I’m known around here for my unabashed love for The Legend of Zelda, but another series rivaled my NES time in the 80’s. Link may have enlightened me on open worlds, but Samus Aran, the bounty hunter from Metroid, introduced me to backtracking. The second game is that series, “Metroid II: Return of Samus” premiered on the original Gameboy and was even better than the first. When Nintendo announced that Mercury Steam was rebooting the game for the 3DS, I became immediately excited. “Metroid: Samus Returns” is much more than an HD upgrade to a game I loved, however. It has breathed life into a franchise I love by going back to its roots and offering a genuinely challenging experience.
“Metroid: Samus Returns” Story
The plot here is identical to the original Gameboy game. Samus just defeated the space pirates on the planet Zebes. Mother Brain had intended to use the life-sucking organism as weapons. The Galactic Federation has since decided that the Metroids are far too dangerous and need to be eradicated. They send Samus Aran to the alien home planet, SR388, to destroy each and every last one of the creatures. But the Metroids have evolved and are much tougher this time around.
If this story sounds familiar, that’s because it’s identical to the one from its source material. While the premise is familiar, the rest of the experience isn’t nearly as much of a carbon copy. This sin’t your standard HD upgrade. “Metroid: Samus Returns” has been built from the ground up. The map is completely different and the controls are more versatile than ever before. That’s what makes this entry in the series so special. It feels like comfort food and a fresh experience at the same time. Portions make you feel like you’ve been here before, but so much has been changed that it feels like you’re playing the game for the first time again. That’s the kind of remake I’m more interested in playing.
Samus Returns goes back to its roots in terms of gameplay. The 3-D shooting is gone and replaced with 2-D exploration that made the game such a success originally. The most notable difference in Samus’ latest adventure is her ability to point her weapons in any direction. She is no longer limited to firing straight forward or straight up. Instead, she can lock herself in place and point anywhere without moving. Furthermore, she has the ability to parry attacks from enemies with a melee attack. If timed correctly, you can stun an enemy and take them out quite easily. This is a welcome addition to the series and something I’d like to see more of in future iterations of the series.
Samus also has a few other new upgrades in her arsenal called Aeion abilities. Each of these four abilities are limited in use by an Aeion gauge that depletes after each use. The gauge can be replenished by defeating enemies or by finding recharge stations around SR388. One ability is the Scan Pulse, which acts as the game’s map/item revealer. Although this sounds like it might take away the fun of exploring, it does just the opposite. The Scan Pulse merely gives the player an idea where an item is, but you still have to figure out how to get to it once your there.
Other Aeion abilties include a machine gun-like weapon, a temporary shield that only depletes when hit, and an ability that slows down time for a short period of time. All of these upgrades are a welcome addition to the Metroid series and part of what makes this experience seem so fresh.
If I had one complaint about this game, it’s that the controls don’t allow me to toggle my missiles easily. In the past, I’ve always been able to turn missiles on and off with the press of a button. Here, I have to continuously hold the RB button down in order to arm missiles. While this might sound like a minor detail, it makes for frustrating fights where I have to hold myself in place with the LB button at the same time. On many occasions, I was forced to hold my 3DS awkwardly during boss battles. This could have been easily remedies by simply allowing me to toggle missiles on/off instead. If this were an option I could have changed in the settings, I was unaware of it.
It also would have been nice to have the option to use the game pad instead of the analog disc on the 3DS. Pressing down twice to use the morph ball can be tricky in tight situations, but a double tap down on the gamepad instead would have been nice. This is a minor issue, however, and didn’t ruin the experience for me in any way.
Furthermore, Samus Returns is no joke in terms of difficulty. Metroid games were never really easy, but this one takes a good amount of patience and precision to complete. While I found this to be a fun challenge, I worry that people new to the series will be turned off by how tricky some sections can be.
No joke, this might be the best-looking game I’ve played on the 3DS. Yes, it’s a handheld game and doesn’t offer high definition graphics, but it doesn’t need it. Rarely do I play games on this platform in 3-D, but this time I never turned it off. Enemies explode towards the screen after defeating them, which is a nice touch. The backgrounds are really what sell this environment, though. There’s almost always something going on or moving off in the distance, giving SR388 a feeling like it’s a living place. It’s truly a game that I struggled to put down just because of how much I enjoyed looking at the world while exploring.
Metroid: Samus Returns proves how a reboot should be done. I don’t want a mere update of the game I played 20 years ago. I want a new experience that scratches that nostalgic itch just enough, and this does exactly that. I’m eagerly anticipating jumping back in to explore the rest of SR388 to find all of the upgrades. It’s an easy recommend for fans of the original Metroid games. I would still recommend “Super Metroid” over it to newcomers, as the barrier of entry there is a bit easier to swallow. This game is shockingly good and makes me hopeful for the future for 2-D Metroid games. It’s great to see that Samus isn’t a foregone conclusion and that we’ll be seeing more of her in the future.