Metroid fans have been waiting a long time for a comeback, and the 3DS release Metroid: Samus Returns is exactly what you were hoping it would be. More than a competent remake, it's an essential Metroid experience. Come inside for my full review!
Admittedly, I'm not the biggest Metroid fan. While I enjoyed the games when I was younger, it wasn't a franchise I followed like Mario or Zelda (to some degree). That said, even I've felt the pang of Samus' absence over the years. The last true Metroid game arrived with Metroid: Other M in 2010...which didn't get the best reviews. Since then, the serious has lain dormant and became something of a running joke at Nintendo's E3 presentations among gamers/fans.
This Summer changed things, though with the announcement of two new Metroid titles for fans to look forward to playing. The first of these, the aptly titled, Metroid: Samus Returns, arrives this week and fans should be excited.
Ostensibly, Samus Returns is a remake of the original GameBoy game, Metroid II, which was a direct follow up to Metroid on the NES and picks up the story. Samus Returns tells the story in the same way, loading everything up on the front end of the game with swanky new graphics. The alien Metroids are causing trouble again, so Samus is sent to their home planet, SR388, to take care of the problem once and for all...That's pretty much the story you're given. After that, you're set loose on the planet to explore and battle the monsters you encounter.
Don't Call It a Remake
Beyond the initial setup and overall story beats, Samus Returns is MUCH more than a simple graphics revamp. The game has been given a complete overhaul, integrating new controls, an entirely different map, and oodles of new features. In many ways, this feels like an entirely brand new Metroid game rather than a retread of what gamers played before.
The basics are the same, you have to beat a set number of Metroids in an area in order to get the poisonous fluid to drain out, which unlocks the next section of the game; sending you deeper into the planet. This time, however, when you defeat a Metroid, you collect their DNA to deposit in shrines. These idols tell you exactly how many you have to beat before unlocking the next area, and can even offer hints as to where those pesky aliens can be hiding. It’s a small addition, but makes your goals more clear than in the original.
Combat receives the biggest revamp as Samus can aim in all directions by holding down the 'L' button. This freezes her in place, but allows you to freely aim your weapon with the joystick. While this immobilizes you, giving enemies a chance to get you, it makes certain elements (hitting destructible blocks, and attacking from a greater distance) much easier and is a welcome addition.
The most notable addition to the gameplay is the inclusion of a melee button. Pressing ‘X’ has you swing your arm about, which can knock enemies back, but it’s key usage is all about blocks and counters.
Enemies don’t just amble about this time around, and when you come across them on the screen they will actively pursue you with lunging attacks and so forth. Right before they go in for a big attack, a sparkle (for lack of a better word) will appear. If you press the melee button at this point, you can block the attack, sending the enemy reeling back and stunning them. Doing so will also automatically aim your weapon for a significantly powered up counter attack (most of the time enabling one shot kills).
Mastering this new ability adds a lot to the action, and is pivotal even when dealing with boss battles. It seems like a small addition, but it drastically changes the way you traverse this Metroid game. Rather than rushing into a room and blasting away (a strategy more likely to get you killed), you have to take things a little slower, figure out what each enemy is doing, and plan your battles out.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s still plenty of shooting and explosions to go around, but that’s not ALL you’ll be doing. Couple all that with new power-ups being integrated into the touch screen system so you can swap out things, and you have a combat system that feel modern, fresh, and a lot of damn fun to play with.
Not All Who Wander Are Lost
One of the things fans have associated with the Metroid series, is exploration, and Samus Returns gives you an entirely new SR388 to discover. Whereas the original was fairly linear in its design (a byproduct of it being on the GameBoy), this one is very expansive, with tons of nooks and crannies to investigate. More than simply hiding power-ups away, sometimes getting to the next section can be a challenge as well, and you’ll have to really poke around to find where you need to be going.
This is where the game’s other new addition comes in handy, with the first Aeion ability (you get four and they use their own energy meter), which allows you to permanently reveal sections of the map including where bonuses are hidden. It also highlights destructible items nearby, so if you’re stuck, you’ll know which piece of the wall/floor to knock down.
While some Metroid fans might feel this is blasphemous, for me, it’s a welcome addition. By and large, you’re still doing much of the exploration on your own and you’ll still have to figure out how to GET to the places the map shows you. Not to mention if you're looking to up the difficulty, the hard mode opens up after your first playthrough and it's not messing around...
Backtracking for power-ups will keep you traversing the map and discovering new areas, aided by the addition of transport tubes and elevators (which, thankfully, also work as checkpoints). The game is packed with secrets to find, though, more often than not, your efforts are rewarded with missile packs or super bombs. Many times, it felt like a lot of work was put in only to find the most basic of power ups. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as they come in handy for some of the late game boss battles, but overall I almost wish there had been fewer secrets spread throughout the map in exchange for more meaningful ones that make your efforts feels validated.
What’s Cooking, Good Looking
Metroid: Samus Returns retains the game’s 2D side-scrolling/platforming style, but utilizes a more 2.5D art style. The characters are rendered in 3D and the backgrounds are given a significant feeling of depth as you explore. While this is far from the first game on the platform to use this aesthetic, it’s easily the best looking one.
Seriously, Samus Returns is hands down one of the best looking games to launch on the 3DS. It’s stunningly gorgeous and even though you’re traversing underground tunnels, never gets monotonous. Moreso, it makes excellent use of the handheld’s 3D function.
To be honest, the 3D slider on my system rarely gets used. I’ll pop it on at the start of a game to see how it looks, but generally keep it off the rest of the time. It’s a gimmick that I never felt added to the gameplay experience in most titles, but Samus Returns really makes it work. Working with the art design, the world of SR388 pops to life, and the cutscenes (little though they may be) a amazing to watch.