The 10 Most Misunderstood Wii Games: Conclusion

by Mike D.

I am a part of the part that at first was all, part of the darkness that gave birth to light, that supercilious light which now disputes with mother night her ancient rank and space, and yet cannot succeed.
-Goethe’s Faust (as translated by Carlyle F. McIntyre)

1.) Metroid: Other M

It helps if you start by forgetting.

Forget everything you think you know about 3D game design. Forget manual cameras, Z-targeting and analog sticks. And you may as well forget about genre classifications, too.

Metroid: Other M is a game from the future that doubled back through the past en route to the present. It is the only beast of its kind, and for good reason – it shouldn’t work at all.

Why? Because it’s a sidescroller. And a standard behind-the-back, third-person 3D action game. And a platformer, first-person shooter, melee-brawler, pixel-hunting detective game. Sometimes the view is reversed, and you’re running toward the screen. Other times it takes on an isometric perspective. On paper, this shouldn’t work at all. But it does. This shape-shifting, perspective-switching minx more than works. In fact, it seems that the template created by Project M was so seamless that many didn’t notice its genre-busting, avant-garde ethos. This game takes a scalpel to Mario 64 and Ocarina of Time, removing their established 3D game design orthodoxy and replacing it with a vision of what games may have felt like if they didn’t leave behind so much of their 2D heritage.

It’s worth noting that this Metroid is so misunderstood that it isn’t uncommon to see comments about it actually being 2D or 2.5D. It is not.  It is a fully 3D game, but one that utilizes conventions of the past: digital controls for snappy movement and an auto-camera that sometimes frames the action as a sidescrolling platformer.  The controls and camera can, at times, suggest an NES game, albeit one grafted into present day, not bound to a 2D rail.

Odds are, if you had read the ravenous hyperbole that descended upon Other M when it launched, this sounds like Greek. How can a 3D game really be any good without analog control, or without a lock-on? Again, it helps if you start by forgetting. Forget those conventions. This game was designed around its control limitations. Everything from its method of dodging enemy attacks, to shooting enemies (which takes on the arcade-y feel of Super Metroid), to its method of navigating twisting rooms (via synced camera movement), was molded around the strengths of the controls.

Project M built this game with 8 directions of movement in mind, because who the hell said analog control fit every game?
This game was built to feel like a modern-day interpretation of an NES game, because who said those titles aren’t worth imitating as much as Grand Theft Auto 3?

If you’ve read this far, intrepid reader, I firstly thank you. Secondly, this is about to get ugly. We’ve covered controversial (and misunderstood) game mechanics up until now, but there is something even more divisive about this game: the murky territory of Samus Aran’s character portrayal. However, before diving in, it’s worth noting that the beloved badass of games past didn’t disappear. Does this Samus look emo to you?

I thought not.

And I assure you, this bounty hunter didn’t destroy your childhood, kill Samus, raze the Metroid series to the ground (it is selling on par with the rest of the series; even though it received price drops, it enjoyed no “Player’s Choice” release like Prime or Echoes) or arrive from out of nowhere. She existed in Metroid Fusion, which was quite well received and introduced a more internally thoughtful Samus to the fore (it is also worth noting that Samus sharing her thoughts with us literally introduces the classic Super Metroid). There is more revealed of her past in Other M; her most regrettable actions and mistakes appear in flashbacks. Yes, Ms. Aran made mistakes as a youth. Didn’t you?

So, if we allow her the same awkward youthful indiscretions that are the common currency of adolescence, what is left?  Ah, yes.  The charges of sexism – Samus takes orders from a man, cries, and later appears frightened by the sudden appearance of Ridley. So lets unpack these, shall we? Off the top, the tears are shed for losing the closest thing she has to family left in her life. Try losing your father figure without your face becoming a mask of anguish. This is the most callow of criticisms one can make.

Onto the chain of command, then. The man giving orders here qualifies as Samus’ commanding officer in a military operation. Although obscured elsewhere in the early plot, the point of this entire exercise is to look for survivors. The commanding officer simply gets to decide where to look, and thus where Samus searches, which doesn’t sound nearly as malevolent as the vitriol spewed upon this plot development. There is one instance – one – in which said plot device falters. This is, of course, the dreaded “hell run” partaken in Sector 3 of the Bottle Ship. From the perspective of the narrative, it sucks. But gameplay? It provides one of the tensest moments of the entire game. Panic, mistime a jump or dodge, and you’ve died. It is a trade-off between action and story. Perhaps there was a more elegant way of approaching it, but this is hardly game breaking. It is a mild annoyance conquered in under 5 minutes in a game that can easily last 15 hours or more on a first play through. Perspective makes a laughingstock of this.

That leaves us with Ridley.

“But Samus beat him so many times before!” Yes, indeed. But a timeline definitively solves this one. Again, it helps if you start by forgetting. Odds are, the Prime series is most fresh in your memory, but forget them. They happened long ago in the Metroid mythos, sandwiched as a side-story set in between the original Metroid and its direct sequel, Return of Samus. Other M takes place in the aftermath of the SNES masterwork, Super Metroid.  This is pertinent, because Super really is the turning point of the overall series narrative. Mother Brain dies, Ridley dies, the last Metroids in existence die, and the planet of Zebes itself dies. Samus takes ample time to reflect on this at the outset of Other M, pondering about the infant Metroid that saved her and the death of her “long-standing nemesis, Ridley.” Yes, her tormentor is finally gone.

No, really. Gone. As explained later in Other M’s plot, the Ridley that appears in the Pyrosphere was not actually Ridley. It was a genetic clone, unwittingly created by Galactic Federation scientists who had taken samples of materials (including dragon goop, it turns out) on Samus’ armor as she lay convalescing after the destruction of Zebes at the end of Super Metroid. This is the reason for Samus’ frozen surprise: she was seeing a ghost. She had finally destroyed this reptilian Mephistopheles, and saw to the blowing up of the planet on which his corpse resided. And yet he seemingly appears again. Whole. Hale. What would your reaction be, to seeing the dead rise?

Of course, I realize we’re simply talking about a videogame here. And this effort would not even be necessary, were it not for a portion of the gaming media that collectively lost its mind when this game released.

I have never had qualms with those that just didn’t like this game (it definitely has flaws, which we’ll discuss later). Or any game, really. My ire is directed at those who have been so purposefully obtuse and so certain of their outrage that they didn’t bother to look at silly things like context. Or an overall picture. Or of sheer bloody variety and risk and verve.

Other M’s lineage traces to the darkness that gave birth to the light of the Metroid series. It disputes the notion of what a Metroid game can be, and of what a 3D game needs to be. I suppose it is understandable that it is misunderstood by some. But there is something here worth appreciating on its own terms, I think. Maybe you do, too.