We’re living in a world where Nintendo are seemingly on top. A never released Star-Fox 2 is about to see the light, and for the second Christmas in a row we’ll see a smaller re-release of an older console. Nintendo are plugging into the nostalgia of older gamers while at the same time trying to show newer gamers how they got to be where they are today. One of the games that helped make Nintendo stand out 30 years ago was a title called Metroid.
Metroid II: Return of Samus wasn’t as popular as the original. Despite receiving positive reviews, Metroid II is often thought of as the weakest in the series. The fact that it was released in 1991 exclusively to the GameBoy means that few modern gamers have experienced the events that lead up to the more popular Super Metroid on SNES. So it’s with that that Nintendo placed Metroid II in the hands of MercurySteam, who have plenty of practice making Metroidvania style games.
Metroid: Samus Returns takes off where the original Metroid ended. After foiling the Space Pirates plans to weaponise Metroids (small jellyfish like creatures) the Galactic Federation sends elite forces to SR388: the home planet of the Metroid. When communication with these forces is lost, the Federation sends Samus to investigate and wipe out any remaining Metroids. It’s a great premise, and with a counter of Metroids left always present at the bottom of the lower screen, every encounter with a Metroid, in whatever form you find them, acts as a countdown to the end.
In true Metroid fashion, Samus Returns is all about exploration and using what abilities you have to progress. The exploration of the environment is as much a game mechanic as the eradication of Metroids and other wildlife. You’ll stumble upon doors that you can’t open, blocks you can’t break that lead to tunnels you desperately want to head down. What this can mean in a lesser Metroidvania style game is lots of back-tracking, that ends up soaking up time and hit points.
Thankfully, in Samus Returns, back-tracking is at a minimum. If you’re stuck, there’s a good chance you’ve missed a hidden breakable section of the environment that requires the use of the latest obtained ability. Of course there are plenty of doors and secrets in every area that can only be accessed with the late-game abilities, but these are almost always optional and serve only to help you hit 100-percent completion.
The way abilities are doled out is damn perfect. The majority of the game requires you to stop regularly to kill enemies, think about which power-up you need to progress, and hunting for the right path forward. Each time you enter a new area, the enemies you know and love have scaled alongside you, so there’s always the feeling of growing, but never without losing the challenge. By the end, abilities obtained will enable you to power through almost any enemy and area with ease. Thankfully, this makes the hunt for every pick-up far less painful than it might otherwise be.
This doesn’t mean you’ll breeze through the boss fights though; each one comes with it’s own death count. It’ll take some time to get used to the sequences of attacks, and which gun/missile combo is ideal for taking each one down. You’ll also need to understand how to utilise any new abilities, and any adjustments the enemies might while you use them. Defeat doesn’t feel cheap, and serves only to give you the push you need to try again.
The biggest difference to progression in Samus Returns is that Chozo statues will act as the barrier between you and the next area. Each statue asks for a specific number of Metroid DNA, that just happens to align with how many Metroid are nearby. Fill it up with the DNA of defeated Metroid and the toxic water stopping your progression flushes away, giving you access to further areas of SR388.
While this remains true to the original, it’s the new additions to the combat that make Samus Returns what it is. Samus can now aim in any direction, and can also counter any enemy charge with a press of a button. This counter always rounds off with Samus’ arm cannon being aimed directly at the enemy, and can now be taken out with a single shot. I found myself using this less and less as Samus got more and more powerful, but keep an eye out for moments this can be used in boss fights, as it always adds an element of style.
With 18 abilities to find, you might think keeping track of each one would be a nightmare – and you’d be half-right. Holding the aim button, then tapping on-screen lets you change cannon/missile types. Holding a different button changes your gun to missiles. Double-tapping down or tapping the map initiates morph-ball form – it goes on and on.
Despite the numerous ways to do things, the only thing that ever feels broken is the Space Jump, which lets you jump mid-air, as often as you like. It feels like it wants a specific rhythm to your button presses, and often fails without any clue as to why. It’s really the only complaint though as new weapons often stack, the grapple hook is context sensitive, and changing missile type is only a tap away.
Metroid: Samus Returns is a welcome addition to the 3DS library. Whether this stands alone as Nintendo honouring a part of the franchise that didn’t get its time to shine, or if this is their way to set the scene before a full-blown Super Metroid remake, I hope they do it again. There are a lot of Nintendo classics that have been lost to time, and Metroid: Samus Returns proves that a new coat of paint, and the modernising of mechanics can go a long way in revitalising a franchise.
Reagan received a digital copy of Metroid: Samus Returns from Nintendo for review.