This review is coming from a man who holds no video game series in higher regard than Metroid. I played the hell out of the original, loved the Super NES sequel (who didn't?), and was crazy about Metroid Prime and various handheld chapters as well. Metroid: Other M is the second appearance of the game on the Wii, but it is the first codeveloped with Team Ninja. The departure from the Prime series also marks a return to 2D-style play on a console release. Oh, and Samus gets all talky in this one, too. So much can go wrong. So much.
But for the most part, Metroid: Other M is superb, especially if you've played one or more of the earliest titles. The story starts soon after the events of Super Metroid, so we are treated early on to a three-dimensional rendition of the climactic final battle (which was one of my favorite gaming memories ever, in case you're interested). I can see how someone picking up a Metroid game for the first time might have a hard time being sucked into the story right away, but even on its own, the narrative becomes compelling.
This time, bounty hunter Samus Aran is plopped down in one horror movie of a setting, trying to figure out what's going on as her former comrades are being picked off one by one on a mysterious derelict spacecraft. There are a good number of cut scenes, but the action manages to retain the feeling of isolation for which the series is known - though much of it this time is psychological. Samus does not spend a lot of time interacting with the soldiers - they serve more as an excuse to have her go to this location or that - but even the two she's enjoyed a deeper friendship with previously are kept at a distance. The environments and enemies are more varied than you would expect them to be on a spaceship (there's a good reason for the lava and ice areas, by the way), and events conspire to keep our heroine out and detached.
Anyone who tells you he "beat" Metroid: Other M in six hours is like someone who read the sports scores in the paper and told you he saw the ball game.
For once, however, the action may trump the exploration. Other M is played with the Wiimote held horizontally (no nunchuk, no classic contoller) for the bulk of the game, with the ability to enter a limited first-person mode by pointing at the screen. Samus auto-aims to an extent, but you'll find positioning and counterattacking are of paramount importance. This is done with a quick tap of the directional pad just as an enemy attack hits, followed by a release of the fire button. Missiles and bombs are used for some battles, but the various arm blasters are your real bread and butter.
I've heard various complaints about the control scheme, but honestly, if you recognize that this is not a first-person shooter (or "first-person adventure") and that countering is there for a good reason, you should quickly come to love the simplicity of the layout. Activating the map is the only clunky part, though collapsing into a morph ball and transition from third- to first-person view are not exactly silky smooth.
Some of the power-ups are fiendishly hidden. Even though I played carefully and took more than twelve hours to reach the credits, I wasn't even at 40% completion. Samus has an opportunity to go back after the "end" of the game to get to 100% and unlock some new rooms and enemies. By this point, of course, she is a god of offense (even Kratos would be left in the dust), but the game feels more like Metroid than at any point before. Anyone who tells you he "beat" Metroid: Other M in six hours is like someone who read the sports scores in the paper and told you he saw the ball game. Save the speed runs for later and take your time initially.
So if it's mostly good, what are the down sides? While only a couple of hours into Other M, I was worried about two things. Primarily, I was anxious that the personality of Samus Aran would be overexposed and over-exposited. After all, she has gone from a huge enigma to more of a chatterbox than some fans are comfortable with. But most of her dialogue is internal and it does serve the story, so my fears there were assuaged. Secondly, as I saw the first minor enemies block my path, I was concerned that we would just get a rehash of past encounters with a fancier coating. But with the new engine and new finishing techniques, it's a good combination of fresh and familiar.
In fact, while Prime marked a turning point in the series and this title is a return of sorts, I think we have an even bigger break from the past in the making here. That is, if Nintendo takes advantage of this chance. Those of who've followed the series have fought the space pirate Ridley numerous times; we've seen the same creepy crawlers evolve from 8-bit to Wii-gen; we've unlocked the space jump over and over and over. With each entry in the series, there has been enough of a progression (and the right amount of "if it ain't broke . . .") to keep us enthralled. But now, with a new development team and all the evolution in hardware, it's time to take another leap into uncertainty.
With the increased emphasis on Samus' inner space, there should also come a greater expansion on the physical universe she inhabits. I know Mario and Link still do it, too, but the time has come - with the next Metroid game, to ditch the old enemies and start something entirely new. No spiked nasties slowly crawling on the wall, no bird-like creatures propelling themselves from the ceiling and drilling into the ground. Give us more innovations to gawk at.
But for right now, what we have is an amazing good time. Buy this game and savor it.