A Heroic Return:
When Samus Returns was coyly announced after Nintendo’s big E3 conference this year, I was stunned. I’d only just recovered from the announcement of Metroid Prime 4 – something that likely won’t be here for a year or two at least – when Reggie dropped another bomb: Metroid was coming back this year, on the Nintendo 3DS.
Forgive the space pun, but I was over the moon. I’d been begging for a 2.5D Metroid on the handheld system for years, saying that the system’s 3D feature would work great in such an endeavour. Well, call me a prophet, because I was absolutely right: Samus Returns is everything I knew it could be, and more.
Metroid is back, baby.
Samus Returns is a full remake of the original Game Boy game Metroid II: Return of Samus. A game released twenty five years ago, you’d be forgiven for having never played it. Indeed, it’s likely older than a lot of you, and in dire need of a revitalization. Thankfully, Samus Returns is that and then some.
Despite being the second Metroid game to release, its canonical place in the timeline is now somewhere near the tail-end. Don’t let that put you off, though, as Samus Returns is as good a place to start the series as any, and the game isn’t exactly story heavy regardless.
Essentially, the Galactic Federation have decided that Metroids – you know, the blobby, brain-sac namesakes of the series that act as intergalactic vampires – are bad. Go figure. Having coming to this conclusion after numerous run ins with the little buggers, they decide to send Samus Aran – bounty hunter supreme and all-around badass – to their home planet to wipe them out for good. It’s really pretty simple, barbaric stuff, and even a late game curveball doesn’t stop this from being a genocide simulator. Still, more complicated narratives have resulted in questionable entries to the series, so it’s just understandable and absolutely fine to see Nintendo play it safe here.
Metroidvania’s were, in part, named after Metroid (the other game of course being Castlevania, another franchise developer MercurySteam have turned their hand to) but it was in the third iteration – Super Metroid – that the series truly found its rhythm. Metroid II was still figuring out what goes where, but Samus Returns has overcome that struggle. It’s a confidant entry in a genre it helped birth, and it’s got the strut to match.
Right from the get go Samus Returns starts ticking boxes and scratching that particular Metroidvania itch. Powerups to find, secrets to discover, fun platforming, fast-paced combat, places to come back to later and a sprawling map to delve ever deeper into. By now you know the drill, and Samus Returns bleeds the excellence you’d expect from such a storied series.
The remake begins to deviate from its roots in early combat encounters. Metroid – especially earlier titles – has felt limited by awkward movement, unintuitive dodging and a clumsy diagonal shot. Finding safe spots and mashing your blaster against spongey enemies defined the series’ early iterations for me nearly three decades ago, and whilst they’ve improved wildly over the years none feel as revolutionary as Samus Returns’ approach to battle with the addition of a single button.
By tapping X when an enemy revs up an attack – telegraphed by a flash of white on their body – you can counter them, batting them away and knocking them into a vulnerable state. The game then automatically snaps your cannon on their location, allowing for some quick and usually lethal damage. I’ve heard detractors bemoan this new feature, saying it’s oversimplifying the series, but I disagree.
Despite considering myself a superfan, I’m sure I’ve already lost some Metroid-cred by saying the games are clumsy, so I might as well go all in: I really dig the counter system. It gives the game a much more fluid flow, with smaller enemies no longer being troublesome roadblocks to tiresomely dispatch. They’re now punctuation in a rhythm game of sorts, and when you get a chain of really quick kills it’s very satisfying. Metroid’s movement tech is fun enough to want to preserve the momentum it builds, and this new, quicker combat allows for that, without detracting from the game’s challenge or fun. It also adds a new flavour and cinematic bombast to the game’s many boss fights, all of which are very cool (but none that really come close to Super Metroid’s definitive bigbads).
- 1 2