Or, how Other M does not fit into the Metroid canon.
It’s been almost four years since the release of the last Metroid game, and sadly this latest hiatus was kicked off, at least for me, on a very disappointing note.
I can’t even begin to explain how much of a disappointment this game was for me, but I’d probably attribute that to the ecstatic hype I allowed myself to fall into in the months before its release.
While the gameplay was pretty decent on its own, the linear style was a huge step down from the exploration aspect Metroid fans have come to cherish. I miss the days of Metroid gaming where I had the ever-present question in my mind; “Where the fuck do I go?”
Despite its linear take, Other M is a decently fun game to play, combining aspects of both the 2-D shooting style of the original games with hack-n-slash elements like dodging and “finishing moves”.
But while the gameplay in itself wasn’t terribly disappointing, (aside from the horribly frustrating “Where’s Waldo” sections), I think the main reason the fandom is so split on this game is the far more prevalent factor of its story, which it makes a point of shoving into your face with lengthy cinematics and heavy internal monologue. All of which you cannot skip, by the way.
But I’m not going to focus too much on the flaws of the gameplay, or of the terrible choice to set the mood with horribly corny internal monologue. I’m not going to focus on how the best step to take for a mostly-silent protagonist was to give her so much dialogue it makes you want to shove scissors in your ears. I’m not going to focus very heavily on criticism, but more on how the choices made in Other M make it unable to coexist with the rest of the Metroid franchise.
I’ve bottled my thoughts for about four years now, letting them out in snippets of ranting both online and in real life, and I’ve gotten to a point where I just hear so many people talking about it that I feel the need to state exactly why this game has so many problems, and more specifically, why it cannot fit into the existing Metroid timeline. I’ve broken it down into different sections for ease.
Beware the length, as once again this represents about four years of reflection so it won’t be brief, but I at least hope it’s an enjoyable read.
Perhaps one of the most jarring new additions Other M attempted to make to the Metroid universe was this; Samus’ suit requires intense focus in order to be used. What does this mean? That the thing completely dissolves and leaves Samus exposed and vulnerable whenever she is scared, stressed, or injured.
Shouldn’t the main purpose of armor be to protect the person wearing it? Wouldn’t a point in time where the user is scared, stressed, or injured be when they need it more than ever?
Isn’t this the same suit that, in Fusion, Federation doctors had to peel off, piece by piece in order to get to Samus’ body?
In Other M, it completely dissolves whenever Samus falls unconscious, whenever Samus is scared, and even when she is simply shot in the back. At one point in the game, Samus literally takes a single shot in the back while fully armored and proceeds to lose control of her suit and fall unconscious.
Ignoring the blatant continuity error this is in itself and the fact that her suit has, in past games, been submerged in lava, been blasted by infectious phazon, withheld against Ing possession, among other far more dangerous things, who would design a suit of armor with such a fatal flaw? Granted, the Chozo are well-known for their monumental blunders, but this one is just flat out inconsistent with what we see in the other games.
Did I mention her suit also falls apart when she’s confronted with Ridley? I’ll get to that in the next section.
One of the most touted excuses I hear when considering the infamous Ridley scene is this;
“Samus is scared of Ridley because she has PTSD from when he murdered her parents when she was a child. Haven’t you read the manga?”
Despite the style and world of the manga presenting a jarring dissimilarity with the established Metroid universe, I can accept certain things in it as canon. Samus was born on the mining world of planet K2L, which suffered a pirate attack led by Ridley, who murdered Samus’ parents along with many other humans right in front of her.
And yes, that would traumatize anyone.
The problem comes with the fact that Samus has faced and defeated Ridley five times in the canonical past that preceded Other M.
Let me break it down for you;
Metroid(NES) - Samus fights Ridley in Norfair (and if we’re counting the remake, Zero Mission, she also fought an incomplete metal version of him later in the game)
Metroid Prime - Samus encounters Meta Ridley on the downed pirate frigate Orpheon, and again on Tallon IV as the penultimate boss
Metroid Prime 3 - Samus encounters Ridley while on Norion, once while en route to a generator, twice again while traversing morph ball tracts, then again at Generator C, and yet again as Omega Ridley in the Pirate Homeworld Leviathan Seed
Super Metroid - Samus fights Ridley once on the Ceres space station, where he steals the baby Metroid, and again on Zebes
Ignoring the mere “encounters” and focusing only on the times where Samus actually fights and destroys Ridley, that is 5 times Samus has “killed” Ridley (and six if we count the Meta Ridley from Zero Mission), and 10 times total that she has encountered him. And all of these games happened before the events of Other M, and all happened without some emotional breakdown.
Do the creators honestly expect us to believe that Samus has avoided suffering a panic attack on every one of these occasions, but for some reason randomly breaks down in Other M? Even if we cut the Prime games out of the equation,(considering only the original and Super Metroid), that’s still four times she’s met Ridley in past games, all without an emotional breakdown.
You know what, I’d totally be on board for an exploration of Samus’ PTSD. I think it’d be cool to see a young Samus face Ridley for the first time, terrified and panicked, only to finally overcome her fear and destroy him. The problem is that this would only make sense in a prequel that shows her very first encounter with him following the death of her parents. In essence, the kind of reaction she has in Other M would only makes sense if Other M were at the very beginning of the Metroid timeline, not at the very end. Placing it here was a horribly jarring mistake that throws logical story-telling to the wind.
Another excuse I hear touted so often is "Well, every other time Samus defeated Ridley, he had a way to come back. This time, she exploded Zebes, she was totally sure he was REALLY gone for good this time! So it was a surprise!"
How could anyone honestly believe that this time is significantly different from the others to the point that it elicits a panic attack? If Samus is actually surprised that a creature who has found a way to resurrect himself five times has somehow managed to do it yet again, I'd think she has a worse case of amnesia or dementia before I blamed PTSD.
“It was the first joint mission I had been a part of since becoming a freelance bounty hunter.”
Is one of Samus’ many, MANY lines as part of her thoroughly cringe-worthy inner monologue. And again we see evidence of the story completely ignoring the Prime games. The first joint mission? Looking at Metroid Prime 3, we clearly see Samus work in tandem with three other bounty hunters in order to restore power to Norion’s defenses, and again as part of the Federation effort to expose the Pirate Seed. We see her run into battle with Federation marines, and we see her assigned to protect 12 Demolition Troopers enroute to the Seed.
This is just one of many other points of evidence that show Other M was not intended for the existing Metroid timeline.
Has the Federation always been this stupid?
Other M introduces the brilliantly original plot of “the government is secretly evil”. Forget the ever-present threat of alien parasites and casualty-heavy interspecies wars, for here we have our protagonist simply fighting the evil government and their stupid decisions.
But Other M’s Federation isn’t just evil, they’re also incredibly stupid, and the addition of the content from Other M just makes the Federation in other games seem even more so, since they essentially recycled the plot of Metroid Fusion. This means that the breeding of Metroids and other creatures in Fusion was nothing more than a repeat of the catastrophic failure of the exact same experiments that took place aboard the Bottleship.
But cloning the very creatures that have long been a significant threat to the Federation is not the end of the Federation’s stupidity in Other M. They also ordered one of the marines on Adam’s team to not only kill every other member of the team, but anyone left alive on the Bottleship, as well as Samus Aran, in order to cover up the experiments on the Bottleship.
What, don’t you remember that plot point?
That’s okay, the game didn’t either. They introduce this mysterious “Deleter” and then just as quickly completely drop him from the plot. We see him kill a couple other marines, attempt to kill Samus, and then disappear off the face of the game. His identity is never revealed, and he is never mentioned again.
It’s almost as if the game realized it was a wholly unnecessary plot point, and tried to cut it out of the game, but simply forgot to actually remove the half-baked story it had already been told through.
Getting back on track, though, did the Federation actually order a lowly soldier to kill Samus Aran? One of the most powerful and accomplished bounty hunters in the Galaxy, who has the single-handed destruction of multiple planets on her resume?
Well actually, I suppose since Other M’s Samus can be neutralized with relative ease, this isn’t that far-fetched here after all. Just show her a few photos of Ridley or shoot her in the back and you’ll be golden.
Getting back to how the game forgets its own plot point; it really does seem that way. Here we see the Federation ordering the murder of Samus Aran, which she becomes aware of. But then in Fusion, Other M’s chronological successor, we see Samus working for the Federation yet again, as if the whole “we tried to kill you” thing is just water under the bridge.
Is it even worth mentioning that in games like Prime 3, we see the Federation with a sense of awe and respect for Samus, as a result of her many accomplishments? Simply talking to a few of the marines aboard the GFS Olympus reveals phrases like;
“Aren’t you Samus Aran? It’s an honor to meet you.”
But no, in Other M, she’s treated like some sort of incompetent idiot with no further accomplishments beyond being a disrespectful brat towards her superior officers when she was in the army.
Adam’s “sacrifice” is Entirely Pointless
This section isn't so much pointing out a dis-continuity, but rather exploring yet another dead plot point introduced in Other M's narrative.
One thing Other M’s story attempted to do was to fill in the tale of Adam Malkovich, Samus’ former superior officer whom she references fondly in Metroid Fusion.
The story goes like this; Metroids resistant to ice were engineered by the Federation, and seeing them as a lethal threat, Adam concludes they must be destroyed.
But how do you destroy an ice-resistant Metroid? Without that fatal flaw, they’re practically invincible, right?
Well, no, apparently a straight-up explosion will do the trick. What was the threat again?
The engineers of the Bottleship designed Sector 0 with a self-destruct sequence that can only be activated from within Sector 0.
It’s at this point that Adam shoots Samus in the back,(fully armored, by the by), rendering her helpless and nearly-immobile and unable to fight back as he heroically sacrifices himself for her, blowing up Sector 0 along with the “indestructible” Metroids.
Did I mention the Federation just blows up the entirety of the Bottleship at the end?
Did I also mention that the Federation starts breeding Metroids yet again in Fusion? And that they order Samus to investigate the ship on which they’re being bred, despite having tried to kill her to keep the information about their last attempt a secret? Here’s yet another problem with Other M; it steals just about everything from Metroid Fusion. Everything from the level design to the plot of “the government is evil and is breeding Metroids”. The only thing it didn’t steal was the far-more-interesting plot point of the X-parasites, Samus’ infection, and her subsequent infusion with Metroid DNA. Too bad Other M just makes the Federation in Fusion look less intimidating and cruel and more like a bunch of morons incapable of learning from their mistakes.
Following Orders, and Obtaining Power-ups
One criticism I remember hearing upon Other M’s release was that the game was somehow sexist, because it has our strong female protagonist taking orders from a male character.
I think this is a rather foolish take on things, as Samus taking orders has nothing to do with her gender, and there are plenty other action titles with a linear style where the gameplay is little more than following orders from a superior.
Actually, I don’t really have a problem with the “taking orders” aspect. The problem with Other M is that the extent of your superior’s control over you is not only non-sensical, but downright insulting.
Looking at Metroid Prime 3 as an example of what I’ll call “good order taking”, we see Samus employed by the Federation to accomplish such tasks as reactivating a defense system, investigating the disappearance of the other hunters, and destroying three separate Leviathans as well as the source of all phazon; Phaaze. But here, they are not so much orders as they are jobs. Samus is a bounty hunter, not a soldier under their authority, and Prime 3 seems to respect her as such. The Federation gives her a task to complete but doesn’t seem to care how it is accomplished. You as the player are given free reign to explore, collect power-ups, and do things with your own method and at your own pace, allowing a great degree of freedom in how the tasks given to you are accomplished. The Federation simply gives you an objective, not tactical orders.
Other M puts Samus under the complete and total control of Adam. There is no free exploration either, as doors lock behind you, almost as if the game designers are afraid you’ll get lost. Objectives are clearly marked out with a linear path, with a clear ‘point A to point B’, and nothing else can be done until that point is reached. This is much in contrast to Prime 3, where an objective could be postponed in favor of exploring other worlds and regions and collecting upgrades. The hint system can even be turned off in the Prime games, leaving you to freely explore with no objective at all(with the exception of a few verbally-given ones in Prime 3).
But the lack of exploration isn’t the only vice on your freedom in Other M. In other Metroid titles, Samus starts off with only a fraction of her suit’s abilities, and she must collect upgrades as she progresses in order to reach previously unattainable areas. See a door with a yellow blast shield on it? You have to explore and discover power-bombs before you’re allowed to open it. See a ledge that’s too high up? Explore a bit, beat a boss and get some space jump boots to reach it!
In Other M, you begin the game with every single one of your powers. But there’s a catch; you cannot use them unless Adam “authorizes it”. So instead of discovering new power-ups to advance to once unreachable areas, Adam will simply authorize their use whenever the game decides you’re supposed to use them.
The explanation given for this goes something like this; “Some of your suit’s powers, such as power bombs, are incredibly dangerous and I don’t want you hurting the people around you.”
Well, since this is a joint mission,(and Samus’ supposed first one, too), I can respect that she should practice some restraint when using things like power bombs. The problem is that she’s only around the other troops for a short period of time, before she is sent off to explore the ship on her own, rendering any distance-related hazard of using power bombs entirely nonexistent.
Power bombs are actually never authorized, because Adam dies before he can give you permission. But you need to use power bombs to complete the game, even though you’re never introduced to them or even told you can use them.
Getting back on track, though, while the “it’s dangerous” explanation could work for the power bombs, it makes no sense when considering her suit’s other weapons, such as the wave beam, ice beam, and Varia suit.
I want to focus on the Varia suit especially, and how exactly a heat shield is dangerous to other people. The Varia suit’s purpose is to protect Samus from heat, in areas such as the Pyrosphere, which she enters without activating her Varia suit, and in which she proceed to take damage as a result of the heat for some time during the level, until Adam finally authorizes its use.
There is absolutely no excuse for this. There is only explanation to compensate for it. Namely that 1) Samus is an idiot for deactivating her Varia suit when entering a lava-filled area, preferring to risk death rather than simply disobey Adam’s orders and 2) Adam is an asshole for not authorizing the Varia suit’s use as soon as Samus enters the Pyrosphere. And furthermore, it raises the question of why it would be disabled in the first place, when we're never given the explanation of why it is dangerous.
The Pirates are Mindless Beasts
Among the many reboots of our 16-bit friends we see in Other M are, of course, the space pirates. Now called “Zebesians”, these creatures are portrayed as mindless beasts that fall under the control of Mother Brain, who is a human girl in this game, (while I think the idea in itself has potential, Other M’s poor execution of its story and characters kept it from being a compelling plot point, and much like the rest of the story, it comes off as stupid).
The Zebesians are portrayed as having a hive mind, and being completely mindless on their own. They only follow the mental orders they receive from Mother Brain, and are incapable of individuality. This is perhaps in reference to the manga, which mentions that the pirates fall under the control of anyone they deem as more powerful.
While the concept of a hive mind is rather popular in many science fiction titles, the idea that the pirates are mindless hive mind creatures contrasts greatly with what we observe in the Prime games. Reading through the pirate lore and non-lore scans, we see they are capable of cowardice, free thought, disobedience, and some level of culture. We see pirates treating Metroids as pets, and being punished by their superiors for doing so. We see them using equipment for recreational activity, and being threatened with ration cuts and docked pay as a form of discipline. Disobedient or cowardly pirates are often killed by their superiors as a form of punishment. We are even shown that the pirates are capable of criticizing their own High Command.
There would be no such infighting or sign of personality if we are to believe Other M’s take on the pirates, meaning that either the Zebesians are an entirely separate entity from the pirates of the Prime games, or that Other M exists in its own timeline.
I hope this review has helped cement a few points of the game that are blatantly inconsistent with the rest of the franchise. I'm rather tired of being forced to justify myself when I say I don't consider this game canon.
As far as I’m concerned, Other M is either a spin-off all its own, or it has turned Metroid into a branching franchise, instead of a completely linear one. The alternate timeline theory would look something like this;
Metroid (Zero Mission)
Metroid Prime Hunters
Metroid Prime 2: Echoes
Metroid Prime 3: Corruption
Metroid II: Return of Samus
Metroid (Zero Mission)
Metroid II: Return of Samus
In this theoretic alternate timeline that contains Other M, (because let's face it, the only way it will fit in the canon is to fiddle with the existing timeline), we have an incompetent, obedient, cowardly, highly sentimental and emotionally fragile Samus clad in a fatally-flawed and weak Chozo suit. She is despised by the Federation despite her numerous contributions to their cause, most likely due to the fact that she continually tries to eradicate the Metroids which they repeatedly seek to use as weapons.
I honestly think some of weak Samus would have been fine in a prequel. We could see her grow from an emotionally fragile, fresh new bounty hunter into the strong, steely and experienced warrior we’ve come to know in the Prime series, Fusion, and Super Metroid. But the fact remains that Other M, at its current place in the timeline, does not function. I believe it is rather like the Zelda CDi of the Metroid universe, and I believe it has no place in the end of the Metroid timeline.
Just because something is published and supported by its creators does not mean its creators are incapable of making mistakes. I believe Other M is an extremely flawed game but it will always have its fans.
In the end, the Metroid universe, like any fictional universe, is subject to numerous interpretations by its numerous fans, and even its creators, and I think everyone is entitled to their own. I at least hope this review helped offer a little perspective.