There’s a lot of things I don’t like about Metroid: Other M, and I covered a lot of my pet peeves about the game in one of my previous cblogs, http://www.destructoid.com/blogs/Noir+Trilby/2010-sucked-any-objections-lady--192378.phtml so in keeping with the theme of this months cblog I’ll try my best not to retread old ground, and for each problem I address try to come up with a solution so I don’t look like a negative nancy.
In film one of the laziest and most staid storytelling devices is to have a character constantly narrating or monologing. In books it’s fairly acceptable as a book requires you to tell the reader how something is happening, but in a visual medium it’s something a lot of people find nonsensical to see something happening and then have a voice over saying “this is what’s happening.” Whenever Samus says “confession time” and decides to talk to us “the audience” about her feelings, the feeling that is evoked in me isn’t empathy or sympathy, it’s that this is bad writing and it destroys the atmosphere of the story for me. When Samus addresses us with her innermost thoughts, all I can think is “when can I skip this elaborate and overwrought cut scene?”
Another sore point for me is the game has a schizophrenic identity in terms of what it wants to be and how Sakamoto wanted to deliver its story. In this respect it reminds me of Deep Silver’s ill fated Wii exclusive survival horror, Cursed Mountain, which although it had some great ideas (set in Tibet, having to exorcise ghost monks) also suffered from an identity crisis. To put it bluntly, Cursed Mountain couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be Resident Evil 1 or Resident Evil 4 – some sections had an over the shoulder cam, bringing you close to the action, but it switched quite a lot to the Hitchcockian camera angles of Resident Evil 1, making the whole affair a very mixed bag. Metroid: Other M is similar in this respect, being part side scroller, part 2.5D shooter, part over-the-shoulder cam, part first person spot the object game. It’s a game that suffers from the weight of its predecessors and the expectation of other games, the first person pixel hunting and missile shooting is like a bastardised version of the scanning visor and first person nature of the Prime games, and bizarrely the over the shoulder cam is a strange nod to RE4. You mightn’t think a camera in a game would be such a big deal in the telling of a story, but again in a visual medium like video games the way in which something is presented is vital in conveying atmosphere and telling a story.
“But this is a video game,” I hear you say, “video games don’t need a story to be compelling.” You’d be partly right, some of the best games have a bare bone story or no story at all, like Galaga, any of the 2D Mario games, etc. Super Metroid had minimal supposition before it began, leaving you to escape a space station about to explode, and then you’re standing on SR388 in the pouring rain. Super Metroid had the perfect balance of exploration and narrative - it told you enough information for you to know what was going on without impinging on your freedom, and used the scenery of the gloomy caverns and ghost ships and brilliant music to evoke an atmosphere that told you the story implicitly and let you experience the story rather than having it told to you whilst you’re desperately pressing “A” trying to skip the cut scene. Metroid Prime is another brilliant example of storytelling done right. Handled primarily through the scanner visor, Samus reads the accounts of the dead Chozo race talking about a prophesised saviour, or read some of the Space Pirate accounts about trying to harness the power of phazon to use as a WMD.
So here’s what I propose, ditch the unnecessary exposition of Samus and make Metroid an open world game. I’d love to see Samus actually BE a bounty hunter rather than just taking down the Space Pirate threat out of the good of her heart. Planet hopping in Samus’s ship, taking on contracts, shaking down shady informants in cyber punk alleys, all the while keeping the theme of exploration and having a rich main quest line. My Metroid game would probably look a lot like Prey 2 or Mass Effect, but with evoking the horror of the early Alien films . Adam Malkovich would be relegated to the role of comms - think Oracle in Arkham Asylum or Pritchard in Deus EX: Human Revolution: nothing too obtrusive, just the occasional bit of quest advice or checking in on you. Story would be told by finding logs, audio accounts and in short interactive cut scenes, rather than from any voice over by Samus. Our heroine would only speak when others are speaking to her or if she initiated a conversation with an NPC, and would be given dialogue choices to decide which course of action to take. Nintendo have already taken minor steps towards this with Link in Skyward Sword, so why not go all the way with Metroid? I would also have Samus voiced by Jennifer Hale who based on her stellar voice work as Femshep, and her VO of Samus’s grunts of pain in Metroid Prime is more identifiable as Samus than the monotone voice stylings of Jessica Martin, but this is more of a personal preference, as I know Martin’s flat performance is probably more Sakamoto’s fault than hers. I think what I’d want to focus on the most with Samus’s dialogue, whoever it is that voices her, is for her to have the succinct brevity that she had in her written dialogue in Metroid Fusion rather than the long, introspective monologues of Other M.
I would also give the option for the player to be able to play Metroid in either 1st person or 3rd person view. The Wii U could make this POV switch even easier with the use of the Wii-U’s controller screen as the first person view, and the TV showing Samus moving in 3rd person, giving both fans of old school Metroid and fans of the Prime series the best of both worlds without seeming like some sort of compromise measure. I’d also give the option of switching the 1st person view to the top screen and the 3rd person to the controller screen on the fly depending on the preference of the player. This would solve the problem of identity I discussed earlier without sacrificing the freedom of the user.
Another thing I’d love to see in Metroid is RPG elements to be worked into the game. Metroid is already a game about attaining different powers and obtaining upgrades such as energy modules and missile packs, so why not extend the options to different varia suits and powers than we’re used to? Let us mix and match and make our own Samus and make “play style matter.” Imagine 4 DNA branches – chozo, metroid , X-parasite and Phazon – these would be your 4 skill trees. The chozo skill tree would focus on different types of varia armour and the more traditional abilities like morph ball, screw attack, etc. The Metroid skill tree would allow Samus to have life draining abilities and maybe have the power of summoning baby metroids to her aid using metroid mother pheromones, or maybe even allowing her to fire metroid hatchlings from her arm cannon to drain the life from enemies to give her an energy boost.
The X parasite tree would focus on stealth and mimicry abilities such as cloaking and the ability to infect people with the X Parasite which would allow you to possess an enemy and turn them against their allies . It would but also allow her to mimic the person/Space Pirate she killed. This would also give her the ability to absorb the host’s memories, such as secret item cache locations which would be added to the map or in the form of information logs that helped flesh out the back story. The Phazon tree would be focused on making Samus a tank, and would basically imbue her with all of the abilities of Dark Samus, the shrapnel beam, the laser beam, limited cloaking and teleportation abilities.
I don't think the Metroid I've suggested will be for everyone, in fact some people would probably be horrified with the changes I'd make to the game, and I can't guarantee that some of these wouldn't be game breakers or change Metroid into another type of game completely, maybe even risking it being Un-Metroid. However, I'd argue that the Prime series took the best elements of the Metroid series and evolved it into a fully realised 3D world, adding the scanning visor, log books, and a truly great first person adventure through Samus Aran's eyes. What I'm proposing here could evolve the Metroid series without sacrificing the core gameplay, but would in fact add to it and enrich it, giving the series the shot in the arm it has so sorely needed since Other M. Here's hoping Nintendo has similar ideas for the franchise.
See you next mission.