Release: Out now
Developer: Nintendo / Team Ninja
Since Other M’s announcement, there’s only been one question worth asking: which Team Ninja is going to turn up? The fine-tuning master of virtual combat, the crummy level designer or the clown behind lascivious minigame collections? Time to relax: it’s the first, and Other M is a collaboration that works. It has all the hallmarks of Metroid: a sprawling space station, an upgrade path, plenty of puzzles and a forgiving approach to platforming. But here it’s combined with one of the best boss lineups Samus has ever faced, the highpoints for the kind of elegant and aggressive combat system you feel Metroid’s always been waiting for.
Nintendo has got the best from Team Ninja, but it’s also gone back to its 2D roots after the singular 3D take of the Prime series. Other M is traditional and – most unusually – a 3D game that abandons analogue controls. You play the majority with the Wii Remote held sideways, not a configuration we’ve ever had any kind of fondness for, and control Samus with movement in eight directions.
It works because the world’s built for it. Other M’s Bottle Ship is an atmospheric and varied setting, but its layout is flatpack: plenty of long corridors, both horizontal and vertical, with bigger rooms essentially large boxes. Recall the map screen of any 2D Metroid, though, and this is pretty much what they’ve always been like, and the detailed environments give each chunk its own identity.
In terms of how Samus is funnelled from A to B, the closest comparison is the GBA’s excellent Metroid Fusion (which the storyline of Other M sets up): the narrative thread and pull of objectives is strong, but in Other M’s second half is dissipated over a re-exploration of earlier areas for the hidden goodies. Clearing out rooms of enemies usually shows up a glowing blue dot, temptingly near but confusingly squirrelled away, and when you’re blasting back through later these treasure hunts swallow hours.
That it’s a pleasure simply exploring is thanks to the combat system, and a bespoke take on the firstperson perspective. The punch-ups first, then, and Team Ninja’s contribution: Samus has always been powerful, but you wouldn’t call the fighting in previous Metroid games aggressive, or violent. Other M’s about close-quarters combat. Tapping a direction just before an enemy attack hits executes a dodge, and successful dodges boost the charge rate of Samus’ shots; charged shots, in turn, are more likely to disable enemies for an uncompromising finisher.
The timing required for dodges, and the perfect ‘shunk’ noise from the Remote when a shot’s fully charged, is a feedback loop of real finesse. When mastered, it makes Samus about as brutal as a Nintendo character’s ever likely to get, and an endgame gauntlet of standard enemies, facing down about 30 opponents in a row, shows that it can shine under the most intense pressure.
It’s a big part of why Other M’s bosses, a wonderful collection of B-movie freaks and industrial horrors, are such high points. Several owe more to Ninja Gaiden than Metroid's past, but they’re all stern workouts and add schlocky pizzazz to the rogues gallery. Ridley, a big lava worm, an industrial vehicle, a green-faced flying mech, the space-station-sized final encounter – all fantastic.
These encounters also play with perspective, demanding firstperson switches at critical moments or bringing down the house while you’re trying to aim at a weak spot. Throughout the majority of Other M you can smoothly transition into a standing firstperson view by pointing the Remote at the screen – which helps greatly with working out routes and admiring the details. In harried circumstances it can be more difficult to use, which is exactly why the game keeps demanding it.
The problems Other M does have are minor ones. The challenge could be fiercer: truly testing enemies are only found in the last stretch, and you’ll often sprint through old locations simply tapping fire without any sense of danger. You’ll come across a few invisible walls while poking around the space station’s corners, and most players will feel that Metroids themselves don’t make enough of a showing. The cutscenes are of very variable quality, and as for the MacGuffin that means Samus’s suit has all its abilities but she’ll only use them when ‘authorised’ to… well, it’s a bit rubbish.
Other M dabbles in cinematic tricks and sensational set-pieces, but its strength is in the foundations: it builds an enveloping 3D world from straight lines and right angles, and ups the gears of its rewarding basics constantly. It offers an uncluttered slice of sci-fi action, a singular take on the thirdperson adventure, and a combat system of pared-down beauty. Team Ninja had good material to work with, but the studio’s own contribution is a fine complement indeed.