Thursday, September 30, 2010

Exfanding Review: Metroid: Other M

There's two ways I can go with this review of Metroid: Other M. The first way is to describe the game from the ground up, going into exhaustive detail about every little thing I have any kind of opinion on. This is time-consuming. The second way is to just plow through like I'm doing a speed run.

I'm naturally verbose, so it'll be a terrible speed run. Here we go. If you follow along, that's fantastic. If not, at least I get to sort out for myself why I feel like I've just watched Star Trek 2009 for the first time again.

I've looked over a few reviews of Other M, and the fans are divided. Purists blast the emphasis on story and lack of emphasis on exploration. More than one sympathizer has stated that the people who hate Other M "just don't get it."

At the risk of sounding arrogant and closed-minded, that's a pretty arrogant and close-minded thing to say. I've been a Metroid fan for over a decade. I've played every Metroid game to 100% completion and gotten the best ending for each. I'm a purist, but I recognize that the series needs change and innovation to survive. I understand that Nintendo and Team Ninja were going for a cinematic experience with Other M that gave fans what they wanted.

I get it.

I also get that Zero Punctuation has already summed up 95% of everything I want to say, in a much more concise and humorous fashion, no doubt. (Some parental guidance suggested.)

Right. There you have it. There's my review. The short version, anyhow. This game has been reviewed to death, and I doubt there's much I could talk about that hasn't already been covered by dozens of people, but I am actually upset about this game, and I demand to know why.

Yes, Other M is pretty, and the cutscenes blend seamlessly with the gameplay. There are some clever secrets--one time I even used a walkthrough. I'm not great at this style of action (I.e. I died about ten seconds into every single boss/miniboss battle), but it's solid.

But the voice acting and writing/localization are appallingly mediocre for such a high-profile production. This isn't a matter of the characters not sounding the way I think they should. By and large, the actors sound like their lines were recorded in the middle of the second rehearsal, using a script that wasn't even a final draft.

Perhaps I've been spoiled by LucasArts, BioWare, Valve, Activision--heck, anyone who's made a voiced game you've ever heard of--but there is a distinct difference in quality that is inexcusable for a big-name franchise...especially when this installment is so focused on telling a huge, backstory-heavy tale.

Plus, you know that something's off when the minor characters have longer resumes than the major characters--and by longer resumes, I mean that they were in Mario Kart or Nancy Drew that one time.

Despite all the talking, too much of the game is silent. When there is music, it lacks the atmosphere of the Prime series and the catchiness of the 2-D games. Or, worse yet, it beats you over the head with melodrama. The music (or lack thereof) isn't a game-breaker, but it's disappointing.

What's also disappointing is that there is ONE new item that has never been seen before in a Metroid game. Even that item, a wall of destruction when you charge up and fire, was touched on in Metroid Prime 2. All the best stuff is suddenly obtained at once in the last hour or two, so I slogged on for several hours relying on everything but great music and well-paced and creative new abilities--hallmarks of the Metroid series--to entertain me.

Locking on to specific objects requires far more pinpoint precision than necessary, especially when I physically cannot identify what it is I'm locking on to. The game is excessively dark in some places, and there's no option to adjust the brightness--or anything else, for that matter. Hampering my view of the screen even further were the in-game mini-map and obtrusive text popups about restoring my health or pulling off a special attack. Half the time I just couldn't see.

The occasional over-the-shoulder third-person perspective didn't help. And it wasn't always clear whether my weapons are effective against an enemy (and I didn't discover that locking on to a boss revealed a health bar until the end of the game). The map accessible from the menu screen was almost useless because it never resembled the in-game minimap. When I can't see the screen and get little or no feedback about my actions, I get cranky.

For the first few hours of the game, I seriously believed I was in an introductory stage, like the derelict freighter at the beginning of Metroid Prime. I kept looking at the generic surroundings, thinking how nice it would be to move on to the real game. But it never came. And then I entered Snow Land and Lava World for the umpteenth time, and realized just how stale the hot/cold level trope had become.

There were some great underwater sections, and places where I could see out into the beauty of outer space, and a creative heavy-gravity section, and an awesome hallway where the lights spookily turned on one by one as I ran through it. But no matter how pretty they were, so many places looked the same, or were pale recreations of better places from other games.

There was fanservice. There were throwbacks to almost every other game in the series. Much light was shed on Samus' mysterious past. Ostensibly, Other M gave the fans what they wanted. So why did it feel like the developers derived their inspiration from screenshots and plot synopses instead of from what they experienced by playing the games?

What gets me is the lack of logic in the design. Okay, so you decide that Samus was really just an insecure girl in a suit all this time, not the strong-willed adult with the troubled past that steeled her resolve to be awesome. Enough fans are angry about her portrayal that, obviously, Samus' reasons for, say, FLIPPING OUT when Ridley appears YET AGAIN were never explained very well.

That goes for virtually all of the major plot points: it's as though the developers brainstormed and said, "Oh, and we want this to happen! And then this will happen! And we want things to be like this!" which works great if you, the player, want to see these things happen, or don't have any expectations to the contrary.

The issue here is that so many people have a different vision of what the Metroid universe should be, and the developers were negligent in providing sufficient explanation about why expectation and reality don't match up for those who don't share their vision. Instead of sighing and saying, "Well, I don't like the direction the series took after Sequel X," the fans are getting up in arms because, evidently, someone assumed their vision of Metroid was so in line with what fans desired that Other M became focused on what was going to happen, not why or how.

Let's use an awkward food analogy. Metroid: Other M prepares a delicious steak--the kind of recipe you've always wanted to try--by slaughtering your beloved pet cow. Think about that one for a while.

Other M
makes me angry because, no matter your opinion on the game, there is somebody who doesn't "get it." If Other M is awful, the developers didn't "get" what a Metroid game should be. If Other M is fantastic, the haters don't "get" what Team Ninja was going for.

You know what I liked most about Other M?

The time when that hallway started shooting energy donuts at me like in Mother Brain's chamber in the original Metroid.

The time when I first got the Space Jump and started flying around the room like I was back in the spacious caverns of Metroid II.

Listening to the loading music that was taken straight from Super Metroid.

Getting a chance to fight one of the most memorable bosses from Metroid 3-D.

Racing against the clock in an escape sequence clearly influenced by Metroid: Zero Mission.

Being able to identify anything in my overly dark surroundings by scanning destructable grates and hatches the way I could in Metroid Prime.

Performing a multiple lock-on with my missiles like I was back in Metroid Prime 2.

Looking at those flying security robots and thinking fondly of SkyTown in Metroid Prime 3.

Want to hear my honest, thorough review? Metroid: Other M was at its best when it was not Metroid: Other M. Despite whatever detailed praise or criticism I could muster, that's all there is to it. Time to move on to something else.

Unless, of course, I go back and play the game on Hard Mode. But after reading that Hard Mode entails stronger enemies and absolutely no missile or health upgrades and that the already disappointing ending is absolutely the same, I've had it. I'M DONE PLAYING YOUR GAME, TEAM NINJA.

I want to mark Other M on my Backloggery as Complete, because I beat every boss, saw every cutscene, and collected every item. But, technically, according to the rules, I can't. Not if I've only beaten it on Normal Mode. Yet I will not play Hard Mode, and no matter what the nagging Metroid fanboy inside me is saying, I'm not missing anything because of it.

Good day, Other M. The fun barely balanced out the frustration, disappointment, and tedium the first time around--in other words, you burned my fabulous steak. I'm not playing your movie again until I've cleansed my palate with every other game to come before you.

Except Hunters. For the sake of my wrist, I might let that one slide.

1 comment:

Michael Gray said...

I've sort of mellowed out to the game by now. There are some things that cause me pain--like the fact that every dang time I try to do the "energy refill" move during a boss fight, Samus jumps into her morph ball so the boss can one-hit kill me--but I'm mostly mellow. For example, I play the "guess how much longer the cutscene is going to go on" game during the cutscenes, instead of whining about how long they are.