I am not clarifying my Other M review

Because I didn’t write a review, remember? However, I feel like a few statements in my not-a-review of the game merit a little more explanation. So let’s do that, shall we? (I meant to write this yesterday, but the past 36 hours have been kind of crappy and stressful.)

First, I referred to Super Metroid as “a game whose success was a fleeting stroke of good luck,” which rankled a couple of people who didn’t understand what I meant. Which is this: Super Metroid is one of those games that was a product of its time and technology, and its impact was especially potent for its good fortune in arriving when it did. It possessed a subtly and sophistication lacking in other games of the day. Super Metroid would have been a great game even five years later, but in 1994 it was a towering achievement. That’s all.

More deserving of explanation and reconsideration is this comment: “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.”

I need to retract that statement, at least in part, because it disparages Nintendo as a whole when I was really remarking on a very specific facet of the company. Internally developed Nintendo games rarely focus on narrative, and outside of Other M the only place you’ll find story-heavy first party Nintendo titles is under the auspices of Intelligent Systems (Fire Emblem, Advance Wars, Paper Mario, etc.). Yes, there have been a few exceptions through the years — I’m thinking primarily of the Famicom Tantei Club series and EarthBound — but those titles were very much genre pieces (adventure and RPG, respectively).

[Camera cuts, revealing mysterious girl behind window]
GIRL: “Samus… so we meet again.”

Other M is unusual in that it’s the company’s first real attempt to develop (or co-develop, anyway) a narrative-heavy game brimming with real-ime cutscenes and CG and dialogue and even touches of in-game narrative. Nintendo just doesn’t make games like that; even Zelda games rarely have more than a couple of minutes of dialogue at a time, and those are never fully voiced. Other M is Nintendo venturing into new territory… and, perhaps not surprisingly, they’ve fumbled their first attempt. A lot of people are pointing the finger of blame at the company’s choice of partners, and in truth some of Other M’s more egregious quirks do demonstrate a suspicious trace of Team Ninja’s fingerprints. On the other hand, Samus doesn’t demonstrate any pneumatic chest-jiggle that I’ve noticed, so you have to admire the presence of at least that level of restraint.

Really, though, I think the bigger problem with Other M is just that Nintendo’s veteran staff doesn’t have much experience with this sort of storytelling. They’ve always subsisted on a more minimalist approach to conveying plot, and the company’s narrative style hasn’t really evolved much beyond the 16-bit approach of text boxes and pantomime. And that’s been fine, for the most part; their games’ stories have been sufficient to get the job done, and the localizations are always a step or three above average. Other M ventures beyond the 16-bit style to attempt presenting its game in the fashion of mid-’90s FMV-heavy games… and that’s exactly how it comes off, but not in a good way. It’s stilted, awkward, and painfully Japanese in the worst way, what with all its heavy-handed symbolism and dialogue that circuitously skirts around important backstory details that all the characters know so those common facts can be doled out to the player at the director’s discretion. I guess you’d call it “contrived withholding.” I’d put Other M’s presentation about a half-step ahead of the original Resident Evil‘s. Which makes sense, because like I said, Nintendo’s forays into this space put them about where everyone else was 15 years ago.

“I also hope that’s not Chris’ blood….”
I just hope the push-back they’re seeing from fans will encourage them to push ahead and refine their efforts rather than simply retreat into the comfortable familiarity of the 16-bit style. Nintendo has a lengthy history of innovation, and I think they could do amazing things with modern in-game narrative, just as Super Metroid did in its time. Here’s where were invoke another Japanese storytelling trope: the one where those of us on the sidelines clench our fists and think vigorously about how much we believe in Nintendo as speed lines zoom behind us. Ganbare, Nintendo Software Planning & Development division! We believe in you!!

Anyway, blah blah blah. I wish Other M weren’t so annoyingly intrusive with its once-per-hour mandated quota of crappy story, but the action is really impressive. I hope everyone has had a chance to give it a fair shake and judge the final results for themselves… which, really, was the ultimate point of my previous post. Whether you like the game or not, it’s always best to sort that decision out for yourself.

Uh, not to say we reviewers are superfluous or anything! Ha ha. Sigh.

27 thoughts on “I am not clarifying my Other M review

  1. The narrative, voice acting, and cutscenes are light-years above those found in Resident Evil. It’s not as if Nintendo exists in a vacuum and their first effort was going to be an inevitable flop because they’ve never done it before. The comparison was bad. In fact, if anything, it was a major improvement for Team Ninja.

    I’ve played a whole lot of video games, and I know you have as well. The less embarrassing efforts are few and far between. I’d rank this squarely (ha!) in the middle, between something like Heavy Rain and Star Ocean.

    Gamers are a weird bunch. We eat up garbage like Killer 7 because of how delightfully stupid it is, but get all up in arms about a subpar Metroid story. The premise is pretty absurd to begin with. We already have Space Pirates and jellyfish, what’s wrong with a few space marines and some thumbs up.

  2. To be fair, Hero, alot of the people who aren’t buying/holding out on Other M is because of the linearity and heavier focus on combat, not just a subpar story. Which I can totally understand, because that’s just personal preference.

  3. “The narrative, voice acting, and cutscenes are light-years above those found in Resident Evil.”

    It’s really not. Production values on the CG are much higher, sure, but the delivery and pacing are still bad. But the real problem, again, is that this otherwise fast-paced game stops once an hour to make you wade through sluggish “spooky” parts and hunt for a tiny cluster of hot pixels. Whee.

  4. Funny, I understood exactly what you meant when you said Nintendo was where everyone else was 15 years ago with this stuff.

    On the other hand, one might argue Super Mario Sunshine was an earlier attempt… they didn’t exactly stick with it, though. If anything, it seemed to scare Miyamoto away from the concept, at least where Galaxy was concerned.

  5. I can’t see how Twilight Princess fits into this. I haven’t played Other M and have little interest in it, but I’m just not buying this 16-bit stories perspective. Game stories on a general level are still ridiculous, cartoony and mishandled, but really good stories and storytelling are hard to come by in any media. And even if the Nintendo core teams have been making mostly Mario prior to the Wii era, they have branched out with their many second parties like Retro, Alpha Dream and recently Monolith. Nintendo of 1995 to 2005 simply didn’t have many games, so it’s no surprise they didn’t have many story-focused games either.

  6. As long as we’re all criticizing Jeremy, I’d like to say that it mildly annoys me when people use “Japanese storytelling” as shorthand for “cliched Japanese manga/anime/game storytelling.”

    Then again, Nobel-winning author Yasunari Kawabata was known for his deft use of speed lines.

  7. i dunno, i thought it was pretty obvious that he wasn’t talking about Natsume Soseki or Banana Yoshimoto there.

  8. For what it’s worth, the reason I’M not running out and buying it is that I’m at that fun level of poor where I get one game a year and it was already StarCraft 2. I’m not feeling left out though because, seriously, I haven’t seen anything in terms of gameplay screens/footage that wasn’t just running down a boxy hallway with a PSX/early Dreamcast feeling stark minimalism. I’m morbidly curious what it actually looks like late in the game when it, presumably, picks up in some fashion.

  9. “We eat up garbage like Killer 7 because of how delightfully stupid it is…”

    I don’t think anyone really “ate up” that game since it’s almost universally reviled as a bad game. Furthermore, I played through it with FAQ in hand to mitigate the “bad game” part and I think it is far, far more than just “delightfully stupid.” It’s story is far more sophisticated than people give it credit for since it’s too easy to focus on the LOL SO WEIRD THIS IS LIKE DAVID LYNCH ON JAPANESE ACID aspects.

  10. “Other M is unusual in that it’s the company’s first real attempt to develop (or co-develop, anyway) a narrative-heavy game brimming with real-ime cutscenes and CG and dialogue and even touches of in-game narrative. Nintendo just doesn’t make games like that;”

    It’s at least the second attempt. Super Mario RPG comes to mind.


    I always thought all the silence was kind of a Metroid thing, and a big part of the tension. I didn’t mind Fusion’s shoving you along more than some of the others, for example, but I hated Samus monologuing about her old CO every time I found an elevator shaft into the next Theme Zone. There’s just something more to the eeriness of a solo human character delving into the depths of an alien world in focused silence, making you wonder about the character and what they’re thinking.

    Though I guess what that boils down to in my book is 1) how intrusive are the cutscenes? and 2) Uh, Samus isn’t making Spider-Man style quips to non-English speaking alien creatures the entire game, right?


    So… does Star Fox count as much of a narrative? It’s heavy on voiceover, for better or worse, and goes for an almost-half-serious Star Wars knockoff kind of setting.

  12. I don’t think the narrative and pacing of the story telling is as bad as Resident Evil either.

    I’m actually shocked that I don’t mind the cutscenes and story yet (then again, I’m only an hour and a half in). If there is anything I do hate about the cutscenes it’s that they can’t be paused, skipped, or “wii menu’d.” I have two baby girls in the house now and being able to pause cutscenes has all of a sudden become extremely crucial to my gaming needs.

    Also, I agree that the hunt for the pixels in first person is easily the worst part of the game so far. It really is a “what were they thinking?” moment. Other than that though, I really do enjoy the game so far. Seems to lack some of the overall polish of the first Prime, but I’m glad we got this instead of a Prime 4. It’s a really nice chance of pace I think.

  13. Just watched a couple of cutscenes from Other M on Youtube and they’re light years beyond Resident Evil 1’s – no idea what Parish is talking about.

  14. It is a little silly at times, but I’ve not found the cutscenes to be overly intrusive, or really that poorly done. A little melodramatic, to be sure, but I’ve heard a lot of people gripe about Samus’ voice actor, and I’ve not found there to be that much of a problem. Perhaps I’ve been inured to so many games that do it worse that my standards are quite low. Probably. But it’s not the boondoggle everyone is making it out to be.

    And yeah, the gameplay is great. Amazing what they’ve done with just NES-style controls.

  15. Man, all these reviews and non-reviews and assorted nonsense has got my head spinning. I think I’m gonna download “Cave Story” and hold off on Other M for awhile.

  16. Hero- Speak for yourself. Although I’ve never played Killer7, I’m not dismissing Other M because of the story. Actually, you’re the one who is dismissing Nintendo’s attempt to make a good story by saying “Who cares? It’s Metroid, and remember these ridiculous things? Clearly not a series worth taking seriously in terms of its story.”

    Googleshng- *facepalm* Noone was talking about the gameplay being PS1 level…

  17. I can’t quite go into the game with neither high nor low expectations after having read all there is to be said about this game on this site, but I still definitely wanna give it a playthrough. I agree somewhat with Parish on Nintendo’s storytelling… I remember more than once while playing Zelda games, figuring something out for myself about the plot, feeling good about myself for awhile, then no more than 5 or 10 minutes later having it shoved into my face. “HEY, LOOK AT THIS THING! JUST IN CASE YOU HADN’T ALREADY FIGURED IT OUT! Now we’re going to explain to you everything about it for the next 10 minutes!”

  18. Parish, do a review. Comment on how good the game is otherwise, because all I can think about when I’m playing it is how sexist it is.

  19. Of course it’s sexist, because Samus is obviously representative of the entire female populace. And any sign of a woman being judgemental based on her emotions? Wow, Nintendo, Metroid Other M is a sin against women everywhere.

  20. Cutscenes aren’t the only way to tell a story, and up until now Nintendo has been doing a fine job of utilizing the interactive nature of video games to tell their stories in ways only a video game could. The scan logs in Metroid Prime are a good example. They filled the player in on some of the lore of the Metroid universe and fit in well with the discovery motif that the game was going for. If you ask me that’s preferable to five minutes of CGI exposition. t was a much bolder move than trying to fit a movie in between the gameplay.

    The reason why Other M is such a chore is because the storyline railroads the gameplay into a linear, distinctly un-Metroid experience.

    I agree with the poster who said Nintendo doesn’t live in a vacuum, and there is no such thing as “16 bit” or “modern day” game narrative.

  21. 16 bit- no VA cutscenes

    modern- VA cutscenes

    Is it that hard to differentiate? The next thing you’ll be saying is that there’s no difference betwen 8 bit or 16 bit narrative, which would just be ludicrous.

  22. I think a lot of people are overreacting on the “sexism” front, but that video did a really terrible job of arguing against it, to be honest.

  23. I definitely wouldn’t say that they’re close to Resident Evil standards, they’re surely better than that (maybe a bit goofy at times, but am I crazy in saying that I didn’t think the voice acting was really bad?), but point taken as far as Nintendo being new at this kind of thing, which they ARE really. Anyway, I actually rather like the game. I do admit the slower parts (the behind the shoulder walking parts) could have been improved, and the forced scanning is a little ‘eh’ even though I realize why they did it. So far those are pretty small parts of the game though, and even if you don’t care for the cut scenes, the action/exploration stuff is pretty good, as it usually is in Metroid.

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