BY DAN POPOLSKI — After a 13-year hiatus, 2D Metroid is back in a major way with “Samus Returns.”
It isn’t an original title, but rather a remake of Metroid II on Gameboy. Even so, it is a strong new entry that fits in with some of its legendary ancestors.
The story, as always for the Metroid franchise, is more extensive than most other Nintendo games. Even so, the plot isn’t force fed with walls of text. Instead, a small explanation at the beginning and a few cut scenes throughout, tell a rich narrative enhanced by the environment. There isn’t much, but even more backstory is given after the game’s completion, providing additional content for players looking to dig a bit deeper into the lore.
You are bounty hunter Samus Aran, and are tasked with committing mass genocide of all the metroids on planet SR388. Once that goal is given to you, it’s off to the races to kill 40 of them. It’s an epic mission that’s very satisfying. Seeing the counter of remaining metroids on the bottom screen is a great way to keep track of your journey.
The core gameplay is built around traditional Metroid, which entails searching for upgrades and abilities to move past obstacles. This rendition is more linear than past games in the series, but there is some backtracking to find more expansions to beef up Samus’ arsenal. The series is somewhat infamous for backtracking, but that is cut down drastically here by the introduction of warp stations. These are optional fast-travel points throughout the map. Hardcore fans may not like the mechanic, but there’s always the option to skip the feature and just trek back and forth the old fashioned way. Whatever your preference, it makes returning to old areas to try your new abilities a much quicker process.
But the two biggest mechanics introduced are easily the melee counter and the aeion pulse abilities. The pulse adds some more moves, such as a temporary shield, or the ability to see secrets and upgrades tucked away in the room. They add even more variety, and feel right at home with Samus’ suit.
The counter is a maneuver that you start with, and it just makes sense. Why wouldn’t she swing her big metal gun to take baddies down? By pressing a button at the right time, Samus will bash enemies with her arm cannon, stunning them and inflictng damage. Once you get the rhythm down, it’s a quick and satisfying way to breeze through enemies. However, the developers seemed to love it just a bit too much. Almost every enemy’s main attack pattern is to charge at you. It’s a disappointingly repetitive approach that pervades even the boss fights. It’s fun to counter in the beginning, but some variety would’ve been a big relief.
However, the few other non-metroid bosses included are a great additions, and provide a fantastic challenge. Some of the fights later on in the game are some of the best in a series known for its spectacular bosses.
The soundtrack is a major disappointment, especially after some of the more glorious tunes in older games. It’s largely atmospheric, which works well when playing the game, but unlike Super Metroid or Metroid Prime there isn’t much to hum along to after you’re done playing.
Graphically, there isn’t much to see here either. It doesn’t look inherently bad, but the limited capabilities of the 2.5D presentation on the 3DS make sure that the visuals will age rather poorly, and ensure that they don’t look all that great, even today. Call me old fashioned, but a pixel art approach would’ve been an impressive way to bring the series back, and make sure it looked good forever. That said, some of the backdrops look great while you’re traversing the planet, ensuring that no two rooms are exactly alike. On the 3DS’ limited hardware, it packs quite a punch.
Despite the numerous flaws, Samus Returns is an amazing return to form, especially when considering the limited source material of the original Metroid II. The game is a fantastic entry point for those unfamiliar with the series, while still being a great fit for the ardent fans of Metroid games past. Even if you loved recent Metroidvania classics like “Guacamelee” and “Axiom Verge,” this 3DS title is a good way to learn about the origins of the genre from the ones who invented it.
Final verdict: 8.5/10