Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Preview Power: Metroid: Other M

[Part of a series of smaller posts that I'll be doing about various upcoming games. I don't jump on board the hype train too often, but when I do I like to think that there's a pretty significant reason for why, and in this series I will attempt to explain my anticipation for each game.]

I absolutely love the Metroid series. It's easily one of my favourite franchises in gaming and I'm not afraid to admit that I prefer it to the more popular, more renowned franchises of Mario and Zelda. If you asked me why I loved the franchise, I'd respond with a reference to the exploration, a nod to the atmosphere, and a suggestion that isolation is one of the defining features of each game. I'd tell you about how Samus Aran inspires me: to play each game to the best of my ability; to get her through any and all situations she finds herself in, good or bad; and to ensure that no matter what, our perseverance will prevail. I'd also go on about how Metroid Prime is my favourite game ever and that nothing else, not even BioShock (think about that one for a second...) comes close to the love I have for that game. The Metroid franchise commands my respect but, more importantly, earns it from every single person who joins its loyal fanbase. It might not have the reputation that Mario does, or the sense of wonder that can be found in every Zelda title, but Metroid is a unique, wonderful take on science fiction that simply resonates with me.

It should be no surprise, then, that Metroid: Other M is high on my anticipated list. Here is a game that has a lot riding on it: like Metroid Prime before it, it's doing something new with the franchise, providing a different perspective that could be absolutely excellent, or a dismal failure; it's being made by Team Ninja, a development team that has a mixed reputation and who certainly don't have the respect that Retro Studios earned over the course of their fabulous Prime trilogy; and it appears to be emphasising things that usually take a more subdued focus in the series, such as narrative and action. The action focus is no surprise -- this is, after all, a game coming from the team behind Ninja Gaiden and Dead Or Alive -- but the narrative? That's something that, arguably, Team Ninja don't have much experience in and, as such, it's very easy to be skeptical.

Skepticism and hesitation surrounds the impending game and for good reason. Story in a Metroid game is usually discovered, the lore of the game's universe and exposition on everything ranging from the Space Pirates to the various species (enemies) you come across in your travels something to be found rather than told. Sometimes, story barely even exists, with just enough portrayed to set up a game and nothing more. In these instances, it's the atmosphere, discoveries -- ability upgrades; bosses -- and exploration that make up the plot of the game, leaving it all up for interpretation and in the hands of a player's imagination. Either way, both have defined the Metroid franchise since its inception and therefore a stronger focus on narrative, with cutscenes and conversations with other people, is cause for concern. Personally I don't have an issue with this and actually hold it as one of my reasons to be excited. While part of the fun of playing Metroid was finding out things at my discretion, finding out more about the Metroid universe and Samus Aran in particular is an enticing prospect, her history and experiences something I want to learn more about. It will be different to previous games, it will take some getting used to and, presumably, such a change will feel abrupt at first, but I'm willing to give Metroid: Other M a chance because I want to give Samus a chance: to tell her story and to make us understand why she is who she is, why she does what she does, and what the things in her past mean to both her and to us.

The action is also something I can embrace, so long as it isn't over done and doesn't come at the expense of the exploration and atmosphere the series is synonymous with. Boss battles are a core element of the franchise and so I'm willing to explore new combat options that may arise from the different perspective Other M will provide. Admittedly I can't actually get a grasp on just how the new game will play -- even after watching gameplay footage -- so it's hard to know where I will stand with it, but for now I am willing to give it the benefit of the doubt and approach it on its terms rather than any of my own.

All in all, as a self-confessed Metroid fanboy I can't not be excited about Metroid: Other M, but beyond that I am genuinely interested in it due to the changes it brings. The formula is nowhere near going stale, but that doesn't mean it can't be repackaged in a way that refreshes the franchise and, hopefully, brings in a new audience with it. The science has been perfected over the years. Now it's time for the fiction to get the same loving treatment. Here's hoping, anyway.


Michelle said...

Colour me excited, having recently started the Metroid series for the first time it feels fabulous to be able to finally understand your passion for this series and excitement about a new game.

Feels like another wonderful movement that I can share with the rest of the gaming community which up until now I've largely denied myself. Feels good. :D

Steven O'Dell said...

Michelle -- Heh, sounds like how I suspect I will feel when I finally get around to the Half Life series, the one franchise I would nominate as a blight on my gaming record. Good to hear you're finally getting acquainted with the wonderful Samus Aran; perhaps we could have a larger discussion sometime about the series?

Also, sorry for the late reply.