So when I hang out with my friends, I usually waste time in between chatter playing old games. Often odd or old things I wouldn’t normally bother which but might be of some interest to me from a more… academic perspective. And this usually ends up with me finding new games to love too.
So when I loaded King’s Field up, I expected to be put off by it’s horrible combat and ugly aesthetics immediately. Instead I found myself immediately compelled. I find myself now, having worked all the way up to King’s Field: The Ancient City on the PS2, with a translated copy of Shadow Tower: Abyss waiting to be played after it. So here are my thoughts on these crazy games that I didn’t expect to enjoy as much as I did. RPGs aren’t really my thing anymore but the first person movement gave me just enough tactile feedback to get really into these games.
As usual with these kinds of reviews I do, I’m not going to summarize stuff like the basic plot or how the game works. You can use wikipedia or youtube for that. I’m mostly just gonna focus on the stuff I have thoughts about.
King’s field 2
I’m going to be using the Japanese numbering for this (basically KF2 is KF1 in US and thus 3 is 2 and so on and so forth), even though I didn’t bother to play King’s Field 1. A cursory reading about King’s Field 1 made it clear to me that King’s Field 2 was the best of the PS1 offerings and that it pretty much did everything the original did better.
King’s Field 2 is an ass ugly game. The biggest visual improvement from KF1 seems to be the use of different floor textures…. most of the time. Still, the game was immediately compelling. You start out shipwrecked on the island of Melanat and despite the game the crude graphics. The sharp outlines of everything tried their damnedest to convey the sense of A PLACE. Right from the start you have watery pits to fall in, a huge boss kraken thing you won’t fight for another boss or two, a waterfall and cave filled with skeletons, a lighthouse powered by fire magic, some creepy looking fisherman NPC, a pirate cove filled with traps and treasures and a more forgiving cave.
The combat is terrible but somehow works. You circle around things to avoid the attack and hit them with your slow moving first person sword swing. Positioning and enemy management matters a lot in this. The attacks FEEL awful but the amount of interaction makes it tolerable. Magic also helps a tad. MP starts out as an incredibly rare, precious resource to the backbone of your offense.
The enemies in this game look unbelievably stupid and crude, but somehow in a way that captures the awkward weird joy of later Souls games. By the end of King’s Field 2, I found my self in love with those stupid looking Watermelon Head Eater Things. It’s infectious. The whole game is infectious. While technically a dungeon crawler, I feel the need to reject the label. Far from the more abstract dungeons of most games like this, Melanat. It has personality. It’s internals wind together and intersect. The more you play the game the more you feel that you understand it. In game maps were useful for exploring new areas, while old areas were almost immediately committed to memory. In many ways, it’s stage design was mimicked by the original Dark Souls, constantly surprising you with how areas intersect and being navigable by memorable rooms. Given the rough nature of the graphics, memorable could be anything from “Cool castle entrance” to “There is a hole”. But it all works.
“It works” Describes a lot of the game and it’s aesthetic. Crude NPCs lend a creepy atmosphere to the game, their textureless heads turning slowly to speak with you. It’s unnerving but the mood of the game is unnerving. The music is… strangely offputting, but in a good way. Like Demon’s Souls, the game’s ugliness becomes part of its charm. This is a game that should be tedious and boring yet it dragged me through it’s entirety with excitement. While not a game I would recommend without warning, it became a game I unabashedly love. Beautifully thought out world design is my jam and this game has tons of it.
The game has some fascinating mechanics, many you see show up in later games. Crystal Flasks might as well be estus. You find them or construct them out of crystals and fill them up with wells. You eventually find wells that heal MP instead and eventually find both (which seems to be something that shows up in DS3 from what I’ve heard?). The warping mechanic is great. Instead of having fixed warp points, you can leave a ‘key’ at a save to use a corresponding ‘gate’ item to teleport to. You find up to 3 sets of these by the end of the game. The flexibility to set your own warp points allowed for just the right amount of backtracking to make me love and understand the world. You could balance convenience against repetition and by the time you have all 3 sets and understand the island, it becomes a non issue. The perfect flow. There are weird things in the game, like an NPC who magically pops up in random places from time to time who identifies your items. You can’t know when she’ll appear. Maybe not the best choice, but an interesting one. Many doors are textured like walls. They have frames to tell you they’re there but it makes it easy to miss stuff. This is something that fortunately goes away in King’s Field 3. Oh yeah there is also a minecart ride that kills you 90% of the time and rewards you with basically nothing if you survive. Which is… odd.
There seems to be a decent about of lore, but I couldn’t say much about it. The last boss, Guyra, a one eyed black dragon, is clearly the inspiration for Kalameet. Seath is treated like a holy figure in this. Granted, it’s not the same Seath, but it’s interesting to see these ideas revisited and adapted.
In the end, it’s hard to even say why King’s Field 2 is great. So much of it is crude as hell and really shows it’s age. But there is just a lot of brilliance in the game too. I’m left with a fondness for Melanat that mirrors my love of Lordran. By the end it kinda… feels like home?
King’s Field 3
King’s Field 3 is like the Dark Souls 2 of King’s Field. It improves the game in so many ways and is far FAR more ambitious. You start out with a giant field, filled with buildings and NPCs. The Headeaters are now venus fly traps. That made me sad! Fortunately the old ugly ones return later on. Anyways the game is now sprawling and its level design more literal and sensible. The game looks infinitely better. Screenshots might not truly capture it but the environments look so much more involved and the enemies look… Still ugly but much much less so. It’s also important to remember for this and KF2 — these are seamless games with no load times. So some ugliness is to still be expected.
The game gives you an automapper somewhat early on. While not necessary for KF2, this is much more necessary for the sprawling maze like levels of KF3. KF3 gets even closer to the dreaded “Dungeon Crawler” level design and dungeons play more like Legend of Zelda-esque areas than actual parts of the world. You go in, you clear the area, you leave. Compared to the interconnected nature of KF2, this was a huge let down to me. Verdite lacked the sense of “place” that Melanat had, despite having much better visuals. The music too is a lot more… on the nose. Not bad, but lacking the same personality.
Combat feels better. You know more clearly if you hit something and enemies at least TRY to counteract you spinning around them. You get magic faster too, which gives you much better options faster. Warping is greatly simplified, with 4 items to find for 4 preset gates before allowing you to warp everywhere by the end. Warping everywhere by the end is good but it was sad to see the system from KF2 leave, even if it would have been terrible in a map this big.
The game has a ton of lore and I couldn’t even begin to explore it. You get an mirror item that tells you about every area, every enemy and every NPC. All lines of dialog are saved for viewing in the menu. So you could comb through this game for tons of info if you wanted.
The game has some cool, crude visuals and works FMV cutscenes in it, sometime on top of gameplay (where you’re few will suddenly have compression artifacts because it switched to a video). You could tell with this game they were trying to go all out.
In the end the game is way way more playable than KF2 and has many clever ideas, but it just missed the same spark. It felt more… typical. Much like Dark Souls 2, it spreads itself out and tries to be grand but that grandness makes it ultimately more ordinary.
But hey at the end you get to fight Giant Gundam Seath and that’s pretty cool?
OH BOY SHADOW TOWER. This might be the most interesting game of the three. KF2 might still be my favorite Shadow tower is a fucking slog of a game, especially early on. It’s also d
eeply miserable without maps. And there are no in game maps. But with them, the game and it’s horrendous draw distance becomes playable. Because the game is dark. Darker than it even needs to be. But god damn does it look better. There is a color scheme to things. and the textures play nice and the enemies look great. And there are so many of them. This game has 160 monsters and they almost all have absolutely crazy designs. This is the true start of the Demon’s Souls aesthetic. Dark, grimy and depressing with awkward looking monsters that are so goofy they roll around to scary. Demons that hop on their tongues, weird wiggly glow in the dark tree plants, muscular monsters with heads that are like blooming meat flowers. They’re great.
The game has no music. Silence. It’s off putting. The visuals are often bleak. You start on ‘top’ of the shadow tower, a tower that has sunken into the ground. The areas of the game have ominous names. “Human World: The Forgotten Region” or “Death World: The Lingering Curse Layer” or “Beast World: THE SCREECHING AREA” (these are area names you do not want to see). The visuals area bleak. This clean, brind cylinder extending up and down seemingly into infinity. You see stairs and can make your way to a number of doors into areas around the tower that have sunken underground. But you keep coming back to the tower, lower and lower. The map design is at its weakest here overall, but the constant return to the Shadow Tower gives the game the hold it needs to give a sense of progression.
The survival aspect horrors of the game are strong. Weapons degrade, and fast. The items to repair them are rare. Smithys are also rare. The currency they use to repair? Your health. Health Potions? Also a finite resource. Fortunately you can trade broken or obsolete items for them. And thankfully they always grant full health. There is a very clear economic circle here and it is a tense one early in the game. Nothing is renewable until much later in the game so you constantly feel like you’re falling to pieces. There is another currency, cunes. Also a rare item — there are, as I understand, 99 in the whole game? And the shop is the same shop everywhere, so the items you see at the start are the items you see at the end. I saved up for a helmet that restored MP over time early on and it was game changing. “Infinite magic!” I thought, until I realized casting spells degraded my rings. Oh well, can’t have everything.
The NPC interactions feel very Demon’s Soulsy. A demon in a doll body asks you to kill a man who trapped her. a knight being crushed by a boulder begs you to sacrifice a sword to save his life (and remember, SWORDS ARE IMPORTANT AND LIMITED). Some gnome things curses you over and over and begs for his life like a coward when you corner him. Also there is a fat mole who is totally your bro.
As you go from the more human world to elemental planes the game starts feeling real surreal. There is just tons of atmosphere. It just suffers from the fact that the game is so initially impenetrable and the map design that doesn’t work with the super dark game. Getting around without a map is an almost impossible chore. I’m not sure even KF2’s map would have worked under these lighting conditions. The automapper from KF3 would have been a massive improvement, where you could know where you were going while not quite spoiling areas immediately by checking maps.
Funny thing is when you beat an area, it lightens up. So they could have gotten away with it. I assume the darkness was to mask enemies spawning in (which they do, unlike in the KF games). This looks weird in illuminated areas, but not so weird as to be a bad tradeoff. The enemy spawning is interesting though. There are a finite amount of enemies in the game. As you kill enemies in a room, replacement spawn elsewhere, often in the same room, but sometimes not. You’ll return to an area you thought you cleared out, sometimes to find a horrific surprise. Often this can lead to cool items being dropped though, so you have an incentive to clear things out. Killing enemies also I think… basically IV trains you, like pokemon? There is no leveling in the game. Beating stuff up and killing certain enemies raises your stats. It’s interesting and kinda works?
The game is linear in nature but it does some clever things to disguise it. There are sometimes multiple ways to get down the tower and sometimes you can even jump down to a set of stairs you can only barely see. You often still end up covering the same areas or coming back later, but it makes the tower feel more like a space you’re trying to conquer than a completely abstract area.
The game also has NG+ (I think? Or maybe you’re just back at the top of the tower to clear it out?) and a rather… Soulsy ending. A flawed gem that was only a few changes away from being truly great. and the game with the strongest aesthetic ties to the Souls series. It makes me more excited for Shadow Tower Abyss than King’s Field 4 and I hear KF4 is AWESOME.
While I can only recommend KF2 with some reservations, I can only recommend Shadow Tower with a LOT of reservations. But it’s interesting and if you want to play a game as a curiosity and see some of the evolution of the Souls series, Shadow Tower is AWESOME.
Other M: In DepthNovember 8th, 2010
This is an old semi-commisioned piece someone paid for. The website it was on is now long defunct but no reason not to save it.
I hesistate to refer to what I’m going to do as a review. In fact, if you care about spoilers, DO NOT read anything outside of this paragraph. Instead I wish to pick the game apart and explain how it ticks. I will say right here that it is absolutely playable, and, depending on your tolerance for bullshit, quite good. Despite being highly critical of games, I’m, in a way, rather forgiving and thus had a mostly positive experience overall. I’d perhaps even play this again — well before Fusion or Prime II! Despite that, I would say its flaws are more egregious than any made in either of those titles. I’ll get into where its strength lies, but first I want to get through the worst of it.
*MASSIVE SPOILERS INCOMING*
Now, unlike most people, I am not immediately and deathly afraid of a Metroid game having a plot. Just because it was terrible in Fusion did no mean the idea had to be terrible forever and I support games trying to innovate. Sadly the plot in Other M is a Trifecta of failure.
- All the text in the game are horrendously localized. In fact, I dare say no localization occured what so ever. It was a translation in the strictest sense. It’s like Sakamoto got an intern with a basic grasp on english to translate it. The dialogue is stiff as hell and in no way resembles conversations with real people.
- The voice acting is awful. Why Retro hired Jennifer Hale to grunt, but Nintendo hired some random nobody is beyond me. I’m not going to say any of the voice actors were bad, but none seemed experienced enough to salvage the crap they were given. Instead, they stumbled on it and made it even worse.
- Oh right, Sakamoto can’t write and there are no editors in Nintendo apparently.
I could expand 3 into subsections spanning the entire alphabet, but I’ll just finish up here. But first and foremost, no one who worked on this game could write worth a damn. I think, conceptually, the ideas presented in the game are salvagable, but no one was capable of actually salvaging it.
Bob 'The Beast' Sapp
Madeline Bergman or a Little Girl
Red Shirts Cheap and Disposable!
Is Other M Sexist?
This is the question that was going around since the the game came out and cutscenes were available on youtube. Well I have an answer for you! No, it isn’t. In much the same way that Author C Clark said…
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
I propose that…
“Bad writing is often indistinguishable from sexism.”
Samus was not written to be a weak female, they simply did not have any clue how to characterize her outside of your typical female stereotypes. If you look at the rest of the cast, we can also deduce that bad writing is also indistinguishable from stereotyping.
So what actually goes on in Other M? Samus wakes up at Federation Facility after her mission on Zebes (Super Metroid) and basically goes through some quick medical treatment before being released. She laments about the death of the Baby Metroid that thought of her as its mother and from that point on can’t stop obsessing over this whole baby thing. This is actually a fair bit of characterization. Maternal issues with female characters is a fine way to express feminine qualities. Whether it should have been applied to the young, adventurous and independant Samus Aran is debatable, but what is not debatable is the fact that this bit of characterization is handled with all the grace and tact of a nail bat.
Samus, now rollin’ through the cosmos in a ship that is (and has traditionally been) a giant version of her head recieves a distress call. A “Baby’s Cry” from a “Bottle Ship”. Perhaps this is where Iwata-san should have taken his belt off and beaten Sakamoto. Perhaps Gunpei Yokoi should have risen from his grave to stop these atrocities. Perhaps Sakamoto’s nail bat or his team of Ninjas protected him. Unfortunately, the plot presses on.
Once on the Bottle ship (and this is a good time to remind you what a horrible name for a game M:OM is), Samus, after some pixel hunting, discovers a federation unit on board the ship. The squad composes of Adam Malkovich, her former CO from her Federation days, token black dude and Samus’s old friend from her old unit, Anthony Higgs Bob “The Beast” Sapp, as well as an ensemble of various poorly characterized red shirts.
Adam agrees to allow Samus to help as long as she follows his orders. These orders involve not using any equipment that he has not authorized, meaning Samus has to disable her entire arsenal outisde of bombs and missiles. He does makes a point to explain how incredibly dangerous super bombs are to justify this, but this “Clever justification” quickly becomes a problem for both the plot and gameplay (which I’ll get into later). You see, Adam is characterized as a military genuis. So much so that an AI of his personality was made in Fusion. The problem is, Nintendo does a lot of telling, but no showing. Adam doesn’t make a single good decision throughout the entire game. Now let me just say, I was ready to like Adam as a character. He dresses sharp and isn’t a japanese style pretty boy or anything. He looks serious and determined and actually carries himself with the necessary dignity for the role. I hoped perhaps I could like Fusion’s plot a little bit more by understanding why this Adam guy was so great. Between both games only one decision he ever makes carries any heft. It’s eventually revealed in a flashback that Adam sacrificed his own brother to save the lives of hundreds of people. Sadly this scene was mostly about how much of a brat Samus used to be, because all she could do is berate him on how bad an idea it was. Anyways.
The first order of business is to separate everyone into solo missions despite communication systems being fucked. Apparently Commander Malovich isn’t aware of the concept of fire teams or anything either. So it turns out the ship, which contains every climate on earth (and an ACTIVE VOLCANO) is a site for Federation bioweapon research (which is illegal fyi guyz). Well, that’s certainly not good news. Neither is some random red shirt dying off screen. Everyone proceeds to emotionlessly gawk at how fucked up the corpse is and Samus is sent into Active Volcano Zone.
And, like Norfair before it, AVZ is so hot you lose health just by being in it. You see, Adam hasn’t authorized the use of your Varia suit yet! You’d think Samus would complain, but she acts like a good girl until she encounters the area’s boss. After letting Samus cook for god knows how many screens, Adam finally calls in to authorizes the use of the Varia suit. A piece of equipment that posed no threat to anyone. Adam Malkovich, Military Genuis, decided it was okay for Samus to toast a little bit before letting her activate a harmless piece of equipment. Lets look at what else Samus couldn’t use that wouldn’t hurt anyone…
- Gravity Suit
- Space Jump
- Grappling Beam
- Speed Booster (arguable)
- Ice Beam (sheerly because all the Fed troops were explicitly authorized to use them previosly)
So in short, Adam sucks.
Eventually you get ordered into the tundra. You find another dead Redshirt and Madeline Bergman, lead scientist on the ship and seemingly the only survivor. She freaks out, assuming you’re going to kill her. Why? Because she saw one fed soldier shoot another (the dude you found, to be exact). Well, that is certainly a good reason to be nervous. Then the assassin shows up in a giant murder forklift. The game goes out of its way to show he’s in federation power armor, but doesn’t show you his head.
Not that it matters since power armor has helmets.
So you beat his forklift up and him and Madeline disappear for no reason. Samus then wonders who could be the killer. Could it be Adam? Bob “The Beast” Sapp? Some nameless red shirt? I will actually say flat out, that you never find out. You can make an educated guess that it’s the last one you find dead, but this entire plot point is basically aborted by the end of the game. Anyways, before we get to the worst scene in the whole game, lets go over some things that pass for characterizaton thus far that I didn’t go into.
- Adam refers to Samus as “Lady”. A big deal is made out of this as if it was some deep thing.
- Bob “The Beast” Sapp refers to Samus as “Princess”. Not much of a deal is made of this at all.
- Samus, while undering command of Adam, when his unit was supposed to give the thumbs up to express approval of his orders, Samus would give the thumbs down. OH SNAP.
- Samus also has inner monologue where she can’t shut up about “The Baby”. I’ll just link an example. It’s basically the same thing every time Samus opens her mouth.
So eventually Samus meets up with Bob “The Beast” Sapp and they run into Ridley, which apparently evolved like a pokemon from this little cute furry bird thing that was following you around. Sweet, we’ve waxed Ridley a ton in the past, right? Well, as you probably know as someone who is on the internet, Samus totally freezes in terror, has flash backs and gets wrecked by Ridley so much that her clothes fall off. Finally Bob “The Beast” Sapp intervenes and gets flung into lava, snapping Samus out of it. Some people like to justify this scene saying something horrible like Ridley would never not be horrifying to Samus. Others say this is why Other M is sexist. Again, no, Sakamoto just has no idea what he’s doing with the plot.
Not even Samus is a big fan of Other M's plot
Samus wonders where her cool armor went!
Sakamoto's Nailbat. +5 vs Plot
It is a fair thing to want to characterize Samus with fear. Samus’s parents were killed by Ridley (though I’m not sure the game actually explicitly states this, even though it explicitly states every other obvious piece of information at least five times). The problem is you can’t forgo the precedent established in your previous games. Samus has killed Ridley twice, not counting the Prime series. You can’t make her scared this time just becasue you couldn’t make her scared in the previous 2d games (and they could have in Zero Mission anyways). But they did it anyways and they did it in an act of ham fisted characterization. It’s not because Samus is a weak girl who needs to be saved by a big black dudes, it’s because Sakamoto wanted to show how traumatizing Ridley is and how he hurt Samus. He wants ot show that Samus hates Ridley. Sadly he can’t write, so we get some schmaltzy garbage people try and pass off as PTSD or something. Samus is a heroic character type and such responses are inappropriate. The PTSD angle could maybe work in theory (since it is realistically plausible), but considering Sakamoto’s subtle nail bat style of writing, that would be giving the scene too much credit..
Anyways, to speed along, Samus loses contact with Adam, finds out that Adam wrote the report for using Metroid’s as bio weapons and that there are in fact METROIDS in a RECREATION OF TOURIAN with its very own MOTHER BRAIN all made out of BABY FLAKES…. RIGHT OVER THERE. So you head over, all excited. You get to the elevator. You see a baby metroid that Samus as some mommy issues with before deciding it must die. She aims, goes to fire and… is shot in the back. By Adam. With a gun that makes her clothes go off. He then ices the metroid. He then explains to her while she recovers that she can’t go in there because the new metroids are immuned to ice to be the perfect weapon. Samus asks how the fuck he froze that Metroid just now. Adam shrugs.
He also explains that his report was on how using metroids for war would be righteously retarded and how he’s going to go in there and blow stuff up so the tourian section activates its self destruct and he’ll die all gloriously. He tells Samus to go kill Ridley after she’s finished being naked. Samus than begs and pleads and gives him the thumbs down as he marches off to die. Adam saves the day. Well, I guess that was a pretty good decision — besides shooting Samus in the back and all that. So to finish up, a Metroid Queen eats Ridley, Samus kils it, finds the real Madeline Bergman who explains the one she found (who was also much younger looking) was actually an AI of Motherbrain in a little girl body and goes into a whole Metal Gear Solid style explanation for everything. Then Motherbrain shows up, then more Feds show up, then Motherbrain freaks out and summons monsters and you go to shoot her but oh wait Madeline shoots her instead and hey, Bob “The Beast” Sapp is still alive. After some goofy exposition, the game than ends. There is a post game where you go back to get Adam’s helmet thats meant to be the part of the game where you get to explore the ship, but that doesn’t have any plot relevance. You fight Phantoom (?!) and recover Adam’s helmet and then the space station blows up. Apparently it was a weight bearing helmet. Then you escape in classic fashion. While naked. Whatever.
Well, thats Other M’s story. This isn’t entirely spot on and some details have been compressed, but it’s as bad and awkward as described. It really does feel like Sakamoto played too much Metal Gear Solid when it came ot the plot. At least the cut scenes weren’t as long. That said, we’re not done yet.
The Actual Game
While the plot is a failure on almost every level, the game as a whole is close to being a flawed gem. I really like the core engine the game is founded on. Analog controls? I think they’re a highly overrated feature. I’m not saying analog controls are bad or that a lot of games aren’t better with them, but I could think of a ton of games where I practically never want to move in any speed other than “as fast as humanly possible”. Samus hauls ass in Other M in near Super Metroid fashion. The decision to fixate the game mostly into a 2d spaces was also great. You move primarily in straight lines, often in the typical 2d orientation. Some rooms recede into the background in proper 3d fashion, in the style of Crash Bandicoot, but somehow that isn’t nearly as bad as it sounds. There are other touches. Some rooms are just open. Other areas automatically make you run in a circle in a very fluid and enjoyable way. There are some hiccups occasionally, but in the whole it feels great. Analog controls were entirely not needed. You generally are either moving left and right or up and down and the times you do both don’t really stress gradual motions. The digital controls are snappy and responsive and makes the game truly feel like a 3d metroid without going all out, prime style, or hanging back on concepts such as “2.5D”
Well excuse me, Princess!
I like hallways
Combat is highly revised. You automatically aim at enemies now, which is required since up and down and used for 3d motion. This is fine, but would remove some amount of depth from combat to mindless button mashing. Metroid’s combat has never been deep, but giving the player something to do in combat is important. The designers got this and filled the void with the “Sense Move”. Tap a direction any time you’re about to be hit an enemy and you roll out of the way and get a free cannon charge out of it. I had a blast staying painfully close to meaty enemies, rapidly dodging while loading them filled with charge shot. The game also incorporates “kill moves”. Running or jumping on enemies at certain points (usually them being disabled in some way) triggers a stylish kill animation that generally kills the enemy off much faster than you normally could. This sort of gymnastics is the sort of thing we haven’t seen from Samus before, but it works. It’s not much of a stretch to think our Chozo blooded warrior would not have the capacity for fancy CQC kills.
What sucks however is the missile system. When I originally saw the first Other M trailer, I thought the idea was brilliant. Swing out the remote to point at your screen and go into a first person mode! In practice though, this mode sucks and it’s the only way to fire missiles! The transition is goofy. The camera switches to wherever Samus is facing, which is logical, but still extremely disorienting. You also have no bearing on what the wii thinks your remote is doing when you switch views, so you usually spend the first few seconds wobbling around until you center your self. The game slows down during the transition to aid you, but this only treats the symptoms. The system just feels bad. You can lock on with the B button, but that just furthers the need to totally adjust your hand while switching modes. To make it worse, there is seldom any reason NOT to be holding the B button, as it allows you to truly move around rather then just move the cursor on the screen. Doing this in the middle of boss fights to hit a weak spot just feels gross and imprecise. I’d miss a lot of chances to deal damage by what would seem like luck.
The first person mode is used far too much in the game. In fact a lot of puzzles in the game suffer from their reliance on the first person view. Having to open the door by going first person and then looking all over the place for a button that isn’t obvious (or even at all visible) in third person mode is not fun. The fact that you can’t move in first person mode also means that you often end up constantly switching modes and readjusting your position in 3rd person mode to properly look around. A lot of puzzles are simply based on “find the thing that is hard to see”. Some of this stuff could fly on an HD system, but even then that would be bad design.
Apparently they really dug on the first person mode, because they implemented a “feature” known by fans as “pixel hunts”. At some points in the game you are forced into First Person mode and can’t seem to do anything. The intention here is that you look around, pretending to be Samus until you notice something and go WOW! The scene would then advance and you would feel all happy and immersed. I will say without reservations that someone should be fired over this feature. Not necessarily the guy who first suggested it, but someone, somewhere who had the power to go “You know, this is the least fun thing ever and it doesn’t add anything to the game” but didn’t open up his mouth. These segments are terrible. In the Prime games, everything you could scan was clearly labeled. This functionality would transform these segments from horrible to obnoxious and make it less hair pulling. Instead, you have to pretty much be entirely centered over whatever you are required to look at, with no indication it’s whatever your supposed to be looking at. All these things are little, almost unnoticable on an SD system. What ends up happening is you just spin around in first person mode for 5 minutes, putting your cursor over anything that vaguely looks like anything and then missing what you thought you were supposed to lock on to because your cursor wasn’t EXACTLY right. I just used gamefaqs. To give an idea about the crap that they want you to look at…
- A tiny emblem on a space ship that looks like a tiny blue blur
- A tiny patch of shaking leaves in a god damned jungle
- Brown larva in the background that are crawling around a brown floor
- A green puddle of goo all the way behind you
- A white person in a white labcoat in a white building through a window. While it’s snowing.
These scenes literally do nothing but annoy the player. Some are almost clever. One has you look up and see a ton of enemies that attack when you lock on. Of course when you don’t lock on to them (and somehow despite their size, they still have tiny targets to lock onto) they just…… stare at you for as long as you want. One is a cheap scare where you don’t lock on to anything. You look to the side and a metroid pops out! Thats alright, but all these sequences could be totally removed with nothing put in to replace them and the cutscenes would still all work fine and the game would only be better. How that got through testing is beyond me.
The game is unfortunately very linear. You could argue that not following tradition does not, in a vacuum, make it a worse game, but I will share why I think fusion is a bad game. Fusion is bad because it is a game designed to be a mostly linear action game without rewarding or interesting combat. Combat is not a strong suit for Metroid. Other M has a fun combat mechanics, but in a world of DMC, GoWs and Bayonettas, it is outclassed. Combining relatively fun and simple action with exploration is what would make things truly shine. Instead the map is designed in circuits. You proceed relatively straight through deck levels of the Bottle Ship, eventually looping around. You take very short detours here and there, but mostly it’s a straight shot. I could say the map is at least easy to navigate, but it is easy to navigate at the expense of the series greatest strength. It’s not hard to be easy to navigate when branching paths are so limited. They exist and there is some backtracking, but it’s all horridly forced. Very rarely do you ever get to go “I have super missiles this time around! Now I can open this secret and get the item!”. It happens, obviously, but to a much lesser extent than every other game in the series life. As a quick note, whoever thought the classic item sound should be replaced with a dull thunk should also be fired. Findng items has never been so boring.
Most bosses in the game look hella stupid!
I this this is the best original boss of the bunch
Old bosses are the best. Also I warned you about spoilers!
There are four pickups.
- Missiles: Of which you only get 1 per pickup. Atop the fact that you can recharge your missiles by holding your wii mote up and holding A for a few seconds makes them feel useless. Only in the last few boss battles do you ever risk running out, but theres always a good period to recharge so it doesn’t matter.
- Energy Tanks: These are nice, but you can do the same thing with missiles with life. It takes longer, can only be done when your health is “beeping” and only gives you one energy tank back, but still, your survivability without Energy tanks is still quite high. Very nice, but not as nice as previous metroids.
- Restoration Tanks: Each one of these makes it that when you recharge your health, you restore with one more energy tank worth of life. Awesome but rare.
- Energy Tank Pieces: Because everyone loves heart pieces. These suck and I only completed one set by the end of the game. Garbage.
- Charge Accel: Makes you charge faster. These are cool.
I’d say the Charge Accels and the Restoration tanks were the only thing that ever felt good to get. As such I basically did not bother hunting for most items. It didn’t feel rewarding at all and with the item puzzles being so awkward, I really had no motivation to go after anything but the most obvious pickups. The removal of new abilities from the game world is also disappointing for reasons outside of sheer nostalgia. Finding items is naturally more rewarding than being told you suddenly have something. There is buildup and excitement. In Other M, you just suddenly can open THIS super missile door, seemingly arbitrarily. Or you give up on a room after thrashing around for 10 minutes, walk out and have Adam tell you to go back and use a different powerup. Even Fusion handled this much more gracefully. Fusion pointed you to where to get the necessary upgrade (After being approved by the federation to get it) and you get the excitement and joy of knowing which toy you are going to get. You get to think about how you can use it in old areas as you look for it. Other M hands them out almost at random, thus removing the sense of discovery and reward.
The game makes other fumbles. For example, a select few areas moves your view to a “Resident evil 4” style camera where you walk slowly about. This at first is only used when exploring bath rooms (of which Samus can only explore the female side, despite being on the look out for survivors and items) but some segments involve painfully long, slow walking segments as you explore areas in slow motion or follow people you should be chasing after at full speed. They, like the pixel hunts, are another ham fisted way to try and make the game more immersing. Instead it makes the game more annoying (but not as bad as the pixel hunts). The boss fights at some times are at a high point for the series, but a lot of original bosses just seem awkward and goofy, killing a lot of the excitement. All the best bosses for some reason are classic ones. A lot of the enemies in general just look really dumb and poorly designed. They also seem to act more like little grindy road blocks than fun encounters. The quick kills for some of the toughest enemies are unreliable, making the battles drag out far too long. A lot of these battles also lock the doors, forcing you to finish the encounter before proceeding. This isn’t a new thing to the series, but it uses it more than any others previously did. The game did not play to its strenghts. In fact, its simple use of corridors and a fixed orientation could have been used to create very complex but intuitive environments, using up and down motion as the old fashioned “columns” of previous games. The game played it too safe and left too much on the combat. Fortunately the “post game” has better executed exploration, but it still feels empty.
Graphically the game is a mixed bag. It’s generally inferior to the prime art direction, but does use a nice crisp style. The enemy design on the other hand is almost strictly horrible. Everything looks like a mishmash of random animal parts with little reason and the level of polish is uneven. Some places look quite nice, while others are too hung up in the PS2 era. I also take an issue with the decision to go with a space station with various environments scattered about again. It’s a contrivance to make the game about something Metroid has never been about. Instead of a neatly crafted planet we get random shit. I can’t complain that this is bad on a fundamental level, but considering both it and Fusion rely on the same setup, I can’t help but to be disappointed. The game does do a good job of feeling like a space station though. There are catwalks and enclosed walkways and break rooms scattered about in a way that is believable and subdued enough not to stand out like a sore thumb. This is also good at telling you where you can and cannot go, but sometimes you get hit by invisible walls for practically no reason at all.
In closing, Other M is a very flawed game that is not without it’s merits. It’s fundamental gameplay is fun enough to validate i’s existence, despite its shortcomings. Unlike fusion, which was flawed AND stagnant, Other M tries something new and does so well enough that I actively hope for a sequel. I can rag on Sakamoto all I want, but Nintendo does try and improve their work. Maybe second times a charm? I’d be sad if such a solid engine was discarded after one attempt. I would dare say a classic could arise if Nintendo was savvy enough. Even Other M, story aside, wasn’t far off. It missed the mark for sure, but a few different decisions early on could have changed everything. That said, we also cannot pretend the story exists in a vacuum, as it heavily influenced gameplay. Lack of fun exploration, item discovery and stuff like the slow-mo walk sequences and pixel hunts exist purely because of the plot. Developers need to be careful of this in the future and I hope Nintendo realizes that a plot can be both powerful and dangerous medicine.