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A venerable Nintendo franchise surprises -- with a flop.

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Well, it's finally happened. After 10 games and 24 years of unwavering quality, Nintendo's legendary Metroid franchise has hit its first stumbling block, and boy, is it a doozy. Metroid: Other M, the series' latest offering for the Wii, is a classic example of great vision undone by poor execution. The title tries hard to expand the boundaries of a classic series, only to end up floundering in mediocrity due to a couple of critical flaws.  

The first and most obvious problem lies in the game's courageous attempt to combine third-person platforming action with first-person shooting elements by having the player hold the controller either horizontally or vertically, to switch between viewpoints.

This is an interesting idea on paper, but the hardware can't quite pull it off: The Wii's finicky motion controls make aiming in first-person mode a chore, and changing control modes in the middle of a frantic battle is awkward and disorienting. Far too often I found my digitized self gazing idiotically at the ceiling while a monstrous lava beast roasted me alive, simply because I happened to flip the controller around with the end pointing to the top of my TV screen.

Storytelling, which admittedly has never been Nintendo or Team Ninja's forte, is the other big letdown. Again, the theory is good: a slightly darker-than-normal storyline that delves into bounty huntress Samus Aran's mysterious past. Sadly, Other M leans heavily on unskippable, uninteractive cutscenes and flashbacks, a lazy tactic that breaks up the flow of gameplay and leaves the player without any sense that they're controlling the action.

Worse, Samus herself is horrendously written, capable only of dry exposition and endless whining about the horrors of being female. Call me simplistic, but I happen to think the character was much more interesting as a stoic, unsexualized badass than as a weepy prima donna with severe daddy issues.

To be fair, underneath these two major flaws lies a competent, playable game. The platforming segments provide some simple jump-and-shoot fun, and while most of the boss-fights are pretty easy (the final encounter takes less than 30 seconds), they at least show flashes of creativity, with gigantic mutant fish leaping out of pools of magma and robots creating miniature black holes to absorb your projectiles. The graphics and sound are solid, and backtracking to look for power-ups can be challenging and rewarding. 

But in the end, Metroid: Other M can be classified only as a major disappointment to its venerable heritage. While there's nothing inherently wrong with wanting to move a franchise in a new direction, the addition of a wonky control scheme and some ham-fisted storytelling hardly qualifies as change for the better. Even for Metroid fanatics, this one's barely worth a rental.

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