It’s an exciting day in deep space
I find it difficult to describe just how excited I am to write this review. It’s the excitement of someone, any series fan, whose last real entry was 2010’s Metroid: Other M. Personally, I managed to wade through the game’s chokingly abysmal writing and find some gameplay ideas that I liked, but I know all too well that, even there, I am in the minority.
Also, Federation Force doesn’t count and you know it.
Now, along comes Metroid: Samus Returns, a full remake of the original Metroid II for Game Boy, in the same spirit as the GBA’s Zero Mission was for the original NES. And for all that it is a remake, new mechanical ideas and a fresh coat of paint make Metroid: Samus Returns a fresh, new adventure. It’s good to be back in the Power Suit, crawling through corridors, and ridding the galaxy of the Metroid menace once and for all.
New age, new moves
Metroid: Samus Returns recreates the original story of Metroid II. Following the events of the original Metroid, where Samus took down an army of Space Pirates and their leader to thwart their plans of weaponizing the brain-sucking Metroid race, Samus has received a new mission. A platoon of Galactic Federation soldiers has been taken down on SR388, the Metroid home planet. Now, it’s up to the bounty hunter in orange and red to go and investigate. It’s a real collect-a-thon, as Samus’ travels will take her deeper and deeper into the depths and ancient technologies of SR388, killing and harvesting Metroids one by one.
The run-and-gun side of Samus Returns is near-perfect. You can shoot straight ahead, or up, or down while jumping, but you have more free reign as well. Mentioning Other M earlier wasn’t without intention. There’s some very Other M-inspired articulation going on in Samus Returns. Running while shooting through the caverns of SR388 is great, but players can hold down the L button to stand still and make use of the circle pad’s full 360 degrees. It plays a lot like switching between third- and first-person mode in Other M, and creates an even better sense of cognitive rhythm than was possible there. Missles, ice and wave beams, and everything else added to your arsenal over time can be used more precisely than ever, provided you’ve found a safe place to stand still.
(For more on the Other M thoughts, I wrote the script for this on that very topic:)
Metroid: Samus Returns also steps again into that odd territory of giving Samus melee capabilities. This blends well in the form of a counter mechanic. Enemies will make a little flash and a click! sound when they’re about to make an attack that can be countered. Tapping the button at the right time means a blaster cannon to their face, and a chance to take them down in fewer hits while their guard is lowered. It blends in perfectly with the rest of the glorious bounty hunter’s arsenal. The aiming and countering both take a few minutes of getting used to, sure. But in virtually no time, I found myself relying on each resource at my disposal with equal reflex. I questioned at first how fairly quickly new abilities were doled out, but overall the pace works in teh game favor, giving players time to perfect their skill.
The goal in Metroid: Samus Returns is simple: kill all Metroids. Over the course of the game’s robust campaign, players will encounter Metroids in different stages of their evolution, all going into an overall counter at the bottom of the screen, showing how many are still detected as alive within the bowels of SR388. Like with any Metroid game or anything of the like, there’s a ton of pattern recognition and attack-memorization to do when it comes to the planet’s less forgiving foes.
There are new tools in the arsenal, too. Samus can create a scan pulse that will spread through a certain area, filling out some of the minimap on the bottom screen and showing places where the right beam or bomb can create new pathways. New and old abilities alike all smooth together beautifully well.
And what’s nicest of all, it’s just really god damn fun to explore. We have not had a purely 2D sidescrolling Metroid game since the Game Boy Advance. That’s not a bad thing. The Prime games made the property viable again, for quite a while. But for this reviewer, and for a plentiful sect of fans, nothing can ever truly beat the feeling of blasting, running, fighting and rolling through corridors and caverns in 2D web-like complexes. And Metroid: Samus Returns brings it all back as well as ever, and even looks really nice as it does. It would be nice to encounter new types of enemies a bit more quickly than the first few hours allow, though. The same bats and frog-things get old a little too fast.
For the good of all life in the galaxy
Metroid: Samus Returns doesn’t try to introduce some huge storyline. It doesn’t try to elaborate on its original basis in anything other than gameplay and spirited homage. And homage it does pay. There’s no story, really, other than the need to go to a fucked-up and hostile alien planet and clear out the galaxy-threatening life forms that live there. It’s a fantastic day out there in space. It’s favorite hero and bounty hunter is back. Metroid: Samus Returns is more than just a Metroid game, and more than just another sidescrolling one. The advancements it makes feel like a tribute to what Other M tried, and improvement where that game never quite hit the mark. It’s alien world is as fun to explore and crawl through as ever.
This revitalization project between Nintendo and Mercury Steam is a beacon of hope for so much. Hope for Metroid to see a new era of great new games. Hope for moving forward in terms of what the series’ 2D entries can be, without just sticking to the same formulas (something a few million Metroidvanias on Steam could learn from). And hope that more collaborations like this may come in the future, where indie developers clearly inspired by Nintendo have teh chance to work side-by-side with the studio that started…everything. It’s a hopeful day in the dark workings of the cosmos. Samus has returned.
Final verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: 3DS; Publisher: Nintendo; Developer: Nintendo, Mercury Steam ; Players: 1 ; Released: September 15, 2017; MSRP: $39.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a retail copy of Metroid: Samus Returns purchased by Hey Poor Player.