On Metroid: Other M…

As I watched the credits roll upon finishing Other M, I noticed my usual satisfaction of finishing another video game narrative was absent, replaced by a nebulous void filled with questions and concerns…but about what? Even days after I put the game in its customary place upon the shelf of conquered foes, my mind would find itself back to Other M and my unknown frustration would be resurrected. As an aspiring journalist and video game reviewer, it is paramount that we laud the high points of game mechanics and design, and criticize the flaws. We formulate our evaluation based upon an amalgamation of personal opinion and collective assurance from other gamers experiencing the same story, and then put it to paper. But this time, my subconscious was lashing out against a deeper thread that I could not divine. That is, until I read this.

I understand how easy it is to get wrapped up into the opinions of others, and I admit this may very well be one of those cases, but her argument is far too compelling for me to ignore, and too resounding to disagree with. Metroid: Other M underlines the cliched saying “one step forward, two steps back” by marrying great game play mechanics with a relatively inchoate, mish-mashed story pioneered by a female protagonist that contradicts so many earlier foundations of the Metroid Saga that it borders on the edge of personal offense. I have been a long time of Samus Aran, but the armor-clad bounty hunter I was presented with in this game was, to put it simply, an imposter.

When I first heard that Nintendo was partnering with the minds behind the violently impressive Ninja Gaiden games, I was rather elated. When video game sagas become storied, new blood is almost always a good first step to finding fresh creative energies. In the case of Team Ninja, however, it seems a misinterpretation can lead to an array of bad decisions–Most of them centered around Samus Aran herself. For the first time, our heroine is given voice to her inner monologue and we are allowed to go deeper into her psyche than ever before. What we discover, sadly, is an unremarkable vocal performance trying to convey serious self-esteem and daddy issues. For years, we have known Samus to be a fearless bounty-hunter, capable of vaporizing legions of space pirates and eradicating complete species of Metroids without ever considering a second glance. Yet in the face of her resurrected foe, Ridley—whom she has defeated more than twice at this point in the Metroid timeline—she is shown as a petrified child, completely incapable of defending either herself or her comrades.

It is also with her “comrades” that Other M makes the biggest offense to the character that was Samus Aran: In the presence of her former commanding officer, our bold heroine chooses to completely submit to his order without any hesitation, even going so far as to deactivate all of her suit’s powers until he deems them necessary to be reactivated. The developers at Team Ninja use this plot point as a means of adapting the classic Metroid tradition of Samus losing all of her abilities and gradually rediscovering them. But are we really to believe that Samus would willingly run through an entire lava segment and take constant damage, knowing at any point she could negate this effect completely just by switching on her Varia suit (a segment that, in fact, takes place in the game)? This constant theme of submissiveness and obeying order, while not disrupting the story or game play too much, strikes a chord with Metroid fans as it goes against everything we have perceived Samus Aran to be. Instead of an intrepid bounty-hunter with steeled nerves and a steady aim, we’re given an emotionally affected woman who can’t seem to let go of her past connections to this officer, or of the giant Metroid that saved her life at the end of Super Metroid. Team Ninja takes several liberties with the lore in order to suit their needs of character narration that not only fail to execute properly, but destroys the legacy of Samus Aran as one of the only fearless female characters in video game history.

The game play serves to be one of the few redeeming qualaties of Other M, though it certainly isn’t without its flaws. Team Ninja was smart not to forsake the work done by Retro Studios and their first-person perspective Metroid games, but instead coupled it with the classic side scrolling style that the first games were known for. By pointing the Wii-mote at the screen Samus goes into first person mode, allowing her to manually target single foes or certain weak spots on bigger enemies. This perspective is also the only way to fire missles, a fairly clunky and haphazard process. The aiming process is slow and erratic when switching from one mode to another, usually forcing players to waste several missles before actually hitting the target. In most cases, many firefights are a regurgitating process of running in circles until you have enough distance to properly aim and fire off a missle or two.  Most of the game is played in the side scrolling perspective, however, which is thankfully well polished and very responsive. Samus will automatically target foes nearby, allowing the player to easily mash the fire button until everything is dead. Her dodging mechanic is a welcome combat mechanic that both quickens the battles and saves the player from having to run around so constantly, as most of the later battles tend to lean toward. Samus is also given “finishing moves” which harken to the God of War mechanic of defeating a foe in a more spectacular manner, but even these become tedious and unnecessary after the several hundredth time or so. The boss fights are thankfully varied and come at surprising moments, usually just when the player starts hoping for a change in pace.

Finally, the cut scenes represent a wide spectrum of time and quality, from the short and tightly performed action sequences to the frustratingly long and convoluded plot narrations that go no where. So much of the grand conclusion is crammed together into one or two scenes that I was left hazy on who the real enemy was or if I was actually saving the day at all. Along that note, the final boss sequence isn’t even a boss fight at all. Like many sequences before it, Team Ninja masks the true purpose of the battle and provides very little insight on what you’re really supposed to be doing. I’m almost ashamed to admit that it took well over 90 minutes to figure out what I was supposed to do, but upon discovering it I was too angry wondering as to how the developers expected me to arrive to that conclusion quicker.

When Other M was first announced by big N back in E3 ’09, the rush of endorphines over ruled any attempt by logic to play devil’s advocate with the Nintendo/Team Ninja combo. The videos looked solid, the graphics gleaned with polish, and Samus looked in fine form to return. And when the time came to be greeted with our fearless Bounty Hunter upgraded with Team Ninja-level grittiness and combat potential, we found a meek, timid woman fawning over some old commander, becking to his every whim and need. For years, Samus Aran represented an iconic female character that refused to be defined by normal stereotypes in either societal or gaming standards. She was independent, methodical and stoic, and she was one of the best at it. But even after the bitter taste Other M left us fades away, the damage will still be ever present—Our heroine, tall and strong, reduced to a contradiction; a misconception; a stereotype.

See you in the next level,

Gray

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