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Game Review

Other M's intricate plot has as many twists as an M. Night Shyamalan movie. And because this is the 11th entry in the Metroid franchise, it's no surprise that there's a big chunk o' backstory to deal with—which is where the action begins.

In true cinematic fashion, extended cutscenes reintroduce us to heroine Samus Aran, who's a cosmic bounty hunter with enough armament packed into her biometric war suit to make Iron Man and Boba Fett both twitch in terror. The opening sequence flashes back to the conclusion of Super Metroid, in which Samus battled a one-eyed monstrosity known as Mother Brain. Mother Brain controls the Metroids, a race of hyper-powerful jellyfish-like aliens whom another group, the Space Pirates, is attempting to exploit for its own nefarious purposes.

Samus thought she had wiped out both threats to the Galactic Federation, as well her dragon-like nemesis, Ridley. But when the bounty hunter gets dispatched to a distress signal from a decrepit space station known as the Bottle Ship, everything she thought she knew gets reset.

The First and Third Samus
If Other M's plot needs an a elaborate diagram to keep it all straight, gameplay is straightforward and, at times, confoundingly clunky. That's partly because you're forced to alternate between first- and third-person perspectives—and both modes have limitations.

Samus hasn't been on the Bottle Ship long before she finds a squad of Galactic Federation officers (led by her old commander and mentor, Adam Malkovich). Level by level, Samus and the GF troops inch closer to unraveling the mystery of what disabled the seemingly deserted vessel … and why the Metroids are apparently back.

Progress through the Bottle Ship is linear and takes place in third-person. In this mode, players use the Wii controller horizontally in a traditional (non-motion-sensing) manner. When various baddies pop up to impede your progress, you just press the fire button and the closest enemy is automatically targeted. Weapons capabilities advance as you go—from diffusion beams, to freeze beams, to high-damage plasma blasts. Vaporized enemies are exactly that—vaporized into a puff of black and green smoke. No blood. No guts.

I actually enjoyed this aspect of the game's simplicity. It's a definite nod to Metroid platformers of the past, and it almost had an arcade-game feel to it. But hard-core Halo-style gamers may find it boringly low-tech. And I'm guessing that's why designers mixed things up by adding a totally different combat interface at certain points. In tangles with bosses you switch to a motion-controlled, first-person attack mode. Turning the controller vertically, suddenly you're looking at your enemy through Samus' visor. You position a cursor on your enemy's body to inflict the mortal blow.

The catch is that Samus can't move when she's in this mode and is an easy target herself, which, for this gamer at least, made for lots of do-overs. And toggling back and forth between modes made it difficult to ever get into a good combat rhythm. And while we're in the rhythm-interrupting department, a puzzle-solving component between big attacks creates a third (slower) pace that has to be reckoned with and resolved.

Things That Go Bump in the Airlock
Other M's combat is, as I noted, mostly devoid of blood or gore. But there are a couple of exceptions. Cutscenes show a few dead humans. We also witness GF troops getting tossed around like spineless dolls. And then there's Ridley, who continually shapeshifts from one animal form to another. Each time, he leaves behind the grisly husk of his previous host as if he unzipped it and crawled out. We see the backs of several animals opened up, with bones and green blood spread out around the wounds. Samus' final battle with this creature results in an accumulation of wounds on its body, gashes where his green musculature shows through.

Elements like those contribute to a dark, atmospheric, creepy feel. The sci-fi violence in this shooter may be pretty tame compared to Other M's mostly M-rated competition, but it still feels more like a PG-13 horror movie than a T-rated space adventure.

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August 31, 2010

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Adam R. Holz Trent Hoose

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