Playing the Game, Part 2
Now let's look at the overarching gameplay, the stuff that connects the elements of core gameplay together. It is this high-level gameplay that makes a Metroid game what it is. How does Metroid: Other M
fair in this regard?
If I could sum up Other M's overall gameplay with one word, it would be, "arbitrary." Nothing about this game feels at all organic or natural; it's all very forced, arbitrary, and contrived as hell.
The game loves nothing more than closing off areas in the laziest way possible: locked doors. This game has plenty of possible ways of keeping you out of areas through powerups (lacking them, that is) alone. But locking a door is the preferred way to stop your progress along side routes. And we're not even talking about closing off areas that you aren't, linearly speaking, supposed to go to yet. I mean closing off anywhere
that the game doesn't explicitly want to you go.
For example, after chasing Furizard the game arbitrarily tells you to go to the Cryosphere (as mentioned before). But... you're not allowed to go to the Biosphere. Why not? If I want to go back and look for gear or whatever with my new abilities, why should the game even want
to stop me? But no, you're not allowed. Indeed, once you take the elevator out of the Pyrosphere, you cannot go back.
Because the door locks behind you.
Metroid: Fusion is probably the most ram-rod straight-line linear game in all of the series before Other M. And even that
game let you go into whichever area you wanted. Why? Because they were careful in their construction of the levels. They prevented you from going where you weren't supposed to with movement-based locks (as well as security doors, but most of those get opened up pretty early in the game). It feels far less arbitrary and more integrated into the actual world than "Adam locked the door."*
Fusion may have been linear and actively hostile to sequence breaking, but it felt a lot more organic.
Other M feels more arbitrary when taking into account the story. Because Samus accomplishes nothing within the story (we'll talk about that later), the player never really does much. In Other M, you go into an area, follow a loop to where Adam tells you to go, then leave. For some reason.
Take the above example with chasing Furizard. You follow him, then reach a magma pool that you need to grapple across. Instead of giving you the power to do that (which remember, you already have
), Adam tells you to go to the Cyrosphere to find people. After an hour or so in that place, getting a few more pieces of gear and fighting the Deleter, he sends you back
to the Pyrosphere. There is nothing at all natural, narrativistically or gameplay wise, in this progression. The loop itself doesn't have a plot arc; you don't accomplish anything. You're just arbitrarily told where to go.
Contrast this again with Fusion. There, you go into an area, complete a task, then leave to go elsewhere. You only leave when you have actually completed
the task. The tasks in Fusion may have been arbitrary, but at least you accomplished them. You didn't feel like you were wandering aimlessly the way Other M does.
There is also the arbitrary connection between levels, which is something that Fusion, Other M, and Echoes all have in common. There is a central hub that connects to each level. In Fusion and Other M, the paths to each area are more or less right next to each other. The difference?
In Fusion and Echoes, each level also
has connections to other levels. Indeed, in Fusion this is a gameplay-twist
; you find out that these connections exist seemingly by "accident." The post-Gravity Suit connection between ARC and AQU is a particularly great moment, because you feel like you're sequence breaking (even though you're not
), getting out from under the computer's thumb and doing something "unauthorized." The world feels a lot more organic when you find that there are all of these connections between places you thought were separate.
In Other M? There are exactly two unexpected connections. The first is Furizard breaking a wall from the Biosphere to the Pyrosphere. Note that it's not Samus who does this; it's an NPC, so the agency is removed compared to Fusion. You don't feel like you've done something; it has simply been done for you. But it still feels different, more solid. More interesting.
Until you find out that not only is this entrance one-way, you can never return.
Remember that random bit where the Biosphere Test Center exploded for no adequately explained reason (likely due to James's sabotage)? Well, that cut off the room from ever being explored again. Ever.
It's really annoying too; if you're doing a 100% run, you have to go all the way to the door of the test center to pick up items. And then come all the way back; you can't just go into the Pyrosphere and continue collecting loot.
Plus, it doesn't accomplish the same goal that Fusion did, which is to make it feel like you're breaking the rules. Fusion allowed you to subvert its hub, but only after
it established the hub system. You have to go into each of the 6 areas, some twice over, before you start finding odd-ball connections between sectors. That is, this stuff comes at the end, when you start to feel the hub nature of the game working against you. In Other M, it comes first
, before the hub is really established. So it loses the feel of rule-breaking.
The other unexpected connection is between the Main Sector and the Cryosphere. But this is only available in the post-game loot hunt, and even then... is entirely arbitrary. It exists solely
because they have to shut down a particular elevator to keep you out of the room you're trying to get to. All so that you can get there the way the game wants you to.
Another arbitrary restriction that makes everything seem more unnatural.
Speaking of unnatural things, Other M feels very artificial. Not just in presentation, but in just the flow of the events as they play out. Nothing ever happens that is unexpected for the gameplay. Here's what I mean.
In Fusion, you get sent to SRX, where you clean out some stuff and fight some X parasites. The next mission is a trip to TRO to download some new powerups. The second real mission of the game is almost immediately derailed
thanks to SA-X blowing up some doors. This sends you on a long journey through TRO to get back to the Nav room, which also includes picking up an unexpected powerup (high-jump). Yes, it's linear, but it doesn't feel pre-planned
. You expected to be able to walk to the data room, casually download your gear, and walk back. But something truly unexpected happened that changed your plans.
Now, I admit that I am playing Other M after I know all the storyline stuff. I've watched the game several times; I know what's going to happen. So the storyline stuff never surprised me. But the Fusion scene I described wasn't just storyline stuff; it was gameplay too. And the gameplay of Other M never felt that natural. This comes back to the arbitrary decisions of where to go. In Fusion, you have to unexpectedly take the TRO tour because of an active agent of the plot changing the level. In Other M, you have to unexpectedly head to the Cryosphere... because Adam said so.
There are moments where Other M does use unexpected events. Furizard is one of them: you're supposed to chase him down. But the problem with this is that you only see him once. In terms of gameplay, you don't feel
like you're tracking a powerful monster through a magma world. You simply move forward, following the only path that's open to you. It feels like you're just following the arbitrary path the game lays out for you. Indeed, it's not too difficult to simply forget why you were sent there to begin with.
And of course there's Sector Zero. You're randomly told by MB where the Metroids are, then Adam shows up to take that away. But again, it doesn't feel natural;
Adam simply arbitrarily showed up (even though we were supposed to think that he's dead) and derailed you. Oh and an NPC walking off with the last level? Kinda bullshit.
At least Fusion let you see
the Metroid breeding facility before it was blown up.
But the big difference between Fusion and Other M is that, when you play Fusion, you really feel like you've been pitted against an adversary
. SA-X and the X parasites are constantly doing stuff; they cause things to happen that force responses from Samus. Hell, SA-X actually laid a trap for Samus (shutting off the reactor to lure her to TRO), one that Samus only escaped because she's that damn good.
By contrast, Other M is rather static. Yes, Furizard attacks from nowhere, but that's all
it does. Again, hunting it doesn't feel like you're actually hunting it. MB never feels
like she's doing anything. She does precisely two things: she sends you to Sector Zero, and she starts the ship moving to attack the GF. The former doesn't feel adversarial because you don't know it's a trap until Adam mugs you and robs you of your agency (*grrr*). And the latter has no real meaning for anything in-game; it's just a vague storyline plot point.
Think of it like this. Metroid: Fusion trades non-linearity for atmosphere and a dynamic world. It forces the player down a very linear path, but there's a purpose to it. It gives you an adversary to overcome, of a kind that other Metroid games haven't been able to present. It provides a sense of a changing world, a world being changed by forces beyond your control.
Metroid: Other M trades non-linearity for... a really shitty story. Even if you like Other M's story, you're still losing non-linearity without providing any gameplay
There is one other piece of arbitrariness: the Speed Booster. Frequently in hallways, there are slightly-raised or lowered terrain pieces that exist solely
to hose the Speed Booster. You can walk up and down them with no slow-down, but you can't Speed Boost over them. Why?
Actually, it's not arbitrary in the design sense; it's so that you don't break the game.
Like the Primes, Other M is a streamed world. The world beyond any particular door doesn't necessarily exist. It must be loaded, dynamically while you're in a room. That takes time, so there's some minimum time you need to spend in a room before the next can be loaded. Those little hills exist to make sure you don't outrun the streaming system. Granted, they don't do a good enough job, because there are many
ways to outrun the streamer and get the "Now Loading" message.
Admittedly, that's a well-understood technological limitation. That being said, Prime and Echoes had near-perfect streaming. There were only a couple of rooms where you'll even notice the streaming. They also had more disciplined world design: big rooms are always connected by hallways that exist to slow you down. It's always big->small->big->etc. Corruption has a few more streaming issues, because they do some fairly significant changes to certain rooms. Even then, they are limited to just those few rooms.
Of course, Other M is very pretty. That has its price.
It's not all bad. For all of its arbitrariness in level design and justification, Other M is quite good about one thing: minimal pointless backtracking. Take the Pyrosphere->Cyrosphere junction I've railed against. The magma room that prevents you from going forward is practically right next to the elevator back to the hub. So it's not like you've got a long way to go.
Generally, paths through levels are structured into loops. You go down a path that ultimately circles back around to somewhere near the beginning of the level. Conveniently just in time for Adam to order you elsewhere. The rare exceptions are the Furizard encounter (where you take the secret passage to the Pyrosphere, so again you aren't retracing your steps) and the aborted trip to Sector Zero, which you have to leave the same way you came in. And even that one isn't too terrible; now that Adam is dead, you essentially have free run of the ship.
Even when returning to already visited areas, it usually isn't too far before you're reaching new terrain. Contrast this with Echoes, where you are arbitrarily (it's not just for Other M) required to leave Torvus Bog to track down the Seeker Missiles*
. You must leave Torvus by the same entrance you used to get there, then march through much of the same terrain you've been through on the Temple Grounds. Once you've found the powerup, you have to go back the same way to the exact same room you left.
Yes, really. Other M doesn't have anything even remotely that bad from a backtracking perspective.
What really makes me dislike the overarching gameplay of Other M is its lack of "Metroid-ness," for want of an actual word.
In Fusion or Echoes, two of the most linear Metroid games pre-Other M, you are told where you're supposed to go. But you aren't told how to get there. The game doesn't take you by the hand and guide you along the path. In Fusion, even if you've been through that area before, the terrain may have changed; how you get there may not be how you expect.
In short, you have to explore
in order to progress. Even if there's only one way to go, you still have to find that one way on your own.
Not so in Other M. See, there are a lot of Nav rooms in Other M, which you use to heal and save. But they also add rooms to your map and set new destinations. That destination is usually another Nav room, and more than likely the very next Nav room you can reach along your way to the ultimate goal. Generally, the new destination is 4-6 rooms away. Basically, Other M shows you exactly the way to go.
This isn't the illusion of choice; this is the game leading you around. Coupled with the game's habit of locking off areas that you might go in, the game ultimately feels very linear.
More than that, the loops are clearly designed to go in one direction. The game won't stop
you from going backwards, but the camera orientation in a room clearly
has a preference. Many rooms tend to orient the camera so that it points from the "start" door to the end door. So you have full vision up the room... so long as you're trying to go in the right direction. But if you came in from the "wrong" way, you get about 5-6 feet of vision. And the game's not nice enough to pick a camera orientation based on which door you entered; no, it's the same angle no matter what.
This is even more compounded by the paths themselves. All of the Prime games kept to a simple pattern: big room->small room->big room->etc. Every small room is just a hallway with two doors. The big rooms usually have at least 3 if not 4+ doors. These are generally the main areas where the real stuff happens. Even if you're taking a linear path, there are generally a lot of curves and turns along that path.
In Other M, there are surprisingly few rooms with 3 or more exits. In general, most of the areas are structured into two loops that typically have one or two cross-connecting bits to them. Other than these cross-connections, these loops are almost always straight lines
: long sequences of rooms that have exactly two doors.
You might say that this is more in tune with the 2D Metroid games, but that's not true at all. I downloaded the maps of Other M and looked at the 3 primary sectors. Not counting side areas (like the Biosphere Test Center) or "doors" that lead only to a powerup just to the side, there are exactly sixteen
rooms that have more than two doors. Divided among 3 sectors. That's... not a lot. Feel free to check my math
, but even if I'm wrong on the count, I'm pretty sure it's not more than 20.
There are probably more than twenty rooms with more than two entrances in just
Brinstar in Super Metroid.
So no, this is not a Metroid game. Either in story or in gameplay.
Just a Little Bit
Games are ultimately supposed to be about the player. Some games actively help the player. Some games actively hurt the player; I Wanna Be the Guy
is a famous example of the latter. Even so, the latter group still ultimately cares
about the player. They have some respect for the player on some level.
Metroid: Other M
has absolutely no respect for the player. Here are several ways that this manifests itself. Some are big, and some aren't.
The map is one way. An in-game map is supposed to be helpful, but this system is very flawed. See, the camera is (usually) fixed within a room. The in-game mini-map that you see rotates when the camera rotates, so that "up" on the controller is always "up" on the map. OK. But the pause-screen map does not
rotate. So if you're trying to navigate, you always have to first get your bearings, figuring out not only where you are in a room but what orientation you're in.
Of course, the game is stick-up-its-ass linear, so it's not like there is a lot of variance. But it would be nice to know whether you're walking in the right direction along the straight line.
What's worse is that the in-game mini-map shows details that don't
appear on the pause map. A room can look shapely on the mini-map, but it only appears as a rectangle in the in-game map. This makes it harder to even remember what the rooms were.
Even worse, the pause map has no third dimension. This was a solved problem in the Primes, where the maps were fully 3D. Oh, the developers don't like those games? Fine: this was a solved problem in Link to the Past
on the SNES, where the map had multiple layers to it that you could select. This game doesn't even bother with that
much of the third dimension. It makes finding powerups harder even when the game tells you where they are, because it never bothers to give you a height.
But the disrespect for the player runs deeper than this. Let's talk about pixel hunts
, an "interesting" bit of gameplay that crops up. I'll describe this gameplay by explaining the thought process that brought it about:
Oh, but let's take out the most important part of scanning: the ability to find out information without someone monologuing or infodumping it onto us awkwardly. Why would we ever want that?
And won't players be thrilled when the final boss is one of these?
Indeed, that last part needs to be called out for particular derision. The videogame of Spider-Man II had a pretty memorable boss-fight against Mysterio. You see him charge up like 10 health meters and... he goes down in one punch. Why?
Because he's a joke. It's funny!
Other M used this concept as a serious example of a final boss battle. This game is working on the same level as parody!
Cutscenes are another example of disrespect for the player. Remember the Biosphere Test Center, the place with the Furizard fight? Theater Mode covers it as a sequence of cutscenes. This is a Goddamn lie: the entire section is one giant cutscene.
Oh, they give the player the illusion of free will, but from the moment you enter the room, you're in a cutscene. You have to enter the test center; they lock the door behind you. You have to go to the main computer room; it's the only place to go.
From there, you are forced to wander around the place in "ass slow mode" for no reason, and the only place to go is exactly where they want you to go. There is only one path to get there. And this happens twice. Once you fight Furizard, you're locked out of the Test Center building, so the only thing you can do is follow Furizard. And then the building itself is destroyed; you can never come back.
Gameplay is ultimately about choices. This section allows two choices: stand still or progress the story. Really, they should have just made it a 15 minute or whatever long cutscene. The bits of "gameplay" it throws in are negatively useful; they show nothing but disdain for the player by expecting them to think that the bit of movement and "freedom" the player is given constitutes gameplay. The Biosphere Test Center isn't a cutscene in the same way that Half-Life doesn't have cutscenes; just because you can move around doesn't mean that you're not in a cutscene.
Speaking of long cutscenes, let's talk about the cutscene-to-gameplay ratio.
Other M is actually pretty good about this early-on. Once you get past the intro sequence, to the point where gameplay starts, cutscenes are rather few and far between. Sometimes an hour will go by without a cutscene. And even when you get one, it's only about 5 minutes or so. Not good
, but not terrible.
But once the Ridley scene hits... wow. The ratio jumps tremendously. You have the "Madeline" infodump scene, the Adam/Samus scene, the actual
Madeline infodump scene, and the final encounter with MB. That's ~45 minutes of Theater Mode. In terms of gameplay? Assuming that you're not spending time looking for items, about an hour.
That's a ratio of almost 1:1. For every minute you spend playing the game post-Ridley, you have 1 minute of cutscene. The amount of gameplay before the Ridley scene is probably around 5-6 hours, thus giving it a more reasonable 1:5 ratio of cutscene to gameplay.
So the Ridley scene jumped the shark in both story and
gameplay. Well, at least they were consistent...
This represents the greatest form of disrespect to the player: when the player doesn't feel like he is actually in control of the game. If the player feels that he's leasing
control of the main character, something has gone horribly wrong. While this game does this quite a bit, I want to call out 3 instances that I find the most objectionable.
But first, an honorable mention: Adam walking off with Sector Zero.
This is one of the ways that playing the game after having witnessed the story is somewhat disadvantageous when reviewing it. When I played this scene, I knew full well what was going to happen. And, to keep from having to watch this Godawful cutscene yet again, I switched over to something else while letting the unskippable cutscene play out for 10+ minutes.
But this also means that I never personally
experienced the letdown of being told that there was a Metroid breeding facility, then being told you can go because Adam wants to steal the player's agency. I imagine that this only made the worst cutscene in the game even worse, knowing that you were being denied something interesting because of a plot-contrivance. While Samus's agency is being destroyed, so to is the player's.*
It's a simple matter of player expectations: you don't steal important levels from the player and expect them to be happy because of it.
So, while I recognize how wrong this is objectively, it's just not something that I personally experienced. The items on this list are just the three that I really felt personally while playing.
: Authorization has a storyline impact, but it has gameplay impacts too. And it's no surprise that they make the player feel less like a player
of the game.
It's one thing to pick up random powerups from arbitrary locations. The acquisition has context to it. But to already have the gear and you're just being told not to use it? That's bullshit. That's not a good thing for a videogame
Plus, it's used to create stupid moments like the acquisition of the Wave Beam. You're in the Cryosphere. You find a glass wall with a sensor that you have to shoot behind it. But you can't because the glass stops your non-Wave shots. So... you leave, going back the way you came. So you don't even cover new terrain. And then, you get trapped by glass walls with Space Pirates who can shoot you with their
Wave Beams safely outside. After a bit of not-fighting them, Adam finally
lets you use your gear.
And then... you have to trek back to that sensor to shoot it. Through the same terrain
, only with slightly more aggressive challenges for no adequately explained reason. Not only does this radically disrupt the flow of the game and force you to cover the same terrain four times
, it feels absolutely arbitrary.
The whole point of the authorization mechanic is to provide integration between the story and the gameplay, to better allow the player to immerse themselves in the world. And yet, this does the exact opposite: it makes you question
the story and gameplay at the same time, damaging your suspension of disbelief. It doesn't create immersion, because Samus will not do what you want her to do. It takes away the feeling of control over the flow of the game. It creates anti-immersion, creating a separation between the player's will and the avatar in the game-space.
Ready, Aim, ... ?
: There's the "final boss." See, you win by aiming at Melissa, thus starting the post-game cutscene. Having watched this crap many times, I naturally assumed that, in terms of gameplay, you simply lock-on to her. That it's locking-on that triggers the end game.
No. You have to press the fire button. Let me repeat that. You, as the controller of a videogame avatar, state your desire and will for the avatar to take a hostile action against a target. And as a "reward," you get to watch that NOT HAPPEN!
It's the complete inverse of Portal 2
's Lunacy achievement. There, you take one shot to do something so ridiculous that it can't possibly work, but does work due to proper foreshadowing and holy shit
, that just happened!
Here, you take one shot to do something so entirely mundane that it must work, but doesn't work due to terrible contrivance and holy shit, this game sucks!
: And even that isn't the worst.
Oh no. To understand where this comes from, you need to understand something I didn't even know when I first started playing the game. When you restart a game from a save, the game gives you a text-only (thank God) interlude, explaining what happened recently and bringing the player up on current events.
After watching the mind-eradicating horror of the Ridley scene in full 480p, with no compression and so forth, I had to take a break. It's interesting to read what the game said about the Ridley fight. Of course, no mention is made of why Samus freaked, only that she did. Because otherwise, it wouldn't make her look as weak. That's minor though and expected.
Allow me to quote part of the game's description of the Ridley fight: "she attacks Ridley with wild shots from her Plasma Beam."
Look you scum-sucking, bottom-feeding, piece of shit! You get to murder Samus Aran's character during cutscenes; that's your right as a horrific blight on creation that serves only as definitive proof against the existence of a loving God. BUT YOU DO NOT GET TO DECIDE HOW I PLAYED YOUR FUCKING GAME!
Shitting on Metroid
#15: Yes, Metroid: Other M
has the dubious distinction of actually shitting on itself. I'm not even sure how that's possible, and yet here we are. The story has retconned its own gameplay
, taking a scene where Samus was precise and surgical (as I played it because I'm not a fucking moron) and pretending that it didn't happen that way. In fact, Other M's Theater Mode doesn't even show off these "wild shots."
I am amazed that I can still be amazed by Other M's bullshit at this point. We are after all talking about a game which has shown complete disdain for Samus, Adam, any of its other characters, women in general, the Metroid franchise, the art of writing, cinematography, storytelling, or the basic desire to be entertained. And yet, I am still shocked that such a game would also show utter contempt for the player.