This review will follow a bit of a different introduction than normal. Given my fascination of the Metroid series, I will go into lengths about my history with the franchise. If you want to skip ahead to the meat of the review,
As of last month, one of my favourite franchises made it’s triumphant return. Metroid: Samus Returns was released for the 3DS, and I couldn’t have been more excited. It was a modern remake of the original Metroid II: Return of Samus on the Game Boy. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with this game, so I’m going to structure this review slightly different than I have in the past. In the following section, I will summarize my history with the franchise and this particular title. If you want to skip ahead to the meat of the review, you can scrolled down to the section titled ‘Review’.
When I first discovered the Metroid series, it was through my favourite game of all time, Super Metroid. This game had a big impact on my life as a gamer. Super Metroid was awe inspiring. The graphics were amazing, environments were so detailed and the art direction was superb. Colours were vivid and enemies and bosses looked so alien and frightening. The sounds and music were something special to. Every song from Super Metroid brings back a tsunami of nostalgia for me, and the technology implored behind the sounds and music was so unique at it’s time. To this day, I can’t think of many games that sound the way it does.
Super Metroid also cemented for me, the concept of a game that just let you figure things out. It was the first time I had to navigate through a labyrinth of under ground caverns gaining upgrades as I progressed through Zebes. The power ups truly made me feel stronger the more I played, and there were some incredible abilities to gain that came with some dazzling graphical effects. It’s incredible that you start of as Samus who can’t jump very high, and has power beam that barely reaches across the screen, to someone who can somersault through walls, withstand the heat of lava, and has beams that can go through walls and enemies alike. Down the very last moments of this game, this feeling continues.
It was also the first game I played that had a very hands off approach to the story telling. From the opening moments, it used it’s environment to convey the events occurring. You would see indications throughout the journey of the whereabouts of the baby Metroid you were tracking. Even down to it’s spectacular final boss fight against Mother Brain, it executed my favourite story telling sequence in all of gaming. I won’t spoil anything for those who haven’t played this, but you can read all about my ramblings of the battle here. It was a exemplary implementation of interactive story telling that made you feel the agony of the character on screen as they faced certain death. The whole sequence gives me goose bumps even to this day.
Funny enough, despite how much I loved Super Metroid, for whatever reason, I never owned the game. It was not until I got my first Game Boy, that I finally owned an entry in the Metroid series. That was none other than Metroid II: Return of Samus. Coming into this, minus the graphics, I was expecting something quite similar to what Super Metroid gave me. I was pretty excited to embark on this new journey, but much to my surprise, there was little for me to like. The games controls were tougher than Super Metroid, and there was no in game map. This made it extremely tough to fight Metroids and navigate around the black and white SR388. Due to the limitations of the Game Boy display, it was extremely hard to differentiate between areas and figure out where I needed to go next.
It was a pretty lack luster experience to say the least. Maybe I was too young for this Metroid. Perhaps the exploration and back tracking nature of Metroid just didn’t work for a device that only displayed four shades of black and white. But I didn’t find Super Metroid here. The nature of the game also didn’t quite click with me. Being more focused on hunting Metroids rather than exploring. At a point, I hit a virtual wall, and could not figure out where to go next. I circled through the world endless times not being able to progress any further.
It’s funny enough that the game was taunting me. I couldn’t get one up over Metroid II now that I was stuck. Something worse happened however. During some family road trip, the cartridge for Metroid II was lost. My mom and I searched the entire house and cars and could never find the illusive cartridge. To this day, we have no idea where it went. If things couldn’t get any worse, now finishing the game was impossible.
After many years, seeing the Zero Mission remake and how well that was done and received, I naturally hoped one day Metroid II would be remade. I wanted a remake of this even more than Super Metroid. Super Metroid was already a perfect game for me, and I’m a purest who thinks nothing needs to be changed about it. Metroid II on the other hand, I wanted to come back to and finish, but was terrified of playing the Game Boy version again.
After a long hiatus since Metroid: Other M, there was virtually no good news coming out for the series. That was until E3 this year and what Nintendo showcased on it’s Nintendo direct. Metroid Prime 4 at first seemed to be the biggest announcement. As the Nintendo Direct ended, I by chance was browsing through Nintendo’s youtube channel. That’s when I noticed something odd, and that was footage of another Metroid game. I clicked and watched, and realized quickly, this was the remake I had been wanting for years. Metroid II was finally being remade for the 3DS. It’s announcement was done in such a subtle matter on treehouse, yet to me, this was bigger news than finding out about Metroid Prime 4, simply for the fact that it was coming out in a mere few months. I would finally have my chance at redeeming myself against this unbeatable game from my past.
In Metroid: Samus Returns, you play as the famous galactic bounty hunter, Samus Aran. Your mission is to exterminate the entire Metroid species before the Space Pirates can harness their life absorbing power for their own sinister plans. As Metroid tradition dictates, you will need to traverse through SR388, searching every nook and cranny for power ups and suit upgrades to help you advance and take out the increasingly tough foes. As the introduction sequence unfolds, it’s quite reminiscent of how it was done in Super Metroid. Samus’s theme is intact and newly remastered as this opening scene sends nostalgic goosebumps through my body. It features some pretty sweet looking artwork depicting several key events between the original Metroid to Samus Returns.
Samus Returns sets up quite a different premise compared to previous Metroid titles. Even in the conception of the original game, your focus is to hunt Metroids. Naturally, the game takes on a more action oriented role with this objective in mind. That’s not to say there is no emphasis on exploration. You still need your wits about to traverse the labyrinth of under ground caves and passageways to keep pressing on to finding the next Metroid to take out. As usual, you will also find upgrades for your suit that will grant you new abilities as you move forward. However when you do encounter some of the tougher enemies, the intensity ramps up quite a bit as the fights are pretty involved and can be quite theatrics at times.
The action in Samus Returns is done very well, and this is mainly due to the super tight, precise responsive controls. Controlling Samus couldn’t be better. Her agility and speed feels like it’s straight out of Zero Mission. It’s quite liberating to be able to control Samus this way. Even though Samus Returns is a side scroller, using 3D graphics give me an expectation that it will control with realistic physics, meaning I would expect there to be substantial weight to Samus in how she moves. Instead, Samus is fast and comes to full speed almost instantly, and performs somersaults swiftly yet gracefully. Jumping towards ledges has Samus cling on and allow you to aim over to hit neaby enemies, are fire in the opposite direction if desired. Samus Returns feels surprisingly versatile considering this is simply a side scroller.
Controls are setup where you use the analog stick to move Samus and the directional pad is used to select Aeon abilities, which we’ll get into later. The face buttons are mapped as Y to fire, B to jump, A to engage the selected Aeon ability, and X to melee counter. Pressing and holding R allows you to select your missiles, and pressing and holding L allows Samus to freely aim around her. The touch screen also plays a role in some controls. You can select beam and missile types by tapping the corresponding icon on the right part of the screen. Morph ball also can be engaged by tapping anywhere else on the touch screen, or you can press down twice.
Coming into Samus Returns though, movement was one of the things that surprised me and caught me off guard the most. I’m used to controlling movement in 2D side scrollers with the directional pad. However, Samus Returns forces you to use the analog stick, which at first I questioned, but once you get accustomed to how Samus moves, it’s quickly becomes second nature.
I will say, I did find engaging morph ball to be a bit difficult. Using the analog stick, pressing down twice is a bit tougher than using a directional pad. Alternatively, you can press the touch screen as an added shortcut, however, due to how the beam icons are placed, it forces you to use your left thumb to do so. This makes it a bit tough to pull of running, jumping and then engaging morph ball while moving. You can use your right thumb, however you have to reach extremely far past the beam selection icons to ensure you don’t press those by accident. Now granted, no area of the game requires you to run, jump and engage morph ball while moving forward, but it is just a cool stunt to try.
There are some handy enhancements in the controls that are new and very welcome to Metroid. The first and most notable is the ability to freely aim around Samus in a 360 degree radius. This is done by simply holding the L shoulder button, and then using the analog stick to aim in the desired direction. Your aim is depicted by a laser, which changes colour when pointed to an enemy or point of interest. This revolutionizes the way you approach engaging enemies in Samus Returns. Instead of relying on shooting straight or diagonally, or needing to jump and shoot to hit enemies just above you, you can now come to a stop, and aim carefully and take out enemies with ease. This feature also adds much style to how Samus engages her enemies. Being able to sommersault over a Metroid, and quickly aim backwards looks and feels like a bad ass moment out of an action film. It’s a most welcome feature.
The other notable ability that’s been added to Samus’s arsenal is her melee counter. You can melee small enemies to throw them off balance briefly at any time. Where this ability really shines is if timed correctly when enemies charge towards you. The time to execute the melee counter is depicted by a sound and animation that indicate the precise moment. When done, Samus thrusts her cannon in an upward motion, which leaves the enemy stunned for a decent amount of time. From here you can take them out with ease. Or better yet, if you quickly aim and fire the first moment you get, you can take the enemy out in one shot. It takes a while to get the timing of this down, but it’s very rewarding once you are able to pull this off with ease. It’s quite an essential ability, since even small enemies can pose trouble and deal quite a bit of damage, especially when there are multiple enemies in front of you. The melee counter also plays a role in boss fights. If done right, this can lead to a theatric counter leading to an extended opening to load up a boss with missiles.
Last but not least are the new Aeon abilities. These grant additional powers that deplete your Aeon meter. These include scanning a portion around you to unveil unexplored parts of the map, and breakable areas around you. You also can use a special lightning armour, a rapid firing burst beam, and the ability to slow down time. These all have their various roles throughout the game. As useful as the Aeon abilities can be, I did find them to be a bit tacked on at times. I never found the puzzles or obstacles introduced that require these abilities were that significant, and I felt I just used them for the sake of using them. I was not convinced why these needed to be a part of the game other than to take out the occasional enemy or run through some electrified plants.
I think the only Aeon ability I found had a real place was the scan pulse. Although at first, considering Metroid are games about discovery, and I’m the type of guy who turns off the hint system in Metroid Prime, I felt like it was almost cheating. However, as I progressed, my opinion of this ability changed as I found myself using it quite a bit later in the game. First off, things like holes in walls that you need to use bombs to unveil that are not marked on your map are extremely well hidden. Also, being able to potentially map out an area that you initially are not aware of can prove to be quite time saving. Say you are coming up to an area that has you either going up or down. A quick scan can indicate the path below leads to a dead end that has an upgrade, and going up clearly is the way forward. You can quickly snag that missile upgrade, and the continue upwards to the next Metroid. I’m surprised I feel this way about the scan pulse, as it sounds like something that can easily take away the sense of discovery playing Metroid, but I found it a welcome addition.
The graphics in Samus Returns initially can look primitive on the dated 3DS hardware, however, the game looks more and more impressive the deeper you get into SR388. As in standard Metroid fashion, environments are varied and vibrant and no area looks similar to any other part of the game. You’ll traverse through barren caves, and then come up to a vast area full of shimmering crystals, and trek through abandoned labs and ruins. Better yet are areas that have creatures scurrying about in the back ground. It adds an element to the world and constantly reminds you that SR388 is full of life.
The most distinct thing about the visuals though is how the 3D effect is implemented. It is done to perfection and cranking the 3D slider to max adds an immense amount of depth to all the environments. Walkable areas and walls pop out to the forefront, while back drops look vast and impressive as they feel like to extend very far back. Switching between the 3D effect being off and on full settings feels like day and night. I highly recommend playing with it on, as you’ll run into areas that can easily make your jaw drop in awe.
The animations in Samus Returns are done very well and add a nice flare to the action heavy segments of the game. Certain key moments in boss fights will trigger a very theatric performance by Samus. She’ll do things from pulling off a melee counter which has the camera shift behind her as you load away at a Metroid. Better yet, some performances have her leaping and turning mid air to land atop her foe in prime position to serve a missile omelette. It’s all quite spectacular and adds quite a bit of personality to Samus. These only get more impressive the deeper you get into the game.
The one aspect that I wasn’t impressed with was the enemy variety. Enemies for the most part are small little critters that hop, crawl or fly. Outside of the boss fights, there is never really anything that menacing you need to take on compared to other Metroid games. The enemy designs are also recycled throughout and changes are only made to their colours. In the context of the planet you are on, this does make a bit of sense. This is the home planet of the Metroid species, so naturally I would expect them to be the main predator. It’s understandable that most other life probably cannot get past the point of being measly little critters who’s purpose in life is to probably be Metroid food. Even with this in mind, it’s hard not to be a bit disappointed at this aspect.
From a HUD point of view though, Samus Returns utilizes it’s real estate perfectly. Any HUD element such as health, Aeon meter, missiles etc. are all displayed on the bottom screen along with the map. This leaves the top screen clear from any obstructions and your eyes are left to focus on strictly the beauty of what Samus Returns has to offer.
Sound effects in Samus Returns are handled quite well. The game is littered with sound triggers making things like melee counters easy to pull off. Your beams, missiles, bombs all have a distinct, satisfying and fitting effects to each. The things that hit heavy, had a deep thud to them, and beams sound swift and light, yet piercing.
The music is something that didn’t stand out to me, not that it’s bad by any means. Samus Returns is full of music that lacks melody and lends more ambiance than anything. This works perfectly fine in the context of Metroid as past games have implored similar techniques with much success. Music can consist of slow chants or be energetic when in a boss fight. They all have their place and lend to either the more action oriented areas, or help solidify that sense of isolation that Metroid games are so good at. There are areas where the music picks up and lends to that feeling of excitement and discovery of finding some new as well. My favourite bits were probably tracks that were borrowed either directly from past Metroid games, or redone and modernized for Samus Returns.
Regardless of your thoughts of the music, I highly recommend to always play this game with headphones. The sound effects and music lend a lot of depth and weight to the entire experience. The 3DS speakers work, but don’t do it any justice in my opinion. Tracks like the one below really come to life when using a good pair of headphones at full volume.
SR388 in Samus Returns is structure in a relatively linear manner. I say relatively only because in past Metroid titles, the further you’d get, you would uncover all sorts of new routes and shortcuts that loop through and connect each of the sections together, making it feel very organic. In Samus Returns, each area is designed in a top down approach, meaning each time you progress, you are effectively heading down and deeper into the planet. I haven’t discovered and stumbled onto any routes that take me back to a previous area unexpectedly. I have no reason believe anything like this is hidden, as SR388 contains teleportation stations throughout each area. This is Samus Returns version of fast travel, and does away for the need to have the intricate shortcuts you would find in past titles.
Some have expressed disappointment with this aspect of the game, but I didn’t find it to be a deal break by any means. Even though you progress through each major area in a linear fashion, exploring within each area brings you everything Metroid is known for. Here, you will find and uncover shortcuts that open up new and quicker paths to get you across the map quicker. This is where I find all the intricacies that are found in navigating under ground labyrinths of Metroid come to light.
Navigating SR388 has been made easier through enhancements done to the map. Not only is the map always displayed on your bottom screen, but you now have the ability to place different coloured markers throughout. This will make doing things like 100% runs much easier, especially for the less seasoned Metroid players out there. Even for myself, I find this a very welcome addition to be able to manage the map to some extent.
Even though enemies are a bit under whelming in terms of their variety, they offer a good challenge in taking them out. Gone are the day where enemies aimlessly roam around the screen and would tend to hit you at random. In Samus Return, enemies are relentless and have a new found purpose in taking Samus out, as if they have a grudge to settle. When you approach an enemy, they take notice of you and immediately charge towards you. It’s a nice to see the enemy AI that we are used to seeing in the Metroid Primes make it’s way in Samus Returns. It adds a whole new element in how to deal with enemies and simply skipping past them is not a viable option as you’ll take a lot of damage.
Bosses on the other hand are the real deal. With the nature of your mission being to hunt down 40 Metroids, you will naturally face off against several bosses. Even though throughout the hunt, the Metroids are often repeated with some small variances to their abilities, in no way do they ever feel repetitive or boring. Samus Returns handles this quite well somehow given that overall, there are only a handful of different Metroids to eradicate. The build up to each encounter is great, as you will come across a Metroid husk, indicating that one is nearby. As you get closer and closer, your beacon beeps faster and faster as you finally find where it’s hiding.
This flow remains throughout the game and never gets old. The more you progress, you start uncovering Metroids that are at different stages of their evolution. Metroids will eventually grow legs and scurry towards you, others will become large menacing monsters that have a larger arsenal of tools to use at their disposal. There are also fun twists where Metroids will flee mid battle, and you will need to track them down once again and force them out of hiding.
Despite facing the same types of Metroids over and over again, Samus Returns never felt repetitive to me, and I think this actually strengthens your progression in a way. Initially, you will probably have to go through a few attempts to defeat some Metroids. However, as you face the same Metroids over and over, you’ll start to take them out with ease, which naturally lends to the fact that you are becoming stronger and also smarter in how you deal with their tactics. It’s at this point where the game introduces the next well timed evolution of the Metroids, well before things start to feel too easy. The progression in difficulty is done very well, and helps to ensure things never start feeling repetitive.
What also helps not only the Metroid encounters, but the entire game from feeling too repetitive is that enemies are pretty tough to deal with. Whether you are taking on little critters, or the bigger menacing Metroids, they all hit hard, and if you are careless, enemies will make short work of you. The game can require some demanding precision at times, but nothing that feels impossible to accomplish. When you do reach the stage where you able to pull off those quick melee counters with ease, especially during boss fights, you’ll not only be rewarded with the self satisfaction of accomplishing the said task, but you’ll usually be treated to an over the top stunt performed by Samus leading to a prime opportunity to lay waste to your opponent. This all once again lends to the progression in how you deal with each encounter before the game starts mixing things up again.
Metroid: Samus Returns is a welcomed return to glory for the Metroid series. After a long hiatus, the game truly delivers on everything we come to expect from a Metroid title. As always, is delivers a beautiful world full of life and is only made better with the excellent 3D effect that makes areas look and feel vast. Not only is SR388 joy to explore and full of hidden secrets, but the stream lined controls bring forth a new identity to how action is done in Metroid. It is fast paced, intense, precise, challenging and just pure fun to hunt down and exterminate Metroids. Despite some minor complaints from my part on enemy variety and the tacked on Aeon abilities, the game more than makes up for it with the numerous and tough bosses it provides. They will test most players, and those seeking further challenge will have plenty to do if they take on the games hard mode. As always, completing the game with 100% of the upgrades is always an appeal for any Metroid fan. The adventure will last you around 10-12 hours to complete, and is definitely worth subsequent play throughs after the fact. I highly recommend Metroid: Samus Returns to anyone. It can be a difficult game, but several features implemented make this a pretty accessible Metroid game.