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After reading Nick Chester's review of Metroid: Other M, I seriously considered canceling my Amazon pre-order. I had been pumped for Samus' latest outing because it was billed as the natural evolution to the action-platforming style of Super Metroid. If what Nick said was true, what we got was a set of unfocused and oftentimes broken mechanics that don't reflect the quality we've come to expect out of a first-party Nintendo title.
In the end, I decided to give the game a fair shake. Save for tedious rounds of I Spy and doors that lock and unlock to limit freedom of exploration, I consider the gameplay to be... passable. However, when it comes to the narrative, my impressions are far, far less favorable. In fact, I declare that Other M's story has tainted the entire series.
I place full blame at the feet of Yoshio Sakamoto, a man who assumed that the biggest problem with Metroid was that it lacked film noir narration. I'm not against expanding a franchise's mythos, except for when it's orchestrated by someone who acts like his own biggest fan. Thanks to him, we are treated to soap opera drama, inconsistencies, and dangling plot threads, all for the sake of "cinematic flair."
Now I'm gonna break down why the story sucks into several SPOILERIFIC sections.
Deconstructing Samus and leaving her in pieces
Other M attempts to elaborate upon Samus's history with the Galactic Federation and the relationship with her former commanding officer slash father figure, Adam Malcovich. To that end, the formerly stoic and silent heroine is given a voice with which to drone on ... and on ... and on. From the moment she first flaps her lips, it's obvious that her words lacks passion. She recounts every minor event as though to remind herself of where she was and what she was supposed to do. It makes her look simple-minded and, ironically, robotic.
The only times she exhibits any inflection are during a small number of pivotal scenes when she throws the floodgates wide open. What's jarring about these moments is that there is no gradual escalation from cool and collected to whiny and weepy. She just flips a switch and jumps from one state to the other. She doesn't demonstrate any real emotional range.
Because of this, it's hard to take Samus seriously when she begins monologuing about her feelings. She delivers her lines so matter-of-factly, as if reading from a teleprompter. All this emotional baggage is force-fed to us, described in excruciating detail, under the assumption that we are too dense to do our own character analyzing. There seems to be little room for subtlety.
The flashbacks reveal just how much of a selfish brat Samus once was, pouting and giving the thumbs down during mission briefings. She left the Galactic Federation because she couldn't grasp the difficult choices Adam had to make on a regular basis. Basically, the trigger for Samus's decision to become a bounty hunter was not some altruistic higher calling but an act of defiance against "daddy." We are meant to appreciate how much Samus has matured since then, but these scenes only serve to sour our perceptions of her character, perceptions that we've held for over two decades.
By now, we've all heard about how Samus pisses herself during her reunion with Ridley. She's killed him four times at this point in the chronology, so what is the reason for her sudden shell shock? If she suffers from any prolonged trauma, logic would dictate that she wouldn't allow it to impede her career of murdering awe-inspiring hell beasts on a regular basis, each more nightmarish than the last. There are far more effective methods of expressing vulnerability than this case of character sabotage.
Sakamoto has turned Samus into Anakin Skywalker. In the original Star Wars trilogy, Darth Vader was this pillar of insurmountable might, an amalgamation of all the galaxy's darkest fears and uncertainties. It turns out he was just pompous crybaby who wasn't allowed to sit at the adult table. So much for Darth Vader, and so much for Samus.
A traitor is among us, but no one cares
Upon arriving on the Bottle Ship, Samus bumps into a Galactic Federation platoon led by Adam and agrees to aid in their investigation. Shortly thereafter, the soldiers start getting picked off one by one. Samus arrives at the conclusion that one member of the team is an assassin hired by the Federation to silence any witnesses. She dubs this rouge agent the "Deleter" and vows to prevent further sabotage.
Then the thread is dropped entirely.
At some point, the Deleter is himself murdered, but the event is treated with such disregard that I question whether the whole mess was ever relevant to begin with. The game never reveals the identity of the Deleter, and following a case of false accusation against her long-time friend Anthony Higgs, Samus never brings up the subject again. The game continues, the game ends, and that is that.
Significant attention was initially directed towards this development, implying that this character's actions would have serious repercussions later in the game. Not only does he not have any influence aside from a few dead NPCs who might as well have been wearing red shirts, but we also don't even get the satisfaction of a proper unmasking. There are clues that point to James Pierce being the Deleter, but does it really matter?
This is the kind of OCD misdirection that you'd find in an episode of Lost. The director introduces a plot device and convinces the audience that it's important, gets distracted by a flock of geese outside his window, then forgets to plan an adequate follow-up.
The solution is cloning
Samus soon discovers that the Galactic Federation was trying to cover up the Metroid cloning project. For you franchise buffs, this is identical to the scenario in Metroid Fusion. Since Other M precedes Fusion in the chronology, this results in a very glaring plot hole -- there's no reason why Samus should have expressed surprise at the Federation's activities aboard the BSL when the same stunt was pulled aboard the Bottle Ship. I'm more surprised that Samus would even want to work with the Federation again, given her firsthand experience of its shady and unethical practices.
The Metroids in Fusion were cloned from the DNA extracted from the Baby Metroid, leading me to assume that the only possible way to clone a specimen is to use live genetic data. However, the Metroids in Other M were cloned not from the Baby's living sample but from its microscopic, charred flakes that adhered to Samus's suit during the final fight with the Mother Brain.
I'm going to ignore that the Federation scientists had easy access to the Baby's living DNA yet chose to scrub Samus's armor of dead Metroid space lint for the extra challenge. If small traces of debris are enough to revive an extinct species, why hasn't the Federation devoted itself to restoring, oh, the Chozo? You know, the civilization that created the Metroids and whose technology far outclassed every other society's for decades to come?
Cloning is the reason for Ridley's repeated resurrections. It's how he can be murdered in every game and come back fit as a fiddle in the sequel. I suppose I can accept that the Space Pirates would store Ridley's memories and genetic material for such occasions, but Other M's Ridley was cloned using the same Scrubbing Bubbles method as the Metroids. Who would have guessed that the surface of Samus's suit was such a rich ecosystem!
It's ridiculous how just about everything in the Metroid universe can be solved by cloning. "How did this species come back?" Cloning. "Didn't he die?" Cloning. "Where did that...?" Cloning. "That doesn't seem...." Cloning! Arthur C. Clarke once said that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. I guarantee that even he would slap his forehead over Other M's deliberate handwaving.
Oops! This story is supposed to have an ending
During her encounter with the Deleter, Samus meets a young woman who claims to be the Bottle Ship's project director, Madeline Bergman. After beating the final boss, a Queen Metroid, Samus catches up to the real Madeline Bergman who explains that the woman from earlier is her surrogate daughter, MB. MB is an android containing Mother Brain's AI, built to control the cloned Metroids. Unfortunately, she developed emotions and went Carrie White on the entire crew, leading to Madeline's sending out the distress signal that Samus answered.
To clarify, these revelations come after the final boss. Sakamoto must have realized the game was just about done, panicked, then decided to cram as much exposition into one final cutscene as he could. It is by far the most rushed story resolution I've seen in any medium in the past few years.
The MB "confrontation," if you can call it that, is a small window during that final cutscene in which you are given limited first-person control. You have to suppress some powerful creatures that MB has summoned in order to target her body directly, but then you don't even get to shoot her. Control is immediately relinquished as Madeline incapacitates MB with an ice beam, then a fresh Federation squad shows up right on cue to deal the final blow.
Out of nowhere, Anthony, who should have died during the battle against Ridley, arrives to rescue Madeline from getting grilled by the Federation brass. He offers a weak non-explanation for his miraculous survival that does nothing to assuage concerns that his appearance is a poorly conceived deus ex machina. Maybe Sakamoto was trying to be clever, thinking, "Hey! Wouldn't it be a wild trope inversion if the token black guy is the one character to survive?"
This all could have been avoided with proper pacing throughout the game. Rather than waste time on the Deleter filler or "young and naive" flashbacks, the story should have followed a path that gradually reached a logical conclusion. Inserting the majority of relevant story content after the game is effectively over is not enlightening or rewarding, it's lazy and insulting.
Fan service is no excuse for lapses in logic
But there's more!
Following the credits, you are allowed to search for items previously inaccessible in the main game. The in-game excuse is that Samus has returned to the Bottle Ship to retrieve the helmet Adam left behind when he sacrificed himself to destroy the Metroid sector. It's an opportunity to squeeze out one last drop of sickening sentimentality.
There is a post-game boss that I had hoped would be a more satisfying final confrontation against MB, but instead it's a battle against Phantoon. Why would a mid-game villain from Super Metroid be this game's secret final boss? Considering how Sakamoto bent over backwards to (poorly) tie every minor game detail to Other M's convoluted narrative, it's odd that he didn't even hazard a reason for Phantoon's eleventh hour emergence. Did he all of sudden care about delivering fan service?
Speaking of fan service, Samus strips down to her Zero Suit once she finally locates Adam's helmet. Picking up the helmet acts as station's self-destruct trigger, natch, so she must hoof it back to her ship sans armor. Nothing is preventing her from suiting back up other than, I assume, a sudden bout of cognitive failure triggered by flashing red lights and sirens.
Another theory could be that the helmet is so wide and the range of the Power Suit's mobility is so low that Samus wouldn't be able to hold the helmet under her arm comfortably. I mean, she wouldn't willingly impair her defense and speed during arguably the most lethal and time-sensitive sequence of her mission, would she? Not unless her actions were dictated by a creator who can't stop fantasizing about her wearing a skin-tight jumpsuit. Why, that would be stupid!
No faith for the future
Some people insist that we shouldn't fault Metroid: Other M for trying something new with the franchise. Unfortunately, the simple act of being "different" shouldn't excuse a game, film, or anything else for its numerous shortcomings, so I'm not going give Other M the benefit of the doubt because of its inclusion of grade school-level scriptwriting. The only thing that Other M's story succeeds in is killing gameplay momentum and discarding the subtle nuance that launched the franchise into popularity in the first place.
If another Sakamoto Metroid ever gets made, I guarantee it'll be infused with even more ham-fisted dialogue and cinematic pap. I should have seen all this coming a mile a way -- the seeds were planted in Fusion and Zero Mission, and Other M just took things to the next level. If that's what you guys want, fine. Enjoy the canned drama and forced emotions.
Just count me out.