GDC 2010: Hands-On with Metroid: Other M

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Even if she was just a bunch of crude pixels when she debuted in Metroid, Samus Aran’s gone on to become of gaming’s most iconic characters. She was one of the medium’s first female personas and has starred in some of the best action titles in every generation of game hardware. Her newest adventure reveals more about the bounty hunter’s backstory and comes from a collaboration by the Team Ninja development studio and Nintendo’s own Yoshio Sakamoto.

Team Ninja’s best known for their bloody, over-the-top reboot of the Ninja Gaiden action series and Sakamoto-san’s guided nearly every Metroid game ever made. It may seem like an odd partnership at first, but getting hands on Other M showed me some promising moments.

I played about the first 20 minutes of the game, just a little past the first boss battle. One big change comes across immediately: Samus Aran has spoken dialogue for the first time in more than to decades. It was a bit jarring to hear her internal monologue during the opening cutscene but that feeling soon fades. Other M picks up after Super Metroid and recaps the final moments of that game. Samus mourns the loss of the baby Metroid that sacrificed itself to help her defeat Mother Brain. The acronym for Metroid: Other M forms the word “mom” and putting M in front of Other spells out “mother” so it’s prettry clear that Samus’ maternal longings will be part of the game’s story.

As far as gameplay, Team Ninja’s influence makes itself felt as early as the tutorial. Samus’s movement has a stylized run animation that makes her feel noticeably quicker and sharper. She’s also got a kick jump that bounces her from wall to wall in way that will feel familiar to Ryu Hayabusa fans. There’s a timed dodge prompt that comes up when enemies attack her and a successful dodge puts her in a firing stance.  There’s some mild assistive targeting in Other M as well; you’ll lock on to an enemy if you aim in their general direction.

Camera angles are a big deal in Other M. Most of the gameplay happens in 2.5D , where you can move Samus into the background and foreground of the screen. Pointing the Wii-mote at the screen switches the action into a first-person view; you can shoot missiles in this view and you’ll need to scan the environment for hotspots that are critical for progressing. This scanning mechanic was optional in the Metroid Prime series but is mandatory in Other M. Players will be forced into another camera angle, too. A third-person over-the-shoulder locks in when you enter certain environments. I wasn’t able to fire or do any other combat moves, so this shift seems to be there simply to create atmosphere.

After the tutorial, Samus resumes her normal bounty-hunting routine and answers a distress call from a distant planet. Once there, she meets up with a Galactic Federation Army squad led by Adam Malkovich, a soldier Samus served with on the battlefield. It’s pretty obvious that Malkovich and Samus have a complicated, possibly romantic backstory. After a few quick bug fights, Samus agrees to work under Makovich’s command. That agreement locks her more powerful attacks away until he authorizes them. It’s the classic Metroid abilities hunt but with different story reasons. You still have the equipment but you’re just not allowed to use it until completion of a certain mission. The first boss battle does exactly that. After Samus and the GFA team defeat a giant monster made of aggregated bugs, Malkovich lets her use missiles and bombs.

You really get a sense of fusion from playing Other M. The traversal/re-traversal tropes of the franchise, along with enviroments that leave you feeling isolated, are clearly come from Sakamoto-san’s involvement and several elements–like the Lethal Strike finishers that have Samus jumping on a enemy’s back to shoot it in the head– bear Team Ninja’s stamp. And there’s a clear ambition to re-invent Samus a bit, too. With a focus on backstory, more mature themes and cinematic presentation, Other M promises a look at the woman inside the power suit. My early glimpse definitely has me counting the days until this newest Metroid game comes out.