Big studios usually like to play it safe, particularly with their biggest and most successful franchises. Fortunately for the evolution and health of videogames, Nintendo has unleashed Team Ninja on the Metroid series and given the developer the latitude to push the boundaries of the series. The danger in doing something new or different is that not everyone will approve. "Metroid was fine the way it was," some will say; "Don't change it!" But innovations move the industry forward. The troubling thing about taking such risks, though, is that they don't always pay off. In the case of Metroid Other M, some of the alterations to the formula are innovative and welcome, but some of the changes don't work at all.
Metroid Other M picks up after the end of Super Metroid. You can be forgiven if you don't quite recall the ending of a game that came out back when Tonya Harding was shopping for police batons and OJ Simpson was testing the highway performance of the rugged and reliable Ford Bronco. The game opens up with a recap of Super Metroid but unfortunately it's big on explosions and existential reflection, but short on actual exposition. Fans of the series will be thrilled but newcomers may feel lost.
After this lengthy intro, Samus finally starts her adventure by responding to a distress call from a massive ship inhabited by all kinds of deadly aliens. When she lands, she finds a group of Galactic Federation marines have beat her there. Among the group is Adam Malkovich, Samus's former commander. He grudgingly agrees to let Samus help out in the investigation, which is a good thing, because without her they wouldn't even be able to get past the first door. It's not really clear why Samus is so ready to do what Adam says but there are copious hints dropped through the game's many flashback cutscenes.
Unfortunately, the subservience kind of breaks her character somewhat as she turns off almost all of her powers and only reactivates them at key points in the narrative when Adam tells her it's okay. Previous Metroid games gave you a sense of accomplishment in finding new powers but this game has Samus meekly deactivate them until her boyfriend says it's okay to use them. At one point, she walks through a room of lava before he bothers to tell her she can use her Varia Suit's anti-flame powers. That's weak. The story also tells me more than I want to know about Samus's past. Part of her appeal has always been that she's a total mystery. It's like Boba Fett where the mystique of the character is what interests us. Once we start getting some answers, the character is less appealing.