Metroid Crime

Game stories suck. They’re either bloated or anemic, confusing or brainless, melodramatic or devoid of emotion. They feature Russian ex-presidents dancing with sumo wrestlers, being a bad enough dude to save the president, self-hypnotising soldiers and wives fused into bionic arms.

Some of those were spoilers. Sorry.

But for the most part, reviewers distance a game’s crappy narrative from its mechanics. According to Metacritic, at least, a dud story can’t wreck a great game. The sulky, angsty juvenility of Prototype is numbed because you can drop kick a helicopter. The grungy, filthy breast-tattooing ethos of DiRT 2 is ignored because you can drive cool cars real fast.

Metroid: Other M changes this. It has seen critics stand up and take notice and it has polarised professional reviewers to the sharpest extremes. Some more ballsy writers have taken the game’s story seriously when evaluating its worth and they’ve done what is usually so very rare: ignored its gameplay strengths in favour of its cavernous narrative flaws.

Here’s the scoop for anyone not following the commotion online: Metroid: Other M asks players to forget practically everything they know about the character of Samus Aran. In the penultimate narrative blob of the massive 24 year old franchise, this new game rewrites her entire character.

Previously a silent cypher of a protagonist who has experienced eight games’ worth of battles and monsters and death-defying boss fights, who’s been through Metroid and Super Metroid and all three Prime games, has blown up a planet and eradicated an entire species of gelatinous monsters; Samus is now a subservient little wuss.

A quivering, obedient little girl with more daddy issues than the entire cast of Lost and wrapped up in the worry that a distant father figure might disapprove of her actions. She’s been a freelance bounty hunter who hasn’t uttered a word of worry or angst (well, she hasn’t uttered a word at all, actually) since her first steps on the NES, but now we’re supposed to believe that she’s an utterly vulnerable and fragile girl?

For those who haven’t played the game, allow me to explain. Unlike every other Metroid game, which formulaically strips Samus (oo-er) of her powers in the first five minutes so she can systematically regain them – morph ball to plasma beam – in the next 20 hours of sci-fi funtertainment, Samus has all her abilities throughout Other M.

The only thing stopping you from unleashing havoc as a screw-attacking, speed-boosting, ice-beaming, super-missile firing juggernaut is Samus’ former commanding officer, Adam Malkovich, who turns up at the beginning of Other M. Little Miss Metroid decides to tag along with Adam and his band of generic men, and agrees not to use any of her awesome powers so his all-male team won’t feel insecure when the lady whips out her giant, pulsing charge beam.

Well, that might not be the exact reason, but we’ll run with it.

This means you’ll spot a door that can only be opened with super missiles, but you’ll need to wait for Adam to authorise those big, heavy rockets. You’ll be draining health like a sponge in a volcano until Adam allows you to switch to Varia mode. And enemies that once took a right royal pounding and several zillion charge shot blasts can now be downed, thanks to Adam’s helpful go-ahead, in a single icy blast to the noggin and a missile to the sphincter.

I don’t necessarily want to shout sexism, as she obediently puts her life at risk until her CO gives his permission to quit dying, but it certainly casts Samus in an different light. Which is a shame: she’s one of gaming’s strongest female leads – she’s less buxom than Lara and more badass than Jade. She had everyone convinced that she was a little pixelated bloke when she arrived on the 8-bit scene, and had 80s nerds questioning everything that was holy when she stripped down to her knickers (not her most feminist move, I’ll admit) post credits.

In Nintendo’s entire pantheon of protagonists, we see blobby mustachioed plumbers and androgynous fairy boys in thigh-high tunics – alongside a bad-ass bionic babe with shoulders the size of boulders and a gun where an arm should be. She was Nintendo’s coolest gal, and now she’s a little bitch.

In one fell swoop, Team Ninja – the icky Japanese developers who categorise Dead or Alive: Xtreme Beach Volleyball as a ‘Sports Game’ – has dismantled and destroyed Samus’ girl-power rep. It’s one thing to give a character depth and extra layers to her personality, it’s another to dismantle her entire essence in front of her fans.

But despite my obvious anger, it’s hard to bring too much indignation, and to produce the appropriate venomous bile to boycott and lambaste the game, when I’m enjoying Metroid: Other M so much.

Outside of its woeful storyline pratfalls, the game shines as one of the best Wii games of the year. It has the isolated exploration that we know and love, but with a handy injection of Ninja Gaiden style action. Every puzzle is smart and every boss fight is awe inspiring. I’m enamoured with it, addicted to it, but I’m not defending it.

It’s left me massively conflicted, wanting to praise the game for its mechanical prowess, but hold a protest in Tokyo for its grim characterisation balls-up. Such a clash, however, is masssively important and I’m chuffed that the critical gaming community can be bold and brave enough to admit it.

To see reviewers at popular, professional, industry outlets like G4 observe this game on more thought provoking terms than gameplay, graphics, sound and longevity gives me hope for gaming’s future storylines. If gamers quit accepting lame writing, and start questioning poor characterisation, perhaps developers will listen.

It’s about bloody time, but it could prove to be a meteoric first step in the right direction.







6 responses to “Metroid Crime”

  1. The Rook avatar
    The Rook

    I haven’t played any Wii Metroid yet and I would want to complete Prime 3 before starting Other M, I just can’t get enthused about waving my arms around to play. I’ve also been informed that I’m missing out by having never played Super Metroid and told I should download it on the Wii. I’ve enjoyed the Metroid games I’ve palyed (first 2 Prime and 2 on GBA) and should really play the other two Wii games.

    It does sound disappointing in your description of Samus’ role in Other M as I’m sure she would do alot better without having to follow instruction from anyone as she is more an adept character than the army she is teaming up with. Maybe someday I’ll go back to playing the Wii.

  2. Leon avatar

    Hmm.. I didn’t really see the authorisation thing as bad writing, more bad gameplay mechanics. They wanted to do something different rather than Samus losing all of her abilities *again*, but the new system just made no sense. Sure, restrict rockets for a while, perhaps while they make sure that the integrity of the place wont be compromised if she does so – but the varia suit? In what case could Samus being protected against heat be a bad thing, or dangerous?

    I didn’t really mind the story in Other M, in a way I was pleased to see more of Samus and some backstory, a little bit of humanity within her badass bounty-hunter shell. I just thought the ability system was illogical, and the game was too short.

    Loved the gameplay style, though.

  3. Mark avatar

    “I didn’t really see the authorisation thing as bad writing, more bad gameplay mechanics.” Someone could make the case that these shouldn’t be two disparate entities. Not me though, I’m tired.

  4. Alex avatar

    Games that had great gameplay supplemented by incredible story lines and were lauded for that exact reason: Silent Hill 2, Fallout series, KOTOR 1 (and 2 if you love your Star Wars), Okami, any Monkey Island game.. FF 6, 7 or 8 depending on what floats your boat, Xenogears, more recently Mass Effect, Bioshock, Read Dead Redemption, Heavy Rain… point made. Sure the vast majority of game story lines are tripe but the same could easily be argued of movies and trash novels.

  5. Lauren avatar

    I was never a big Metroid fan, but loved the whole transforming into a ball thing. That was awesome. I agree how it sucks when game developers come along and strip away a cool character. Look at the new Dante? Its emo Toby Maguire from Spiderman 3 ALL over again *facepalm*

  6. Snozzeltoff avatar

    Time and time i see the reviews all going for the same thing, the new way that the Dev’s tried to implement Samus’ upgrades. It was simply a game design choice rather than a major part of the story.
    The daddy issues is another thing, everyone seems to pick up on this which isnt really relevant if you know the deep background into her character.

    I find these to be summed nicely in this brief blogspot:

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