Bounty hunter Samus Aran is back, and she's not alone. Metroid: Other M features our fair heroine assisting the Galactic Federation in responding to a distress call emanating from a vast Bottle Ship.
However, not much moment to moment gameplay takes place with companions in tow. For those who worried that Other M's talky Samus and crew of supporting characters would would strip the game of its trademark style, fear not. Other M is a Metroid game through and through.
Other M's melodramatic story is delivered by both rendered and in-engine cutscenes, and by Samus' monotone, borderline bored-sounding narration. A few of the rendered scenes are truly magnificent: grand spectacles that bring the Metroid universe to vivid, screen filling life. Too many are overly long talking head segments, with emotionless, though pretty, character models. The story does gain momentum as it progresses, and is told thoroughly and clearly. Lingering questions are not going to be an issue for those who finish Other M.
The game is front-loaded with cinematics, and it takes some time for the action to really get going. But once Samus is on her own, exploring the vessel, look out. Other M is packed to overflowing with vintage Metroid design. Players will instantly come across power ups and passages that will remain inaccessible until much later in the game. Combat against routine foes is nearly constant, and the game has a parade of boss encounters, both large and small, to break up the exploration. Level design is less convoluted than in the Metroid Prime games, though the environments are still fascinating to traverse. An excellent map system always keeps players aware of where they are, and where they need to go.
Co-developer Team Ninja has definitely added a bit of an edge to the proceedings. Samus' detached voice over could not be less in line with her commanding, occasionally brutal presence in the game world. Many an enemy are best dispatched with an execution-style blast to the head, and Samus is more than up to the task. By the end of the game, when she is fully powered up, Samus can effortlessly destroy foes that were once troublesome. She is quick, acrobatic, and lethal, and the game's novel control set-up largely keeps pace with her.
The bulk of Other M is controlled by using the Wii Remote in its NES controller configuration. To fire Samus' missiles, players will need to point the controller at the screen, which moves the game from a third person to a first person perspective. Though this maneuver isn't difficult to execute, it remains innately clumsy. The same is true of using the Wii Remote's digital pad to control Samus' movement. By and large it's fine, but on a couple of occasions, analog movement control would clearly have been preferable.
Some of Metroid's long-standing mechanics have been re-evaluated for Other M. Gone are the heath packs and missiles that used to appear from fallen foes. These can now be regenerated by simply holding the Wii Remote upright and pressing the A button. Players no longer need to create "bomb ladders" to reach crevices where power-ups might be hiding. Samus simply jumps to and hangs from such openings, and transforms into Morph Ball mode as she pulls herself up.
Difficulty ramps up smoothly over the course of the game's extensive playtime (it took me nearly 14 hours to finish Other M). The entire experience exudes the kind care and quality gamers have come to expect from a first party Nintendo title. From the simple, elegant menu design, to the often understated but occasionally frenetic score, Other M's production values shine. Graphically, the game again proves that, in the right hands, the Wii is capable of producing some impressive visuals.
Of course, not everything is perfect. Some segments in Other M force Samus to do nothing more than walk. Slowly. Players are occasionally required to tediously scan their surroundings until a specific, and usually well hidden, detail is discovered. Finally, despite the game's emphasis on story, there are simply too many cut scenes.
But Other M does an astounding number of things right in re-organizing the Metroid experience for today's console gamer. Accessible without being a pushover, streamlined without abandoning the series' core strengths, Metroid: Other M is a smart, fun update to the Metroid formula.
Metroid: Other M is available now for the Nintendo Wii.