Metroid is my favourite game series and if I hadn’t played Undertale two years ago, Metroid Prime would still be my number one, all-time favourite game (they’re tied for first). I love everything about Metroid; its eerie sci-fi settings, its innovative explorative gameplay, its interesting arsenal of weapons that blend technology and fantasy. I love its subtle inspiration from Alien, and I especially love the surprise reveal of what came to be one of gaming’s most iconic female icons. To this day, I still tear up when the baby Metroid sacrifices itself to save Samus in Super Metroid.
The Metroid series really needed a win after its last few outings. I quite enjoyed Metroid Prime: Federation Force, but it didn’t leave a lasting impression, and the less said about Metroid: Other M the better. Metroid: Samus Returns is a true return to the traditional Metroid style, and it does not disappoint.
Metroid: Samus Returns is a ground-up remake of Metroid II: The Return of Samus, which was originally released for the Gameboy in 1991. It’s often one of the more overlooked in the series, despite its contributions to a lot of the Metroid lore—particularly the various stages of Metroid evolution. The monochrome display of the Gameboy meant Samus’ suits couldn’t be colour coated, which lead to an increased visual design across the whole game as well as introducing Samus’ iconic Varia Suit.
In Metroid: Samus Returns, our stalwart heroine finds herself back on the planet SR388, the homeworld of the Metroid, in an effort to eradicate every last one. It’s a simple premise that lends itself to a more mission-based, linear design; perfect for a modern day reintroduction to the franchise. However, when I say linear, I don’t mean like the second half of Final Fantasy XV; Metroid: Samus Returns maintains the free exploring gameplay of its stronger predecessors, with an emphasis on backtracking.
What I mean to say by “linear” is that unlike games like Super Metroid, or Metroid: Fusion, each part of the world has a certain number of Metroids that need to be hunted. Once they are found, the next part of the world becomes available. It’s a straightforward and less stressful style that works as well now as it did back then given the “pick-up-and-play” nature of a hand-held.
Metroid: Samus Returns plays like the perfect combination of all the best ideas from every Metroid game. While the majority of the game feels like classic gameplay from Super Metroid, the better ideas like the ledge grabbing from Metroid: Fusion returns, the precision aiming (which I’ll ascribe to the Prime series) adds an incredible layer of depth to the classic 2D gameplay, and the melee attacks (the only good idea from Other M) add much more nuance to the combat. The gameplay is tighter than it’s ever been; running, jumping and shooting all feel fluid and responsive and the addition of the 360 degree aiming only improves this.
New to this game are the “Aeon Abilities” which provide Samus functions like a map scan, a shield, and devastating rapid fire cannon. It’s a nice addition to Samus’ already vast arsenal, however I do have one problem with the Scan Pulse in particular as it essentially replaces the Map Stations from previous games. Part of what made Metroid so great was getting a clear lay of the land so that you could explore it, which made finding secret nooks and crannies all the more rewarding. In Metroid: Samus Returns, the Scan Pulse not only reveals a portion of the map, but also destroyable blocks, so it feels like the exploration has been streamlined a bit.
The game is stunning, given the relative capabilities of the 3DS. A game that’s designed to be tight and claustrophobic feels right at home on a smaller system with a smaller screen. Environments are richly detailed, with little touches like creatures crawling around in the background only adding to the game’s aesthetics. The 3D actually adds a lot to this too, taking advantage of the depth of field provided by the 3DS. The music is equally as inspired, beginning with an updated version of the SR388 Surface theme and continuing with haunting and isolating tracks that only add to the creepy atmosphere of the hostile planet.
While I have the utmost praise for Metroid: Samus Returns, it’s not a game without some minor flaws. While the melee counter can feel a bit overpowered once you get the timing down, it can also be a bit spotty at times, particularly if two enemies charge you at once. Also, there is a massive framerate drop during elevator and teleportation cutscenes. I couldn’t help but notice a strange disparity in the music, particularly when entering an extreme-heat room. Any room that’s too hot to enter—requiring the Varia Suit—changes from whatever that level’s music is to the Norfair theme and it never breaks, even during Metroid fights.
If I have a major complaint, it’s against the “nods” to nostalgia that pervades this game. The item fanfare is ripped straight from Metroid Prime, and even the death animation is accompanied by the Super Metroid sound effects. While this complaint may be a bit nitpicky, there’s a difference in how some of the SNES sound effects in A Link Between Worlds were blended in with the modern sounds and music. Here, it comes off as lazy and makes the game look unpolished.
Those are minor complaints amidst a torrent of positives that shine in Metroid: Samus Returns. It is an amazing game, a definite reaffirmation that the series hasn’t forgotten its roots, and is a must own for both fans and newcomers alike!