Thursday, August 9, 2012

Missing the Point in 'Metroid: Other M'

Image from
This week at PopMatters, I explain why I think Metroid: Other M "misses the point."

Basically, the game falls victim to the curse that's been plaguing Star Wars since the prequels came out: Other M focuses too much on the details of its lore and, in the process, loses the spirit that made the series special in in the first place. Instead of focusing on environmental storytelling and exploration, Other M shovels the equivalent of a heaping pile of midichlorians onto the screen. The existence of unimaginative writing and exposition dumps is bad enough, but what's truly sad is the way Samus becomes a victim of the dialog and cutscenes. A mysterious, effective warrior becomes an incompetent sniveling child before our eyes.

Equally tragic is the way this surface-level appreciation of Metroid infects the game's mechanics. I go into this in the article, but I think it bears repeating: Doing the wall jump in Super Metroid was an achievement. It required exploration, problem solving skills, and the manual dexterity to pull it off. It was special because it summed up the game's exploratory approach and required actual effort to execute. Wall jumping in Other M is all but automatic: the procedure is literally spelled out for you in an onscreen prompt, and the action itself is simplified to the point of triviality. The result is something that looks right from a visual perspective, but lacks the essence of what makes the move special.

It's just one of the many elements in the game that was seemingly included out of obligation, rather than necessity. As the Prime series demonstrated, you don't need to blindly follow precedent and mine (or perhaps manufacture?) a backstory in order to make a Metroid game that upholds the tradition of the NES/SNES games. If Retro could make three great first-person games, it's conceivable that Team Ninja could have delivered a successful, more melee-centric take on the franchise. In some ways, they did.

However, there is simply too much facade and not enough substance in Other M. Or rather, there is too much substance when it comes to story and dialog, and not enough when it comes to meaningful game elements.

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