Its own odd preoccupations hinder this otherwise interesting take on Metroid.
Note: This is part of May 2012 Game Club on Metroid: Other M. For more coverage of the game, check out our event page.
Other M treads a strange middle ground of styles. The two distinct types the Metroid series works in—an iconic blend of 2D exploration and platforming, and, since the Prime games, a fully realized first-person rendition of that kind of atmosphere—both serve as points of inspiration for the Nintendo/Team Ninja collaboration, but the resulting combination is a hard experience to quantify.
The game's opening cinematic, a sharp, nostalgia-yanking recreation of Super Metroid's finale, sets several precedents in tone for the rest of the game. The scene brings a heightened level of drama and dark, visual flair to the event, and uses this style to broach the long-silent character of Samus Aran. In her post-encounter state, Samus begins what becomes a running self-reflection on the destruction of Mother Brain and the infant metroid, the past and present state of her own life, and any other sentiment that might have otherwise gone unsaid.
This attempt to quantify and humanize Samus—an almost knight-like character in the series' established fiction, defined by unparalleled ability and years of solitary adventuring—through the now-spoken content of her own mind, well-intentioned as it may be, falls flat early and often. Her simultaneous verboseness and awkward, flatline delivery undermine even the least personal of moments, creating a ponderous and off-putting interpretation of a character players have long been able to fill in qualities of by themselves.
However, the game's desire to push Samus' emotions across at all times through inane observations and tepid anecdotes is at its most offensive when it steps on the toes of moments of legitimate quality in its own presentation. By painting a bland word picture of her every thought, action, and real-time decision, Samus sabotages the tension or meaningfulness of scenes with prominent visual atmosphere that would benefit most from silence, or even just a few choice phrases.
Other M's narrative concentrates on Samus' personal past, as well as her growth as a woman and a soldier. This is arguably a worthwhile topic to explore: the human trials and experiences of a character with the qualities and past of one such as Samus are credible material to build on, and at times Other M weaves those threads with dexterity. Too often, though, Samus outshouts her own points as she makes them, turning her relevant explanations into story-stalling anchors. The story bits between moments of action and exploration are an equally hasty, sloppily written mess; the stabs at rounding Samus' personality and meshing the various angles of her life and experiences are painfully transparent, and Other M approaches them without a shred of the subtlety that has carried the series for twenty-five years. Though the narrative as a whole includes pertinent continuations of the Metroid canon, the game delivers them with a pervading and increasingly frustrating tepidness.
While the stilted narrative and awkward voice are uniquely Other M's own, its mechanics borrow directly from certain parts of the series. The game features the standard progression of Metroid weapons and abilities, but puts Samus into a 3D space with a pseudo-2D control design (and, frequently, a pared down interpretation of the Prime games' first-person mechanic). The skittish, imprecise movements of Samus in this structure are reminiscent of a hardline character action game, and are appropriately matched by kill room-esque enemy ambushes. Consequently, Samus carries a stylized move set punctuated with sharp dashes, timed dodges, and aggressive finishing actions. The core design and controls make for a baffling hybrid that never quite feels comfortable, and does little to advance any distinct Metroid style, but as ill-fitting as they may be, Other M's jagged combat and movement can work effectively. The way the game hits the series' signature mechanical points is never especially heinous—just awkward.
In style and substance, Other M is a sort of cubist rendition of a Metroid game, trying to introduce a host of previously unrecognized—and often superfluous—perspectives to the familiar structure. The game goes for more of a heightened, often unwieldy interpretation of series standards, and while the result is more or less negotiable, I can't help but wonder how a mechanically condensed, self-restrained cut of Other M might have turned out.