If You've Never Played a Metroid Game, You Really, Really Need to Try Samus Returns
She was big enough to be one of the original eight fighters in the first Super Smash Bros. game in 1999, but the Metroid series has been tragically underrepresented for the last decade.
Yes, Metroid Prime: Federation Force released last year, but the gameplay wasn't what people were expecting and the game's handling of Samus—who wasn't a playable character—was bizarre, to say the least. Before that, the last game was Metroid: Other M, another poorly reviewed Metroid title released in 2010.
It's been a long time since Nintendo released a game that felt true to the series' 2D platforming roots or the exploratory nature of the 3D Metroid Prime series, with some thinking the series might even be on its last legs. Of course, when Nintendo made a big E3 announcement that we'd be getting both types of games in the near future, I was ecstatic.
Now that I've played and beaten the first new release, a Nintendo 3DS remake of the 1991 Gameboy classic Metroid II, I think it's safe to say that Samus is truly back, and Metroid is anything but dead.
Metroid: Samus Returns may have old-school roots, but the approach to the game feels brand new. Besides the classic labyrinthian Metroid format and feel, you'd never guess this was a remake.
For one, the creators of this game were going for a totally modern look and feel. While other 2D Metroidvania-style games often go with 16-bit graphics and sounds to evoke a classic sensibility, this game isn't afraid to look contemporary.
The backgrounds on this game are stunning and ever-changing, and the 3D models of Samus and the enemies look sleek and fresh. The game seems to press the Nintendo 3DS to its visual limits, and that's a good thing. It's also vital to the game that Samus feels like herself, and she certainly does in this game.
The music in the game is also impressive given that the tracks are adaptations of beepy 8-bit chiptunes. The main planet theme always seemed strangely cheery, but with more atmospheric sounds and sci-fi elements thrown into the track, it becomes something new. Other songs on the original Gameboy game were comprised of sharply separated tones, but this game manages to transform them into moody music. It also evokes exciting themes from past games in unexpected moments.
And once the story of the game is set up in the beginning, it avoids bombarding players with narrative. Samus, the Galactic Federation's best bounty hunter, is sent to a planet called SR388 to exterminate invasive pests called Metroids. Your goal is to locate and destroy every Metroid on the planet, but their ability to absorb the power of other creatures makes them tougher than anyone imagined. The game has occasional cutscenes, mostly to show off new and impressive enemies, but they can be skipped if you're not interested.
The most important aspect of any Metroid game is the gameplay, and Samus Returns feels like the best iteration of what 2D Metroids can be. Thanks to some brand new movies, this isn't just a new skin on an old game. For the first time, Samus has 360° aiming with the press of a button, making her more precise than ever. This also means that you'll have to be exact to deal with enemies—but luckily your laser sight changes color when a hit will connect.
Baddies have always been a real hazard in Metroid games, and it can be especially tough to deal with them in the beginning of the game before you get stronger and take on more health. It helps that Samus has a brand new melee move to help you deal with most enemies. They flash briefly before charging Samus, and if you use the attack at just the right time, you can send the enemy flying back, and any subsequent hits with your arm cannon hit twice as hard.
But probably the biggest change to the classic Metroid formula comes in the form of the new Aeion abilities. For example, the Scan Pulse allows you to send a ping out in the area, temporarily showing you the locations of breakable walls and revealing nearby chunks of your map that haven't yet been explored. Using Lightning Armor, Samus' energy is protected and enemy attacks lower her Aeion level instead until it's depleted. Beam Burst makes Samus' shots particularly piercing and powerful, and Phase Drift slows time for everyone but Samus. Each of these skills uses up Aeion energy, so you must use it wisely in case a situation arises that requires it.
Like any great Metroidvania game, Samus Returns is all about exploration. Every secret area you discover is probably filled with something useful. If you decide never to deviate from the beaten path, you might have a tougher time progressing due to your lack of extra missiles and energy tanks. Plus, it always feels great to acquire a new item and know exactly where you can use it in a past area. It's easier than ever to do this thanks to teleportation ports placed throughout the world.
Still, it's tough to get entirely lost in the game, since a map on the bottom screen shows which areas you've explored before and which you haven't. You can even pause the game to leave markers on your map as reminders to revisit points of interest when you've found the right goodies. Each section of the map will also let you know what percentage of the hidden items you've located there, so you'll never be sent on a wild goose chase.
But even if you use the Scan Pulse to reveal every little section of the map, you're not guaranteed to get everything. Certain hidden items are real puzzlers, requiring quick think and hand-eye coordination to nab. I'm at about 96% completion with my game thanks to these red spike areas that I just cannot figure out.
You'll also really have to use your brain to figure out how to beat the bosses, which are numerous and challenging. Even once you've discovered a particular enemy's pattern, you'll still need the dexterity to survive. Chances are that you'll die again and again, but that's part of the fun. For the most part, these aren't enemies you can figure out and destroy without taking any damage. They feel epic in their scope and difficulty, but I do anticipate the challenge being too much for some players. I anticipate that they will cause at least a few people to get stuck in certain areas and prevent them from ever proceeding, which can be a shame.
But you will want to complete this game thanks to the captivating gameplay and the endgame story. I was surprised at how emotionally resonant the ending of the game was, and this factor really encouraged me to go back through the other areas of the game to unlock every last hidden goodie.
It took me about 13 hours to beat the game the first time around, but I probably spent at least two of those hours just exploring past areas in search of treasures—and just trying to get past those darn red spikes. The game is long enough to feel like a substantial adventure, but it's short enough never to feel tedious or like it's padded out.
Metroid: Samus Returns is honestly one of my favorite Metroid games, and I'm guessing other fans will feel the same. If you love 2D platformers and haven't yet delved into the Metroid franchise, I highly recommend this game as an introduction. Like I mentioned before, this game gets tough, and if boss battles aren't your thing, you might not make it all the way through. Otherwise, this game is definitely worth a try.
It comes out Sept. 15 on the Nintendo 3DS and will cost $39.99 in stores and the Nintendo eShop.
Looking for more Metroid on the 3DS? Click HERE to find out what we really thought of Metroid Prime: Federation Force.