I risk the wrath of many when I say this, but I’ve never been fond of the first-person Metroids. I’ve worked my way through the majority of Samus’ 2D, side-scrolling adventures, but I swapped Metroid Prime with a work colleague for the original Splinter Cell and felt that I’d walked away with much the better deal. Though Metroid: Other M still contains the first-person perspective, Team Ninja have decided to throw out much of what has epitomised the Game Cube and Wii iterations and stamped their own take on Nintendo’s classic franchise.
The first change which you’ll immediately notice is the increased exposition. Although plot has been an increasingly important element in the evolution of the Prime series, the first hour of Other M is heavily loaded with pre-rendered cutscenes that take us through Samus’ experience post Super Metroid. As if dealing with post traumatic stress, she talks of the bond with the baby Metroid which saved her from Mother Brain, and the emptiness she now feels now that it is gone.
We also see glimpses of Samus’ life before she was a bounty hunter, when she served time in the Galactic Federation (GF) military. There, due to her sex and demure stature, she felt sidelined by her squad mates, eventually leading to her exit from the GF taking up a more solitary profession.
When Nintendo executives spoke about taking a deeper look into Samus’ story, they weren’t wrong. If the opening scenes are indicative of what is to come in the rest of Other M, covering quite a traumatic time for Nintendo’s own super soldier, then by the conclusion she’ll be definitely looked upon in a more human manner. Quite a feat given how much time she’s spent hiding behind that visor.
What we know the girl best for, however, is ridding the universe of space pirates and her ability to turn into the most lethal pinball known to man, both of which remain unerringly true. In this latest adventure, though, she does it from a new perspective. You view Samus from the classical third-person point of view, but rather than simply being restricted to two dimensions, she can now wonder into the screen as well. This extension makes it visually feel reminiscent of last year’s Shadow Complex – strange, given how much that in turn was inspired by this series.
Almost reinforcing the return to classic Metroiding, only the Wii-mote is used, dispensing with the need for the analogue stick on the nunchuck. The Wii-mote is held sideways with the d-pad moving Samus around, and the three main face buttons used for beam charging, jumping and turning into the morph ball. Given how complex some control schemes can before, this return to simplicity is indeed refreshing.
As the usual array of monsters make themselves known, there is a reasonable amount of auto-aim to help you rid yourself of the threat. Given the now digital motion and a slight depth issue associated with moving in and out of the screen, this is not unwelcome, and aiming roughly in their direction should be enough to see energy shots reach their target.
Of course for those wishing to see the action through her famous visor, simply taking the Wii-mote and aiming it at the screen will be enough to flip yourself into Samus’ helmet. From this perspective, enemies can be locked on to and blasted away with missiles and beam alike. Also, in less intense situations, objects of interest can be scanned and examined. The downside of this viewpoint is that you’re locked to the spot until you swap back. Early fights had me constantly switching back and forth as foes either closed in too quickly, I hadn’t given myself enough space, or I hadn’t appraised the situation fully.
In the demo, we joined Samus as she responded to a distress signal (a “baby’s cry”) from a vessel floating in space. Finding the space hulk all but abandoned, we fought our way through corridors filled with nasties to reach the bridge. Fighting these standard foes needs no more than space and the ability to fire your weapon quickly, as these sections are mostly about exploring your environment and eking out every last secret you can find from them. Swapping to the visor view in these situations can give a completely fresh take on your surroundings, pulling you into the screen and allowing closer examination.
Before long we stumbled across a group of GF soldiers, and by a shocking coincidence they turned out to be her old detachment. Reunions were cut short as a giant purple monster reared its ugly head and caused the first true test of Samus and the new control scheme.
As the monster flailed its tentacle-like limbs around, I dodged in third-person around the room, looking for a moment to unleash rockets into the beast. At which point I’d flick the Wii-mote around, go into first-person, lock-on to the highlighted weak points and then unleash a salvo that took great chunks off his health. Timing and placement was required as you needed to make sure you weren’t only out of range of the lashing tentacles but able to respond to the soldiers who were laying down covering fire with their freeze guns.
The notion of weak spots and patterns are nothing new, especially to the world of Nintendo bosses, but the blend of gameplay styles link so seamlessly as to give the concept a new take. Indeed, the joining of the old and the new Metroids into one new package could be a combination that sees the series recapture the spirit of the originals, whilst continuing to satisfy the Prime fans that have only ever known Samus in 3D.
Other M has completely changed my view on the recent home console versions of Metroid, and with only a month to go before it hits the shelves, quite ironically it may be Splinter Cell: Conviction that gets traded in to see me bring Samus home.
Metroid: Other M is out on the Wii at the start of September.