It’s always nice to play a new entry in a beloved game series. Well, “always” might be stretching it a tiny bit. Certainly we’ve all played games in a series we love that didn’t live up to our expectations – I’m sure you Devil May Cry fans out there have something to say about that point. In my case, I was pretty disappointed in 2016’s Metroid Prime: Federation Force, an underwhelming spinoff shooter that didn’t do justice to the Metroid name. Nintendo’s giving Samus another shot, though, with Metroid: Samus Returns. You’ll be glad to hear that it’s a little less…well, awful this time.
Samus Returns is, shockingly, a remake of the 1991 Gameboy title Metroid 2: Return of Samus. After the initial Metroid adventure, it was assumed that all of the titular parasitic blobs had been wiped out, but it’s later discovered that this is not the case and the planet of SR388, the creatures’ home world, remains infested. Bounty hunter Samus Aran is sent back in to finish the job and clean up the remaining Metroids, but they’ve had time to evolve into more dangerous forms in the meantime, so it’s not just a standup fight – it’s another bug hunt.
This plays out as you’d expect from a Metroid game. You’ll explore what amounts to a giant planet-wide dungeon while taking out baddies and collecting new gear that will facilitate further exploration. This entry differs somewhat from the formula by actually incorporating Samus’ mission into the gameplay: significant portions of SR388 are locked behind mechanics that require you to clean out all Metroids in a given area before they’ll activate and open the way forward. It’s a nice way to keep the player on task, though it means that exploration is more central than ever to progress.
Samus retains her usual abilities – she can run, jump, shoot, wall-jump and is rapidly able to curl up into the smaller Morph Ball form. There are a few new twists here, though. For one, Samus is now armed with the Melee Counter, a quick smack with her arm cannon that knocks enemies back and leaves them open to devastating critical shots. Nearly all of Samus Returns’ combat feels like it’s designed around using the Melee Counter; enemies are highly aggressive and Samus seems to do less damage unless an enemy has been countered and stunned. I think this is a bit of a divisive change, and personally I wasn’t especially in love with it, as it turned enemies into JUST enough of an annoyance that they’d manage to distract me from exploration. It’s not the end of the world, but I’d have preferred the more traditional run-and-gun-only style.
It seems like the developers had the tendency of combat to pull one’s attention away from discovery in mind when they created the new set of Aeion gear. These are special abilities which run on their own resource called Aeion that’s regularly dropped by enemies and found throughout the environment. The first that’s available is a scanner that analyzes the area around Samus, revealing a chunk of the map and marking potentially breakable blocks. This takes some of the exploration out of exploration, so to speak, but now that you have to pay attention to even smaller enemies it’s a nice touch. Other Aeion powers include bullet time and an armor boost, so you’ve got other uses for Aeion than dumping it all into the scanner. Generally speaking, Samus Returns his the important parts of the Metroid experience and does well enough to be enjoyable; your views on the shaken-up combat may vary, but it’s hard to deny that this is a Metroid adventure through and through.
As expected for an entry in one of Nintendo’s flagship franchises, Samus Returns looks and sounds great. I’m still unable to use stereoscopic 3D and thus still can’t comment on that side of things, but these are some great graphics otherwise; in particular, the Melee Counter system allows enemies to look and feel much more interesting and dynamic than they did in previous Metroid games. Likewise, Samus Returns’ sound is packed with the usual Metroid themes and jingles, including the classic item-get tune. If you’re an Amiibo fan you’ll be glad to hear that this game supports the figures, offering various bonuses such as assistance with tracking Metroids. One divisive touch is that a more difficult version of the game, Fusion Mode, is actually locked behind Amiibo support, so players looking for a challenge may want to keep that in mind.
There was some reasonable trepidation regarding Metroid: Samus Returns when it came out that it was being developed by MercurySteam, a team responsive for the Castlevania: Lords of Shadow games, which were generally held to be less than fantastic. Skepticism is always wise, but in this case it was unnecessary. Metroid: Samus Returns is a worthy entry in the series and a great way of washing out the foul taste of Federation Force.