Hands-on: Metroid: Other M


There's a lot I want to tell you about the 45-minute demo of Metroid: Other M that I played at the Nintendo Media Summit, but let me answer your most pressing question first: The game is really impressive; it's really fun; it's totally Metroid. The demo was only the beginning sequences of the game, but if everything Nintendo and Team Ninja have managed to deliver in this short span holds up for the entirety of the game, it's going to be really good. (Also, let it be said now, Other M is in no way a re-skinned Ninja Gaiden.)

My demo began with the game's opening cinematic, which is fully pre-rendered CG and recounts the ending of Super Metroid, to which Other M serves as a direct sequel. It sees Samus in a showdown with Mother Brain (realized by Team Ninja as a mammoth bipedal monstrosity with one huge eye) before the bounty hunter awakes in a medical bay wearing her Zero Suit. The cinematic narrated entirely by Samus (as promised, Other M is the first time we hear her voice -- and it's, well, just all right) and leads directly into a tutorial disguised as a "diagnostic" of her armor and recollection of how to kick ass.
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The twists on "classic" Metroid gameplay that Team Ninja and series co-creator Yoshio Sakamoto are bringing into play began surfacing the moment I picked up the controller; there's no Nunchuk, just the Wiimote turned sideways, as if playing a Virtual Console game. Standing in a training room, controlling Samus from a third-person perspective, I was instructed by a scientist (situated safely behind a very thick window) to perform various moves.

The switch from third- to first-person is handled wonderfully; I simply pointed the Wiimote at the screen and the transition was near-instant.

For starters, the charge shot, performed by holding down the 1-button and releasing it when fully charged (as you can see in the new screens, there's now a "charge gauge" underneath Samus' life bar). Simply tapping 1 is for basic shooting, and Samus auto-locks on to enemies as long as she is facing in their general direction. This goes for enemies on the ground, in the air, on walls, or hanging from the ceiling. Since the movement control is digital, there were times when I felt like the lock-on needed to be more pronounced -- I asked if this mechanic is going to be tweaked before release, but didn't get a definite answer.

Hitting the big A-button (very quickly) switches to Morph Ball mode, while the 1-button drops bombs in this state. Holding 1 charges up a power bomb; I released the button and the entire room filled with a white-hot explosion.

Other M is primarily played in a third-person perspective, although as the training session taught me, there are times you'll need to see through Samus' eyes -- to fire missiles, for instance. The switch from third- to first-person is handled wonderfully; I simply pointed the Wiimote at the screen and the transition was near-instant. In this view, holding down the B-trigger let me freely look around the environment (the context here was that I was trying to find "an old friend" -- a hologram enemy -- hidden somewhere in the room). Moving the reticule over the partially cloaked foe automatically locked on to it, and pressing A fired off a missile. When not locked on, A fires a basic shot.

With the enemy dislodged, it was time to learn some more basics. Dodging in third-person is contextual; I just needed to press the D-pad in any direction the moment an enemy attacked. Pulling this off resulted in Samus performing a cool-looking evade, aided by her back-mounted boosters. There's also wall-jumping, which is simplified. I only had to hold towards one wall on the D-pad and repeatedly press the 2-button to make my way up.

After completing my training, a new cinematic began showing Samus tearing across space in her ship. She received a distress signal and decided to investigate. The signal's origin: a supposedly decommissioned space station called the "Bottle Ship." During the landing sequence, the pre-rendered cutscene seamlessly transitions into in-engine graphics, as Samus' ship touched down, and in moments I was on the ground running -- the running animation looking perfectly true to character and the series.


After being prompted to enter first-person and check out another ship in the landing bay, I learned that Samus was not alone. Making my way down corridors -- both by side-scrolling and by moving from foreground to background, and vice versa -- I took out some minor (but familiar) enemies before a very cinematic in-engine cut scene kicked in, showing Samus encountering a squad of Galactic Federation Army troopers. It turns out that Samus knows a couple of them, and that she'd actually been in the military herself -- before an "incident" forced her out and into the bounty hunting business.

The troops couldn't get through a door so, naturally, I got to blow it off its hinges using one of Samus' missiles. The squad proceeded ahead, while I took another route -- blasting more enemies and encountering an interesting yet simple puzzle. In order to exit one of the rooms, I had to go into first-person and lock onto a gate control, shooting it until it was fully "energized." Doing so only opened the gate high enough to slip under it in Morph Ball mode.

Back with the soldiers, I came across what looked like a dead scientist, and a cinematic showed a small pink bug scurry out of his body. Before I knew it, the things were everywhere, climbing the walls and forming a "body" around a giant eyeball. It was time to fight a mini-boss!

While the soldiers took shots at the creature, I ran around it (this was a large room) and was able to quickly pop into first-person and shoot its eyeball with a missile. After a couple of hits like this, the soldiers switched to freeze guns and directed me to fire at any spot they managed to ice over. This, again, was first-person, and after a few good hits, the monster was finished. Now, this sequence was fun, but showed a potential problem with the third-to-first-person switching: it's impossible to move, or even dodge, in first-person. The enemy managed to whack me pretty good while I was locking on to it.

Next I learned that, at least for this portion of the game, the abilities and weapons Samus can use are unlocked by a commanding officer -- he actually has to "authorize use of bombs," and so on. I have no idea if this will extend further into the game, but it's definitely ... different. Speaking of different, so is the map. It's now an overhead "radar" showing the corridors, rooms and the status of doors (unlocked green or locked red). Oh, and the doors ... I didn't have to shoot them to open them; just walk up and you can pass through them.


The final portion of the demo had me backtracking in order to get power back online in the station. Along the way, I noted that Samus can hang from ledges (and can't seem to walk off of them accidentally) and can slide down walls. On my way to the systems room, I happened across what turned out to be a bathroom. I have no idea why it was there, but it showed off another camera trick in the game. In cramped quarters, the camera pulls in over Samus' shoulder and the game controls a bit like Resident Evil 4. Yep -- but that was the extent of it. (I also found that, in this view, tilting the Wiimote forward and backwards raised and lowered the camera perspective. I asked, and no one at Nintendo had noticed it yet, so its purpose remains a mystery.)

Once I made it to my destination -- I was told the full-screen map is a work-in-progress, so my only indication of where to head was a yellow arrow that moved along the radar's periphery -- I flipped on the power, only to find out, when the lights came on, that the machinery was blocked by enemy hives. In between shooting flying bugs, I'd switch to first-person and nail the hives with missiles. They eventually stopped spitting out enemies and I got the power on.

I really wish there was some way to lock-on and strafe in third-person.

Running back to rejoin the commanding officer, I crossed a walkway that gave out beneath me. Dropping thirty or so feet, I ended up in a large room with familiar two-legged beasties. Here I really wished there was some way to lock on to enemies and strafe in third-person. They managed to get my health down pretty low, at which point I realized I hadn't seen a single power pick-up yet. It turns out that, when Samus' health is low, I had to "focus" by holding the Wiimote vertically and holding down A. (I'm not sure if this is the only way to regain health in the game.)

Eventually, having dealt with the enemies, I headed for the end of the room where it looked like I could wall jump back up and continue on. Up I went, but quickly realized there was a hatch at the top of the vertical chute. So, standing on the ground, I flicked into first-person view, looked up at the hatch and blasted it off using a missile.

Back on track, I blasted a few more enemies, activated power terminals (which was actually kind of tricky, given the D-pad control and how picky the game was about standing in just the right spot) and stood on a save game platform -- yep, it still recharges Samus' shields and is pretty quick. Then, entering the "command room" ended the demo.

So -- whew! How'd it look? Really good and really Metroid. It sounded the part, too, mixing familiar sound effects with a more orchestral score than I'm used to from the series. Most of all, the demo left me wanting to play more, like now. I'd even be fine playing the demo again. A few times. Other M had everyone at the Nintendo media event talking: This could be big.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.