Metroid: Other M isn't exactly a favored Metroid title. I don't see a lot of discussion around it these days outside of jabs at its quality; it seems to be the 3D Metroid equivalent of embarrassing middle school selfies, something you'd rather not think about that only sees the light of day to be laughed at. As is my nature when it comes to supposedly universally-disliked games, I was uncertain Other M could be bad enough to deserve that much ridicule. I theorized that resentment had built against the game over time for being a weak entry to leave off on -- after all, it's generally thought of as the most recent "real" Metroid game, and it came out in August 2010, over six years ago. It made sense to me that Other M could've left a bad taste in fans' mouths and, with no new Metroid game to wipe away that bad taste, soured in their memory.
What I found, however, is that Other M is just a sloppy game.
It's out of the ordinary for me to have a predominantly negative sentiment towards a game, and it's likely as surprising to you as it is to me if you've seen me talk about games in the past. There's not much I can scrape together to speak positively on about Other M that isn't buried under a pile of drawbacks with a "but" or two thrown in somewhere. There are only a handful of straightforwardly good elements to the game: good creature design; interesting and atmospheric environments; pretty impressive appearance for a Wii game of its time, most of the time; surprisingly acceptable voice acting; a decent, fitting soundtrack with a few stand-out tracks (listen to my top ten tracks here, but watch for spoilers in the titles. [ed. note: this playlist no longer exists.])
These nice touches are noticeable from the beginning, but so are the awful controls. Third-person mode, the controls used in the majority of the game, are clunky, weird, and genuinely painful for me -- something about the control scheme caused the joint problems in my hands to flare up badly, and, after a few hours, even if I wanted to keep playing, I physically couldn't take anymore, making the controls a major accessibility issue. First-person, luckily, didn't affect my hands negatively, but that's not to say first-person controls were great. In first-person, the player is rooted to the spot, and looking around is even clunkier than trying to use third-person controls. Additionally, it's used so infrequently it feels almost useless, especially considering players cannot examine or analyze things as was possible in previous 3D Metroid titles, which is disappointing itself. Moving between these two flawed control styles is also a far from seamless transition.
As the game goes on, more and more problems become apparent. The map is convoluted and frustrating to navigate, doors open much too late at the worst times due to loading problems, and combat is a mess in more ways than one. Because of auto-aim, combat in third-person is primarily just shooting blindly until the enemy is defeated, making most fights a bland chore. Shooting in first-person isn't much better, either, because of the clunky nature of Other M's first-person controls. Enemies don't drop ammunition or health, either, making combat feel even less rewarding than it already is.
The frequency and intensity of combat in Other M is also unimpressive and frustrating. Much of the game consists of short bursts of quiet, and sudden, equally brief bursts of action that, beyond being unrewarding, feel out of place and even in the way. The pacing of these encounters is so poor that a few times I almost put down my controller because I just wanted to progress, but kept running into pointless battles. And most encounters seem to be precisely that -- pointless. There are some bigger encounters, certainly, but next to no fights I would consider actual boss fights. The few boss fights are enjoyable and interesting, but can't make up for the rest of the combat in the game. Put quite simply, it's tiring putting up with so many fights that seem totally insignificant with almost none that feel fun, important, or at the very least not boring. Other M would only benefit if some serious reworking was done to its combat and the pacing of encounters, because, as is, it isn't fun in any way.
The most notable flaw that slowly becomes more and more of a nuisance as the game goes on is the restricted item use, or, rather, how these limitations are imposed. Unlocking items throughout a game is standard fare, but in Other M the player theoretically already has almost every item they could equip at their disposal, and are even taught how to use the power bomb, the most powerful item in the game, in the basic tutorial. In-game, however, the player is not allowed to use any equipment unless Adam Malkovich, commanding officer of the mission that plays out in Other M and Samus' own commanding officer from her days in the Federation Army, specifically allows it. Other than being plain annoying, it undermines the game's story; by making Adam the frustrating reason the player cannot use items they supposedly already have, Other M makes it hard to care about him in the way the narrative wants you to later.
The story-telling problems don't end there though, as I'm sure you're well aware if you've heard any criticism of Other M in the past. It's by far the messiest aspect of the game, and there's plenty of ground to cover in that area. One of the most basic and common story-related criticisms for it that I've heard is that it has far too many cutscenes, but I think it's the content rather than the length of the cutscenes that makes them unbearable. The story they aim to tell is, to put it bluntly, not good.
Don't get me wrong, the story of the game itself, that of the seemingly-abandoned BOTTLE ship and the mysterious bioweapon engineering taking place in its closed systems, is fairly interesting, and told fairly well. But it's overshadowed by the story the game tries to poise as more important, Samus' past with Adam Malkovich. This story, which really just functions as background drama, falls flat.
Why exactly is this storyline unsuccessful? Perhaps the biggest reason is that the characterization of Samus the game tries to push doesn't work. Other M Samus is caring, brave, and thinks things through, which are all fitting traits -- but she's also depicted as impulsive, fragile, and dependent on what others think of her. There's certainly nothing wrong with characters having flaws, but these new flaws feel forced and absolutely do not fit Samus' lone bounty hunter narrative. It's clear the writers tried to match her previous canon while adding more personality traits and a more expanded past, but they missed the mark, creating only a disconnect where uncomfortable drama runs rampant. The only really "new" aspects of Samus that worked well in Other M were her friendship with Anthony Higgs, an old Federation Army buddy, and its very brief depiction of post-traumatic stress disorder (if you're not afraid of spoilers I recommend reading this VGChartz interview on the depiction of Samus' PTSD in Other M), though some players, perhaps not knowing her past, believe it to be out of place. It certainly doesn't rectify her other writing disasters, but a strong, believable friendship with a person of color and the reminder that even strong characters like Samus Aran can grapple with debilitating mental illness make me a little more forgiving of Other M's characterization of Samus.
The sloppy storytelling problems stumble even beyond Samus' character, though. There's quite a bit of motherhood theming in Other M -- there's a focus on the baby Metroid from Super Metroid, the game opens on following a "baby's cry" distress signal, there are a good deal of mother-daughter interactions between two characters late-game, the game is set on a ship shaped like a baby bottle, and even the title's acronym is M.O.M. -- but there's not much to be said about it. Other M doesn't seem to actually make a point with the theme. Is Samus a mother figure? Is motherhood about sacrifice? Neither of those questions get brought up in Other M, nor do any other questions about motherhood, leaving the subtle themes woven so deeply into the game feeling empty and pointless, symbolism for the sake of symbolism. While it could've made the game more interesting, or even made its story make more sense, in its current form the motherhood themes in Other M just distract from everything else going on.
Even after the main game there's still more wreckage to sift through. Completing the main quest unlocks theater mode, which is neat if you want to relive all the dramatic cutscenes for some reason, and gallery mode, which is actually neat if you love concept art as much as I do. The content available in gallery mode, however, is limited by how much of the game's hidden items you've found, which is where the bonus quest comes in and gives you a chance to find everything. That's perhaps a too simple explanation for the bonus quest, though -- it sounds better on paper than it does in-game. The bonus quest feels weirdly out of place after the neat and emotional wrap-up at the end of the main quest, especially because it feels too focused on 100% completion to be sentimental. It also feels like a dumping ground for extra ideas the developers had, complete with a random, out-of-nowhere extra boss, made reasonable by the promise of a 100% completion opportunity. Additionally, no matter how much you like seeing concept art, finding items in the game is too dull to pursue 100%. Exploration is the only reason I've ever had to coincidentally go after 100% in a 3D Metroid, but there's no fun in that in Other M. The extra quest doesn't make up for the main quest's problems, but rather adds to the complaint pile.
It's unfortunate that Other M is such a mess, considering how well-loved the franchise (and its other 3D entries, especially) are. I really wanted it to be better than the bitter rants scattered across the web indicated, but it wasn't. Its storytelling, combat, and dull exploration are a disaster, and Other M is, even forgetting the resentment tied to the Metroid franchise's dormancy since its release, a big disappointment.