Metroid: Samus Returns may be a remake, but it is a remake done right. It feels like you might as well be playing a completely new adventure with Samus. It is a great mix of nostalgic feeling and familiar elements paired with a few fresh additions and definitely what Metroid fans have been craving.
If there is one thing that Nintendo really knows how to do, it is to create colorful worlds and characters that gamers just come to love. One of these iconic characters is Samus Aran, arguably the coolest bounty hunter in the solar system that found her debut in 1986’s Metroid. She may have taken a break after Super Metroid, but her starring role in Metroid Prime and notable presence in the Super Smash Bros. series helped cement her position as one of Nintendo’s more prominent characters. That is, until the 2010’s, when it became quiet around Samus and fans started to wonder when or if they could expect a new Metroid game. Nintendo’s announcements at E3 in 2015 will always be etched in my mind for one thing in particular: they teased Metroid fans by announcing Metroid: Federation Force. That game was no more than a weak and rather soulless spin-off of Metroid that felt more like proof of Nintendo’s disinterest in the Metroid series than the attempt at filling the void that it supposedly was. But now, after 7 years of absence, Samus finally Returns….and how!
Metroid: Samus Returns on 3DS is essentially a remake of the 1992 Game Boy title Metroid: Return of Samus (something the similarity in titles is keen to point out). That game is often forgotten and for those who do remember it, it is primarily known for how ambitious yet unplayable it is – it lacks colors, so everything is hard to distinguish, and the absence of a map makes it all too easy to lose your way. Metroid: Samus Returns suffers none of those problems. Samus still goes to SR388 to destroy the last Metroids – but that is pretty much where the similarities between the two versions end. It takes the basic premise from the original and then spins it into a whole new experience that feels quite different from the green and black environments of before. This is not a simple rehash of an earlier classic: Samus Returns is absolutely a remake done right.
Most prominently in terms of visual and audio quality, obviously. The game uses 3D graphics even though the game is fully 2D in terms of gameplay, but never is this distracting or out of place. In fact, the game looks really good on 3DS and runs smooth whether you play on the New Nintendo 3DS/2DS or on an older model, and 3D is actually supported. The audio has also gone through an upgrade and the highly atmospheric and chilling soundtrack the series is familiar for finds it way back here as well, much to our delight.
In terms of gameplay, Samus Returns is a traditional 2D version of the Metroid formula, and resembles classic entries in the Metroid series like Super Metroid and Metroid Fusion. Exploration is the primary element of gameplay. The game hardly ever tells you where to go or what to do, leaving it mostly up to you to find out what the next objective is or how to progress. There are only a few pointers that make out your goals. There is the Metroid counter that shows you how many Metroids are left on the planet for you to hunt (it starts at 40). You start on the surface of the planet SR388, and have to work your way down underground to find your prey. You’ll find your progress blocked by a pool of purple goo at each area, which you have to drain in order to continue your hunt. To do so, you need to activate a giant alien device near the pool by infusing it with Metroid DNA strands that are harvested upon the defeat of the titular creatures. Each device clearly shows you how many Metroids it requires you to defeat. A great change from the original game, where you were never really sure how many Metroids you had to destroy and where the pathways you opened up actually were.
It is a simple yet effective way of showing you what you need to do, but the game otherwise wastes no time explaining things or giving you directions.
Instead, Samus Returns has you explore the corridors and caves of SR388 on your own, hiding various new upgrades or special abilities along the way that aid you in your mission. The biggest joy in any Metroid game is finding these hidden upgrades and slowly building your power, and Samus Returns is no different. Some upgrades are minor in that they simply expand your missile or health capacity, but others are much more vital and give you completely new abilities that allow you to explore further. Examples of these include the Morph Ball, Super Missiles or Grappling Hook, all of which are familiar names to fans of the series. While all of these upgrades are ultimately necessary to complete the game, they also unlock the way to many optional treasures. The game certainly doesn’t shy away from showing you an upgrade early on that is blocked by an obstacle that can only be removed by an upgrade that you do not yet possess. A Large part of the fun in the game is remembering these and going back to collect them once you have found the required ability to collect them. It creates a sense of freedom that really encourages you to take in your surroundings and explore thoroughly, even though the game itself is actually rather linear.
Besides many of the familiar upgrades, Samus Returns introduces a completely new mechanic: Aeion Abilities. There are four of them in the game, and while they are rarely required to progress, they greatly help your mission by providing a lot of utility that you often didn’t have in other Metroid games. One example of an Aieon Ability is one you find early in the game: the Scan Pulse. When you activate it, it reveals a part of the environment around you on the minimap, including the general direction of hidden secrets, as well as highlighting all the blocks that are destructible on your main screen. It is a really useful tool whilst exploring and a great help in finding the many upgrades scattered across SR388. Activating Aieon Ability’s uses up a bit of your Aeion Gauge, so you can’t use them indefinitely.
They do make the game a bit easier, but definitely not too easy. The Scan Pulse, for instance, doesn’t so much as make exploration obsolete as it makes it less frustrating. You still have to figure out how to get to every upgrade, but at least you know where to look. If anything, it severely decreases the incentive to resort to online guides to find all the upgrades.
Another new feature that has to be discussed in Samus new move in her combat repertoire: the counter-attack. Enemies often charge at you, and right before they do, they emit a white flash. If you execute the counter-attack during that time, you parry their advance and open them up for a quick one hit kill. Not every attack allows you this opportunity, and the required timing changes as you progress through the game and meet new enemies, so you’ll be kept on your toes. Fighting enemies without the counter move is actually a lengthy and dangerous ordeal until you get access to the game’s stronger weapons, so the counter move is invaluable in the early stages of the game. To be honest, it makes combat much more calculated and exciting, even. Pulling off the counter move consecutively and correctly feels satisfying and gives a whole new edge to the game, especially when you do so against bosses.
Most of the time boss fights are simple Metroid mini-bosses that come in limited variety and are fought often without the need for new tactics. It gets a bit stale after a while and it would have been fun if they would have changed it up a bit from time to time. There are a few true boss battles too; these fights are often mostly a test of endurance and arguably a bit too rare, but they do form memorable moments.
Completing the game takes roughly between 5 and 15 hours depending on how much trouble the game is giving you and how many of the upgrades you wish to search for. Upon a first completion, you unlock hard mode (which is fun) and beating the game within 4 hours gets you an alternate ending – but it’s a real challenge.
The game is such a delight to play and it feels so good to control Samus once again, that it becomes easy to forget that it is, in fact, a remake of an old game. Honestly, Samus Returns feels as much like any other 2D Metroid as it feels like Metroid II… and that is a really good thing. Everything we’ve loved about 2D Metroid is back plus a bit more. Samus Returns does nothing to reinvent the series and doesn’t take any chances, but that’s exactly what we wanted. It delivers just the familiar, nostalgic Metroid feeling that we’ve been missing for all these years, and that is an amazing feeling.