to appease Metroid fans… well, clearly they don’t understand the psychology of fandom very well.

    I’m inclined to think that Fusion doing really well in Japan, possibly because the higher narrative focus, would be a factor. That, and Fusion did sell twice as well as Zero Mission when looking at Wikipedia, so if that’s true I can easily see the logic being “People liked Fusion more than Zero Mission, clearly we need to back pedal to what Fusion did”. I can just hope they see the reaction to this and at least find a middle ground in regards to narrative for the next game.

  9. I was hoping you’d way in on this game — thanks.

    On another note, it’s funny how you weigh the pros and cons of continuing with the Metroid series as if Nintendo were an artist seeking artistic fulfillment, and not money. I’m sure to them Metroid is first and foremost a profitable brand — they’re probably not so concerned that Super Metroid said all that needs to be said about Metroid.

  10. @ASandoval – Parish wasn’t saying Other M should appeal to all old fans and stfu. But he was kind of saying maybe they should try it to find out if it does appeal to them before dismissing it outright.

    also, I live in a world where scores DO matter. Where, in fact, they are literally all that matters. Shattered Memories’ “best storyline of the year” awards don’t mean anything next to its 72% or whatever metacritic

  11. I really want to get this game. Of course, I really want to get a PSP too, and you know…sorry Metroid. :( But seriously, I think this all calls to mind the real issue here. People are upset because Nintendo either does too much or too little with their old franchises. Unlike other developers like Sony however, Nintendo barely creates any NEW franchises anymore. I mean seriously, can you think of a Nintendo developed Wii game that’s a new franchise (the only one that comes to mind is Xenoblade for me)? I can’t help but think that more people would appreciate this game if it wasn’t a Metroid game. Nintendo is in a rut in terms of its fans, and I think that if they made a new franchise, they could do new and interesting things that appealed to a wide variety of people and potentially get themselves out of this rut. That being said, I’m not saying that their recent titles of popular franchises are bad, just you know, the fans can be harsh when it comes to buying their games. Why not give them something new that they can’t judge based on a past effort?

  12. Reading this made me realize that I, too, had been jumping to conclusions about the game without actually playing it, so thanks for that. But I want to know what you think about the plot contrivances that prevent you from using your abilities until an arbitrary point in the game’s narrative. They seem like the kind of thing that would bother you, since they seem foolish and ill-advised.

  13. Really, Nintendo innovates quite a bit. But there are series in which they don’t mess with the formula too much. I suspect it’s not even necessarily that they don’t have the ability to do so, since they’ve proven themselves time after time, but that when you are single-handedly keeping systems afloat (ever since the N64, really), it limits how much you can experiment around and still hope to retain some of the fanbase.

    It really is a Catch-22. Actually experiment with a series, and long-time fans get mad. Leave the series alone, and long-time fans and outsiders alike gripe about the lack of innovation (yet continue to play, in most instances).

    This is probably an argument that Nintendo needs to spin up a new series or two again. No expectations of what a true “X” game is supposed to be. But they need stronger 3rd party support to really pull it off, as opposed to getting thrown the occasional bone and tons of party games because the Wii is a “fad”.

  14. “Why not give them something new that they can’t judge based on a past effort?”

    Because we’d pine for the old stuff. Nostalgia is a funny thing. I mean, isn’t it time for a new Pikmin? How about a kickass Star Fox? But only if it’s like Star Fox 64, of course. No sane person would want it any other way. :P

    I just played a bit more of other M, and it’s really no different from New Super Mario Bros. It’s a familiar formula with a few twists. Other than the little bit of a story element–something that isn’t foreign to me anyway since I can tell you everything about the Metroid timeline anyway, for better or for worse–, it’s very basic stuff not worth whipping the internet into a frenzy over. It isn’t a radical departure like the Prime series. The expression “all that is old is new again” applies to Nintendo as of late.

  15. What’s wrong with saying that the cinematics and story bog things down? It does. This feels similar to Twilight Princess, pretty and flashy but lacking substance or anything fresh.

  16. Feels like? So I take it you have not played it, matt?

    I mean, the game doesn’t release in most stores until Tuesday, so most of the people commenting probably don’t have it yet. I find that kind of tragic.

    And wow at Twilight Princess lacking substance but being pretty and flashy. I think the game was basically the reverse of that. The thing was packed, stuffed, and crammed with content. How can universally praised games like TP and Prime be so divisive? :P

  17. To be fair, some stores did break the street date, and quite a few people have been playing it.

  18. Re: Hero
    Twilight princess is chock-full of content, but to me, it’s at the expense of fun. I long for game design where you can simply turn the power on and play without a cut-scene or fetch quest awaiting you. It is a good game, I just don’t get sucked into overwrought narratives and overly dramatic cut scenes.

  19. All matters of gameplay aside, I think Nintendo has made a huge mistake in forcing their characters to remain mute for so long, and being so far behind in the characterization-curve is starting to kick them in the ass now (and is likely to only get worse as they half-assedly experiment with story/character-building rather than embracing it head-on.)

    Miyamoto and the higher-ups at Nintendo like to point to how Disney didn’t need to give Mickey Mouse well-rounded character or emotional drive for Mickey to become the most popular pop culture icon of the first half of the 20th-century, but they also forget that Mickey Mouse’s popularity was eventually usurped by cartoon characters (Bugs Bunny, especially) from other studios who weren’t so timid with how they handled their characters.

    That’s not to say that no one is going to care about Mario 75 years from now, but it would be a shame if Mario became the same kind of entombed/uninteresting figurehead for Nintendo that Mickey has been for the Disney company these past 5 decades or so.

  20. Trust me, when you play something like FFXIII, you realize that Nintendo isn’t very far behind. It’s all up to the studio making the game.

    Also, something can be said for a game with a story that grabs you without as much as a single word being said. Super Metroid did that (cheating a bit, but two sentences don’t count), as well as Prime. That exacerbates the alleged problems with other M, and all subsequent Nintendo games with dialogue in them.

    But it’s really not bad. I’ve played a ton of games with abysmal writing and VOs. Other M isn’t one of them. I wonder what people think Samus should sound like? I’d imagine cold, distant, analytical (after Prime, heh), and tough. What people interpret as wooden, I see as calculated. There’s not much emotion there.

  21. “Other M’s plot bits come off with that awkward quality of early PlayStation games, because that’s precisely where Nintendo is in terms of narrative design: where everyone else was 15 years ago. Maybe the next time around, they’ll catch up with the rest of the industry and create something that isn’t quite so dated and cringeworthy.”

    Yes, despite Super Metroid/Prime being light years ahead of this game’s narrative with their less-is-more approach, lets go and throw Nintnedo under the bus here for their crappy narrative skills in this particular game.

  22. This was a wonderful insightful read as usual. It also makes me all the more excited to pick up the game this week.

    Nintendo is in a precarious position concerning its classic gaming franchises and their fans. There will always be fanboys on either side ready to damn them.

  23. I was going to say “bravo” but someone beat me too it, so I will just say “ditto.” Very well said.

  24. Yeah, it kinda sucks for Nintendo; still, Other M shows that Nintendo is willing to change its classic franchises, so I’m hoping we’ll see more innovation in the future. And like any hopeful consumer, I’m obviously going to vote with my wallet and pick up Other M.

  25. I personally don’t consider the game sexist. I just find Samus’ portrayal in the game as a completely different character (in a bad way) than what previous games in the series has defined her by. This was not a wise choice IMO.

  26. A different character than what the previous games defined her as or what you assumed her to be?

  27. “the narrative is really badly written, badly acted and directed, and intrusively grinds the action to a frustrating halt”

    Man, that sentence could be inserted into SO MANY game reviews. And this gets to the heart of why it’s difficult to make a SEQUEL to many of these games. They don’t have a continuing narrative, or at least not one that’s compelling, so they’re all kinda remakes that attempt to update some play mechanics. The problem is that in most cases these mechanics have attained something close to a platonic ideal in some previous iteration, so the current tactic seems to be adding value by making the game looooooooooooooooooong. The padding could come in the form of cut scenes, or torture (Phantom Hourglass’ temple of time or whatever). Was there a time when you didn’t have to wade through a half-hour’s worth of crap in between Zelda dungeons? Yes there was kids!

  28. Count me amongst the gamers “looking forward to Other M saw mixed reviews and suddenly decided to bail on the entire game without even trying it for themselves”. I’m not ashamed to admit it.

    I am a very selective gamer. While I have virtually unlimited amount of cash to spend on games, I am not about to drop $60 on something drawing so many complaints as this. I have no loyalty to some “Super Metroid Ideal”, but I don’t want to reward Nintendo for this. It was bad enough that they had “Team Ninja” develop it, automatically making its final presentation of dubious quality. I see that some people are actually holding up the Team Ninja influence as some sort of excuse for how the game turned out. “What did you expect?”

    How about a game worth my time?

  29. dcorban – Good thing Wii games max out at 49.99! Now you don’t have to pay $60! But seriously, the developer does not have final say over the quality of the game. Nintendo does, same as any Nintendo-developed title. People need to stop holding the developer responsible for everything good/bad about a game.

  30. For everyone that has passed on the game, why not go out and rent it first? If you’re concerned that it’s going to be crap, don’t just assume it to be, make sure it actually is, especially given that it’s a game from a series that many of us are highly interested in.

    I received my copy from Amazon this morning (along with GSQ5!), but haven’t been able to even spin it up. Maybe after work and Bible study tonight.

  31. For what it’s worth, first-party Wii games retail for $60 here in Canada. And as we all know, first-party games never drop in price. Launch day DS games are still going for the MSRP. :D

  32. “I am a very selective gamer. While I have virtually unlimited amount of cash to spend on games, I am not about to drop $60 on something drawing so many complaints as this. I have no loyalty to some “Super Metroid Ideal”, but I don’t want to reward Nintendo for this. It was bad enough that they had “Team Ninja” develop it, automatically making its final presentation of dubious quality. I see that some people are actually holding up the Team Ninja influence as some sort of excuse for how the game turned out. ‘What did you expect?'”

    If you listened to the internet, you’d probably buy a whole lot of crappy, “charming” games and pass on genuinely great games with a few flaws. This is one of them.

    You know, I’d probably be thinking the same thing as you if I didn’t buy the game. But if you like Metroid at all–if you’ve EVER liked Metroid–rest assured that this is decidedly Metroid. The complaints have almost nothing to do with the gameplay. That should tell you something.

  33. I appreciate the sentiment of this article. I just got started on Other M last night, and I’m trying my best to give it a fair chance without my jaded 30-something nostalgia for Super Metroid getting in the way.

    I disagree, though, with the premise that Metroid and Zelda are stagnating simply because Nintendo has been reiterating the same game design since the 16-bit era. The reality is that the game design of the Metroid and Zelda games has actually gotten noticeably worse since the GameCube era.

    The prevalence of gimmicky dungeon items hardly used after the dungeon (The Spinner), formulaic boss encounters (use the item you just acquired!), items that serve only to open color-coded doors (most of the “Hyper _” abilities in Prime 3), insipid cutscenes, and “broken bridge”-style impediments to sequence-breaking, has been on a steady rise.

    Compare how often you used the Grapple Beam / Hookshot is older series entries (Super Metroid, LttP, OoT) with their pathetically restrictive use in Twilight Princess and Prime 3. Maybe this has to do with simplifying the design process, removing variables, and preventing sequence-breaks.

    In the end, the more recent series installments don’t even succeed at being shameless re-treads of previous installments.

    That said, most of these are still good or great games (or at least passable, in the case of Prime 2).
    [… and I explicitly exempt most of the portable installments from this attack]

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