Metroid is a video game series that dates back more than 30 years in the industry; it is a series that many hold in high regard and is one of the greats in the gaming world. Yes Nintendo, it is true! With the last main Metroid game released more than 7 years ago, fans have wondered when the next title would be coming and we finally got our answer during E3 2017. Not only did we get an announcement for a new Metroid Prime game for the Switch, we would also be getting a remake of the Gameboy release - Metroid II Samus Returns. This also marked a return to the 2D plain for the series, which we last saw back in 2004 with Metroid Zero Mission.
Samus Returns is a remake through and through, from a new control scheme to new abilities, but it also masterfully retains the feel of the original game. Samus Aran is sent to Planet SR-388 to eradicate the Metroid, creatures that pose a threat to all life in the universe. You start the game on the surface of planet SR-388 and are given a Metroid counter that shows 50 Metroids need to be destroyed as you make your way beneath the surface. This is the basis of the game: hunt down every last Metroids while exploring the world. Certain areas require abilities that you only obtain further into the game so back-travel and exploration is essential. The original game established the evolution of Metroids, going from the Alpha stage to Gamma, Zeta, Omega and, finally, the Queen Metroid.
The map has been changed and updated quite dramatically, giving us a far larger area to explore compared to the original release. There are eight areas in the game, each with their own threats and enemies types, and Metroids become larger and more dangerous the further you go down into the planet. To help combat these threats, there is a new assortment of abilities and arguably the best combat of all the Metroid games. Responsive controls help Samus moves around with ease in and out of combat. A new target lock system gives players the ability to attack in a 360 degree motion as well as the ability to parry incoming physical attacks, a massive change to the series and one I hope becomes a staple. Successfully parrying an enemy will put them in a stun state and automatically have charge your arm cannon shot, allowing you to finish off enemies much faster. It’s a tool that the game pushes you towards using as enemies are more aggressive and spot you rather quickly.
In addition to these combat skills, Samus also has access to Aeion abilities. These are new to the series and there are four Aeion abilities to unlock, each having their own unique effects that will be needed to progress through the game or to access what seem like impossible areas. New players will likely find themselves using the Scan Pulse Aeion ability, a welcome addition to the game, that sends out a pulse to reveal part of the map around you, revealing hidden areas or just giving a better understanding of the layout. Players no longer have to bomb every inch of an area to find out where to go next, a quick scan pulse will show you the way. Using this is completely optional so those that still want that old school Metroid feel, and want to drop bombs on every inch of the map, can still do so. Samus will also gain access to her regular abilities as you progress through the game, such as the iconic Morph Ball, as well as abilities that only appeared after the original game like the Grapple Beam, Power Bombs, Super Missiles and much more. New suits are also available which will give Samus additional abilities that are required to advance through areas, including her iconic Varia suit.
The environments are fantastic and one of the standouts of the game. Chozo architecture is scattered throughout the world and it feels that every ledge, breakable object, and enemy is placed exactly where intended; nothing feels out of place and every encounter just adds to the overall enjoyment of exploring as you find some new power-up or shortcut. Exploring is one of the main activities in the game, further enhanced by the sound, music and atmosphere. Nothing was quite as exhilarating as running through an area with those classic Metroid sounds playing when all of a sudden in the background you see these two massive blinking red eyes fade away into the darkness, leaving you wondering if you will encounter such a creature soon.
Exploration remains incredibly fun and each area has various teleport stations that can be found, allowing you to teleport to any area you have previously discovered, essentially opening up a fast travel system. This means that backtracking from area 7 to area 1 is rather painless and removes the tedious backtracking often associated with exploring new areas with new-found abilities. Advancing through each area requires a certain number of Metroids to be destroyed and each area has a counter indicating your progress. When you have destroyed enough Metroids in order to advance to the next area. These escalating battles essentially act as boss fights, increasing in difficulty as you progress and meet new forms of Metroids.
There are also some amazing non-metroid boss fights and one stood out to me. I don’t want to spoil the fight in any way so all I will say is that this was probably the best boss fight in the Metroid series and I enjoyed it so much; it’s difficulty was up there with any of the series, to the point that upon defeating the boss I got that Dark Souls feeling of accomplishment. I loved this fight and it was a great addition to the game. Sadly, the majority of the Metroid fights are nowhere near that level of challenge; most of them feel rather repetitive as there are only 5 distinct forms of Metroids across the 50 you need to destroy. Fighting against the same form of Metroid requires no strategy and only the environment changes. However, when you first encounter a different Metroid type, it is quite an exhilarating feeling. All in all, though the game is massive for a handheld title, my first playthrough on medium difficulty took 12 hours and 12 minutes, with a 60% completion rate thanks to the help of the Scan Pulse ability. You can add in a couple more hours for a 100% completion rate, even more if you plan to play without the Scan Pulse.
I am a huge fan of the Metroid series and I thoroughly enjoyed Samus Returns. It is a return to form for the series, and it’s great to see another official 2D Metroid title come out from Nintendo after more than a decade. Sadly, the one thing that does bring this experience down was the addition of Amiibo features. Locking content behind an Amiibo is not something I can get behind and I hope that Nintendo realizes this before it becomes a trend. Difficulties should be unlocked through gameplay and not via an Amiibo. Things like art or sound galleries I am fine with, as it makes no difference to the overall gameplay experience, but having a difficulty mode as well as a suit locked behind an Amiibo is something I hope Nintendo stay away from in future titles. Other than that blemish, Samus Returns is an amazing game that I can easily recommend to any gamer; if you have a 3DS you need this game in your library, it’s just that damn good.
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15 September 2017
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