M for eMo

If the Metroid video games could be considered a love letter to director Ridley Scott’s Alien films, the series’ latest installment, Metroid: Other M (Wii), is fan fiction penned by a junior-high James Cameron. For some reason, Nintendo drafted its own employees, with members of Team Ninja, the group responsible for the post-millennial installments of Ninja Gaiden, to produce the next game in the Metroid saga (nearing a 25-year legacy). The new “Project M” team developed a third-person action game where protagonist Samus Aran moves (somewhat humorously) like a ninja in a spacesuit.

But that isn’t the weirdest part of Other M. Project M also fleshes out the backstory of Samus, one of the gaming industry’s most mysterious protagonists. While she’s still a stoic bounty hunter who kills soul-sucking Metroids, the plot reveals that Samus was once a bratty lone wolf in the Galactic Federation (a space army). Investigating a distress call, Samus reconnects with her old squad and former commander Adam Malkovich. Myriad ham-fisted, over-explanatory cut scenes follow, involving a sexist dynamic between Adam and Samus (she acquires new abilities based on when he “authorizes” their use). The plot and dialogue are teen-poetry awful, with pulse-numbing voice work, and an inescapable feeling that Project M wants these terrible cinemas to be a key selling point.

Thankfully, M:OM delivers on the gameplay end. Maintaining some series tradition, the game still centers on exploring desolate alien environments, with the player acquiring tools to explore previously unreachable areas. In this latest game, Samus is viewed from a third-person vantage point, and she’s an acrobatic badass. She flips away from incoming attacks, jumps on aliens’ shoulders to blow their heads off, and, in one instance, shoves her blaster into a giant snake alien’s mouth and lets rip. Samus also controls nimbly through the exhaustively exhilarating set pieces, except when the player uses the wonky first-person aiming mode. Occasionally, the game sets frustratingly unclear expectations about what the player needs to do next.

Other M also features some of the best graphics on the Wii. If you have your system set on 480p and rigged to a plasma TV with component cables, the game’s environments exhibit a popping, elegant simplicity. Explosion and lasers beams light up in some impressive-for-Wii screen magic. And the soundtrack is some frightening, Hans Zimmer-esque shit.

The deal-breaker for most will be the clunky, unavoidable cinema. This being a Wii game, it would be forgivable, except that the other Metroid games didn’t feature thoughtful, compelling storytelling. Samus has spent previous installments hunting Metroids, only to discover that they don’t become merciless, energy-hungry aliens at birth; they have to be trained to that end and, as a result, possess power to benefit all living things. Players learned this in Super Metroid, set right before Other M takes place, with only onscreen action and minimal dialogue to develop the story. Instead of exploring the idea of Metroids as symbols of infinite, existential potential, Project M made Samus Aran: 25 Going On 15. Plotwise, they fucked the face-hugger on this one. •

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