Released On: September 15, 2017 Genre: Metroidvania Reviewed On: Nintendo 3DS
Developer: MercurySteam, Nintendo Publisher: Nintendo
I was concerned about Metroid: Samus Returns when Nintendo announced it at their E3 presentation this past summer. My biggest worry was that after the company put the kibosh on the well-received fan remake, AM2R, that Nintendo would wind up with an inferior remake of their own game. I was worried that the company chosen to develop Samus Returns was MercurySteam, whose legacy up to this point was being the company that rebooted and ruined the Castlevania franchise (though I did rather enjoy the first Lords of Shadow game).
But the worst thing that I can say about Metroid: Samus Returns is that it’s unfortunate that it was released so late in the 3DS’s lifespan, because it is one of the best games available on the platform. Any and all concerns I had were dashed before reaching the second area of the game. Having never played the original game on the Game Boy, I have no basis for comparison, but I feel like even trying to compare it to its monochromatic predecessor would cheapen just how great M:SR really is.
The Metroid series as a whole is known for creating a foreboding atmosphere. It gives the player a feeling of intense isolation, never allowing you to feel comfortable heading into a new area guns blazing. That feeling is ever-present throughout Samus Returns, especially in the first few hours, as even the more pathetic enemies can cause death if you try to push forward with haste. Assessing your surroundings should always be your top priority when reaching new destinations.
One of the abilities given to Samus to help her avoid an early demise is her new counterattack, which is introduced early in the game and executed with a quick press of the Y button when an enemy performs their tell. Timing the counterattack was a bit tricky in the beginning stages, but by the time I cleared the first few areas, I had it mastered and was performing it on instinct. To prevent the counterattack from becoming boring, tougher and faster versions of enemies are introduced as the game progresses, throwing off your timing just enough to ensure that you don’t get comfortable around SR388’s alien inhabitants. The counterattack adds a modern freshness to Metroid combat that it desperately needed.
Another calling card for the series is its cryptic nature. While the minimalist approach to storytelling is part of its genius, using the same approach for upgrade progression often left players scratching their heads. Figuring things out for yourself is satisfying, but Samus Returns negates that feeling with its very first special ability, which can be used to not only unveil a significant portion of the map around the player, but also reveals locations for nearby upgrades. Personally, I’m a proponent of this ability, as it prevented me from having to do unnecessary backtracking.
While we’re on that subject, backtracking is something that the metroidvania genre is well-known for, but it’s not something that you need to worry about in Samus Returns. Not once in my 11 hour playthrough did I need to travel to previously explored areas in order to find an ability to help me on the critical path. Backtracking is strictly reserved for obtaining additional bomb and missile upgrades, but if you play with the strategy of grabbing all upgrades you can with the abilities at your present disposal, you should have more than enough ammo for any encounter. Even in games with worlds that I enjoy exploring, I’ve never been one to enjoy backtracking, so this is another welcome change.
Upgrades for Samus’s suit are doled out with great frequency, constantly empowering you. However, one of the two complaints I have with Samus Returns is how late you receive your final upgrade. In order to avoid spoilers, I won’t go into the details surrounding this upgrade, but I think it happens late enough that most players will opt for completing the game rather than traveling back grabbing every upgrade. If you do choose to backtrack, you can do so quickly by using one of the many teleportation devices found throughout the game’s 8 areas.
My only other complaint is the controls, but let me follow up that statement by saying that using the circle pad to control Samus is perfect for 99% of the game. Where the circle pad becomes an annoyance are the times where you need to quickly go into and come out of the morph ball form, which require precise up and down movements on the part of the player. This didn’t become painfully obvious until a mid-game escape sequence that resulted in over a dozen continues. It feels like I’m nitpicking since this is such an insignificant portion of the game, but it was the one part of the game that I actively disliked.
The overall goal of Metroid: Samus Returns is to rid SR388 of 40 Metroids — which you encounter at different evolutionary states — each with their own unique abilities and attacks. Each fight is a miniboss of sorts, and switching up which type of evolution you face throughout the game keeps you on your toes. An indicator on the 3DS touch screen informs you of when you’re in close proximity to a Metroid, and each successful battle gains you their DNA, which aides in the game’s progression.
Each of the game’s three major boss battles play out in several stages, and I would guess that I was able to best each one around my fifth attempt. Dying results in starting the fight over, regardless of which stage you made it to, so you’ll become familiar enough with enemy patterns and attacks in the early stages that the final phases allow some room for error.
Beating the game unlocks hard mode for those that want it, but as I’m not one that prides myself on that sort of thing, I’ll save it in the off-chance that I return to the game for a second playthrough.
Metroid: Samus Returns is a must-play title for fans of the series or the metroidvania genre as a whole, and it quickly cemented its place as one of my favorite games in the 3DS’s extensive catalog.
Final Score: 9/10
Metroid: Samus Returns is the perfect in-between for hardcore Metroid fans and first-time players alike.
The review copy of this game was purchased by the reviewer.