This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Metroid Other M.
I'm not about to claim that I can get a complete handle on a game just by reading the box blurb, although I wish I could because it'd free up a lot of my time and my bathroom isn't going to clean itself, but after three whole misspent years of pausing for breath between takes I am starting to recognize a few recurring warning signs.
My suspicion that Metroid: Other M might gargle gonads was first raised when the blurb prominently boasted: "Features Fully Voiced Movies!" Now when you're trying to sell a game - I would remind you a prominently interactive medium - with the noninteractive element, that evokes the image of a marketer despondently rolling their head back and forth along a keyboard. And, furthermore, if the only selling point you can think of for the cinematics is that they have voices, like every film made since 1927, then it's like saying "you have nice hair" when forced to compliment the appearance of a squinting, bucktoothed hunchback.
Other M is a new installment of the Metroid series deveoped third party style by Team Ninja, who are most notably responsible for Dead or Alive: Xtreme Beach Volleyball, or, as it's sometimes known, Boing! My main concern, therefore, was that they would nail gel-filled mousepads to the front of Samus's power armour, but they didn't go that far. They just made the armour fall off every ten seconds like it's held on with Blu-Tack.
You know, I always thought that after the initial shock at the end of the very first Metroid - that Samus's breastplate was more appropriately named than you thought - the series's position has basically been that she's a lady, just deal with it, yo. But Other M just can't seem to stop banging on about it. The plot is somewhere between Aliens and G.I. Jane and has a central theme of motherhood, which is woven into the narrative about as subtly as a sperm whale in an airplane luggage compartment.
There's a stricken spaceship shaped like a baby's bottle and referred to as a "bottle ship" just in case you didn't catch it the first time, and Samus - clad in this season's most hideous shade of snot yellow - is called to it by what is referred to as a "baby's cry" variety of distress signal. So named, according to Samus's "Fully Voiced" narration, because it's specifically designed to draw attention. As opposed, presumably, to all those distress signals that are designed to just kind of scoot by unnoticed.
Up until this game, Samus was a silent protagonist, so the decision to give her a voice was one that needed to be carefully handled to avoid fanboys queuing up to piss into Team Ninja's letterbox. One way to mishandle the change, for example, would be to pick a voice actress who has undergone several amateur lobotomies and delivers every line of dialogue with all the searing emotion of someone in an old folks' home doing the monthly stock take of oatmeal.
But even if they got Brian Blessed in to redo every line like a Chaucerian soliloquy, it's been a while since I've seen such epicly bad writing, even by the remedial at best general standards of video game dialogue. It's not quite as far down as Hideo Kojima's level, but it would see him very clearly through a glass-bottom boat, if you know what I mean. Of the many expressionless drones Robo-Samus excretes from her mouthpipe, roughly a hundred percent of them are clarifications of things that a narcoleptic retard could have already guessed! <monotone>"From Adam's stern expression, constant swearing, and repeated kicks to my face and stomach, I realized he must have been a bit upset about something."</monotone>
While Team Ninja showed admirable restraint by not dressing Samus like a Playboy bunny, their attitude to gender politics shine through. A character previously established to have a bold, independent spirit has to be surrounded by big, burly men in case she starts getting emotional and having periods, having to rescue her at one point when she starts freaking out at the sight of the recurring boss monster she's killed about fifty squintillion times throughout the series.
And much has already been made of the powerup mechanic: that Samus already has them all in her overnight bag but refuses to use them until her commanding officer, with whom she has surrogate daddy issues up the delicately sculptured arse, authorizes it. This leads to a rather notorious moment when Samus blunders through an extremely hostile atmosphere without protective clothing because daddy didn't specifically order her to wear some, putting her on the intellectual level of one of those robot vacuum cleaners.
It's like every character put their retard hats on that morning by mistake. There's a mawkishly overdramatic scene in which a character sacrifices himself by bravely detaching and blowing up the entire Metroid wing of the spaceship with him inside. We'll let slide for now the issue of why exactly he had to be inside it to do this, but Metroids show up later on anyway, so he might as well have just stuck yellow and black tape over the door for all the good it did.
And oh yes, there's this murder mystery plot set up early on. Six different members of a military squad are introduced and established with names and slightly anemic personalities, but then it transpires that there's a traitor among them picking them off. You even have a boss fight with him, his face cunningly concealed by camera angles and bits of scenery. So, do you want to know who the traitor turned out to be? So the fuck would I, because the game kind of forgets about this whole subplot and hopes you do, too. "Hey, wasn't there some intrigue from the first half of the game we were supposed to be resolving, Metroid Story Writer A?" "Doesn't ring a bell, Metroid Story Writer B. Now let's make Samus's suit fall off again so everyone can see her bum." On an educated guess, though, the evil guy was probably the one with the evil moustache.
I don't usually take this long to take about the gameplay, but the bloated, cancerous mass of the story's atrocity overshadows everything else. The gameplay's infinitely stronger in that it's merely bad. The powerups are the standard Metroid kit with no original ideas, and the gameworld is a lot smaller and linear than, say, Metroid Fusion. Shunning the analog stick in favour of a d-pad for 3D movement was a decision rooted in the Japanese love pillow restricting the supply of oxygen to someone's brain, and having to constantly switch to first-person mode to use missiles feels as smooth and natural as deflecting bricks with your head while wearing another brick as an earring.
But deflect enough bricks and maybe the first-person mode will remind you of the vastly superior Metroid Prime. Better yet, just play Metroid Prime again and replicate the feeling of Other M by hiring a stripper to slam your head in a car door.
Check out my screw attack: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
I think it's a bit weird to name the game after the monsters you only fight once, but I guess Spiky Thing Other M doesn't have the same ring to it
I'm presuming the M stands for 'Motal Miece Mof Mucking Mank'