'Metroid: The Other M' Sucks Some Life Out of the Series

Metroid: The Other M begins with an exhilarating cinematic reproduction of the climactic battle between intergalactic bounty hunter Samus Aran and the malevolent Mother Brain originally featured in Super Metroid, the SNES classic that lent its name to the burgeoning “Metroidvania” side-scrolling adventure genre.

That opening cut scene is the apex of the game—the rest of The Other M is a disjointed, unsatisfying mess.

It’s a Metroid sequel that both attempts to divest itself of its rich predecessors while liberally cribbing all the wrong stylistic and gameplay cues from them—and at the same time attempting to tell a pre-prequel story through a series of flashbacks written by a team of third-rate manga localizers and narrated by a voice actor who is fighting through a profound incomprehension of the source material and a near-overdose of Ambien.

Why do this to one of Nintendo’s most venerable titles? Well, once upon a time, there was a Tecmo subsidiary called Team Ninja that was purpose-built to reconstitute an old series called Ninja Gaiden and give it the full “Mountain Dew X-Treme Gaming” treatment. The new Ninja Gaidens caught on, thanks in no small part to the connection between the modern ninja archetype and the uniquely American concept of strapping as many weapons onto a protagonist as possible, flinging him headlong into a barrel filled with cannon fodder, and throwing the whole thing into an exploding volcano.

This apparently piqued the interest of Nintendo’s hierarchy, who immediately set about rummaging through the Nintendo back catalog to see what franchises might benefit from a similar metamorphosis. One game of blindfolded darts later, The Other M was born.

But events lined up against The Other M. Team Ninja imploded shortly before its formal inception, losing team leader Tomonobu Itagaki, who took with him the unquantifiable yet non-zero element of a development head who can pitch “extreme beach volleyball” to a publisher with a straight face.

Team Ninja soldiered on, working with Nintendo under the Project M moniker. But without Igataki’s influence pushing it to ever more radical heights, The Other M inevitably fell back hard on Metroid mainstays. Gone is the alternate future in which Samus dual-wields Power Beams while snowboarding across the galaxy on the frozen skull of a space dragon, chaining tricks and kill combos to unlock spiky mystical spacesuit shoulder pads that don’t do anything functional but look really cool.

Samus does none of these things. The Other M is strictly a third-person corridor shooter, much in the style of Super Metroid, a 16-year-old game from three console generations ago. A few other franchises have seen success going the hyper-retro route (see also: the Castlevania half of Metroidvania), but these have largely A.) built themselves a more retro-friendly market on handheld platforms, and B.) not billed themselves as the first “real” game in their franchise in a decade or so.

Putting The Other M on the Wii, then, is both a curse and—well, a slightly different curse. By going nowhere with the source material (the game’s plotline is literally the Metroid version of, “Guess what? We built another Death Star!”), Project M guaranteed disappointment among gamers who expect their nostalgia to come in more portable (and less expensive) packages.

Conversely, developing The Other M for the Wii locks it into the Wii’s control scheme, one which falters when presented with the typically button-heavy affair of a Team Ninja game. Samus moves serviceably here, but this is a Team Ninja game (or at least something billed as one), and this Samus is no Ryu Hayabusa.

But The Other M’s biggest problem is that it embodies principles that the Metroid series left behind eight years ago. Retro Studios’ Metroid Prime games, themselves exhibits A, B, and C in the case against revamping Metroid in the first place, expanded the franchise beyond some jungle corridors, then some lava corridors, then a space pirate HQ, and then a bikini shot of Samus.

The Metroid Prime series is big, it’s bright, it’s immersive—it’s everything that The Other M isn’t. The Primes didn’t bother to shoehorn a hamfisted plotline in because they didn’t have to. Retro Studios built huge, elaborate worlds and littered them with details, letting the intricacies they created within tell the story.

You can get away with this kind of nonsense with Mario; nobody really expects any more out of that guy. But Metroid has passed the point of no return. The bar for expansion is set too high, and when something like The Other M tries to turn things around and “get back to basics,” the result ends up a brutish, anemic thing, one hardly worthy of its mantle.

© 2010 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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