Hey guys, remember me?
Not content with only burning bridges with multiplayer gamers everywhere, I now set my sights on shredding my reputation with single player gamers as well. Let's get started, shall we?
It's one of the greatest and most critically acclaimed game series of all-time (that nobody plays because it's a more mature property owned by Nintendo). It established the strong female video game trope decades before third wave feminists started pretending that it doesn't exist. Its protagonist is so badass that she single-handedly thwarted a viral outbreak that wiped out an entire space station and she took on a space pirate army that culminated in the destruction of a whole planet. Yes, today we are talking about Metroid.
Metroid has undergone many evolutions throughout its existence, starting from its humble beginnings as an open world sidescroller that was too cheap to animate a crawling sprite, so they invented a random bullshit ability called the morph ball. And since then, our heroine Samus has acquired numerous new abilities and upgrades over the years, from grappling beams to obnoxiously huge shoulder pads. Not all of these changes have been welcomed by the fanbase however. When Metroid Prime launched as the first 3D Metroid game, it was met with heavy skepticism from the decision to switch to the first person camera angle. As fans had a chance to sit down and experience it though, most in the end came to accept this change, as the game managed to retain many of the elements that players have come to know and love from the series, such as its incredibly immersive sci-fi horror atmosphere and its labyrinthine open world level designs.
The most recent mainline Metroid release however has been met with massive scorn from the fanbase, and to this day, years later, it continues to be maligned as one of the worst Metroid games in the series. While some of the reasons for this are understandable to a degree, most of them I find to be hugely overblown, and as a result, I feel this has become an incredibly underrated Metroid title in an already incredibly underappreciated franchise. So today, I'm going to defend the allegedly indefensible, Metroid: Other M.
Without further ado, I have conveniently numbered key points which definitively prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Other M is 10/10 Adam Certified Approved Game.
Boobs are a quintessential component to any successful game, especially when said game has no interesting ideas or quality gameplay to bring to the table. That's why Other M never misses another opportunity for Samus' suit to malfunction, even if it kinda makes no sense that solid metal material randomly disintegrates into pure energy stuff upon impact, or apparently when... Samus has a mood swing? I... I dunno how that--whatever. The point is boobs. This game has them. And Samus has a fairly respectable C cup if I may so. Speaking of cup sizes, want to know a fun fact? The reason why A cups are the smallest is because the more flat-chested you are, the higher value you're worth. It's true. Flat is justice. Don't try to argue it. I've done the research.
It has frickin' lazer beams. Lots of them. And as Michael Bay has proven, if the boobs alone aren't an effective enough distraction, lots of lasers and explosions will be. No sharks yet though. I think they were saving those for the sequel.
What number was I on again? Let me get back to these after I ask my good friend Gaben.
If you were starting to think this is going to be a joke blog then SHAZAM, joke's on you, because no seriously, I really am going to defend this game. In order to make my case for Other M though, first we need to understand what is so hated about it so that we can begin to deconstruct it.
So what supposedly went so horribly wrong with Other M for it to be met with such contempt? Well it starts with Other M's opening cutscenes, revealing right off the bat that Samus' voice is as stiff as a federation soldier who just had his life force sucked out by a metroid. To make matters worse, she's mysteriously developed an odd obsession with a baby metroid despite that it's supposed to be the other way around. And she has a daddy complex with her former commander, Adam Malkovich. And she let's him order her around as his submissive subordinate. And she has a complete mental breakdown while encountering Ridley despite that by this point in the timeline she's already fought with him on at least four different occasions. OK... so there's more than just a few problems with the characterization here.
I'm not going to make any excuses or defenses for all this. After all, much of this does fly in the face of what we've come to assume about Samus as a character. Though it was never technically stated in previous entries, one could reasonably assume from her numerous encounters with giant horrific space bugs and her brief and scattered monologues that she was clearly a strong-willed and level-headed character that certainly wouldn't lose her cool at the first sign of stress. It's just bad writing, and there's only so much BS you can invent to plug the plot holes before you just can't ignore them anymore. Other M has many narrative problems, but there's also a major problem with using any of these criticisms as the central basis for your objection to it: nobody has ever played Metroid for the story in the first place.
Most Metroid games historically have contained almost no narrative whatsoever beyond very rudimentary conveyances through the visuals, as well as some scattered Samus monologues and space pirate data logs here and there. Moreover, video games in general are far more dependent on good gameplay to carry them than good stories. I would argue that a game can't survive with a good story but mediocre gameplay, yet it can survive a mediocre story with good gameplay, especially when we're talking about a series that has never traditionally focused on the storytelling to begin with. Yet despite these considerations, the vast bulk of fan critiques focus almost exclusively on this singular point, and in some instances even acknowledge that the gameplay isn't that bad, but still perplexingly conclude that Other M is a terrible game.
Some critics can't stop themselves from bashing the story even when they say they're going to talk about the gameplay. Instead, they unknowingly fall back on criticizing the story again without even realizing it. In a YouTube video entitled Does Metroid: Other M Still SUCK? by user TheGamingBritShow, the critic begins his commentary by noting that people have already thoroughly dissected Other M's narrative, so instead he is going to primarily focus on gameplay critiques. He then immediately proceeds to scold the game's narrative choice to require Adam's authorization for use of new abilities on Samus' power suit; the irony here of course being that he just got done saying that he wasn't going to focus on the narrative.
While it's true that this plot point is a departure from previous Metroid games that creates some unnecessary narrative contrivances, it is largely inconsequential where gameplay is concerned; though our aforementioned critic tries very hard to insist otherwise. Regardless, the end result for the gameplay is still the same: Samus gains a new ability after reaching various progress points throughout the game; just as in many Metroid games that have come before. The contention however is that this narrative change forces the gameplay to be more linear, removing the ability to sequence break that was previously possible in other Metroid titles. Unfortunately, there's several problems with this assertion. First, it should be noted that sequence breaking typically requires more advanced mastery of gameplay mechanics to pull off; mastery that most players won't have reached anyway until at least one full playthrough of the game, and even then, sequence breaking for the purpose of speed runs is still only a feature that concerns an exceedingly small portion of the playerbase. Your average gamer tends to pick up and play through a game only once and then move on. Hell, according to Steam's statistics, most gamers don't even accomplish that much. What I'm trying to say here is, to claim that this feature carries such a significant impact on the gameplay experience is to cynically inflate the severity of its omission. Lacking a feature that really only comes into play after you've already beaten the game hardly constitutes a grave indictment against the gameplay overall. Moreover, it's just wrong to begin with, as there's been plenty of games over the years that have allowed for nonlinear storytelling so that players don't have to follow a specific order of events, and Other M could have just easily followed this route if it wanted to as well. In all likelihood, Other M's linearity was an intentional design decision to make the game more accessible to wider audiences, not a necessity created by the Adam Malkovich plot point. Furthermore, this ignores the fact that previous explanations for why Samus always needs to regain her abilities were often just as contrived, whether it be Samus' suit being damaged in just the right way so that it loses a bunch of functionality but not all, or the fact that the Chozo somehow anticipated all this and planted the same abilities for Samus to acquire; sometimes twice on the same planet, or even just not bothering with an explanation at all, such as during the transition from Metroid 1 to Metroid 2 where Samus mysteriously loses all her powerups with nary a hint as to why. Now look, when it comes right down to it, I'm actually partial to hunting and acquiring gear myself rather than waiting for someone to authorize it. However, I do still feel like a lot of the outrage surrounding this has more to do with story objections and precedents established by previous Metroid titles rather than the gameplay itself being fundamentally flawed, because this isn't far removed from what other games like the Mega Man series or Shantae do, where simply by reaching various progress points, they just give you certain upgrades without making you have to "discover" them by exploring around the level. If you tell me that Adam's authorization takes away a degree of satisfaction from finding stuff on your own, then we're having a conversation here. If you tell me that the whole game is ruined just because Adam activates my gear now, then I think we've gone overboard with the nitpicks. And finally, all of this is to completely neglect the fact that Metroid Fusion was nearly just as linear in its structure as well, yet curiously this criticism isn't cited as a deal-breaker for that game, which brings me to my next point.
Most of Other M's gameplay criticisms also apply to past Metroid games in some fashion. The game only uses the D-pad and a couple of buttons? So does most of the classic sidescrollers. Linear progression so that you'll play through the story in the desired order? Hello Metroid Fusion. Lacking weapon variety because Samus just combines all her beam upgrades into one? That's also pretty much par for the course for Metroid games outside of the Prime series. The environments are bog standard? So was arguably the case for the first Prime game, and while Echoes may have had a more unique setting, its uniformly dark presentation and dreary landscapes made its environments even duller than Other M's anyway. It wasn't really until we got to Metroid Prime 3: Corruption when the Prime trilogy started offering both unique and attractive architecture, such as the fantastic floating city design on the planet Elysia. But what about missile expansions? Aren't they largely rendered pointless because of the concentration mechanic? OK, in fairness here, this mechanic is new to the series, but it should be pointed out that previous Metroid games increased your missile capacity by 5 per expansion, and as a result, it wouldn't take long before you could find yourself with such an abundant supply that unless you just got careless and constantly had them equipped all the time, you really didn't have to worry about running out either. Other M at least tried to mitigate this by making missile expansions smaller, but the inclusion of the concentration mechanic (which allows Samus to regenerate missiles anywhere as long as she can stand still long enough) only ends up worsening the issue regardless. Ultimately concentration is one of Other M's features that just outright doesn't make sense and should have been removed. Nonetheless, often times the missile expansions do become superfluous in other Metroid games anyway, but once again, this is not considered a noteworthy criticism of these games. To be clear, none of this is to say that all of these criticisms aren't valid. I think there is a lot that Other M could have done better. My objection here is in the insinuation that all of these criticisms suddenly add up to being deal-breakers where they weren't previously for other Metroid titles. It comes off as a double standard that is overcompensating for a lack of real major criticisms of the gameplay. If anything, Other M's gameplay is more of a throwback to the look and feel of its sidescrolling predecessors rather than something that fundamentally reinvents the Metroid formula, so unless your only experience with Metroid is the Prime trilogy, most of the core gameplay should come as no surprise to longtime Metroid fans.
Speaking of longtime Metroid fans, now would probably be a good time for full disclosure. I'm a huge Metroid fan. Samus is my all-time favorite video game character, and Super Metroid sat for many years at the number one spot on my all-time favorite games list. I love the series' foreboding and immersive atmosphere, the skin-crawling creature designs, and the iconic power suit which deceitfully hides an ass-kicking female underneath. At this point, you might be gleaning from me that I'm just a fanboy getting defensive about a bad apple in the franchise, but you would be wrong. I give no free passes just because of an established pedigree, and I have no qualms about eviscerating works from some of my most beloved universes. In fact, I have quite a few choice words for how much I find Metroid Prime 2: Echoes to be a convoluted, frustrating, and largely dull affair, but that's a story for another time. Despite these occasionally harsh criticisms towards my own favorites however, I know at the end of the day it's all in service towards making their successors better, provided that these criticisms are constructive and accurate.
My concern with Metroid: Other M though is that many criticisms leveled against it are not accurate or constructive. Instead, fans have painted a picture of Other M being an absolute mess on every level of its design, from its controls to its mechanics to its story, and as a result of this broad sweeping condemnation of the game, I feel it is sending the wrong message to the developers; that message being that we just need to go back to doing more of the same with the Prime series. This is not the right course of action for the franchise. Metroid needs to continue to evolve if it is to remain relevant as a series. While the Prime trilogy has received high critical acclaim, this has not been reflected equally in its sales figures, with the first game grossing a respectable, but modest 1.49 million units sold, and that's the highest selling in the series. Despite some of my cheeky jabs earlier, I do think this goes beyond just the fact that Metroid is a Nintendo-exclusive franchise that doesn't target their typical demographics as well. The Prime trilogy did get a lot right, but there are aspects of its design that feel dated, and over the years gamers have come to expect more from their games. We want more involving stories, we want well-paced gameplay, and we want satisfying mechanics. Yet in many instances, Prime just settles for a straight translation of its predecessors in 3D, and even takes a few steps back in other areas.
Let's start with Prime's minimalistic story structure. Perhaps the biggest reason why there isn't much to criticize with Prime's story as opposed to Other M is because there isn't much story there to critique in the first place. I would describe Prime's logbook approach more as "info-dumping" rather than actual storytelling, and despite that there were numerous logs to be found about Luminoth history in Echoes, I couldn't tell you anything about Luminoth culture right now even though I likely read through it when I originally played the game. That's because reading a bunch of text about it isn't nearly as memorable or engaging as actually living it as other games with more involved stories would have you do. Imagine if the Mass Effect trilogy stripped itself of every cutscene and dialogue segment, and instead only let you read the Codex entries about its universe. Now sure, I might still be able to learn about the Rachni wars and the Krogans being used and abused by the Salarians, or the First Contact War with the Turians, or the role of the Citadel Council, etc, but none of that would be nearly as interesting--nor would I likely be able to recall any of it--without seeing how it all connects to the actual events and story playing out right as I'm progressing through the game. I think most players would conclude after experiencing this version of Mass Effect that even though there's plenty to learn in the codex, the game's story feels skeletal at best because you don't actually experience any of it. You're just reading about it. None of this is to say that Prime is a bad game for doing something like this, nor even that stuff like Mass Effect's codex or Prime's logbook aren't welcome supplements to the gameplay. They can certainly enrich the experience, but they're not substitutes for actual storytelling, and I think Metroid could stand to do better. Sure, there are some interesting tidbits and crumbs to be found in the numerous data logs and ancient inscriptions found throughout Prime's environments, but video games are a visual medium, not books, and you can only get so much mileage out of a few lines of text on a screen. We expect more from games now. This level of story engagement may have been sufficient for the sidescrollers, but modern Metroid needs to strive for more. Narrative can help break up the monotony of gameplay, invest players more in the characters, and increase their motivation to find out what happens next; to discover what secrets will be revealed beyond just another missile expansion in that wall with a crack in it. And if we can make an interesting movie out of Tom Hanks having conversations with a soccer ball, we can sure as hell find a way to make Metroid's story work while still respecting that feeling of isolation that the series is known for. Maybe Samus commenting on every random thing she sees in an awkward monotone voice wasn't the best way to go about addressing that, but Nintendo at least had the right idea with Other M in the sense that it's time for Metroid's storytelling to catch up with modern gaming.
Then we have Prime's gameplay. Retro's insistence on a first person camera angle was bold, and while they did an admirable job converting Metroid's formula to work with it as best they could, it still comes with an inescapable cost. In the original sidescrollers Samus' power suit was more nimble and frenetic, with Samus being able to jump swiftly and deftly from one platform to the next. It really felt like the suit enhanced Samus' physical abilities and allowed her to perform feats of speed and precision beyond the limitations of a normal human body. Yet in Prime, this sense of speed all had to be scaled back to accommodate the new first person camera angle, as it could get disorienting quickly to have Samus dashing around and scaling up walls so hastily while playing from that point of view. As a result, this really changed the overall feel of Metroid in a subtle yet significant way, slowing down the pacing of the games and also scaling back platforming sections so that they aren't as prevalent as they were in Prime's predecessors. Consequently, this overall slowed pacing can often lead to a sense of dullness and lacking motivation to move forward at times. These issues are further compounded by the controls, which while functional, aren't particularly engaging because Retro Studios opted for single-stick movement and aiming. That might work fine for a third person game because you can make the combat more focused on movement and positioning rather than aiming and precision, but as Prime is already a first person game, movement is slower and more restricted, so the skill and satisfaction in combat should come from pulling off precise aiming and a quick trigger finger. Instead, you simply press the L trigger to lock onto your opponent and the game does the aiming for you. It just isn't as satisfying as dual stick controls found in other first person games. Thankfully, Corruption added some much-needed depth to its combat with the new motion control scheme that it brought to the table, though this still doesn't alleviate the general sluggishness of Samus' movement as mentioned previously. What all this adds up to is that despite the Prime trilogy's unquestionable prowess at creating a sense of atmosphere and immersion that truly lives up to the Metroid name, I still often found myself struggling to bother completing each game. In fact, without exception, it took me literally years placing each game on hiatus before eventually coming back to complete them. If I--a die-hard Metroid fan whose all-time favorite video game character is Samus Aran--took years to complete each Prime game, how do you think these games would be received by mainstream audiences and non-Metroid fans trying out the series for the first time? My guess is for those who did bother trying, many of them just gave up or didn't care to invest in these games beyond a one-time rental.
I mention all this not to divulge into a tangent about the Prime trilogy, but rather to illustrate the contrast where Other M succeeded, and perhaps why I find myself so much more forgiving of it than other Metroid fans. Other M marks the first game in the series of 3D Metroid titles that I actually found myself consistently motivated and engaged enough to play it through to completion in just under two weeks. That might sound like a silly achievement, but it bears significance given that the series had at least three other opportunities to accomplish this. It's pretty odd that this is the way my experience played out, as even I will acknowledge the Prime series succeeds on many technical levels over Other M, and yet if I'm being completely honest, I was still more consistently engaged by Other M, so it obviously must have been getting something right. But what is it? Well as touched on previously, I think the core of it lies in the controls returning to a more traditional third person view like the sidescrollers, granting Samus the speed and mobility she lost during the Prime trilogy. Now the gameplay feels more fast-paced, and Samus' suit is more responsive. Suddenly there's a sense of momentum again, and I can perform all the acrobatics I loved doing in the original games, along with even a few new ones, like the sensemove (dodge mechanic) and overblast (enemy pinning move). The frequently locked camera angles along one of the axes worked well in invoking the feel of the classic Metroid games while also helping make the D-pad controls feel more natural in a 3D environment. Switching between points of view was made seamless with the brief slowmo time effect giving you a chance to reorient yourself to first person while also serving as a cool visual enchancement. Despite claims of this feature supposedly being awkward and cumbersome, it really wasn't difficult at all to manage once you got used to it, so to the detractors of Other M's first person view, I have but one rebuttal. Git gud. Plus, I just love the Chozo power suit's design; it's one of the most iconic designs in gaming, and to finally be able to ogle at it again while I'm kicking space pirate ass is oh-so-satisfying.
Indeed, the worst offense you can truly level against Other M's gameplay is that it's just too much of a Metroid Fusion retread, but if we're being completely honest along that same vein, Metroid Prime was also technically just a Super Metroid retread in many respects. Of course, "well the other dun it tew" isn't an excuse for them to not try something more ambitious, but for me personally, I was just happy to finally play a 3D Metroid release that more successfully translates the feel of the sidescrollers' gameplay that I originally fell in love with; more so than the Prime trilogy was able to achieve, and that was enough for me, even though I certainly would have appreciated more. Not to say that Prime didn't succeed in its own right either; it worked well for what it was aiming to do, but much of the gameplay had to be reworked to accommodate that first person camera angle, and with that, part of Metroid's essence was inevitably lost in translation.
For all these reasons, I have concluded that the large majority of gameplay criticisms against Other M are ad hoc rationalizations in order to justify the visceral hatred toward its story. Because most players recognize that having a bad story alone isn't good enough justification to pan a game, yet when it comes down to it, mechanically 3D Metroid has never felt closer to its roots than in Other M, so unless you just never liked the Metroid sidescrollers or Metroid Fusion in particular, there really isn't much reason to object to it on such Earth-shattering levels as many fans would have you believe. And look, I get it, we all had our own perfect vision of our prized ass-kicking waifu pretty well-defined up until this point. I know we all envisioned Samus as a take-no-shit-from-nobody bounty hunter before Nintendo came along and told her to get back in the kitchen and make Adam a sandwich, but can't we just look past that for one moment and acknowledge that the actual gameplay was solid, and we could even glean from it some new features that could possibly be further refined in future iterations? I mean the dodge mechanic was pretty cool and satisfying to pull off, even if it was perhaps a little too easy. Maybe it could require more thoughtful timing to be effective with and be given its own dedicated button in the next release. And how about those enemy takedown moves, and the epic explosiveness of that diffusion beam? These are all great additions to the gameplay that I'd love to see in future titles.
It's really unfortunate that Metroid: Other M has received such a significant panning, because if you were to just strip out every cutscene where Samus has to speak, what you are left with is a surprisingly satisfying combination of Zero Mission's fast-paced gameplay coupled with Fusion's setting, perhaps reaching the closest Metroid has ever come to feeling like a proper recreation of its classic sidescroller counterparts in a 3D environment. If you're someone who has been holding out on trying this game after all the backlash, I recommend at least giving it a shot and making up your own mind. As for everyone else, I hope we can at least agree that whatever comes next, Metroid needs to continue to push itself forward and evolve with new ideas to rethink the formula, not just continually reiterate the Prime series.
That, and I'm sure we can also agree that AM2R was pretty fucking awesome. Just sayin'. Though we still have no sharks with laser beams. :(
[UPDATE 5/28/2017: Clarified and expanded a few points to this post.]