Insert Credit endeavors to suss out where you should be allotting your video game allowance, sifting out a single title from many and crowning it as The One Game You Need to Get This Week. Don’t consider these reviews, gentle reader. Rather, think of Insert Credit as a mix of hands-on time, informed opinion and intuition.
For the week of August 30, 2010, you should insert credit into: “Metroid: Other M”
Nostalgia’s a double-edged sword in all long-running entertainment franchises. On one hand, creators of new James Bond, “Star Trek” or Lara Croft fiction can throw in all sorts of winks and nods at the high points that have come before. But, on the other hand, those high points cast a long shadow over whatever follows them. Nintendo’s “Metroid” games often face the same problem. The first game won over fans with a recursive, labyrinthine gameworld and the last-second revelation that Samus Aran–the armor-wearing bounty hunter character they were controlling–was, in fact, a woman.
The “Metroid” games have been a shining example of how to balance new plots, new gameplay ideas and the right measurements of fan service into a just-right recipe time and again. The games in the series have referred back to each other since practically the first sequel but Metroid games have also been able to change presentation format. The “Metroid Prime” series on GameCube shifted the perspective to first-person while keeping other series hallmarks like having to collect your weapons as you play and backtracking over previously played levels.
Now, in the first new “Metroid” game in more than five years, even more backwards-looking forward movement abounds. One of the series’ best-regarded stewards-Yoshio Sakamoto, the director of the first Metroid-returns and is working in partnership with Team Ninja, a non-Nintendo developer. Team Ninja’s known for the bloody, hyper-violent “Ninja Gaiden” action series but they’ve toned town the gore for the partnership with Nintendo. The result of the fusion is an action-platformer hybrid that approximates the 2D controls and feel of earlier games with stylized fast-paced action that’s instantly recognizable as the work of Team Ninja. Certain sections of the game have you switching into a first-person view, too, for precision targeting and exploration.
As far as the story, you can see the imprint of Sakamoto-san’s history with the character. The plot references events from “Metroid” and “Super Metroid,” specifically the quasi-maternal bond Samus had with a baby extraterrestrial. The story weaves in events from Samus’ formative military years, too. The biggest change of all is in giving Samus spoken dialogue, a drastic turnaround from Nintendo’s typically mute franchise characters.
To be honest, the reaches at emotional depth sometimes stumble but “Other M” tells its audience more about Samus as a person than ever before revealed, while simultaneously making them feel connected to almost every game in the series. That’s no mean feat.
“Metroid: Other M” ($49.99) comes out this week for the Nintendo Wii.