I Stand On My Soapbox: It Wasn’t Team Ninja’s Fault

I Stand On My Soapbox is a series of editorials that cover more specific topics in the games industry and community. These articles are a little more extreme than normal editorials published here, and could just degenerate to outright ranting. Have fun and enjoy the show!

Okay, I’m not going to beat around the bush here. This is about Metroid: Other M, the one game many consider the only bad game in the Metroid canon. When it was released, it set the entire Nintendo, and gaming, world on fire, and for all the wrong reasons. Many did not like the submissive portrayal of Nintendo’s intergalactic bounty hunter, Samus Aran, in this this game. From the trailers and gamplay footage preceding the release, this looked to be Nintendo biggest game yet, and they would be teaming up with Tecmo’s Team Ninja (from Dead or Alive and Ninja Gaiden fame) to make this happen. A lot of gamers were anticipating this game. But once it was released, the flame wars ensued. You had people defending the game, berating it, wanting Team Ninja and Tecmo to burn in hell, etc. Much of the derision came from how poorly written the story of the game was and how much of a black eye it gave the Metroid franchise. Gamers had their reasons to dislike the story, and I’m not here to defend Metroid Other M. However if there’s one thing that was wrong with the story, it’s that this was, in no way, Team Ninja’s fault.

I can sorta see why people were quick to blame Team Ninja. I mean, these are the same guys that were rumored to have a separate engine for breasts physics. And their women, while sexy, had the personality of a baked potato in porn. Of course they would apply their visual expertise to how Samus looked. But some thought they also gave her the vacant ghost town personality similar to the women in the DOA games. But that was not the case. There were two things Team Ninja was responsible for: The in-game models, and gameplay and programming. D-Rockets did the cutscenes. There was only one person at Team Ninja that was responsible for the storyline, and it was Yosuke Hayashi. But his role was minimal at best. The real person who did the majority of the storyline was none other than the other main man.

Nintendo’s Yoshio Sakamoto, the one that’s been with Metroid since the first game on the NES, was the one that wrote the story. He is credited with producing, directing, and writing the story of Metroid: Other M. Team Ninja’s Hayashi is also credited as producer and director, however the Team says that the story to Other M was all Sakamoto’s ideas. In an unrelated interview with G4 (it was about Ninja Gaiden 3), Hayashi says, “The story for Other M was definitely the product of Mr. Sakamoto at Nintendo. We definitely worked with them on the project, but that was all him.” Basically, Team Ninja was simply the messenger of the story. Sakamoto made the story, and Team Ninja (and D-Rockets) put visuals to it.

It’s pretty sad too that Sakamoto’s storytelling skills slipped really badly here. He was at his best when he told a story with no words. But even with narrative heavy entries like Metroid Fusion, it was still a very good story. But with Other M, he started suffering from George Lucas syndrome. While he was not doing the visuals himself, he seemed to write scenarios that would look good on-screen and forgot to give substance to it. Along with that, he seemed to have tried too hard in trying to make Samus more human. If anything, Fusion accomplished that goal exceptionally. He should’ve tried that approach again, but in cranking it up to 11, he overshot his goal and created something less Star Trek and more Lifetime movie.

Now I know what you’re thinking. “It’s stupid that Samus has all her powers and can’t use them. She has to be authorized to use ’em. You said Team Ninja did the gameplay. Well here’s something dumb they did!” Being authorized to use items was a product of the story, a story Sakamoto wrote! If things were different, we’d probably not have any of that authorization bull in the game. Team Ninja could’ve reasoned with Sakamoto and said that they would’ve done the gaining of items differently. In hindsight, they probably should’ve, but back then it was still assumed that the story was in good hands. Plus, this is Sakamoto’s baby. They probably weren’t going to be fighting him on a franchise he helped make.

In the end, it’s probably best Sakamoto lays off the Metroid bandwagon for a long bit. As for Team Ninja, Nintendo should certainly collaborate with them again. Some may not like some of the choices Team Ninja made with the gamplay, but it was a riveting experience when actually playing the game. Hell, Nintendo teamed up with Tecmo (now Koei Tecmo) to make Pokemon Conquest, and it’s a great SRPG with Pokemon in it. Post Other M, Nintendo still has a healthy relationship with Tecmo and Team Ninja. So here’s to another collab with Nintendo and Team Ninja!

…Just don’t let Sakamoto write another story for a while. He clearly needs a rest.

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