Patience is a virtue, that saying evokes a lot of thought. Waiting for anything can be painful whether it be food, a sequel to a movie, another season of a TV show, or in today’s case the continuation of a franchise many thought were dead. This past E3 Nintendo dropped news that two new Metroid games would be coming out in the future. The first being Metroid Prime 4 for the Nintendo Switch and Metroid Samus Returns for the 3DS. With the latter being the first 2D installment in the franchise in a very long time. With those unfamiliar to the Metroid series it follows the adventure of a space bounty hunter Samus Aran who is tasked with exploring planets and stopping an intergalactic threat. This game specifically is Nintendo’s remake of Metroid II: The Return of Samus which was released on the gameboy in 1991. Much like the original Metroid, The Return of Samus is incredibly dated with stiff controls, black and white graphics which wasn’t the game’s fault but the hardware it was released on, and it being a very linear adventure compared to it’s predecessors. So a remake was needed although this title wasn’t made by Nintendo instead reign of development was handed over to MercurySteam a spanish studio responsible for the Castlevania Lords of Shadows series. A game series I have yet to play and have no opinion on. Before I begin I know Nintendo last year sent a DMCA for a fan project of Metroid II called Another Metroid Two Remake or AM2R for short. To be frank I never got around to playing AM2R mainly because I lack the setup to do so. So I won’t be comparing AM2R to Metroid Samus Returns at all instead I’m evaluating the game on it’s own accord. So let’s dive in shall we?
This may come off as an unpopular opinion to some but I’m not a fan of the Metroid storyline. Certainly Metroid is a more story driven adventure compared to Nintendo’s other franchises but when it comes to a lot of Nintendo games I’m more interested in the gameplay rather than the narrative. However, while I don’t find the narrative incredibly engaging I do understand that this game sets up a lot of the plot elements for future releases. Basically, the story is Samus is sent by the Galactic Federation to search the Metroid homeworld SR388 to search for any remaining GF tropes and eradicate the entire Metroid species all 39 of them. A very simple plot which considering the original game was released on the Gameboy it makes sense. It’s very easy to understand what you the player is supposed to do and it’s not to complex for anyone to follow. What really makes it stand out is that the story is told through the gameplay and cutscenes. After the beginning text crawl much like Super Metroid it doesn’t break the pace by telling you where to go or inform you with unneeded detail. It plops you into the world for you to be immersed in it. They knew no dialogue was needed and that is something I can appreciate.
This should sound familiar to those who have played any Metroid game before it. The game is a 2.5D sidescrolling adventure game where exploration is key. Not only to hunt down the existing Metroid threat and their evolutions but also to upgrade Samus herself. If I were to compare Samus to how she controls, her movability is similar to Metroid Fusion. She goes at one speed throughout the entire game, can’t wall jump, and she can grab ledges, and in this game she can melee counter enemies. While I’m on the comparison of Fusion this game is about as straightforward, as far as I know sequence breaking the game is non existent here. Whenever I found a path where I could bomb jump to I was greeted with a sealed door or maybe one or two power ups that really just increased my aeon gage or missiles.
While I believe the game can be speedrun getting anything under an hour seems unlikely. True that is unfortunate at least the level design of the game is well done. It is based around Samus’s upgrades she gets throughout her adventure on SR388. I never thought that the game was poorly designed in a way that didn’t complement Samus’s movement or her utilities. Although, if I’m being honest I feel like the game could’ve strayed a bit off the beaten path. To those who played Metroid Zero Mission or Super Metroid it was easy to do things out of order. Whether it was to save time by skipping the long beam in Zero Mission or getting the super missiles early in Super Metroid those quirks make those games really interesting. Not only to play but, to see different routes others take. While I don’t mind a much more straightforward adventure I also want to do things a bit off the beaten path even Fusion had that to some extent.
Granted I’m not a game designer so I’m not sure how difficult it would be to make an already linear adventure have more exploration options while also limiting the player to what they can access. Still I think there could’ve been a fine line between the two but, as it’s stands having that limited is disappointing. However, it is by no means is a deal breaker. Samus’s arsenal of powers that she can procure throughout the game is about the same from Zero Mission and Super Metroid. Minus the speed boosters you have all the familiar upgrades from previous games ranging from the morph ball to the screwattack. To my surprise Samus Returns uses them all really well all of them see some use in order to solve puzzles and getting upgrades.
One of my favorite puzzles in the game is where there’s two bombable walls on different sides, a fake floor on the bottom, and a super missile block stopping anyone from obtaining it. I guess it could be considered a reflex and not more of a puzzle in the traditional sense but I found it to be a head scratcher on what to do so I tried using one of my aeon abilities. Which are this game’s gimmick basically each aeon ability has different uses. One causes more of the map to be shown with showing areas that can be breakable, another lets you shoot your beam at a rapid rate, another that can up your defenses, and one that can slow down time. What I ended up doing was when both bomb blocks were broken I would slow down time jump and break the super missile block and spider ball my way up their. I found that puzzle to be satisfying and a nice test of all the abilities I had.
Although the game does stumble with a few areas. One would be how powerbomb jumping works. Late into the game Samus obtains the powerbombs and the game just tells you the basics and that’s it. It doesn’t tell you that in spider ball mode placing a powerbomb down will cause you to skyrocket fast to another side of the room. That is incredibly cryptic and unless you’re experimenting there’s nothing logical about finding this out and to most players getting past the red spikes which are plastered in specific areas to obtain upgrades would seem impossible. I think a little text telling you can do that would’ve been appreciated. It’s not detrimental since it is only for upgrades and if you aren’t going for a hundred percent it’s not a big deal. Another issue is that I never found much use for some of the aeon abilities. In terms of the Scan Pulse and Lightning Armor I used those quite frequently throughout my playthrough those helped with progression through difficult areas. However, when it came down to the beam burst or phase drift I barely used them. I guess I used the Phase Drift a tad bit more but those were to nab collectables and to get across certain terrain without falling off. Yet, the Beam Burst I found little use for, it ate up too much energy and I generally found that my regular beam weapon was good enough and it became useless once the screwattack was apart of my arsenal.
I think the game could’ve made better use of the aeon abilities as a whole, make them an extension of Samus much like the weapons she possesses. If the game utilized these a bit more whether it be through the Metroid threat or specific puzzles in order to nab items then I think it would be an excellent new addition. For example, there are a few roadblocks halting Samus where the beam burst is needed but I don’t find they used it that much. If more puzzles were used for them it would’ve benefitted the gameplay a bit more and make the aeon abilities feel fleshed out rather than a cobbled idea. As it stands their superfluous I ignored them or forgot they were an option to use. Which isn’t the idea the devs had in mind.
I did however, find the new melee counter was very useful for combat. Before an enemy can strike you can counterattack by hitting the X button at a specific time it can daze the enemy leaving them wide open for an attack. While this is cool and can cut down on bosses it creates more of a pace breaker making it more stop and go rather then a nice consistent flow. If say the combat was more limited in how many times you could use the melee counter I think that would make the combat pace less jarring. As it stands it’s a useful tool and one that I used throughout the entire game but that lingering thought of this could’ve been designed a bit better could’ve elevated a lot of the early segments of the game.
As for the entire control scheme of the game it’s fine to an extent. I played this on the original 3DS model so I experienced a lot of hand crampage after long uses this applied a lot when utilizing the spider ball. You have to hold down the L button to use it any time you let go of L you go out of spider ball mode back into morph ball. It’s really awkward and the funny thing is this could’ve been avoided if say you only needed to press the L button to activate it and press the L button again to deactivate spider ball mode. That would’ve eased up on the amount of hand cramps I had throughout the entire journey. I’m also not a fan that the control scheme is not customizable. While the current setup is fine I think having more options would’ve been appreciated that also extents to using the d pad for movement. I do not have any problems using the circle pad. On it’s own the circle pad is good enough to move, but considering I don’t have full analog control with it I think having the option to use the d pad would’ve been a thoughtful inclusion to make the game more accessible to those who aren’t a fan of using the circle pad for 2D games. I generally found myself wanting to use the d pad at certain intervals mainly when it came to going into morphball mode. To be fair there are two ways of activating it one would be to press down twice on the circle pad or crouch down with the circle pad and touch the bottom screen to go into morphball mode. While yes these work they feel awkward and not intuitive in the heat of battle. Truth be told it was something I got used to overtime but I feel some of those frustrations could’ve been elevated if a customizable control layout was implemented as an option. It’d be an easy one as well since all you’d have to do is give the player 8 directional movement with the 360 degree aiming for the d pad and to switch aeon abilities with the touch screen. Making it feel much more natural to move around in return having slightly better control of Samus in the heat of battle. Still the default controls aren’t a deal breaker it’s just disappointing that the player isn’t given much in terms of options.
As for the structure of going from area to area it’s okay although defeating the metroids tend to get repetitive after a while. Even with different forms once a pattern is found it’s easy to take them out. That’s why I suggested that new strategies be applied to Metroids as the game progresses to at least shake up the foundation. For the most part it’s the same rinse and repeat of hunting them down, killing them, and moving to the next part of the area to do the same thing. It’s like that for the fourteen hours it took me to beat this game. While they do sprinkle in other bosses I think more of them would’ve been appreciated. Still while it may seem simple on paper this game does not fool around. Metroid Samus Returns has to be the hardest installment in the franchise to date. This game will test your reflexes, how well you use your weapons to the best of your abilities, and how you traverse through the depths of SR388. I died a lot in this game but I never found the deaths to be cheap. It was either due to me being reckless or not paying attention to an evolved Metroid attack and getting my ass handed to me because of that. The difficulty reminded me a lot about what I liked about Super Metroid it challenged the player to the best of it’s abilities and never held your hand. If you wanted to get past a certain section you had to get good. Otherwise you’ll be stuck in that same place for a long time. Which I like it makes me want to get better and makes me want to continue playing which is always a plus for any game.
Graphics & Sound
On the presentation side of things Metroid Samus Returns is a wonderful looking game for the 3DS. The world of SR388 comes alive with this remake compared to the original. I know comparing a 1991 Gameboy title a system that was less powerful than the 3DS isn’t an apt comparison but still this game I find pushes the systems hardware to it’s limits. Creating a rich and vibrant world that comes alive. Also the 3D is well done in this game, backgrounds pop and manages to convey a level of depth I haven’t seen done in a 3DS game for a long time. Although at times I did have to turn off the 3D effect if not for the eyesores but at times I found it to be distracting from the gameplay. The soundtrack is also really solid as well it uses a lot of remixes from old Metroid titles even Prime. It still manages to create a wonderful atmosphere that would be on the same level as Super Metroid.
Metroid hasn’t been a franchise I grew up with the first game in the series I ever played was Prime 3 for the Wii and since then I’ve been hooked. It made me want to try out the rest of the games like it and while I may have sucked at them I found them to be immensely enjoyable games and are all well designed and challenging. The wait for a new Metroid may have been a painful time for those hardcore fans but Samus returned. Sure it took an almost 10 year period for that to happen if we’re ignoring Other M. However, the wait was worth it while I don’t consider Metroid Samus Returns the best entry in the series it is still a solid game and one that is fun to pick up and play. Keep in mind though I don’t think this is a great starting point for those who are interested into getting into Metroid. I find that Samus Returns is more for those who have played at least a few Metroid games.For those wanting to jump in I recommend either Metroid Prime 3 Corruption or Fusion or Zero Mission to get introduced to the franchise. All of them are easy to understand and simple to pick up and play. I can’t say that Samus Returns is alienating but the difficulty may turn off those who aren’t used to the series. I would only recommend it to newcomers if they are really curious and want a good challenge. As for fans of the franchise you know what you’re getting yourself into and odds are you’ve already bought the game. Still for those on the fence it’s a worthy purchase and worth adding into your 3DS library.
Final Verdict: Buy it