Metroid: Samus Returns is a loose remake of Metroid II: Return of Samus, released in 1991 for the Game Boy. It adds a slew of graphical upgrades and new mechanics to convincingly stand on its own two feet.
As a casual observer, Nintendo appear to treat the Metroid series with sheer contempt. The release of Metroid Prime: Federation Force last year was, at best, a this-will-do “celebration” of the franchise’s 30th anniversary. Before that there was Metroid: Other M in 2010 and well, the less said about that the better. The series existing in an almost permanent state of hiatus isn’t exactly anything new though – in the 15 years following Metroid‘s 1986 release, only two further games were released.
Metroid: Samus Returns is a remake of one such game – the long-awaited 1991 sequel. It’s safe to say though that there has been enough time and technical advancement since then to differentiate this from the slew of remakes and remasters that litter the current generation of consoles. The simple addition of the second 3DS screen adds a map to the game, something that the Game Boy couldn’t display and thus left players to commit the environment to memory.
Ignoring the controversial amiibo features there are a few other new gimmicks for Samus Returns, such as the addition of a counter-attack strike. At the start it’s a fairly necessary means of survival, but as you progress through the game it becomes evident that almost all of the enemies have been designed with a single move that can be countered, meaning minor skirmishes become repetitive and prescriptive. The Aeion Gauge is also a new feature allowing abilities such as area scanning or time manipulation to be temporarily enabled.
As ever, Samus acquires new abilities steadily as the game progresses, gradually opening up new areas. The game design remains bafflingly brilliant as you rarely (if ever) have to backtrack and are clearly set on a predetermined path through the stages even though it doesn’t feel linear. It’s almost as if the developers have anticipated exactly what you’re going to do next. The only area that lets the game down in this regard is that progression to the next stage is halted by toxic water that rapidly saps your health – it only drains away when you’ve collected a set amount of Metroid DNA for that area. It’s a mechanic that feels like a bit more of an explicit barrier to progression than is typical in the series.
Metroid: Samus Returns plays like an absolute dream. Samus moves a little quicker than normal (although jarringly much slower when using the Morph Ball move) and there’s not on iota of slowdown even though several enemies will appear onscreen at once. The game also attempts to give a bit more freedom over how the Power Beam is deployed, with the ability to change the angle on a 360° axis – even if enemies often move far too quickly for it to be of any real use.
Graphically, Metroid: Samus Returns is an absolute treat. Although the 3D aspect of the 3DS has been completely removed with the many 2DS models now available, if you can play this in 3D it’s well worth it. The opening cinematic is jaw-dropping and exhibits probably the best use of 3D on the system to date. Equally, the game world itself has a subtle depth to it that isn’t evident until you turn the 3D off and see how flat everything looks without it.
Despite some minor flaws, what really shines through Metroid: Samus Returns is the addictive quality of the gameplay. You’ll constantly be tempted to hunt down “one more Metroid” and before you know it you’ll have lost hours to the game. It’s one of those titles where you’ll be compelled to finish it but equally reluctant for it to end.
Metroid: Samus Returns is, in short, a brilliant game. And you’d think Nintendo would be eager to show fans that they still understand the appeal of the series – yet it seems as though they don’t want people to play it at all. The game is incredibly hard to get hold of and doesn’t appear to be physically stocked anywhere. It’s well worth hunting down though – even if Metroid: Samus Returns doesn’t wind up being one of the last big 3DS exclusives, it’s almost certainly going to be one of the best.