It sure has been a while, hasn’t it? Ten years is a long time to go without a new game in the series (we don’t talk about those ones), so when it was revealed at E3 2017 that our golden-armoured gal would be getting not one but two new games, I was one of the many who utterly lost their shit.
And these games weren’t to be pale shadows of the series like Other M or Federation Force: they were as Metroid as Metroid gets, with a remake of the second game in the series and a long (long) awaited sequel to Metroid Prime 3. Well, we’ve got one of them now, so how does it hold up?
A quick note on the story, here. In Metroid II: Return of Samus, the titular bounty hunter was tasked with returning to SR388 – the homeworld of the parasitic Metroid species – and hunting every last one down. No distress beacons or pirate activity this time around. This is a story about straight-up genocide, with no frills and no twists.
Samus Returns preserves this more or less completely. There are new power-ups and a redesigned layout, but the premise remains unchanged and sees Samus plunging into the ecologically diverse depths of SR388 on her quest to vanquish the Metroid threat.
No distress beacons or pirate activity this time around. Samus Returns tells a story about straight-up genocide, with no frills and no twists.
Now in 2.5D and with 21st-century handheld technology in its side, the game is really, really a joy to look at. In the GameBoy days of its progenitor, new areas could only be signified by slightly different patterns of black and white rock or different enemy types. Now, Samus bounces from wall to wall in crystal-lined chasms while huge shelves of rock crumble in the background; hulking, passive beasts loom in the shadows of watery caverns; the sky of SR388 is a vibrant, violent green storm setting the backdrop for an incredibly cool (if more than a little fanservice-y) endgame boss fight.
The game makes good use of the 3DS’ namesake feature, as Metroids hurtle through background scenery before bursting onto the front layer and charging our heroine with mandibles agape. On that subject, the fights with these Metroids are a spectacle in and of themselves, albeit a little repetitive at times. In a series known for some incredibly cool boss encounters, Samus Returns does suffer from the same limitations in some regards as Metroid II did, and after a while, the sight of another larval-stage Gamma Metroid can be a little disappointing.
Samus Returns adds a couple of new features that streamline the gameplay in a very welcome way. For one, Samus is no longer constrained to 8-directional aiming as she has been in 2D adventures since Super Metroid. Holding down the free aim button locks movement, allowing full 360-degree precision aiming assisted by a targeting laser which even changes colour to indicate off-screen enemies or grapple points. This made the arm cannon feel much more fluid and lets you pull off sniper shots on weak points without having to painstakingly manoeuvre yourself to line up an angle.
Samus can also now melee counter enemies when they charge at her, opening up more defensive options than frantically jumping over enemies as you might have before (though that is still very much a valid tactic). This is as satisfying as it sounds, made even better by the parries this opens up in boss fights. Against a certain flavour of Metroid, a successful parry will sprawl the creature on its back; Samus then leaps atop it, pulling its maw wide open to deliver as many missiles down the gullet as your trigger finger will allow.
The arm cannon feels much more fluid and lets you pull off sniper shots on weak points without having to painstakingly manoeuvre yourself to line up an angle.
It feels – to put a fine point on it – very fucking cool, and shows off Samus as the athletic, adaptive warrior that she is. The game also adds ‘Aeion abilities’ powered by a new resource bar (filled in the usual manner by killing enemies and absorbing coloured particles dropped from their bodies), which I’ll let you discover for yourself. These fit into both combat and exploration in a surprisingly seamless way and using them immediately felt totally natural like they’d always been in the hunter’s toolkit.
The elephant in the room, of course, is an inevitable comparison with the fan-game AM2R (Another Metroid 2 Remake), long in development but short in lifetime. Many fans were left feeling justifiably embittered by Nintendo’s heavy-handed takedown of the Zero Mission-esque remake of Metroid II last year, though that draconian response seems a little more understandable now that their own version has been released.
The good news is that they do in fact feel very different from one another to the same extent that each feels like a departure from their shared original title. Whereas fan creator Milton Guasti’s version took more of a classic Metroid route, Samus Returns embraces a new direction for the series even as it revisits its origins, and both work incredibly well for it. If you liked AM2R there’s no reason you won’t like this and vice versa; I’ve found no problems whatsoever enjoying both as entirely separate games. Guasti himself posted a point-by-point breakdown of the game noting what he liked and what they’d done differently.
After a long time away from the visor, with very few (and very unfortunate) titles to tide us over since Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, Samus Returns may not be the full sequel fans have been waiting for, but it is unquestionably a welcome return to form. The game brings back all the best parts of classic Metroidvania whilst injecting enough youth and innovation to make this game really stand on its own merit, without leaning heavily on the GameBoy original. A post-credits Fusion remake tease left me feeling very, very optimistic about the future of 2D Metroid as well. If this is the direction Metroid is taking, with Prime 4 still looming on the horizon, then I’m more than happy to be back aboard the gunship for the ride.
Contributor James McCoull finished off the Metroid Queen and vacated SR388 with around nine hours of playtime. He only got lost once. Okay – twice.