The Metroid franchise and Samus Aran have had a hard time in the last decade. The last true Metroid game was Other M on Nintendo Wii, which was (perhaps a little unfairly) much maligned by critics and fans alike. All we have been graced with since was an abominable not-Metroid game that barely passed as a game, let alone one of a fantastic pedigree of a franchise as this. So, imagine the joy of the fans when Nintendo unveiled (a loose usage) not one but two Metroid games. The first being Metroid Prime 4, of which we have seen nothing, the other being an initially fantastic-looking remake of Metroid 2: Return of Samus. With the latter of these now being released as Metroid: Samus Returns, and now that I’ve played through the game, how is it?
The story of Metroid: Samus Returns is one of those “tale as old as time” kind of things. A heroine, having defeated her nemesis that was using biological weapons, ventures to the planet that said biological originate from to commit planet-wide genocide to save the Universe. Throw in a hapless Galactic Federation, which sent in a group of soldiers to be slaughtered before Samus Aran went to do their job for them, and a liberal sprinkling of Metroids (the aforementioned bio-weapons) and you’ve got yourself a tale for the ages. I’m, of course, being facetious. The story is rarely the most important part of a Metroid title, but the story here is more than enough to ground the game in context and give the player a jump-off point to begin.
The game plays much alike previous Metroid titles in that you control Samus and run, jump and shoot your way through various locations of increasing difficulty whilst finding new abilities to unlock new routes and power-ups. So, expect the usual beam, ability and suit upgrades as they’re (almost) all here. So yes, you can sprint through the game wearing the Varia Suit and firing the Spazer beam everywhere. Another thing that is here and normal for Metroid, although not for the original Metroid 2, is the map and I’m very glad for it’s inclusion in this title. Exploration is made far more streamlined without sacrificing the spirit of discovering new areas and items. Furthermore, having the map on the bottom screen was a blessing for not getting lost, which was a common problem in the original Metroid 2.
However, the map isn’t the only new addition in this remake. The first, and most game-changing mechanics lie within the combat itself. Samus now has the ability to free-aim 360 degrees around herself, allowing for more precise targeting of foes and destructible objects, of which the only negative being that Samus must be stationary to activate it. This is where the other key combative ability comes in; the phenomenally implemented melee counter. Almost every enemy in the game will have a telegraphed charging attack that can be parried with the counter move to stun them giving a window to get in a few free shots or even a fatal shot for smaller enemies. What both of these add to the combat is make it more frenetic and strategic, giving the player a lot more agency in how they confront a lot of the enemy encounters.
Combat isn’t the only area in which Samus has received notable gameplay tweaks. The player can now acquire several Aeion abilities to augment the Chozo Power Suit. These perform various tasks, such as dramatically increasing your firepower, or giving you a temporary shield from damage. The introduction of these make it so that there are now new areas and routes that you can only traverse using one or more of these abilities. Also, the Aeion abilities often give other secondary benefits that can aid the player in other ways than just what their initial use is, such as the shield powering up the melee counter move.
That’s not to say that all is rosy in this remake; in fact, there are segments that have been added that feel a little forced in, if truth be told. One of these segments is in the form of one of the bosses. I won’t spoil anything about the boss, nor the lore surrounding it for anyone, but both instances encountering this particular enemy were deeply frustrating and negatively affected both the pacing and my personal enjoyment of the game in ways that I found hard to look past. These scenarios felt like pandering to a modern audience and, as such, felt out of place with the tone and atmosphere of the rest of the game. Not enough to ruin the game entirely, but definitely enough to stop it from being even close to perfect, or close to rivalling previous titles in the series.
Aesthetically, this game is a masterclass in great design. The world of SR388 has been lovingly and realistically rebuilt from the ground up and it looks beautiful. Samus’ character model looks detailed and unbelievably smoothly animated, the enemies are distinctive and well-designed too, but the locations truly outclass all of it. The sheer amount of detail in the areas of this game is utterly astounding; especially because in every location there’s always little creatures running around in the back or foreground, burrowing through the walls or just simply existing in view. It gives a really sense that Samus is exploring a real, living world and this is also aided by the phenomenal soundtrack. Every track, from the moody synths to the upbeat drum beats and the powerful boss encounter tracks drip with atmosphere and lend to creating a fully cohesive whole.
Metroid: Samus Returns is entirely worth the purchase; it’s a fantastically well-made game with a superb atmosphere and I simply could not put it down once I started playing. A few dodgy moments here or there aside, I could not recommend this title enough. Quite honestly one of the best games that can be bought on the Nintendo 3DS in my opinion (and about as far from tripe like Federation Force as could be – which is great news). Buy it.