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Dr High Rez - Metroid Other M 25th of February 2017

To many fans of the space adventures of Samus Aran, Metroid: Other M is considered quite damning evidence for Nintendo’s mistreatment of the Metroid series. A Japanese developed 2.5D adventure, Nintendo appeared determined to bring the franchise back home and try engaging with an audience that seemed to drop off when Retro Studios brought Metroid to 3D with Metroid Prime. The 3D first person shooting was relegated to a single mechanic rather than the game’s primary genre, the director behind the SNES master class Super Metroid, Yoshio Sakamoto was in the driver’s seat for Other M, the game was intended as the mid-quel of Super Metroid and the Gameboy Advance’s Metroid Fusion while also going deeper into Samus’ story, and it had action developers Team Ninja of Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive fame lending their efforts in game development along with animation studio D-Rockets for the cut-scenes!

Forgetting for a moment the Western audiences’ slight concern putting Samus Aran, strong independent bounty hunter that just so happened to be a woman, in the hands of the ‘pioneers’ of breast physics more sensitive than the Bayeux Tapestry is to sunlight to one side, people seemed interested in this game. A big console 2.5D Metroid? How great could that be? And look at those animations, talk about brutal! It’s like some kind of Super Metroid remake, how could this possibly fail?!
Diagnosis

- A story that betrays the universe, including gameplay, its meant for: From the very first game, Metroid has been a series about exploring a vast world as a lone hero, uncovering power ups and alien dangers and fulfilling your mission as fast as possible. While games such as the Prime series tried to change up the formula with multiple planets, the general premise of Samus Aran going in, getting it done, flying out and having enough time to strut in some underwear was retained. Other M’s premise and story unfortunately deviates from this formula to its detriment, taking place immediately after the events of Super Metroid with Samus oddly shaken about the Baby Metroid’s death. Hearing an unsubtle piece of symbolism called “Baby’s Cry”, Samus is led towards the “Bottle” ship where upon boarding she meets with a contingent of the Federation under the charge of her former commanding officer Adam Malkovitch. They discover something has gone wrong and Samus insists on helping, with Adam only acquiescing under the condition she surrenders her autonomy to his command, including such genius acts as “waiting for Samus to be trapped in a glass box and getting blasted by pirates before allowing Samus to use her beam” and even “Forcing Samus to run through a volcanic region and slowly draining her health before Adam permits a cooling function on her suit”! Forgetting that superiors in the Federation as far back as Metroid Prime were never as daring as to seize command of Samus’ weapons, only ever requesting her help on select missions, it seems crazy that an even more experienced Samus is willingly getting bossed around to such an extent Adam does. Who is this jerk to order Samus around? Where was he when Samus was busy blasting intergalactic super monsters out of existence in, oh say, every Metroid game ever developed? The dissonance brought from players experienced in Metroid and the oddly submissive Samus really detracts from the game’s narrative, whether Samus is making foolish decisions that the player would never make because Adam didn’t say she could, or when she acts like Ridley is terrifying to her any more. I understand that back when Ridley was first introduced as the leader of the Space Pirates and murderer of Samus’ parents, there was not the technology present for Nintendo to implement narrative cut-scenes showing Samus mentally breakdown but it doesn’t make sense for her to quickly and easily deal with Ridley twice before and only then start breaking down the third time.
- Misguided fan service: While I personally found things like Samus’ bigger bust and elevated heel to be rather bad design choices, I am willing to concede that such choices were to accommodate for a characterisation of Samus more familiar to the Japanese audience with its yonkoma and manga material. That said, there are some tweaks that I cannot really agree with. Yes Sakamoto, I played Super Metroid. I imagine a lot of people have played Super Metroid, but does everything have to be a call-back to that game? Between the design of Samus’ Varia suit, the enemy designs and even the weapons are almost entirely call-backs to that game. Fan service to this extent has the detriment of having the most celebrated element of a game be the parts people would best obtain through the original. Why would you pay to watch Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens when you can just re-watch Star Wars IV: A New Hope and get the same story with the same beats and less sequel baiting? The same applies with Other M and Super Metroid...and I can only hope enough time has passed for people to be ok with critique on Star Wars VII. The fan service isn’t exclusive to on-screen either with Sakamoto twisting Team Ninja’s arm to develop their game for a Wiimote exclusive control scheme to ape the Nintendo Entertainment System controller. Considering Sakamoto’s confessed inexperience developing in 3D, I am shocked Team Ninja did not stand ground with this point to make a more reasonable control scheme for their action title, which summons my next point.

- Underdeveloped action despite costs to other gameplay areas: Team Ninja, even during the development of Other M, were no strangers to the art of developing action games. Though this ultimately would mean the more puzzle element of Metroid would be set aside for a stronger focus on combat and player skill, there was potential for Samus Aran to work as a unique twist on the classic action beat ‘em up. To their credit, given the prior “work with a d-pad and like, two buttons” command from Sakamoto, the fact Team Ninja had one well done mechanic is a miracle. Samus can perform animated takedowns on opponents by running up to a groggy opponent with her charged shot ready, similar to Nero’s Buster Arm in Devil May Cry 4. The rest of combat was reduced to “shoot basic shot a lot, double tap dodge” repeat, at least until you were permitted a sub-weapon like the bomb which retained its overpowered status from Super Metroid and made combat even more trivial. It’s pretty clear that this was the focus of the gameplay as the game itself was made uncharacteristically linear with backtracking typically welcomed by locked doors and the iconic “if you are fast enough, you might get a peak from Samus” completely removed with no completion timer or Samus unveiling at all. I suppose Nintendo were too worried about implementing the latter with Team Ninja on development.
Prognosis

- Samus’ character took a gut punch: Even conceding Sakamoto’s later comments that the Prime series were not canon in the events of Metroid: Other M, it’s hard to say the game was consistent with Samus’ character. Suddenly monologuing every stray thought in her head and the prior mentioned problems with Adam and Ridley. The fact that Other M was to be a lens into the character of Samus Aran did not sit well with fans that felt that the Samus Aran they had been following and had come to understand was in some way a falsehood. The emotionally reserved, independent and respected Samus Aran was actually a basket case of emotions and required the authority of a random to get anything worthwhile done.

- The Metroid series was thrown back into limbo: Alongside F-Zero and Star Fox, Metroid languishes in the vault of “Smash Bros.” with not even the faintest chance of receiving another console title since Retro Studios has been busy making Donkey Kong relevant. While there is always hope for Metriod to get a Fire Emblem style “Awakening” but, given Other M’s lacklustre reception even in the home nation of Japan, one cannot help speculate a return more like Star Fox Zero. Even the series anniversary did little to kick the series back into proper development with the 3DS Metro Prime: Federation Force that left fans of the orange armoured bounty hunter and her escapades less than thrilled playing as faceless mooks from the Prime universe’s equivalent of the Japanese military in any given Godzilla movie.
Reflection

Other M is a product of the creative team’s intentions becoming lost in translation; between the characterisation of a character meant to reignite popularity in Japan while also clarifying details left out of the original games, to communicating a 2.5D game design through a designer who has confessed to lacking an understanding for 3D to a development team who despite their experience had little sway in its design. The intentions may have been there but all parties lacked the full understanding of what they were doing to make the ideal designs when it came around to Other M’s story and gameplay. The peculiar thing is, my alterations to the game were actually inspired by Federation Force. Now bear with me here when I suggest:

- Make it a prequel to the original Metroid where Samus is still in the Federation: Suddenly, the shock and mental breakdowns Samus has when facing Ridley makes a lot more sense. Suddenly, Adam’s authority over Samus also makes more sense since now it’s clear that between the two, Adam is undeniably more experienced and has a clear authority as Samus’ commanding officer. You could choose to have Samus equipped with a prototype suit that would inspire her iconic look with tools that are not yet fully tested. Why the point of “not fully tested”? To give Adam a reason to hold off on just permitting Samus to use everything at once. Now you imagine, “shoot, do I really want to use the bombs? What if they go dud or explode inside Samus’ Morph Ball?” and thus you are in sync with Samus and, to a degree, Adam.

- Keep Samus’ identity covered throughout the main game: This is more of a nostalgic call-back with a twist than anything. Throughout the game, the player character is kept in the prototype suit, investigating the bottle ship as ordered by Adam. This character, while not verbal in the slightest, does have some physical reactions to certain stimuli that would make sense for an amateur Samus. Ridley pops up and our hero steps back and tries to shrink their profile at the sight of him? Yeah, that would make sense and make the reveal all the more interesting. When is Samus revealed? Depending on how fast you beat the game, in the ending. If you are decently quick, the helmet is removed and reveals Samus’ face as she contemplates leaving the Federation, faster still and that scene continues to her adding the final touches to her power suit (what she is currently wearing in said scene could be the zero suit or eye candy. I dunno, doesn’t really matter to me) before then reaching to don the iconic orange suit and flies out, leaving the Federation behind her for her legendary thrills and ventures. “But wait, I thought there was no timer in Other M.” I hear you say, you are correct and that’s my next change.

- Bring back the non-linear navigation of Super Metroid: Sure, keep Adam on call as the prompter for where to go or even as a hint system for less experienced players but at the end of the day, navigating the bottle ship should have blockages demanding new tools rather than just a linear hand hold with self-locking doors behind you. It’s Metroid after all, how can you go without some speedy exploration?
- Change the control system to require a Wiimote and nunchuck: Between the awkward first-person targeting controls and the audacious suggestion of using a directional pad to navigate a 3D space and not to mention the limits it places on its main gameplay of combat, its unsurprising really for one to suggest that the default controls of Other M need a change.

- Add “quick-fire” commands to Samus’ other weapons: It is rather funny when I think about it, Batman: Arkham Asylum was the Metroid game Nintendo never made but very easily could have with Other M. Replace the “free-flow” system with Team Ninja’s design and spruce it up with some quick-fire options (and weapon tweaking) and you could have a character action brawler that predominantly uses firearms. Let’s say, for instance, that the new control scheme made it so HOLDING the “C” button allowed Samus to enter the first-person perspective but, if you quickly tapped it instead, Samus would quickly launch a missile? Heck the d-pad’s freedom from movement controls gives you other quick fire commands without having to resort to motion controls or crippling the combat down to a basic fire command.

While there is not much of a chance of Nintendo revisiting the Other M formula for such revisions, a part of me still hopes for another shot with, at the very least, this “gun spectacle brawl” style Team Ninja introduced. Yes, Nintendo’s relationship with Samus is strained but at least they have not dropped her like Microsoft did to Blinx the Time Sweeper. Nintendo still wants to do something with the Metroid licence at the very least, one will just have to hope that all the games they DMCA ban will inspire them!
Greg Baxter
 
 
 
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