Other M: Connected Alone

Once upon a time I'd intended to cover how outrageous Metroid: Other M in terms of disrespecting prior Metroid games and Samus' prior characterization. Then I found that plenty of other people had covered the issues with much more clarity than I was liable to ever bring to the table.

So instead this post is about the more mechanical failings of Other M's storytelling; the fact is, even if you entirely ignore Other M's disrespect of prior canon, it's still a very bad and badly-told story.

Let's start with...

Evil Furby Ridley

The player's first couple of sightings of Evil Furby Ridley are pretty clearly imagined as innocuous-seeming clever foreshadowing.

And, if Other M were a movie, this might even have been true.

But it's not. It's a video game, and you cannot tell your story as if it's a movie in that context.

In this case, the key issue is that the gameplay stops so a cinema can kick in. Said cinema has two focal points: Samus' monologue, and Evil Furby Ridley. If this were a movie, Evil Furby Ridley would come across as something visually interesting to focus on while Samus monologues, with the twist that it's actually a baby version of Ridley only coming later. But since this is a video game, that's wholly unnecessary; you can have Samus monologue right over gameplay to achieve that result.

Which means it's really obvious that Evil Furby Ridley has to be important somehow. If Samus' monologue were the only important part of the scene, she'd be monologuing over gameplay, and there's nothing else getting attention in the cinematic.

The net result is that a sequence that would probably have worked pretty decently in a movie is incredibly transparent in a video game.

The worst thing is this could be fixed effortlessly. Just strip out the cinematic aspect! Have Evil Furby Ridley as an NPC critter munching on a corpse in the game space and have Samus' monologue kick in once Evil Furby Ridley and the corpse are visible to the player, and there you go. The game would maybe need to put in some effort into justifying you not instantly killing Evil Furby Ridley -maybe he dashes off into the underbrush with a shriek if shot- but by not dumping resources into a high-fidelity cinematic there's probably more than enough freed up to handle any such details.

This stuck with me vividly because it's placed rather early in the game, and yet it's a very fundamental storytelling fail.

Fusion? What's That?

A very deep problem with Other M's story is that it's fundamentally a retread of Fusion's story: Samus attempts to help a space facility where things have gone very wrong, over the course of the game she discovers to her surprise (Plus anger in Fusion and horror in Other M) that the Galactic Federation is secretly developing bioweapons including using Metroids, and Adam is there for her to initially have a stand-offish relationship with and then ultimately come to appreciate him.

This is a problem coming and going: if you've already played Fusion, Other M's central plot isn't surprising, negatively impacting the audience's expected experience. The plot wants you to be right there alongside Samus, shocked and horrified that the Galactic Federation would do the things they've done etc etc, but most players probably already knew about all that when they played Other M. (Or watched a Let's Play or whatever) This is just business as usual, not a shocking twist.

On the flipside, Other M being a part of the continuity renders Fusion into nonsense: in Fusion Samus' reaction to learning the Federation was trying to use Metroids as weapons of war and that they want to capture the SA-X for even more such weapons shouldn't be shock and surprise, it should be something closer to 'Again? Really?' She should recognize Nightmare's silhouette when it's running around the background of ARC, and when computer-Adam is explaining about it she really ought to be cutting his explanation short with 'I know. I've fought it once before'. She should be outright suspicious from the word go of the Biologics ship's purpose.

And then there's little details, like how in Fusion Samus talks about Adam as if it's been years and years since she last saw him, yet Other M follows closely on Super Metroid's events and so does Fusion. With Other M as part of the continuity, that makes it, what, maybe a year since the last time she saw Adam when Fusion's events start? If this was the only such issue with Other M it would nag at me but I'd probably be able to leave it alone, but as is it's just one more example of Other M botching things by being a Fusion retread.

And in the end Other M is far worse in execution than Fusion is. Even if you're willing to treat Fusion as discontinuity and look right past Other M's disrespectfulness of all that came before, it's rather difficult to get past how Fusion did the same concept better.

The idea of the Galactic Federation trying to weaponize the X gets to you viscerally: this is a species of bodyjacking shapeshifters whose population grows explosively if there's no Metroids around to hunt them and which are clearly stealing human knowledge and intelligence as they go. It's pretty much unimaginable this would go anything but really, really bad places. Other M's equivalent to this is... somehow making an android version of Mother Brain to control some Space Pirates. Who cares? Space Pirates are not some unstoppable threat that scythes through Galactic Federation troops like wheat, and Other M introducing silly super-tough Space Pirates as postgame miniboss enemies doesn't change the issue. At my most generous, this is a a case of Sci-fi Writers Have No Sense Of Scale, a failure to recognize that a single space station of Space Pirates is just fundamentally too small a force to doom the Earth or whatever because it's like expecting a dozen soldiers to single-handedly overrun an entire modern country. I don't care how elite and tough and so on they are, it's not happening. More probably, this is a complete failure to recognize that the X worked as such a threat because their fundamental nature changes the rules of how these things work, and the Space Pirates just flat-out fail to meet that kind of criteria.

Other M would still have a bad and badly-told story even if Fusion didn't exist for it to be a retread of -though this touches on the paradoxical point that a big part of the point of Other M is to expand on a character first properly introduced to the main Metroid continuity by Fusion- but it's one of the most blatant this-should-not-have-happened missteps in the story's design. You can get away with telling the same story twice in different continuities. You can even get away with it in the same continuity so long as your fundamental story isn't centered around a Shocking Twist. But it's just blatantly a mistake to have a story centered on a Shocking Twist (Gasp! The Federation Isn't All Sunshine And Rainbows!) and then tell that story again within the same continuity.

D'awwww Let's Stick Needles In It

This is operating at the edge of the 'disrespect for prior canon' issue, but it bears mentioning: the idea that Samus has a strong motherly feeling toward the baby Metroid from Super Metroid is ridiculous.

Yes, Samus couldn't bring herself to terminate a newborn innocent that instantly latched onto her as its parent. She's not made entirely of ice with a heart of stone, this is true.

However, her very first action in Super Metroid was to drag the baby Metroid off to a space station, drop it off with a bunch of scientists, stick around just long enough to hear about how it's got miraculous properties above and beyond the murderous ones, and then leave it to be experimented on by anonymous scientists who are quite clearly interested in it for the scientific value and don't really care about it as a living being.

It's fair to guess that something resembling a motherly instinct stayed her hand the first time, but to extend that into her having actual feelings for the baby Metroid in the way Other M tries to do is to completely ignore the larger context of how she interacted with it. She didn't raise the thing for a few weeks and then decide she wasn't suited to the job or something. She abandoned it to be experimented on, and quite promptly.

If she'd done this to a human child, I imagine players would've been rather appalled. So why does Other M think doing it to an alien child is somehow evidence of maternal love?

Authorize It

Much has been said about how ridiculous Authorization is, but something I've never seen anyone outright spell out is that the reason this is an issue is because Authorization is an attempt to increase immersion. It's meant to be an explanation for why Samus experiences the usual Metroid progression of starting with nearly nothing and ending with everything, without resorting to how eg Metroid Prime has her suffer a convenient accident that busts up her equipment, and then Echoes has her equipment stolen, and then Corruption sort of has it implied the process of her suit being converted to a PED Suit took away a lot of functionality, and Fusion of course has her missing everything because it was surgically removed. You can get away with that occasionally, but having every mission of Samus' conveniently lose all her stuff is in some ways even worse than just having this aspect of gameplay be entirely ignored by the story.

But Authorization ends up so much worse of an explanation.

There's all the gear Samus has no reason to disable: her Varia and Gravity Suits can't possibly get anyone else hurt. There's the issue that immediately suborning herself to Adam in this regard is bizarre and quite inexplicable. (Unless you take the hopefully-accidentally subtext of their relationship being abusive seriously...) The problematic implications when Adam doesn't tell Samus to activate her Varia Suit until several minutes into her wandering around through fields of lava; he's either a truly awful person (Consistent with the rest of his behavior, unfortunately) or he was, what, on a bathroom break? If the latter, why wasn't he more shocked and appalled when he discovered Samus hadn't activated it on her own? (ie coming back to the 'Adam kind of has to be an awful person' issue)

And then the game ends up having to quietly gloss over the Energy Tanks, the Pieces of Heart, the charge accelerators, and the Missile Expansions anyway. Sure, Samus has (almost) all her unique gear at the start of the game, but given that Mother Brain will automatically kill you in Super Metroid if you've got less than 300 Energy there's an actual explicit minimum number of Energy Tanks she ought to have at the start of Other M. Most of the series' transitions you can sort of suspend disbelief on the exact value of the expansion collectibles, as it's theoretically possible to beat the game with more or less nothing collected, but a direct sequel to Super Metroid doesn't have that implied point available.

So instead of improving immersion, Authorization kicks you right out of suspension of disbelief pretty much from the word go. This isn't even getting into problems like 'Samus shouldn't had her Gravity Suit from Super Metroid prior to disabling her stuff for Adam's benefit'. (You can kind of gloss over this since Other M's approach to Gravity is just a purple glow on the shoulders when in a relevant area, but that's a different suspension-of-disbelief issue: why has Samus' suit magically changed its appearance/mechanics in such a drastic manner?)

On Noes! That Villain I've Killed Several Times Already!

A lot has been said about how Samus' reaction to Ridley is ridiculous on the face of it, but a couple of problems in particular that I've not seen pointed out:

Firstly, even considering that Yoshio Sakamoto indicated he wasn't treating the Prime games as canon to Other M, Other M's place as a sequel to Super Metroid demands Samus has fought Ridley three times before, and killed him two of those times. Samus' reaction would obviously make a bit of sense in the events of Zero Mission, where she's first met the monster that killed her family etc etc in that Japan-only comic (Keeping in mind the Metroid series has always sold far better in America than in Japan) you've possibly never even heard of... but Zero Mission makes no attempt to suggest any such reaction. But okay, it would also make sense for Samus to react with shock and horror when her nemesis she swore she'd killed came back from the dead -except that should've happened in Super Metroid, if it were to happen at all.

If Other M wanted this reaction, it needed to be placed earlier in the timeline, full stop. Which is a bit of a recurring issue with the game, actually, that it really would make far more sense as occurring after the original Metroid rather than after Super Metroid, such as eg the Adam timeline issue I brought up before.

But the other, deeper problem is the connectivity issue. I said earlier that Other M is a terrible story if you gloss over the disrespect of prior canon etc, and part of why is that Other M doesn't tell a standalone story. If Other M were the only game in the series one were familiar with, Samus' reaction wouldn't be problematic on the level of 'why didn't she react this way in a prior game' -but it would instead be 'who is this and why is she reacting this way?'

Instead, Other M tells a paradoxical story that demands you're familiar with prior canon to follow some very basic elements of the plot at all -such as the question of what the heck Mother Brain is for all this 'MB' business to even be about- and then punishes you for that knowledge by presenting events that are obviously irreconcilable with the prior events that you need to be familiar with to follow the story at all.

The manga I linked to is another example of this problem: the entire idea of Samus being traumatized by Ridley was introduced by that manga... as a plot thread ending in her getting over it within the manga's timeframe. So to follow why Samus is traumatized at all, you have to have read this manga, but if you have read this manga than you know that Samus already got over said trauma years ago and Samus' reaction is inconsistent nonsense.

So part of why the disrespect is so much of a problem is that Other M's plot can't be followed without prior familiarity with the series. There's plenty of reboots, movie versions, and sundry other 'let's take what already exists and make a very different version of it' where plenty of existing fans hate the new version for failing to align with the old version on key points, but where the new version is able to stand on its own two feet and be enjoyed in its own right if you are unfamiliar with what came before, or are but didn't like it, or simply don't mind a reboot/adaptation/whatever being radically different from the original material.

Other M is not such a thing: it's only comprehensible if you love what came before, and then it's utterly terrible in that context.


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