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Yes it could have used more opened level design and more exploration I agree. I think the idea was to make it feel more like Fusion than Metroid 3 but what passed as being forgiveable by the fans on a portable game, could not be overlooked as easily with a 3d console game. I think fans already did not like Fusion's more limited map that much but simply didn't blame the game because of their understanding that it was on a portable system. It is possible that Nintendo thought it was okay to make a smaller game because nobody really complained with Fusion, but it was a mistake to think they could do the same on a console game.
As for the story, I'm a die hard metroid fan and I can tell you I enjoyed Other M's narrative a lot more than the Prime triolgy which don't offer much in that regard. What the Prime games are really good at is fleshing out the background and the universe but that's different from a proper narrative. I thought Other M delivered a solid story with an interesting character development and pretty original and surprising (on Ninty's part) depiction of a female character.