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Critical Reception: Nintendo/Team Ninja's  Metroid: Other M
Critical Reception: Nintendo/Team Ninja's Metroid: Other M
September 1, 2010 | By Danny Cowan

September 1, 2010 | By Danny Cowan
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This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to the Team Ninja-developed Metroid sequel Other M, which reviews describe as "a worthwhile addition to the Metroid canon." Metroid: Other M currently earns a score of 80 out of 100 at Metacritic.com.

Wired's Chris Kohler scores Metroid: Other M at 9 out of 10. "Sometime during the last generation of game consoles, everybody decided that action games had to be big cinematic to-dos stuffed with lengthy movie sequences, Hollywood actors and epic storylines," he begins. "Everybody except Nintendo, that is, who said 'No thanks, we'll just make Wii Sports forever' and then made sure that its flagship action games remained untouched by anything that might be construed as cinematic grandeur."

"Enter Metroid producer Yoshio Sakamoto, who cites Italian filmmaker Dario Argento as his strongest influence," Kohler continues. "Taking back the reins of the classic space-adventure game series that he co-created at Nintendo in the eight-bit days, Sakamoto decided to develop a Metroid game for Wii that bucked the trend, using bold movielike sequences to tell the story of the game's iconic but mostly two-dimensional main character, interstellar bounty-hunter Samus Aran."

Kohler explains that the resulting product, helmed by Ninja Gaiden series developer Team Ninja, features outstanding action, but is lacking in other areas. "Metroid: Other M turned out to be pretty darned good," he praises. "As you might imagine, its cinematic scenes aren't at all up-to-par with what the rest of the game industry is creating, but they're passable."

"Other M's game design is in great part an attempt to replicate Super Metroid with contemporary gameplay sensibilities," Kohler notes. "It must be a taxing thing for a designer to create a Metroid game. When you first start out running through a level, blasting enemies and finding power-ups, you've got to feel like you're on a linear path moving towards a goal. But as the game goes on, all these linear paths need to gradually blend together into an intricate spider-web of tunnels through which the player can travel wherever he pleases.

"Doing this in 2-D is probably quite difficult, let alone 3-D. Other M's solution is a series of tubular, linear corridors that could have been the design of a Super Nintendo game, just rendered in 3-D. The camera is fully automatic it's always exactly where it needs to be, no player adjustment needed (or allowed)."

"Other M is full of interesting moments from unique boss battles to exceptionally well-hidden power-up items," Kohler writes. "As a cinematic game, Metroid: Other M isn't quite what a major first-party title should be. But the solid gameplay more than makes up for those imperfections."

1UP's Justin Haywald gives Metroid: Other M a grade of B-, describing its narrative as a notable weak point. "Samus Aran, the central figure in Metroid: Other M, is a stoic, independent bounty hunter," he explains. "Her latest adventure turns the unshakable warrior into a vulnerable young woman looking for direction and acceptance from male authority figures. In the hands of a great writer, this is the kind of character evolution that could work; but wrapped in a heavy-handed, meandering sci-fi tale, it just feels disingenuous."

"Other M's story fails through clumsy execution," Haywald continues. "Right after almost every battle, you get a flashback of the scene that happened moments before. Samus constantly adds her monologue to everything that's happening, but she delivers her lines in a droning monotone (which is probably meant to show her emotionless indifference to the rest of the world, but instead comes off as lifeless and boring). This narrative plods along, constantly interrupting the game's intense action and exploration moments, coming to a convoluted (but still achingly predictable) close."

Other M's core gameplay is more successful. "When I first turned my Wii Remote sideways (you don't use any analog controls for this adventure) I thought that the mix of 2D and 3D gameplay with nothing but a D-pad controller would be disastrous," Haywald admits. "But the action works because, even though you automatically target your nearest threat, you almost always want to target that nearest threat. It works because you're not just exploring a 2D world with some background and foreground enemies -- you're actually running through a fully 3D world, but from a forced perspective."

"One of my only real problems with the 'game' portion of Other M is the way you earn new abilities," Haywald adds. "Every Metroid game finds some way to strip you of your powers, so that it can slowly reintroduce them. But Other M's seems particularly ridiculous: you don't have an authorization. Apparently, you have access to all your weapons and armor upgrades from the very beginning of the game, but because the Galactic Federation is also on this mission with you, you can't use them until they say so."

"Also," Haywald continues, "at other times, the game interrupts the action to force you into a first-person view from which to scour the environment, akin to finding clues in an adventure or Ace Attorney game. The problem is, most of the time you have to place your cursor precisely on the exact pixel the game wants you to see, even when you're not given any clue as to what you're supposed to be looking for."

"As you delve further into Other M, instead of getting more of the things that work (combat), you get more of the things you don't care about (overwrought story)," Haywald warns. "The focus on the weak narrative bogs down what is otherwise an intense, action-focused game. If you can ignore the constant cut-scene interruptions, Other M shows the white-knuckle excitement you can still feel from a single-player only side-scrolling adventure."

GamePro's Tae Kim gives Metroid: Other M 4 out of 5 stars. "A short yet memorable chapter in Samus Aran's biography, Other M does an admirable job of blending elements of her past 2D adventures with those of her more recent 3D titles," he writes. "It does misfire in several key areas, but it's still a worthwhile addition to the Metroid canon."

Kim finds that Other M's gameplay lives up to series standards. "I was initially worried about the way the devs would handle the dual-viewpoint scheme, but it works seamlessly," he praises. "I did hate the fact that you can't blindfire missiles -- frustratingly enough, you have to achieve a hard lock in the first-person view -- but the transition between the two viewpoints is smooth enough that it isn't the hassle it could have been."

However: "It's hard to overlook some of the ways it deviates from the established franchise formula. First, the game doesn't encourage exploration nearly as much as past titles; you're constrained to a single ship, and although it features a variety of interesting and well designed areas, it doesn't quite have the epic sense of scale that we're used to; there aren't as many hidden objects to find either, with missile tanks, energy tanks, and upgrades that shorten the time it takes to charge your weapon forming the bulk of the loot you find. The game's environments also contribute to some frustrating puzzles that require tedious guesswork and obsessive pixel hunting to solve."

Other M's length is another concern. "The main campaign is also relatively short," Kim notes. "I finished the core campaign in about nine hours with a surprisingly low completion percentage; the ship is opened up again for you to fully explore, but I haven't done so yet, mostly because it felt like it was only being done for the benefit of completists."

"While it isn't the 'instant classic' we're all clamoring for," Kim concludes, "it is a solid title that deserves to stand on its own merits; in other words, don't unfairly judge it against your expectations because even though it doesn't live up to the high bar that we've set for the franchise, that doesn't mean it isn't a worthwhile experience in its own right."


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