Almost seven years to the day since Team Ninja joined forces with Nintendo to release the last official Samus-centric Metroid game, the third-person shooter Metroid: Other M on the Wii console, the widely popular space-based bounty hunter Samus Aran is finally back. Metroid: Samus Returns is her first 2D quest across the galaxy to exterminate the floaty jellyfish-like parasitic Metroid creatures since 2004’s Game Boy Advance remake of the original NES classic, Metroid: Zero Mission.
This much enhanced 3DS upgrade on the notoriously difficult non-linear Game Boy platformer Metroid II: Return of Samus has been well over a decade in coming and it is thanks to developer MercurySteam, who have collaborated with Nintendo for this release, that we have a new side-scrolling Metroid game at all. The open world adventure is for all intents and purposes a remake of the 1991 sequel to the NES original, but with some key differences. Metroid: Samus Returns introduces vibrant new graphics, a larger and more Super Metroid-esque map, as well as a new and improved melee combat system that allows Samus to parry, perform vital counter-attacks, and take advantage of the handheld device’s analogue stick to aim and fire in a 360° arc.
Navigating through the labyrinthian areas of planet SR388 brings a richness to the gameplay. No matter the genre, console or generation, Metroid has always been a series that rewards the player’s spirit of adventure. Braving its hostile terrain and various hidden tunnels, Samus is bestowed with various upgrades for her armour and artillery. The introduction of teleportation stations and Aeion abilities, which can be recharged by defeating enemies, does not detract from the sandbox environment often associated with the platformer. For example, being able to use your gradually acquired Aeion abilities to reveal hidden pathways with the Scan Pulse will make you wonder how you ever played these games at all without it. Gone is the temptation to just head straight to YouTube or GameFAQs at the first sign of frustration and instead you are encouraged to try and figure it out on your own.
The worry for most platformers is how difficult the actual platforming might be. Get it wrong, and your character might feel like they’re a dead weight just waiting for the first opportunity to jump just a tad too short and plummet to their death, else bound across ledges like a carrier bag in a gust of wind and fall entirely somewhere you didn’t intend (often also resulting in you plummeting to your death). Wall-jumping in Super Metroid on the SNES was a notoriously frustrating experience as the timing had to be exactly right. However, not once did Samus Returns seem to fall to her death on account of the controls being under or over-powered. If Samus died (and she died regularly) it was because I was not yet good enough to beat the challenging bosses, and not because of lag or glitches.
In 2D side-scrollers, graphics aren’t the be-all and end-all. Unless they are truly disgusting to look at, it is rare for graphics to make or break games in this genre. For instance, as fancy as the Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap HD remake looked, switching back to the old pixelated visuals doesn’t affect the gameplay at all. Nevertheless, from the short cut-scenes, to the times where you are morph-balling your way through nooks and crannies, it is a beautiful looking game on the 3DS XL’s display. It feels like Metroid, and it looks like Metroid.
Just because it is on the 3DS, it also avoids including any gimmicky split-screen nonsense. There is no point where you are expected to swish your stylus in a specific pattern to unlock a doorway, or aim the arm-blaster in such a way to tap on the screen and pop balloons, or any other contrivance simply because the option of using the touch-screen exists. The bottom screen functions as your HUD, and that is what it is perfectly suited for. At a glance you can check your location, keeping the top screen free of clutter
You will be pleased to know that Samus Returns is compatible with all four of the amiibo figurines in the Metroid collection, including two new models. The two that you may already own have different functions: ‘Samus’ unlocks Missile Reserve Tank and concept artwork, and ‘Zero Suit Samus’ unlocks Energy Reserve Tank and music from the game. The brand new ‘Samus Aran’ amiibo unlocks Aeion Reserve Tank and original artwork for the Game Boy original Metroid II: Return of Samus; and the very cool (and very handy) ‘Metroid’ creature amiibo reveals the location of the nearest Metroid in your area, as well as unlocking Fusion mode difficulty. It is worth noting that the Official Nintendo Store UK is completely out of stock of both newly released amiibo’s, so you may need to venture outside into the real world to find a store selling these additions rather than ordering online.
How the game compares with its original is mostly an irrelevance. Features from latter games in the series, such as the Grapple Beam, Power Bombs and Super Missiles, in addition to the new abilities and power-ups, mean it would be like comparing apples and oranges. Metroid Prime: Federation Force did not pull up any trees whilst the (re)introduction of Super Metroid on the Nintendo Classic Mini: SNES due out this month will no doubt rekindle a long forsaken love. Shocking no-one, Metroid: Samus Returns is a significant step up in quality on the 26-year-old Game Boy original; and in terms of gameplay it is one of the highest calibre games in the series to date.
To say it has whet the appetite for Metroid Prime 4, which is currently in development for the Switch, would be an understatement; and it would also unfairly downplay the miraculous work of MercurySteam on this fun, immersive and entertaining game. A near faultless platforming game.