I made sure we had a good mix of Metroid experience amongst the attendees: one had never played a Metroid game, another had played a couple, a third a few more, and the fourth had written walkthroughs.
After the event I asked each of them to send me their impressions of the game. I didn't tell them to be positive or negative, I didn't even tell them to adhere to a strict format. They just wrote what they wanted and you can read their unedited reports below.
Michael Fryer (The Metroid Virgin)
So what did the guy who has never played Metroid think of the new one. In short, it's alright. It seemed like a decent enough game, and I would certainly enjoy playing it if I had nothing else to do, but I'm in no rush to go out and grab it at release.
The Wiimote only control method seemed like a gimmick. It was serviceable, but I felt they could have just as easily done the first person switching in tandem with the nunchuck. This would have given better movement control using the analogue stick, rather the the clunky 8 direction, run/stop movements of the d-pad. It also would have saved the hassle of changing the grip on the wiimote, which whilst amusing the first few times, was getting old even by the end of the short demo.
The first person view also wasn't just for better manual aiming. There was a mini-boss fight where you had to use it to find hidden enemies. Also there was at least one point where there was an enemy hidden by the on rails camera view and the only way you could see it was using first person view. I expect this would be used repeatedly for challenge and also to hide other secrets around the world. From the short play through I had I'm not sure whether this would be an annoyance or an interesting challenge, I suspect that the answer will differ between players.
The combat was straight forward enough. The demo was of a fairly early portion of the game so it's understandable it was a bit easy. However there were a few enemies that you need to jump on top of to deal with them efficiently. This was kinda awkward, mostly due to the inaccuracy of using a d-pad in 3D space.
Despite some fairly minor gripes about the controls, it seemed like a fairly solid game. However at the same time nothing really stood out and grabbed my attention, although I suppose that might have been a bit too much to ask considering the brevity of the demo.
Samuel Webster (The Metroid Newcomer)
I started in at the second of the three sections that were made available to us, and I was able to instantly jump in and perfectly understand the controls. The game feels very natural, and there are only a few special moves that needed to see the games instructions to do. The swap to 3D felt a little slow at first, but as I did it more and more, I began to adapt to the point where I barely noticed the delay at all, and it didn’t negatively impact my gameplay in any way. Gameplay feels very fast and frantic, the dodge mechanic keeps you engaged throughout the battles, and the varied takedown abilities felt like a nice bonus for playing differently.
Graphically the game is just stunning. The cut scenes are incredibly impressive, and in game the world feels vibrant and alive, with combat just being fun to watch. Some older enemies look a bit weird in this style, though not necessarily bad. The game unfortunately has a lot less of that overall feeling of loneliness and dread that you might expect from a Metroid game, partly due to the art style, and partly due to the fact that, well, you aren't alone. This is the early game though, so things very well may, and quite likely will change for the better.
A few other minor issues I found during my time with the game are: *Cut scenes feel far to frequent (this may just be due to being at the start of the game though) *The arrow on your mini-map pointing you to your destination is back, making for little real exploration beyond hidden items (at least in the sections I played), though this may be able to be turned off. *A minor personal distaste, but, the unlock mechanic, though basically the same gameplay wise, feels a little off. Having everything in your system, but being unable to use it until you're told you can, just feels wrong. *Samus voice, that is all.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by the game. There were a few nitpicky issues I had personally with it, and I’m not sure yet on the quite heavy-handed story the game has shown. Gameplay wise though, I am completely sold. I had some doubt about the swap mechanic, but it actually works really great, feeling like an extension of the normal gameplay, rather than a tacked on gimmick. Not sure I will like it as much as I did the Prime series, but I am sure that I will like it, the game is absolutely a day one buy.
Steven Goman (The Metroid Veteran)
Metroid: Other M takes place directly after the events of Super Metroid, with Samus coming to terms with her encounter with the Mother Brain and the metroid that saved her life. After answering a distress signal codenamed ‘Baby’s cry’ she is flung into an adventure which I was fortunate enough to play the first 15 minutes of.
No waggle: I must say it is refreshing to play a Wii game where remote flailing is not a core part of the movement controls. Holding the remote on its side is used for third person shooting and movement, while pointing the remote at the screen will enter a first person view where Samus can aim manually but not move (similar to Resident Evil 4).
Run and gun: Auto-aim when in third person makes the action much faster and more fluid than in the Prime series. Hammering the fire button will cause Samus to fire at an enemy accurately, automatically changing targets once it’s down. While this might sound easy, there were plenty of Game Over screens around even during the brief demo. The ability to move at full speed even with the beam cannon fully charged is also handy as a combat opener.
The little things: Things like the motion blur on Samus’s jumps, leaving an outline of herself behind when wall jumping, automatically crouching during fights and vaulting over small walls makes the game even more impressive. The addition of finishing moves and counterattacking animations make Samus even more badass than before. Keeping with tradition, ball tracks and hidden areas are still all around leading to extra missiles and health tanks.
Recharging missiles: Samus has a new ability where she can ‘concentrate’ and recharge her missiles. While not a bad thing in itself, the ability to recharge missiles at will, could make the game a bit too easy. During the demo it was tempting at times to stand back and fire missiles, recharge and move on to the next enemy. However, this may not be an issue later in the game if the number of missiles that can be recharged is limited (I wasn’t able to tell from the demo).
Swapping to first person: An extremely minor gripe is when changing into first person mode the camera will face the same way Samus was, rather than towards any enemies. While this does makes sense, it was annoying to run away from a fight to enter first person mode to fire missiles, only to be facing the wrong way. This could be easily fixed by remembering to turn around first before changing to first person to fire missiles (or just pan around in first person mode).
While No More Heroes 2 and Super Mario Galaxy 2 were not quite enough to make me dust off my Wii, I’m making Metorid: Other M a definite day one purchase.
Michael Hart (The Freakish Expert)
I was one of the lucky five Kotaku readers to be sent along to Nintendo's pre-release media event for Metroid: Other M in Sydney on Thursday the 12th of August. As we were invited into the venue, we were greeted with multiple Metroid promotional posters on the wall and the pre-rendered trailers we've seen previously online playing on large screens. There was also a bit of extra nostalgia for the veterans with an original NES, Gameboy and SNES with Metroid, Metroid II and Super Metroid set up respectively, giving everyone a chance to re-live the old days. As I observed some of the attendees playing them, I thought about the speedruns I've seen and mused that if those runners were at the event, they could probably power through and finish the games before things kicked off for real. I'm still gobsmacked at the world record 32 minutes for Super Metroid. But I digress.
Before too long the actual presentation started, and began by Nintendo showing a trailer they said had previously only been shown in Japan. Thankfully, it was in English, and featured a voice over of Samus as she recapped the story of the first three games as images from the games played out on screen. This finished with a pre-rendered cinematic that set up the beginning of Metroid: Other M. In regards to the lore's timeline it was confirmed Other M takes place immediately after the events of Super Metroid - though strangely and somewhat disappointingly, no mention of the Metroid Prime trilogy was made even though chronologically, these games take place between Metroid and Metroid II.
After the Nintendo guy provided a 10 minute demo of the game, showing us some of the new features that were available, we were sent into a separate room to play it for ourselves. A fair bit of work had actually gone into this area, with it being set up like a dark, futuristic space ship, and of course, four or five TVs with the game up and running for the 30 or so attendees to have a go at. Besides Kotaku winners, there were some people there I noticed that were winners from a Nintendo promotion, as well as members of the media.
Since Kotaku's David Wildgoose nicknamed me "the freakish expert", I've tried to write this article in a way that will most appeal to the hardcore players and mention the stuff they'll care about. One of the things I was a bit apprehensive about with this game, is the transitions from third person to first person, so this was one of the first things I tried out and put through its paces. I'm happy to report the transition is pretty fast and feels pretty smooth, although aiming was sometimes a bit awkward but this could have been due to the positioning of the Wii's sensor bar. I initially thought I'd miss having the nunchuck in my left hand to move around in first person but I found I never really felt like I needed it.
Shooting enemies in first person also felt pretty natural, although the game did seem to have a tendency on occasions to lock onto an enemy I didn't particularly want to shoot at that particular moment. On that subject; the auto-aiming in third person was also a feature I wasn't quite sure about, but in practice, it worked pretty well. In third person, I rarely found myself locking onto an enemy when I wanted to shoot another, and whenever it did, a simple respositioning of Samus fixed that.
It didn't appear to make the combat overly easy either; enemies can attack you from every direction including above you, and many of them can't be taken out by just spamming your power beam attack. Actually, the more I think about it, the more I think that it really couldn't have been done any other way and keep the unique perspective at the same time.
In terms of the new attacks in the game, Samus has a few new tricks. She now has the ability to dodge and counter some enemy attacks - in the demo we encountered chameleon-like enemies that could blend in with the background. These guys had an attack where they whip out their long tail, grab you with it and slam you into the ground, but if you dodge and hit attack at the right time, Samus instead grabs their tail, swings and slams them into a wall. She also possesses some new "finishing moves", which involve charging up her beam, jumping on the enemy's head and unleashing the beam to blast them in the head and inflict an instant-kill. Both of these new features felt satisying to pull off and it'll be interesting to see what else awaits us in the final game.
There were some more differences that I noticed while playing that Metroid veterans may want to know about. First of all, doors do not need to be shot at for them to open. While I (and many others) were instinctively shooting at them out of habit, I discovered that you didn't need to and they instead opened automatically (there was, however, one instance in the demo that required us to shoot some plants that were blocking a door with a missile).
On one hand, I was thinking "cool, why should I need to shoot at doors to open them?" but on the other hand, I was thinking "doesn't this kind of limit the amount of backtracking you can do?". While the Nintendo rep did mention the game had backtracking in it, there wasn't really any opportunity during our short demo to do any. The various locked doors that we came across all opened after some arbitrary goal in that room had been completed (such as killing all of the enemies) so I really hope that was just for the purposes of the demo (which I assumed was the first "tutorial" level of the game) and that element isn't a recurring theme throughout the rest of the game.
Another difference I noticed was the way morph ball bombs work. Unlike every other Metroid game, the morph ball bombs kind of bounce up and down a little after they are dropped, instead of remaining stationary. This made double-bomb jumping significantly trickier to pull off. I did eventually get the timing right, but it took a fair bit of trial and error.
It's also already been mentioned in other previews that the weapon selection, at least in the demo we played, was fairly contextual. Missiles for example can only be fired in first person mode, after you've locked onto a target. We didn't get a chance to find any more of Samus' powerups such as any new beam weapons or super missiles, so it was kind of hard to think about how these various upgrades would be incorporated into the gameplay.
Will I need to somehow select a super missile in some kind of menu before I can fire it? Or will I need to charge my beam and hit another button while in first person? Or some other way? That stuff remains unclear. I am hoping for the return of the speed booster though, which obviously wasn't possible to have in the Prime games but would certainly be possible here. How elements such as the grapple beam will work is anybody's guess at this point though.
In general, the game played well. Samus felt appropriately powerful, it looked very good, it played fast, and gave a great sense of atmosphere that has been a staple of the series. There wasn't exactly any real puzzles to solve in the demo we played, but all of the elements were there to create them, with some nifty little hidden areas stashed away too. Many of the enemies were returning from previous games too. One element I wasn't completely sold on was health and ammo replenishment. Instead of enemies dropping health and ammo pickups after being killed, Samus instead "concentrates" by holding the Wiimote vertically and pressing a button. This I thought kind of broke the flow of the game a bit... the previous games seemed to feel so much better when you blasted monsters and grabbed what they dropped. Here you need to deliberately find a safe place and stop for a few seconds as you recharge yourself. The enemies in the demo did not drop anything after dying, so I can only assume that trend will continue throughout the game.
Overall, I was impressed by what I had a chance to see and play. A lot of my reservations were put to rest, and although a few still remain, I feel the complete package will come together very well. I am looking forward to knowing how the game bridges the gap in story between Super Metroid and Metroid Fusion too. The game is looking really good and I can't wait for it to be released on September 2nd... although I still think "Other M" is a kinda weird name.