So, Metroid: Other M has had some time to simmer in the public, giving us a chance to see if the panic over it's initial critical response was a little too hasty - or too forgiving, depending on who you ask. There's no denying that changes were made to the formula, whether for the better or not, I guess that depends on what exactly you wanted to get out of it, but for the most-part, things are just sort of different, but in a way that suits the kind of game Other M turned out to be.
One point that seems to have taken a great deal of criticism is that, in contrast to other Metroid games, where you start off fairly underpowered and find new weapons and abilities as you go, this time around, you start the game off with all your cool upgrades already equipped, but are not allowed to use any of them until you're given authorization to do so by a man named Adam Malkovich, your former commanding officer, and the guy who's actually in charge of the rescue mission around which the game revolves. I don't want to go into too many details, for fear of spoiling some of the events, but I will say that, at best, it's no less ridiculous than introducing some random plot contrivance to have Samus lose all her gear yet again, at worst, it's fairly clumsy and introduces some strange holes into the already shaky plot, potentially calling into question whether or not Malkovich is fit to lead a dance, let alone a rescue, but the points where any of this matter are few and far between, and the majority of the game is spent running around in different environments teeming with otherworldly atmosphere, exploring, shooting space bugs, finding hidden trinkets, and making mental notes of places you'd probably like to re-visit once you're authorized to use this thing or that, things that should all feel pretty familiar to fans of the series.
In the name of full disclosure, I will admit that, as of writing this, I've not yet completed Other M. These impressions are based on the first seven hours of the game, give or take, so any if any major event happens in the late game that contradicts this post, I haven't seen it yet, but I feel I'm far enough into the game to at least say with confidence that, in the moment to moment action, at least, Other M does play a lot like a proper Metroid game, perhaps with more hand-holding than usual, but not enough to ruin it.
Now, I don't want to end up being one of those guys, the ones who speak of games only from mechanical terms, and treat everything else as if it were mere window dressing, nor am I here to imply that it's somehow shallow to complain about Malkovich. I can relate, there's a blatant disconnect that happens in the course of playing the game where you are, at times, encumbered by circumstance, and it'd be a whole lot easier if only you were able to equip, for instance, the Varia Suit, and simply being told you're not allowed. This pill is a little easier to swallow in most other Metroid games because, simply put, you don't yet have the Varia Suit to equip. In Other M, you do, you have all your equipment right at the start, you just need permission to use it, and it's frustrating to think that, in the moment, your life is actively being made more difficult than need be because some guy, sitting in the relative safety of the comm room, doesn't see fit to give you the green light just yet, no real explanation why. It's like dealing with a district manager who just won't listen to reason.
The other problem is that it's taking a sense of agency away from the player, and it does this pretty much right from the get-go. This rescue mission you've become mixed up with... this is not Samus' mission, it's Adam's, Samus just happened upon a distress call and wound up tagging along. As such, Adam barks the orders, and you're expected to follow them, which is in sharp contrast to what Metroid fans are used to. Metroid games are most known for letting you have the run of the place, hampered only by the fact that most areas are not accessible until you've picked up some new power that let's you jump higher, for instance, or blast through a particular type of wall. By leaving these powers lying around, and letting the player freely stumble through the world and happen upon them, the games in this series were able to make the players feel in control of their environments in a way they not many other console games at the time would allow.
I say, "feel in control" mind you, because at least part of it was an elaborate trick.
Super Metroid, one of the most lauded games of it's generation, gets a great deal of praise for "dropping you in the world and letting you find your way through." While I certainly agree that the game deserves a great deal of praise, I'd like to examine this a little further. Anyone familiar with the game will recall, once the prologue ends and you land on Zebes, you immediately have the "choice" to go either to the left or to the right... except that the path to the right is a dead end. You can hang around as long as you like, but eventually, in order for the game to progress, your only real choice is to go to the left, where you hit another dead end and the only way is down. As you go down, you pass a series of doors and passages that you are free to examine, but are ultimately inaccessible until you've collected either the morph ball or the missiles. After you enter the room where you'd fought Mother Brain in the first game - and this is improtant - the door behind you locks, and won't open again until you've fought cleared the room of space pirates, and said pirates won't show up until you've collected both the morph ball and at least one missile tank. Once you're back out, you can now reach another handful of rooms, but hit another brick wall until you collect the bomb powerup.
Now, it's obviously not true to say that there was no freedom of movement in Super Metroid, because there were tons of optional side paths that frequently yielded useful items, but as far as the ones that were necessary to get from the start of the game to the end, they were spread out in a very deliberate fashion, each one giving you only a little more access to the world; just enough to reach the next upgrade, which gives you a little more access still, and so it goes. By crafting the game in this manner, the designers were able ensure that the player ends up having a fairly guided experience, stumbling from one set piece to the next at exactly the point in the narrative that the developers had planned for you to do so; but at the same time, you feel as though you're in complete control of the experience.
(That is, unless you're sequence breaking, but that's a consequence of people deliberately outsmarting the game design, and not very likely to happen by accident just from exploring. Either way, it's a whole other discussion.)
The point I want to make is this: In Super Metroid, you gain each new ability at exactly the point in the narrative when the designers wanted you to have it, and you're always as free to move about or as trapped as they'd planned for you in that particular instance. Other M works more or less the same way; you make your way through the world, and gain access to each new ability and weapon upgrade at exactly the moment when you're meant to have it. The only real difference is that there isn't some out of the way room at the end of a hallway just after a boss fight, where sits a Chozo statue holding powerup in an orb. Instead, you'll just get a message informing you that you're authorized to switch it on.
The difference is far from trivial, there's an agency that's being taken away, and even if that agency was an illusion to begin with, there's something psychologically powerful about it. When you walk up to that Chozo stature, technically speaking, you're being granted permission by the developers to use that new ability, but the actual act of picking up the orb is left in your control, and theoretically, you can choose to leave it there, if you want. By taking that simple agency out of the formula, you end up feeling slightly less in control of what's going on, which makes you feel that much less powerful. Also, you don't feel as self-sufficient. You now need to rely on this outside force to provide you with the tools that you need to survive, when you need them. You might get to decide where Samus goes from one moment to the next, but Adam remains the gatekeeper.
But it's worth remembering, this is a video game, it was designed to be challenging, but also to be entirely surmountable. Adam Malkovich's failure to stay on the ball might make the game more difficult from time to time, but if you just trust that he, and by extension, the designers, will never deliberately put you in an unwinnable situation, I think you'll find that the game still feels very much like a proper Metroid game.