Metroid II originally launched on the handheld Gameboy system back in 1991. Since then, there’s been a handful of fan remakes, most notably the recent AM2R (Another Metroid 2 Remake). Projects like these (including AM2R) were often met with push back from Nintendo, who would shut down the projects to protect their intellectual property. This caused many fans of the long running Metroid series to cry foul. Many fans wondered if Nintendo would ever bring our favorite bounty hunter back, and it seems like Metroid: Samus Returns is an answer to that wonder.
Reimagining the Game
Metroid: Samus Returns is more of a reboot of the original game than a remake. Nintendo calls it a “reimagining”, and I think that wordage suffices just fine. Although I own the original Gameboy release, Metroid II never grabbed me like it does so many other gamers. In fact, the entire 2D Metroid series has been interesting to me, but never one I would consider myself a huge fan of. Metroid Prime, however, I can get behind. This made Samus Returns that much more interesting to me, as I found myself pulled into its addictive gameplay loop and lovely progression.
If you’ve never played a Metroid game, you should. It’s a great series that put in a lot of ground work for gaming mechanics like upgrades, exploration, and backtracking. Samus Returns embraces those aspects of the franchise, and delivers in a way that is both refreshing for veterans and approachable for newcomers.
The Hunt Begins
Samus Returns is exceptionally light on story, only containing a handful of sentences at the beginning and end of the game. You play as Samus, a powerful bounty hunter who must visit a brand new planet and wipe out the metroid threat. These ugly alien creatures are your main target for the entirety of the game, and you must hunt them all down. This narrative loop of “kill all the metroids” plays a major part in the actual gameplay, as the experience feels quite a bit like hide-and-seek.
The game is broken up into several areas, all ripe for your exploration. Tucked away in areas are several metroids that you must find and destroy. Each metroid fight is akin to a mini-boss, with larger bosses punctuating the experience. Besides that, there’s not much more to the game. Each area contains a totem pole which requires a specific amount of metroids to be beaten before it unlocks. Once you’ve beaten the required amount of metroids, the next area opens up. It’s a simple formula that works well and allows the player to focus on the gameplay rather than objective management. This is important, as Samus Returns is a tough game. Not unfairly tough, but the kind of difficulty that requires you to be skilled and precise with all your abilities. The game gives you plenty of time to familiarize yourself with new powers before you have to use them in stressful scenarios, a decision I appreciated. I really can’t stress this enough, the game is pretty hard, something that younger kids could get pretty annoyed with.
Upgrades, Upgrades, Upgrades
If there’s one other thing that the series is known for besides its exploration, it’s upgrades. There’s one thing that consistently impressed me in Samus Returns, and that’s the feeling of progressive power. You start off with a basic plasma cannon, some health, and your suit. By the midway point, you’ll have a wide selection of ammo types, traversal techniques, and other options at your disposal. Samus Returns also ties its upgrades very well into exploration. I would often run into an area that had a door or object I had never seen before, and the presentation and conveyance made it easy to understand an upgrade was needed. Finding a meaningful upgrade becomes doubly rewarding: now you can unlock new sections of the area and you’re much more powerful.
That feeling of power only grows stronger throughout the game. By Area 5, you’ll be convinced that you’ve reached your most powerful form. You’ve become the apex predator. Then, another brand new upgrade will pop up. The reward of collecting new upgrades and feeling more powerful continues until the closing battles of the game. At no point do you feel like you’re overpowered or that the game is too easy. Instead, you get a great feeling of both improvement and strength as the experience continues, never wavering.
A few new mechanics have been added to Samus Returns, generally aimed to make the game a bit easier for newcomers. I won’t spoil the four powers you obtain, as you get them at various points in the game, but the first one you get is a good benchmark. One of my favorite new additions to the series as a whole, Samus Returns gives you a pulse radar of sorts. By equipping it and pressing A, you expend a bit of energy (not health) to uncover the map around you. This shows up on your mini-map, and even highlights breakable blocks hidden in the current room. This replaces finding map terminals, and makes the entire experience feel much more fluid than before. There’s still some times you’ll get stuck (I can remember a few vividly myself), but never enough to really stop the game.
A New Look
One of the most impressive qualities of Samus Returns is the fact that it’s based on a Gameboy game. While the original game was decent for its time, it definitely would not hold up presentation-wise today. Luckily, there’s been a complete overhaul of the graphics, making this one of the more impressive Metroid games I’ve seen to date. While it’s still running on a 3DS (a system that’s getting a bit too old at this point), Samus Returns managed to surprise me in its visual splendor. The textures aren’t the greatest, but it comes with the limitations of the system. Instead, there’s a bigger focus on lighting effects, 3D integration, and solid performance.
I was surprised by just how good Samus Returns manages to look, despite its setbacks. The only real issue I have with the game’s look is its lack of variety. Areas look good and crisp, but you’ll find yourself exploring lots of rocky areas. Sure, there’s some occasional water, lava, or other environmental variety. However, you’ll mostly find yourself exploring cave-like surroundings. This extends to the metroid mini-bosses, who all play mostly the same, despite the handful of forms they appear in. The gameplay is so fun that it’s easy to overlook, but I would’ve enjoyed a bit more in the way of environment and mini-boss variety.
The Bottom Line on Metroid: Samus Returns
Metroid: Samus Returns is an easy game to recommend. Do you like Metroid, and miss the glory days of the franchise? Buy this game. Do you love your 3DS and wish that more quality experiences were still being released? Buy this game. Maybe you’re just looking for an old school game that fills you with nostalgia and retro glory. Either way, you should probably buy this game.
I won’t say that it’s perfect; it’s definitely not. It is, however, a fine Metroid game and a necessary step to keeping the franchise alive. Completionists will enjoy the many upgrades and hidden secrets to find, along with the inclusion of a “hard mode” for multiple playthroughs. If you take time to smell the space roses and attempt some of the trickier upgrades, the game will take you anywhere from 8-12 hours to complete. I rounded out at 10 hours, and I was taking my time. It’s not my favorite Metroid entry, nor is it the best in visuals or enemy variety. That being said, Samus Returns is an exceptionally rewarding game to play, and it completely delivers on fan hopes.