Metroid: Other M

From Doom on through Gears Of War, the term “space marine” has become shorthand for “ultraviolent gun-toting dude with a veiny neck as thick as a sequoia trunk.” In finally giving intergalactic bounty hunter Samus Aran a voice, Other M offers an intriguing new wrinkle on the dusty archetype: She’s immature, which is infinitely more shocking than when she was first revealed as female. (As if her suit’s giant ’80s-appropriate shoulder pads weren’t a dead giveaway?) It might not sound like a big deal, but Other M focuses on Samus almost to the point of being a character study. In her many internal monologues throughout beautifully rendered cutscenes, the previously strong-and-silent Samus owns up to being petulant in her time with the Galactic Federation, to having misguided, unshakeable loyalties, and to dealing with daddy issues. The characterization is a bold move, and turns out to be just one of many in Other M that make for a memorable, courageous, but somewhat flawed Metroid.

For starters, the emphasis on story moves series hallmarks like exploration, isolation, and power-up collection to the back burner. Samus is under Adam Malkovich’s command after responding to a space station’s distress call. Her former boss’ unit is coincidentally already there, so they join forces, split up to investigate the threat, and get killed off one by one. Instead of exploring a vast world, you’re stuck on a single ship, literally following arrows on your radar pinpointing where exactly to go. And since Other M takes place shortly after Super Metroid, you begin with all your power-ups… but have a gentleman’s agreement with Malkovich that you won’t use them until authorized.

Those tweaks are marginal compared to the inspired decision to shift from third- to first-person perspective when pointing the Wii-mote at the screen. It’s logical, but proves aggravating during firefights, and irritating in mandatory Where’s Waldo?-like sequences forcing you to analyze a tiny speck like tire treads before progressing further. Also frustrating is the combat system, deflated courtesy of the triple-whammy of adding auto-aiming, eliminating health and missile power-ups (you regenerate both by holding the Wii-mote vertical), and relying heavily on a counter-based system. In most cases, you can jog down corridors mashing buttons to dodge or vaporize Skrees and Wavers without consequence. This becomes the default M.O. between boss battles, which is nothing new, but it’s jarring that Samus is always most vulnerable during the cutscenes.