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You're probably thinking right now about Superman 64, Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing, or the infamous ET for the Atari 2600 and wondering how anything could be worse than those. Those games barely functioned and some might even make the case that they aren't games at all so much as unfortunate experiences. Ironically, that could be seen as a saving grace in the face of Metroid: Other M. Such technically bad and broken games didn't have a Metroid title's expectations placed on them. They didn't have the technology of more modern games. Simply put, they just didn't have the room for such offensively incompetent content the likes of which you're about to read.
Metroid: Other M was announced to great reception and fanfare at 2009's Electronics Entertainment Expo. As most anyone who's even marginally aware of video games likely knows, the Metroid series is highly celebrated and getting a third person action installment for the first time ever was very exciting. With Metroid co-creator, Yoshio Sakamoto, writing the story, we knew the game would finally tell us more about this enigmatic bounty hunter and her mysterious past and with a collaboration between Nintendo themselves and the well established Team Ninja, everything was in place for another amazing entry into the beloved franchise.
So how, then, did the game's 2010 release get branded as one of the prime examples of getting everything wrong? Why do we still look back at it and feel this awkward repulsion as we try to avoid associating with it? There have been plenty of bad video games over the years, so why does this particular one stand out as a dire warning to developers instead of being forgotten to time like Drake of the 99 Dragons or just becoming an immortal, buggy joke like Sonic 2006? Metroid: Other M is a perfect storm of ignorance, sexism, ham-fisted symbolism, and unapologetic mediocrity that creates an uncomfortable affront to your senses that is far, far less than the sum of its parts and here are a few reasons why starting with the most infamous complaint: the misogynistic overtones.
It's no secret that Metroid: Other M is a feminist's nightmare, but you'd think that with a strong, leading lady like Samus as its main character, some of that could be alleviated. However, it's really only expounded as we watch Samus get plugged into the only two holes cut out for “the girl character”. In bad fiction, female characters exist to either A. be hot or B. be someone's mom. That's not to say those roles are innately bad, of course. They can even go well together. No one is saying you can't have a hot mom that's also an enjoyable, complex character with motivations, flaws, and quirks. The problem with Other M is that Samus is less of a character and more of a cardboard cutout.
Dull, flat, and lifeless, she monologues in monotone about how a baby Metroid saved her life in her fight against Mother Brain and, coincidentally, viewed Samus as its mother. Then she's alerted to a distress signal called the “Baby's Cry” and jets off to the Bottle Ship to play nursemaid to those who might be in trouble. No, I'm not making that up. Samus Aran, famed bounty hunter and intergalactic warrior, hears her biological clock ticking because of an infant parasite she scooped up and sold to scientists for cold, hard, space credits at the beginning of Super Metroid. Sakamoto saw Samus sell a baby alien for beer money and decided she was such a fit for mother of the year he made a game so stuffed with mommy symbolism that even the title could be abbreviated as MOM.
So once Samus gets to the S.S. Ribber Nipple (I did actually make that name up) she suits up for adventure. Although something is wrong here. Instead of actually suiting up, her suit just kind of materializes around her. Through sheer force of will, or perhaps moon prism power makeup, Samus just causes her power suit to form. The reason for this, I can only assume, is so she can lose her concentration at points throughout the game and show you her butt. Disregard that she has taken off her helmet in previous titles and it was quite solid. Disregard that her armor was fused to her in Metroid Fusion. Nope, Samus is now a few ribbons and bows short of a magical girl.
I'd also like to point out that Samus had her height and weight established in Nintendo Power magazine back in the 90's. They reported her to be 6'3” and 198 lbs. That is the size and shape of a muscular Amazon, someone you would expect to be a lone wolf destroying planets on her own, and not the petite little lady dreaming armor onto her frail frame in Other M. All over-sexualization and rocket powered high heel debates aside, at the end of the day, Samus Aran is supposed to be a warrior. By presenting her as a doting weakling and having her literally wish armor and ammunition into existence, she loses any of the rough, stoic characterization she had initially.
Regardless of Samus's newly acquired beauty mark and ever increasing cup size, she's still the Samus we remember, right? Still blasting aliens, uncovering uncharted worlds, and taking on missions the Galactic Federation can't or won't? Not exactly. In fact, not at all. Shortly upon arriving at her destination, Samus is greeted by her former commanding officer, Adam Malkovich, and his team of unimportant extras who only have names so characters know what to yell when they die. It is at this point that Adam requests Samus follow his orders and not use all her powers and abilities because of dubious, hand waving reasons. Our previously established Samus would have demonstrated her middle finger powerup at this suggestion, but Waifu Samus obeys implicitly and proceeds to make her own life a living hell.
Adam, so aptly described as the “perfect military mind”, tells Samus he will sit in the control room the whole time, watch her progress, and authorize her weapons as they are deemed necessary. For some reason, this also includes simple protective and mobility enhancing equipment. Due to her complete submission and lack of self preservation, this leads to things like Samus impotently staring at grappling points, stubbornly refusing to grapple to them, or running for her life through super-heated areas, slowly burning to death rather than shielding herself from the extreme temperatures. Only at Adam's behest is she allowed to put on a sweater if it's chilly outside or cook him dinner when he's hungry.
Forgetting Master Malkovich for a moment (just like your brain tells you to), there is one other member of the suicide squad who actually does something other than either watch monitors in a guard station all day or die horribly and his name is Anthony. He's the squad's token black guy and is presented as a friend of Samus, calling her “Princess” as opposed to Adam calling her “Lady”. Yes, the player must be reminded that Samus is a silly, ol' menstruating woman at all times.
Anthony gets the honor of preventing Samus from helping herself. When facing off against Ridley, the terrifying space pterodactyl that ate her parents, Samus freezes up and literally becomes a crying little girl at the sight of him. Yes, I do mean literally. She is shown transforming into her child self, sobbing in front of her assailant, just like the battle hardened hero she is. It's not until Anthony comes to save the day that she remembers she does this kind of thing for a living and starts fighting back... eventually. First, she has to have her magical armor fade in and out of existence just to show her complete lack of resolve when facing an enemy she has canonically defeated at least twice before now. As always, in Other M, Samus is prevented from ever seeming like the feared hunter she's portrayed as in other games in the franchise. From beginning to end, from interactions with friends or interactions with foes, she's passive, weak, or afraid, and Ridley's introduction really hammers home just how backwards Samus's characterization is in this title.
Since we're on the subject, let's talk about Ridley for a moment. Anyone who has played a Metroid game knows who he is. He's Samus's arch nemesis and is in all of the games as a recurring villain with his iconic music. Mario has his Bowser, Sonic has his Eggman/Robotnik, and Samus has her Ridley. Sadly, not even the beloved alien dinosaur is safe from the affliction of OMS (Other M Syndrome).
Ridley is first introduced in Other M as what is called “Little Birdie”. As the name implies, he is a small, fuzzy, white chick with tiny, little teeth, a cute scene where he attempts to balance and falls down, and a failed attempt at being an adorable mascot character. Later on, Ridley has grown into an incredibly stupid looking, hairy lizard monster with a wacky tongue and googly eyes. You would think that with a description like that he would stand out in some way, but no, Lizaridley is actually the most generic looking space lizard you can conceive.
Finally, after all that, someone rubs a Moon Stone on him and he evolves into his final form – the Ridley we actually recognize. He spends most of his time roaring at the aforementioned paralyzed baby Samus, knocking Anthony into the boiling lava the research station just happened to have lying around, and performing the bare minimum of boss fight necessary so he could be in the game. From there on out, Ridley's over it. Like the other returning bosses of Phantoon and Nightmare, Ridley just had a cameo written into his contract and he wanted to get it done and over with so he could drink away the memories of being a Easter chick for goths and the galaxy's dumbest looking Geico representative.
Now, did you think that tangent about Ridley meant Samus's embarrassment was over? Far from, my friend. This game isn't just written by an untalented pervert. It's written by a lazy, untalented pervert on Valium. Samus is only started getting to do absolutely nothing while nonsense story slowly oozes past her. Just wait until she kicks it into Maximum Under Drive.
Towards the end of the game, Samus nears a place called “Sector Zero” where enhanced Metroids are being bred as biological weapons. Naturally, as she has done countless times before, she intends to eradicate the Metroid threat and probably blow up the space station just to be sure. It's just what Samus does. She doesn't even need to advertise for it any more. It's basically part of her title. “Samus Aran – Galactic Bounty Hunter and Genocide Expert”. She has this no problem.
Surprise! Just as she's nearing the door she's shot from behind by an unknown assailant! Could this be the mysterious “Deleter” that I haven't mentioned before because he's stupid, has a stupid name, and doesn't matter in any way? No, it's just Adam. Yep, Samus's beloved father figure quite literally shot her in the back and made her suit fade away so she can crawl around in her skin tight undies.
You see, he had to shoot Samus to prevent her from wandering into the final stage of the game. By facing the titular Metroids on their own turf, that would signify a climax to the story and interesting progression. Adam, who is absolutely not controlling or abusive in any way, explains that the Metroids would not have been engineered with their standard weakness to cold and most likely would be immune to Samus's ice beam.
Yes, the Metroids “most likely” can't be frozen. It's not conclusive or anything and Adam successfully freezing one of the Metroids literally seconds ago is “presumably” because it was in a larval stage. So ignoring the evidence right in front of him, Adam insists that the new breed of 'Troid is completely freeze-proof. If that's true, that's where our heroine is forced to overcome adversity, gain a new powerup, and save the day, right? That's what happens in video games, after all.
If you believe that, you haven't been reading any of this. Adam tells Samus to go do something else, locks himself in Sector Zero, and jettisons it into space where it then explodes. All the Metroids are destroyed along with Adam and the crowd goes mild. During this time, Samus limps over to the locked door, bangs and cries on it, and misses her chance to actually beat the last level of the game herself. Game over.
Well... not quite yet. For everyone's sake I omitted some nonsense info dumping about how the researchers on the station were controlling and interfacing with the Metroids they were breeding. Basically, it's the same old story about an AI that disagreed with its creators and started killing them, only this one did it using space pirates she could apparently dominate and not just the Metroids she was specifically created to control? I don't know either. It doesn't matter. Just know that there's a biological AI lady in this mess of plot too.
After a showdown with a queen Metroid (the closest thing to an actual final boss), Samus has to track down that rogue AI in a young woman's clothing who is named MB. If you recognize those initials as “Mother Brain”, the final boss of both Metroid and Super Metroid, then you win absolutely nothing because the writing in Other M is so ham-handed you could eat it for Christmas dinner. MB is said to stand for Melissa Bergman, signifying that the AI is the adopted daughter of Madeline Bergman, one of the scientists on the ship.
Naturally, Madeline wants to protect Melissa and yadda, yadda, yadda, you've seen all this done better and before somewhere else. Samus eventually finds herself fighting off swarms of AI summoned, alien mooks because Melissa wants to protect herself too. At a certain point during the fight, the player is expected to just hover their aiming reticle over MB and that ends the game. Madeline yells for you to stop, shoots MB with a freeze ray to prevent her from fighting, and then a bunch of military guys pop out of nowhere and gun down Madeline's beloved AI. Samus doesn't even get to pull the trigger. The final boss for her is Space Bug #18 and the day is saved by Galactic Federation Guy #4. Fade to black and roll the credits. You can have a bonus segment of Samus racing against the self destruct protocol to collect Adam's helmet if you really want to remember Yoshi Sakamoto's self insert character that badly. All in all, our famed heroine piddled around on a space station and accomplished exactly nothing.
In short, while the whole game is a disaster, the real reason Other M is remembered as such a foul blight comes down to two points. One is that such an initially strong, independent, female character as Samus Aran is reduced to a hapless mess at the beck and call of a man who has no official authority over her and the other is that, despite being the protagonist, Samus doesn't actually do anything for herself. Adam gives her permission to use her own equipment, Adam destroys the Metroid threat, Anthony saves her life from an adversary she's beaten multiple times before, and a squadron of nameless soldiers kill the final boss. This means that, by association, the player doesn't really get to do anything meaningful either. The only sense of accomplishment anyone can derive from Metroid: Other M is making a video game that isn't it.