What Went Wrong With Metroid Other M

What Went Wrong With Metroid Other M

Samus Aran is a bounty hunter who travels the galaxy seeking her fortune. Nintendo had hoped that the girl warrior would garner another kind of bounty by autumn: Namely one million sold copies of Metroid: Other M, which saw release in late August 2010. So far, Nintendo has yet to move half a million copies of the action-adventure Wii game, and the company is honestly stumped on what’s gone wrong.

“We believe that it could be, should be a million unit title,” Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime told Kotaku in a November interview. “We’re not going to get there, not through the holiday. And we are doing a lot of thinking as to why. Because it’s a great game. The consumer reaction because of the quality has been strong. We’re doing a lot of thinking about why we didn’t get there. I think the marketing was strong, advertising was very good, the social media we did was very positive.”

To date, Metroid: Other M has earned a collective 79% from critics. Some outlets heaped praise on Samus’s adventure (an 8.5 out of 10 in Craig Harris’s IGN review), and others have been less than enthused (2.5 out of 5 from G4, a 6.5 out of 10 from the US edition of Game Informer). Certainly not the worst scores in the world, but Reggie’ question still stands: What went wrong? How could Samus have failed to entice fewer than one million loyal players?

The answer is multifold, and delves into the complexity of both the Metroid games and its players. Metroid is, by its nature, a divisive series. Though the series’ induction into 3D was very successful thanks to Retro Studios’ work on Metroid Prime for the GameCube, most Metroid fans celebrate 1994’s Super Metroid as the pinnacle of the series. The SNES game can back up its acclaim with a heck of a legacy: It sits at 96% on GameRankings and boasts some of the deepest, most intense exploration ever offered by a 2D video game. Even now, Super Metroid fans challenge each others’ completion scores and finish times as they search for and find more ways to “sequence break” the game’s suggested chain of events, thus shaving precious minutes off their final tallies.

Even Super Metroid‘s story is praised for being silent, simple, but still touching. Samus becomes somewhat attached to a baby Metroid she adopts after basically wiping the species off its home planet of SR388. The same Metroid rushes to her rescue at the end of the game and sacrifices itself to give Samus the boost she needs to defeat her adversary, Mother Brain.

Samus’ attachment to the baby Metroid is in fact a major story point in Other M, which has led to some intense criticism towards the game. The baby Metroid’s sacrifice in Super Metroid is all done through pantomime; other than a brief monologue from Samus that sets up the game’s beginning, the stoic hunter says nothing. But series co-creator Yoshio Sakamoto has since admitted that he’s always wanted to tell Samus’ story, and Metroid: Other M gave him the room and tools he needed to form the “real” Samus. And oh, what a chatty girl she is. Samus’s never-ending soliloquies–most of which are unskippable–drain her of her prior mystery, and with it, the strangely compelling loneliness that flavored Super Metroid‘s atmosphere. In other words, Sakamoto loaded all of story writing’s brevity rules onto a mine cart and pushed it over a cliff.

Samus is also the patron saint of female gamers who appreciate her drive, her will, and the fact she stands at an Amazonian 6’3″ in an industry full of willowy female characters. Metroid: Other M saw Samus’ self-reliance taken down a peg or two thanks to her constant inner monologues and her submission to her former Commander, Adam Malkovitch. There’s also the fact she probably sets the world’s record for the number of times the word “baby” has ever been spoken by a character in a video game. Not that motherhood and maternal instinct should be thought of as weaknesses, but it’s hard not to notice that Samus comes off as a little preoccupied in Metroid: Other M. In previous games, Samus had always seemed to relish the fight, a decidedly unfeminine trait. In Other M, she questions herself and her motives often, which drains her of her patented Space Hunter bad-assery.

But the heart and soul of a game is its gameplay, and Other M has trouble nailing this as well. The game is mostly played in 2D, but requires players to point the Wii remote at the screen and shift into 3D in order to shoot missiles. Nintendo and Team Ninja had an impressive vision here, a dream to merge 2D and 3D. In some ways, it works. However, Metroid fans never really asked for the two planes to be merged, especially when the final product feels like a compromise instead of providing the depth of Super Metroid or the targeting accuracy of Metroid Prime. The game is also distressingly linear, and offers few opportunities to sequence break and get delightfully lost in a big, big world.

None of this is to suggest that Metroid: Other M is a bad game. But given the series’ past achievements and deeply-rooted fanbase, it’s clear why the game didn’t sell Nintendo’s hoped-for million copies: 79% just doesn’t cut it for a follow-up to one of the highest-rated adventure games of all time.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

5 Comments

  1. The reason it failed was Nintendo’s decision to overly market the game to a female audience vs metroid’s traditional male fan base. They know why it failed.

  2. This is a very fair assessment. There’s a lot potential in what they laid out (mostly in areas like mobility), but they had a lot of missteps. I hope they can take some of the things that worked, remove/rework all the stuff that didn’t, and bring it back to being fantastic. I didn’t think Other M was “bad”, but it was certainly sub par.

    And that height aspect is pretty hilarious. She just keeps getting shorter and shorter. Just wait, in the next game she’ll be 4 feet tall.

  3. The biggest WTF moment in this game was when Ridley came out and she froze on the spot. WTF?! She’s already fought him 2 times before and knows of how he can be cloned. So why the sudden emotion for this heroine?

  4. I just read this article and it reminded me about what criticisms i had with the game. The controls were a nice change from the prime FPS to the platform/third person hybrid, but the maps and environments were completely lacking. One of my favorite aspects of the Metroid series are the giant maps with multiple environments that always left a feeling of being able to explore. Other M was a perfect example of a completely linear game that offers only one path to follow at any given time. But the worse thing about other M is the terrible imagining of Samus that it presents us – a confused, uncertain, and whiny girl who longs for children and the affirmation of a man…WTF?! Samus up until this game has always been a f*cking badass intergalactic BOUNTY HUNTER who knows where the action is, and is always ready to kick ass till no enemies are left alive. She commits the genocide of the whole metroid species, no questions asked. Screw nintendo, the second wii will be there last time releasing a console before they go the way of sega and just make games.

  5. I loved this game and not because I’m a girl, I’m a huge metroid fan. Samus “froze” in front of Ridley because she has some sort of post traumatic stress thing which is rarely visible in other games but it’s there, and also, yes, it’s because she had killed him before and she was confused as to why he was still alive, triggering memories of her parents since she was in the situation of “the baby” during this whole thing.

    Some good points, but it deserves recognition. If you listen to the script it sounds beautiful if u go into meaning.

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