|Metroid: Other M | for Nintendo Wii | Rated T for Teen | Developed by Team Ninja | Published by Nintendo|
The best in-game storytelling I’ve seen occurs at the climax of Super Metroid
. Samus Aran discovers several foes who’ve been turned to dust. Suddenly, she’s attacked by a parasitic Metroid, which nearly kills her as well before whimpering and scuttling off. Then when she’s fighting the game’s final boss, the Metroid reappears and is killed, but not before bestowing upon Samus the devastating Hyper Beam. All of this is playable, and you’re left to realize that the Metroid is the baby whom Samus rescued at the beginning of the game.
Super Metroid came out in 1994. You’d think that video-game storytelling would have advanced since then. On the basis of Metroid: Other M, the latest iteration in the series for the Wii, it has regressed. The final hour or so of Other M is mostly pre-rendered cutscenes, long on talk and short on action. The final interactive sequence is appalling, nothing more than a pixel hunt.
Like a lot of fans, I feel a sense of ownership of Metroid. In fact, Nintendo owns the franchise, and it’s free to do whatever it wants — which in this case means farming out the development to Team Ninja, the folks who brought us the ultra-violent Ninja Gaiden games, not to mention Dead or Alive: Beach Volleyball, where the only things that bounce more than the ball are the pendulous breasts of the competitors.
After the uninspired conclusion to the Metroid Prime trilogy, 2007’s Corruption, Metroid was due for a shake-up, and some of Team Ninja’s ideas work here. Samus has never moved more snappily. You’re working mostly with digital, not analog, controls, and the game’s responsiveness is almost psychic. Things get hairier when you switch to first-person mode by pointing the Wii remote at the TV. Samus can’t move in this viewpoint, and for my entire playtime, I never got comfortable with the transition from holding the controller sideways.
Whether or not it’s the beach volleyball talking, Team Ninja’s take on Samus Aran isn’t satisfying. This is the first time she’s had a speaking role, which is fine, but it’s also the first time she’s seemed helpless, which is not. As part of a team of soldiers, Samus must discover who of her comrades is an assassin. Because she has a personal history with the unit, we’re treated to boring flashbacks where she ruminates on her relationship with everybody.
Worse, in-game, it’s the commander who authorizes Samus to unlock her suit upgrades, so she suffers through blistering heat until he tells her she can use her Varia Suit, and she lumbers past barricaded doors until he tells her she can use super missiles. I’m not concerned with what this says about Samus Aran as a character as much as what it says about my agency as a player.
Other M has some decent action sequences, like the freakish boss battle against the pterodactyl-like space pirate Ridley, but it never allows you to feel like an explorer. Doors are locked arbitrarily; some upgrades can’t even be used on your first play-through. For an adventure game, this is stifling. Metroid or not, it’s a problem.