Metroid: Samus Returns is a remake of Metroid II: Return of Samus, which originally released on the Game Boy in 1991. It still maintains the series’ trademark formula of collecting power-ups then backtracking to unlock new routes in previous areas. The twist in Metroid II is having to entirely rid planet SR388 of the life-draining, jelly-like aliens known as Metroids. Having a defined objective is rare for the series, and in 1991 it was uncharted territory, making Metroid II something of a dark horse for the series. Samus Returns changes none of this, the original subterranean adventure is still intact, with many welcome additions, besides improved visuals.
You play as Samus Aran, gaming’s timeless bounty hunting heroine. She lands her ship on the planet of SR388, unleashing you onto a vast alien world. The fundamental gameplay of Samus Returns is the classic Metroid formula. It was high time for the bitter taste left by 2010’s Other M and 2016’s Federation Force to be washed away. Samus Returns is a much-needed return to the series’ strengths. Of course, many Metroid fans had already been indulging in the delights of Another Metroid 2 Remake – an impressive fan project. This is not the space for a comparison between Samus Returns and AM2R. But I would be remiss, especially as a Metroid fan, if I did not mention the excellent work done by Milton Guasti on AM2R and his passion for the Metroid series.
Gameplay in Samus Returns is fast. New abilities are thrown at you at a rapid pace, keeping the momentum high. It doesn’t take long for you to assemble a deadly arsenal and tear through corridors with the iconic Screw Attack. You take your first hit of damage and realise how lethal enemies are. A few hits will easily dispatch you, teaching you to be careful. Enemies are damage sponges. They soak up barrages, making you heavily reliant on the melee counterattack – a new ability introduced in Samus Returns. The counterattack requires careful timing to execute and is satisfying when done correctly. It’s especially rewarding pummelling a Metroid with a volley of missiles after parrying it. This reliance makes the first few hours sluggish, and never fully fades due to its usefulness against Metroids. Thankfully, the issue does subside with new abilities and power-ups.
Also new to Samus Returns are Aeion abilities, which use an energy gauge. The first, Scan Pulse, is unlocked early. Upon reading its description I couldn’t refrain from wincing. It allows you to scan the surrounding area, revealing unexplored rooms and hidden blocks. My immediate thought was that this destroys the exploration, the spirit of Metroid. However, you are never forced to use the ability, seasoned veterans can choose to ignore it, while inexperienced players can use it to chart their way. Offering this freedom was a wise decision from MercurySteam. 360 degrees aiming with the circle pad is also an excellent addition, replacing the bulkier controls of previous titles. However, an option to use the shoulder buttons to aim at angles should have been included for those wanting a more classic feel, like how Capcom included the original control scheme in the Resident Evil remake.
Although you steadily become more powerful, the game ramps up the difficulty alongside this. Samus Returns is unexpectedly difficult. Yes, you can wreak havoc at the later stages of the game but become too reckless and Samus Returns will hit back. Hard. This is especially evident in some of the later boss fights. They require old school memorisation of attack patterns to overcome. Samus Returns almost get its difficulty curve right. The only problem is the initial hurdle. It starts out more difficult than it should, but things ultimately even out. Despite this, the game never feels unfair and after hurling yourself at the tougher bosses a few times, you’ll eventually bring them down.
Planet SR388 is split into nine distinct areas, each presenting a new teeming biome to explore. The variation in the environments helps keep you invested in the game. It’s always exciting taking the elevator to a new area, eagerly anticipating new sights beyond. The visual presentation is undoubtedly pushing the 3DS hardware to its limit. Each environment features highly detailed backgrounds, from towering pyramids to murky swamps – all of which make full use of the system’s 3D capability. The 3D greatly enhances the visual presentation of Samus Returns. Vegetation in the background appears more vibrant, ancient ruins are given depth, and the splintered shards of frozen enemies zoom towards you when shattered.
As you keep pushing onwards to the next vista or the next powerup, you find the game has a rhythm: the same rhythm that other Metroid games have. It’s a unique cadence that has spawned an entire subgenre, but no franchise hits the tempo quite like Metroid. The pulsing beat of the Chozo Laboratory and the ever-changing surface theme seemed to mirror my movements, even reflect my mindset moving forward. Daisuke Matsuoka’s soundtrack perfectly complements the game and each varied environment. It was a wonderful surprise to hear the chilling melody of Brinstar Red Soil fade in. All I could do was smirk, while thinking: this is Metroid.
The ominous descent into the depths of SR388 is an intimidating journey. The fact that you are descending has considerable psychological impact. As you go deeper and deeper, you become more isolated, further away from the safety of your trusty ship. This, in combination with the looming soundtrack drench each passing screen with dreaded atmosphere. Just what is lurking in the next area? It’s a morbid curiosity, that when paired with the addictive nature of acquiring new abilities, continually propels you ahead, lulling you into that Metroid rhythm.
Unfortunately, the descent has a downside. It means that Samus Returns lacks the same interconnections of other Metroid titles. The world feels less like a breathing, living planet, and the same awe felt at the complex world design of other Metroid games is not present. Being able to teleport to any area from teleportation stations doesn’t help. Their inclusion highlights the lack of flow in the world. Ultimately, the game is more linear than most other Metroid titles, often prioritising reflex-based action over exploration.
Metroid: Samus Returns is a great entry into the Metroid franchise, and a welcome return to form for the series. Its gameplay is fast and responsive, making it a shame that it sometimes interferes with the primary aim of exploration. But it is undeniably Metroid, complete with that blazing final item run and intense atmosphere. Now that MercurySteam have proven their competency with Samus Returns, perhaps they will be granted their initial wish of a Metroid Fusion remake.
- Gameplay is fast and responsive
- Excellent graphics making full use of 3D
- Atmospheric soundtrack
- Large and varied world
- World isn’t as complex as previous Metroid titles
- Slow pace and steep difficulty at the beginning
- Over-reliance on melee counterattack