JKP! Review: Metroid: Other M

October 9, 2010

First thing’s first: The gameplay is fine. It’s fine!

Second thing: The Ridley scene is not badly done, nor does it ruin Samus as a character.

The problems with Other M and the things that ruin Samus, as you will read after the jump, are everything else.

The Japanese minds responsible for Other M called themselves “Project M,” and they were made up of people from Team Ninja (who handled the gameplay and the story), Nintendo (who oversaw the project as a whole), and D-Rockets (who produced all of the game’s shiny cinematics). It is very clear that this is a game made by Japanese gamers for Japanese gamers. By that I mean that the story is pitifully boring, the drama is heavy-handed, and the characters are all confused and oblivious.

How bad is the story in Other M? Well, the narrative opens with a shot of an unborn space baby. If that’s not the biggest red flag ever, then I don’t know what is.

For those who never went to film school, one really great way to improve your video-based narrative is to borrow an iconic visual from a legendary film and introduce it as early as possible. Make sure it’s the very first thing people see, that way they will immediately know that your story is going to be just as deep, thoughtful, and important as the one you’re stealing from. I mean, culling inspiration from. (Phew, close one.)

It should not be a shock, then, that they never return to this visual, this blatant and upfront admittance of their own heavy-handed and unoriginal storytelling. It never pays off in any meaningful way and can be interpreted as a representation of a few different characters. “See,” the game says, “it’s symbolic. That way it’s up to the player to decide for themselves what the intro and game are all about. That’s art, we are artists making art.”

Shut up, Metroid: Other M.

Here’s the positive: the vast majority of the game’s prominent and lengthy cutscenes surround and smother what is an otherwise fun game with mostly satisfying combat and a great deal of rewarding exploration. Forcing yourself to walk away from a power-up that sits just out of reach can be frustrating, but eventually finding a way back to it and solving the related puzzle is always satisfying. There’s a wide variety of strange, alien life to blast the shit out of, and the battles are challenging and mostly exciting.

Unfortunately, every time you’re just getting into the swing of things, the game sees fit to interrupt your fun with its slapdash narrative. Yoshio Sakamoto, a co-creator of the entire Metroid series and the man calling the shots here, clearly wanted this game’s story to be many different things at once– and none of them are very Metroid-esque. He’s shoved this game full of so many different uninspired knock-off’s and cliche’s from popular movies (most of them being the Alien series, to no one’s surprise) that none of it is explored long enough for anything to resonate. By the end of the story, the game is daring you to give a shit about anything that is happening to any of the characters onscreen.

The tragedy here is that none of the ample, unwanted plot expands upon Samus’s character in any interesting way. The intention was to add new layers to her personality by exploring previously unwritten areas of her past, but when her entire past turns out to revolve around a dependency upon and obsession with a single male authority figure, it only dilutes her appeal as a “strong female protagonist.” It makes her flawed and more human, certainly, but it also makes her less Boba Fett (which we all basically enjoyed and wanted) and more Bella from Twilight (which no one wanted and ugh).

That comparison is painful but, unfortunately, fitting. There are moments of this game where Samus is literally frozen and helpless as she reaches after the important man in her life, her former Commander and world’s-worst-strategist, Adam Malkovich, who has put her in time out and told her it’s for her own good. She places complete control of her fate in the hands of another character, to the point that she absolutely has to be directly defying her own common sense, simply to impress him and win his good favor. He responds by restricting her from using the life-saving and completely harmless technology that is at her immediate disposal (such as the grapple beam, varia suit, and “screw attack”) when she most needs it, in scenarios that flip logic the bird.

He claims this is to preserve the safety of this strange ship they’ve entered, the Bottle Ship, and to protect the lives of any survivors on-board. The only problem with this is that you never see any fucking survivors (save one at the ass-end of the game). Even if they were hiding, there’s no way they would have survived in most of the hostile environments you’re exploring. As Adam can literally see every single thing that Samus sees through her visor during most of the game, monitoring her from a cozy little command center dozens of floors away from any immediate danger, the only explanation here is that he is trying to passively kill Samus.

The most blatant example: Samus is running through an active, erupting volcano, molten rock rising behind her and licking at her heels, and it’s only after she reaches the top and the lava levels out that Adam chimes in with permission to activate her completely harmless and, in fact, life-saving Varia Suit. You just watched her run all the way up there, asshole! She was surrounded by monsters and fire! You can hear her grunting in pain as the intense heat chips away at her energy meter! You are a terrible, terrible space Commander! And an even worse space Daddy!

And Samus just takes it, she swallows the pain and silences any rational thought process to make sure Daddy Adam is happy with her obedient performance. This sort of thing might be an endless supply of boners for the Japanese, I guess, but who the hell wants that in their space bounty hunter franchise? Who wants to play as that character, as someone who’s easily manipulated and incapable of making her own decisions? The game gives her a personality, sure enough. It cracks her suit wide open and fills it with pouting, whining, pining, and– worst of all– easily exploitable stupidity.

Samus stumbles and gasps her way through two major plot threads: the “Deleter” and MB. Both of these are meant to be major mysteries that carry the overall narrative, but one of them has an immediate and obvious solution to the player (MB is the blonde girl you’re talking to, you idiot! She is right there and she is obviously a robot and she is obviously talking about herself and OH MY GOD SHOOT HER, AUGH) and the other is simply dropped from the game after about 90% completion (Deleter? What Deleter? Did I forget to satisfactorily end that plot thread? Wow, okay, well we’re running out of disc space, so… I guess he’s just dead, there. Okay, now ON TO MORE CRYING!).

One other major issue, a cutscene that quickly became a sticking point with fans, even before the game’s release, was her first confrontation with Ridley. People claim that this is the biggest crime against the franchise to date, but I call shenanigans. This was one of the few moments out of the whole game that I actually liked.

Everyone seems hung up on the impression that she just breaks down and starts sobbing there, which goes against her stablished character and effectively weakens her.

So alright, Samus freaks the fuck out. Sure she does. She’s scared! Ridley is a scary space dinosaur that takes baths in lava and can rip through metal with his face! I would be scared too, because holy shit! Sure she’s fought him before, and blown him up a bunch of times, but he keeps coming back! From being blown up! That does not make him less scary, it makes him seemingly immortal and even more terrifying!

And hell, she basically handles the molten emergence of her lifelong enemy, the immortal, serial murderer, like a champ! She cries out, moaning in shock, but she doesn’t actually shed any tears that I can see. She also reverts back to a childhood mentality for a moment– or maybe that’s just Japan’s way of showing that she’s as vulnerable as a child at that moment, who even knows with Japan– but it ends as soon as the fight starts in earnest.

It’s also worth mentioning that most (if not all) of the other times they’ve fought, Samus has either known he was going to show up or has seen him well in advance of their actual confrontation. Here, he is a total surprise to her. She’s never seen the apparently canonical cycle of his growth from fuzzy little Final Fantasy mascot to full-blown nightmare hellspawn, so she has no idea that the strange creature she tracks for the first two-thirds of the game is actually her nemesis and the murderer of her parents.

Admittedly, the giant purple lizard trying to kill her in Phase 2 should have been sort of a tip-off… but this game has already gone out of its way to show how dumb she is, so clearly she’s not very good at connecting the dots.

It takes the sight of her friend falling to his death to snap her back to normal, and from there she proceeds to kick ass exactly the way we want her to as the main character of a video game. If it were as bad as people claimed, she would have curled up into a ball and let the purple dinosaur monster tear her apart. Instead, she shoves missiles up his ass and sends him scurrying away to lick his wounds. So, that whole scene/battle is pretty alright, guys. Seriously. For one thing, it’s one of the only moments in the game with some serious action that we give a shit about and might want to watch with a vested interest. After sitting through over an hour of borderline-unwatchable garbage, adding up the cutscenes, that one dramatic moment seems as gripping and immersive as Citizen Kane.

After this comparatively enjoyable scene, the game gets right back to interrupting your enjoyment with mediocre slop. You work your way through this entire retarded story until you finally head off to find the Metroids hidden on-board, the genetically-modified weapons that the government has created in secret because of course they have, and it’s at this point that Adam paralyzes you, as mentioned above, and sacrifices himself because sure, whatever. Whatever the hell you want, Adam. You’d better go ahead and kill yourself by ejecting the wing of the facility that allegedly contains the genetically-modified, freeze-proof Metroids. That is a very smart and very leader-ish thing to do, and clearly there is no other possible alternative, so good job. Also, very good move shooting Samus with a freeze ray while she’s in front of a ravenous baby Metroid to make sure she cannot stop you from doing this, better incapacitate her in an incredibly dramatic way because this game needed more drama.

…Only it turns out that there are these other Metroids (see what they did there?) and, in fact, a fucking Queen Metroid living safely in an entirely different part of the ship so OOPS. OOPS, YOU’RE DEAD NOW ADAM and we’re all just so very sad apparently. Samus sure is.

But you know what? That boss fight is a cool moment! It’s cool that there’s a Queen Metroid living on the bottle ship, we haven’t really seen one of those since Return of Samus! The fight itself can be frustrating as hell until you figure out how to properly evade the son-of-a-bitching rat-bastard Metroids in this new installment of the series, something you haven’t had to do at all for the other 95% of the game, but once you figure that out this fight is actually pretty cool! Then, not one to break its own established habits, the game sits you down and executes its much-built-up denouement with all the subtlety and effectiveness of a toddler telling you about his day at the zoo.

The game ends by introducing a new character that it is impossible to care about, the woman who created MB and has been hiding for this whole damn game in a bunker, who reveals what we’ve already known for a couple of hours by now (“MB” IS THE GIRL YOU SAW BEFORE, SAMUS YOU ARE THE WORST). There’s a showdown with the youthful, blonde android girl (because Japan) and then sobbing and then guess who’s not dead (the black guy) and then everything just sort of trips over itself and makes a loud fart noise and then the curtain closes and the end. Metroid: Other M, the end.

It ends as pretentiously as it began, with cosmic space dust taking the shape of the game’s major characters as Samus drones on and on about who even fucking knows:

This is where the game, having roped you into watching and absorbing the whole of its narrative, no longer has to worry about satisfying gameplay and plunges headfirst into a rushed, limp conclusion that is played out as ham-fistededly as possible. It’s where I realized that, no matter how good the gameplay may have been, none of it was actually worth playing through just to get to this point of their story. When the on-screen actions and established motivations of the only playable character are contrary to the common sense and desires of the player, your game has ceased to be fun and started to actively annoy. Rewarding continued patience with a finale that could be easily topped by most of fanfiction.net in a single afternoon is downright embarrassing, and an insult to anyone who’s soldiered on this far into your game.

(If I hadn’t already promised this would be the first review for this site, I probably would have stopped playing somewhere around Adam ejecting himself into space.)

Now, there is a sort of reward for surviving the awful, awful main story of this game…

After the credits, Samus returns to the bottle ship with the specific goal of retrieving “something important that cannot be lost.” It sounds too good to be true, the chance to fully explore the remaining nooks and crannies of the game world and collect the leftover goodies and power-ups that remain without the constant interruption of a nonsense plot. The baddies are stronger, new paths open up, and the ship becomes a whole new experience. It finally culminates with a hidden boss battle against Phantoon, the creepy ghost octopus from Super Metroid, which almost demands all of the other power-ups to survive. It’s at this point that you’re forced to watch the “secret” ending to the game, where Samus finally tracks down that treasure she was after. Is this finally an answer to the vaguely resolved “Deleter” plot? Did Samus go back to rescue another baby Metroid, letting her own female impulses get the better of her judgment and setting up a potential sequel?

Nope! The treasure turns out to be Adam’s helmet. You know, because Samus must honor her shithead Commander, the one who was passively trying to murder her and totally blew himself up in space for absolutely no god damned reason.

Oh god, game, I am so done with you forever. Get out of my Wii and go be terrible somewhere else.

Ultimately, Other M’s worst crime is not that it is a bad game. One bad game in an otherwise sterling series should be relatively harmless… but, as is often the case in these major franchises, this one bad egg has had an unfortunate, retroactive effect on all preceding Metroid games: it has given Samus a voice. And I’m not even referring to her low, lullaby monotone; I mean that now we know what her thoughts sound like. After playing through the entire game, it’s going be hard to pick up one of the older titles and ignore the thought of Samus philosophically monologuing her way through the entire game.

So, what the fuck is the “Other M,” you might ask? It’s Japanese bullshit, is what it is. Just like the space baby, it serves to give the game an air of pretentiousness without really adding anything substantial to the narrative. It’s wide open to interpretation. It could be a reference to the genetically-modified “other” metroids, it could mean the “other” Madeline Bergman, it could be an anagram of “mother” to allude to the annoying, matriarchal themes constantly being piled on top of Samus (THE BABY THE BABY THE BABY) or Madeline Bergman and her daughter-like creation, MB… but you know what? None of that is cool or fun and no one should give a shit about it. “Other M” may be a versatile play on words, but it doesn’t fucking mean anything. Rather than pick *a* name, they went with an *un*name. The ambiguity only hurts the narrative and makes me tired of even writing this review.

Far as I’m concerned, it might as well be named Metroid: Rental at Best.



Did you enjoy Other M’s plot, or did you find it to be equally insufferable? Were you able to cull enjoyment from the gameplay, or did the rest of the game successfully bring you down? Defend or attack Metroid: Other M in the comments below!

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4 comments on “JKP! Review: Metroid: Other M

  1. Great review JKP! I’m really happy that you guys over at JKP are starting to have some more content. I really enjoyed your first ever game review, and I’m looking forward to more reviews in the future (video game, movie, comic, or otherwise). Keep up the good work and the new/different content.


  2. Andrew Oct 10, 2010

    It is a really well done review. Saddens me that the game wasn’t as entertaining as games should be.


  3. This is a very cool review. I’m currently playing through the game myself, and I really like the gameplay, but I can’t stand the story.


  4. Danny Oct 11, 2010

    I played a few minutes of Other M at Gamestop last week, it seemed fun while I was playing it, it’s too bad that the storytelling is supposedly terrible.


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