Preview: Metroid: Other M

With the game set to land in a mere 25 days, I had one last chance earlier this week to play the final version of Metroid: Other M -- though not as much as I would have liked. Nintendo had hand-picked a couple of areas for me to try. The first covered a good amount of ground in a botanical area of the Bottle Ship (the space station where Other M begins), while the second, far shorter one was meant to show that the game's combat isn't always as straightforward as in 2D Metroids past.
%Gallery-98881% The demo actually picked up right where I had stopped playing back in February, when we got to go hands-on with the game for the first time. Samus stepped out of a save point and into the command room that serves an overall hub within the Bottle Ship. This time, there was no sign of the space troopers who arrived on the station with her -- I was going it solo.

As I headed out of the room, things started looking very different, very quickly. I ran past glass-fronted rooms filled with bizarre-looking plants, and was jumped by a pack of dessgeegas. They're most easily dispatched by jumping onto their backs and releasing a charged blast from Samus' arm cannon into their heads. It's also the flashiest way to deal with them. It looked like something that Nintendo would have never tried on its own -- a clear contribution from developer Team Ninja, drawn from its experience with Ninja Gaiden.

I was on my way to "Zone 1." Bringing up the map, I could see several other zones making up a circle -- the one I was en route to corresponded to a single slice of it. The Bottle Ship is big. Here I was, expecting it to serve as a short prelude to the rest of the game, but that clearly isn't the case. And while I'd done a lot of linear running and shooting the last time I'd played, I could tell that there was plenty of the series' trademark exploration ahead. (During this demo, I returned to the same areas more than once.)

Using the d-pad to control Samus in three dimensions felt a little stiff, but not distracting.

The level design opened up as I progressed, presenting me with a massive, multi-story room with a spiraling ramp at its center. It was lush and in stark contrast to the sterile steel corridors I'd encountered the last time I'd played. Giant vines snaked out in every direction and across my path. Like JC said in his preview of the game, Other M's Samus is fast and agile, so it wasn't necessary to jump over obstacles -- she simply vaulted over them on her own, without missing a beat. Her movement through the environments is extremely fluid, something I'm guessing will come in handy later when running away from things, as well.

Moving Samus with the Wiimote -- held "classic style" -- then aiming it at the screen to fire missiles might sound like an awkward control mechanism, but just like her movements, it's snappy and feels like second nature in no time. That's a good thing, as swarms of airborne insects kept attacking me until I flipped into first-person, targeted their hives and destroyed them. Admittedly, using the d-pad to control Samus in three dimensions felt a little stiff, but not distracting. I also got a few chances to discover hidden areas in Samus' Morph Ball form, and can happily report that the classic technique of releasing bombs at just the right time while "hopping" got me to some otherwise unreachable spots.

I also encountered a pretty impressive variety of enemies in just a short time. There were giant Venus fly traps that compressed Samus into her Morph Ball form, the camera zooming in dramatically as it chewed away at her armor. Dropping a bomb did them in. An area that looked like a nature preserve was inhabited by hulking creatures that looked like the offspring of a horse and a ... tree. I had to contend with a pair of large chameleon-like creatures that spit acid and were impossible to target without entering first-person mode. A charged blast or missile would stun them, creating an opening for me to run up and press the fire button to perform a "lethal move."

The toughest foes I faced off against were reptilian burrowers that leapt out of the ground near Samus, making her dodge move (pressing any direction on the d-pad right as an enemy attacks) crucial to survival. After successfully evading their attacks, I was able to use a charged blast to slow them down, jump onto their shoulders and deliver a blast to their skulls. This knocked them out long enough for me to move for a lethal move. It might sound easy, but I can assure you it wasn't -- it was intense. Fighting these three creatures in a confined space didn't afford me the option of making more than a couple of wrong moves, and their speed meant I had zero opportunities to run away and recharge Samus' health when it was near critical. (This is done by holding the Wiimote vertically to "focus," takes a good 15 seconds, and can be interrupted if you're attacked.)

The cinematics seem really campy, which is jarring given the (so far) darker tone of this game.

I only encountered one cinematic sequence in the 40 minutes or so of time I spent playing the game. In it, Samus pondered the state of the dead researchers' bodies she'd come across, uttering something along the clichéd lines of, "What could have done this to them?" Nintendo once again told me that the aim of these scenes -- and Samus speaking for the first time -- is intended to make the game more cinematic and develop her character further. Truthfully, every one I've seen so far just seems really campy, which is jarring given the (so far) darker tone of this game.

The final and most unique section of the game I was given access to was an elevator shaft, crawling with enemies. It seemed mundane enough but, upon making it to the top, dramatic music kicked in and I saw that a giant lizard was climbing up after me. This is when I realized it's possible to look around and shoot in first-person while hanging from a ledge. I used that ability to destroy a bundle of cables, causing the stuck elevator above to move a little. I jumped to the other side of the shaft, shot another bundle of wires and was immediately crushed by the elevator. As it turned out, I needed to jump into a small alcove before freeing the elevator in order to crush the enemy below. The combination of having to suss out the "solution" to this room while performing quick platforming moves was harrowing, and the result of my failure was definitely shocking. A little unsettling, actually.

When it was over, my second hands-on with Metroid: Other M had left me with pretty much the same feeling as the first: I really enjoyed it. The controls were at once familiar and, in the case of switching to first-person so seamlessly, inventive. There seemed to be just the right mix of exploration and action, the lethal moves lent the presentation some nice flair and the varied weak points of each enemy gave it an old-school feel. I'm hoping for some more large-scale, setpiece moments when I play the game in its entirety -- something I'm getting the feeling could be a really good time.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.