Metroid: Samus Returns Review
Since the launch of the highly-received Metroid Prime 3: Corruption in 2007, the Metroid series has had a somewhat turbulent and barren decade. Metroid: Other M launched on the Wii in 2010 to fan criticism, while Metroid Prime: Federation Force arrived on the 3DS in 2016 and became one of the most controversial titles in the series, and flopped at retail. During this time, Nintendo’s other massive IPs such as The Legend of Zelda and Mario continued to impress with the likes of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and the Mario series, leaving Metroid fans asking the question: has Nintendo given up on its iconic bounty hunter Samus Aran? Thankfully, Metroid: Samus Returns is a resounding return to form for the series, and a much-needed 2D entry, following the launch of Zero Mission thirteen years ago.
Developed by MercurySteam - known for the Castlevania: Lords of Shadow series - Metroid: Samus Returns is a reimagining of the 1992 Game Boy classic Metroid II: Return of Samus, and follows on from the original Metroid title. The Galactic Federation sends a squadron of elite soldiers to the Metroid homeworld of SR388 to investigate the alien lifeforms, but they never return. Seeing the threat that Metroids pose to the galaxy, the Federation decides to send Samus to the planet to hunt down and eradicate all Metroids once and for all. While the plotline is a little basic in today’s gaming market, and it does get a little repetitive near the end, this is all the original and remake share; for all intents and purposes, Metroid: Samus Returns should be considered as a new standalone 2D entry into the series.
Considering Nintendo are masters at revamping and adapting their IPs, it’s a little surprising for Nintendo to release a Metroid title in 2017 that, despite a few tweaks, doesn’t do anything revolutionary, and is better for it. Metroid: Samus Returns may technically be a 3D title, but it boasts the same 2D platforming gameplay we’ve come to know and love. As you progress deeper into the depths of SR388, you’ll discover new powerups and weapons which allow you to unlock special doors, expand your stockpile of missiles and energy, and increase your resistance to the environment and its inhabitants. Traditional power-ups such as the Super Missiles and Powerbombs are present, but there are a selection of new weapons and upgrades to hunt down. What’s more, the inclusion of regular teleportation systems throughout makes backtracking between areas to unlock that door you discovered a few hours back a much more enjoyable and streamlined experience.
While Metroid: Samus Returns returns to the series’ roots with traditional gameplay and upgrades, the title also introduces four new Aeion abilities. The Scan Pulse is the first of these and allows Samus to easily discover hidden pathways and secrets. The Scan Pulse caused controversy amongst hardcore fans when it was announced pre-launch, but the game doesn’t require it for completion, so you can ignore it if you wish. We won’t spoil the other three Aeion abilities, but we found ourselves using them much more than we initially thought we would.
The power of the 3DS means SR388 has never looked so beautiful, and there are times when we simply stopped to appreciate the level of detail and variety in the gorgeous backdrops. From futuristic Chozo laboratories to lava pools, the game is huge, and boasts the largest game world of any Metroid title with the exception of the Prime Trilogy. Despite its size, Metroid: Samus Returns also maintains an unnerving feeling of isolation (another hallmark of the series) throughout, voice acting from Other M has gone, and there’s no Prime-like scan ability, it’s just you, your trusty arm cannon, and your foes.
Traversing SR388’s stunning locations is also a pleasant and fast-paced experience thanks to generally improved gameplay and the 3DS’ analogue stick which allows you to fire freely at any angle. Unlike past 2D entries, Samus is able to switch directions during jumps, use laser sight to target enemies precisely, and counter enemies using a new melee counterattack ability which deals critical damage. The counterattack ability takes a while to master, but is a useful addition to your armoury. That being said, the melee counter requires Samus to be stood still, which awkwardly slows combat down, and it feels too overpowered; there were times when five missiles weren’t enough to kill even the most basic of enemies, but a melee attack would kill it in one hit.
The melee counterattack feels like an overpowered addition designed to help newcomers adjust to the crushing difficulty. Metroid: Samus Returns is a difficult game, especially the first few hours where energy and missiles reserves are low, and it’s all the better for it. We haven’t experienced such a difficult Metroid title since Metroid Prime 2: Echoes. The Metroids you need to kill act as mini-bosses and have six distinct evolutionary stages, each one packing a bigger punch than the last, although because you need to kill forty of them, their design soon becomes repetitive, despite six evolutions. General enemies also hit hard, but unfortunately the difficulty is inflated by some rather uncomfortable controls. Samus’ arsenal is mapped across all of the 3DS’ buttons, and trying to quickly switch and fire weapons, as well as dodge projectiles left us with hand cramp way too often, and this issue was only exemplified during the lengthy and occasionally repetitive boss fights.
Hand cramp and repetitive boss battles aside, Metroid: Samus Returns is a welcome return to form for the series. The title takes roughly twelve hours to complete, while hardcore completionists can expect to clock-up around fifteen to twenty hours collecting every hidden upgrade and secret. Samus appeared to lose her way a little over the past decade, but she’s back in style in Samus Returns, and reminded the world just why Metroid is one of Nintendo’s legendary IPs. Metroid: Samus Returns is easily one of the best titles available on the 3DS.