Developer: Project M
Platform: Nintendo Wii
Even among this lot, Samus Aran sticks out for her reticence. The formidable bounty hunter at the heart of the Metroid series has remained silent since ’86, when she first blew up a planet full of Space Pirates all by herself. She had dialogue in the non-verbal cut-scenes of Metroid Fusion, but she’s never had a voice.
That changes with Metroid: Other M. Samus speaks now. She speaks a lot. It’s hard to shut her up, which one will quickly want to do whenever she starts whining in her dull monotone. “Samus talks!” could’ve been the tagline for Other M, but unfortunately she’s no Garbo.
The Samus of Other M isn’t the mysterious and supremely confident warrior from previous games. Lengthy melodramatic cut-scenes reveal all her fears and insecurities, laying bare intimate details about her past. Although well-animated, these vignettes are floridly overwritten, and plagued by listless voice-acting. They make one long for Metroids past, where the narrative flirted between understated and non-existent.
Historically Samus is pure cipher, with little to no development over the past twenty-odd years. That might make Metroid fans feel closer to her than other, more clearly delineated heroes. In the lack of concrete characterization Samus becomes all things to all people. The only constants are a direct, forthright attitude towards action and a willingness to explore every last corner of an isolated planet or abandoned outpost. Samus gets the job done as thoroughly as the player decides without ever complaining.
Other M veers sharply in a different direction. It focuses on Samus as a person, and many fans may not like who that person is. In trying to gin up sympathy for Samus Other M makes her less sympathetic. Somehow knowing more means caring less.
This doesn’t sink the game, fortunately. Other M’s action is a largely successful new take on the classic formula, at once more faithful and more wayward than the Metroid Prime series. Exploration and backtracking are still vital. Other M skips between the third and first person, from side-scroller to God of War-style fixed camera action game to a first-person shooting gallery. It sounds awkward, but there are only a few perspective shifts that are unexpected or momentarily jarring, and the player mostly decides when to enter first-person mode.
Other M also changes how Samus develops new abilities. She starts with almost all her powers, but promptly agrees to not use them until authorized by an old military commander she encounters on her mission. Even in deadly situations where a super missile or plasma gun would keep her alive, Samus won’t use a weapon until this random guy gives her the word. This is as poorly conceived as the game’s story and weakens the character even further. It’s a Metroid hallmark for Samus to start off relatively powerless and eventually turn into some kind of crazy robo-suited space God, but her arbitrary limitations in Other M are narratively unfulfilling.
A few power-ups are scattered throughout the environment, including energy tanks, missile packs, and widgets that increase the charging speed of Samus’s weapons. There are fragments of energy tanks that act like the heart pieces in a Zelda game; collect four for an extra bank of 99 hit points. Otherwise Other M is less about tracking down new powers than waiting for some guy to say it’s cool for Samus to finally put on the special clothes that keep her from hurting so much.
Despite all this, Other M is fun and engrossing. It’s just Metroid enough. There’s a solid chunk of pure, unadulterated Metroid at its core, with Samus single-handedly confronting evil and unlocking new skills in a creepy and claustrophobic spaceship. There aren’t many actual metroids in the game, but when they do appear they’re as deadly and frightening as ever. Samus is a drip, but even she can’t drag a good Metroid down.