Nintendo set the 2D Metroid bar very low with the release of Metroid: Other M seven years ago. All I wanted was a return to form; they didn’t need to dazzle me with something revolutionary. But when they billed Metroid: Samus Returns as a Nintendo 3DS remake of Metroid II developed by MercurySteam, the same studio who put out Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate on Nintendo 3DS. Needless to say, the announcement details alone were not enough to instill confidence. But once I saw it in action? I was sold.
Having never played Metroid II (or the well regarded fan remake AM2R) I entered Samus Returns essentially blind. I knew of the Metroid baby from having played Super Metroid but I had no idea Metroid II was so different compared to the other Metroid games Other Metroid games featured the little energy sapping bugs and one or two boss encounters with those fanged blobs but this game was chalk full of Metroid hunting.
I got my ass handed to me every time I encountered a new type of Metroid but after a bit of study, I was able to make quick work of each and every one of them. I must admit that the latter Metroids were not as fearsome as the Alpha or Gamma Metroids. Part of it was due to the fact that latter Metroids were less mobile, Samus was considerably more powerful and I was more comfortable with the game’s mechanics.
MercurySteam added several new mechanics and refinements to the Metroid formula. The Aeion System gave Samus an additional resource for her new abilities to draw from. These abilities were woven into the fabric of the game’s progression and made for interesting twists. However, I was taken by the inclusion of the parry and 360 free aim that was introduced to Samus’ move set. I never got tired of smashing a rampaging enemy flyer away with Samus’ giant arm cannon and destroying it with a single shot afterwards. It wasn’t a particularly difficult skill to master but it enabled the game’s enemies to be more menacing. Giving fodder enemies the ability to charge at Samus made them appear more antagonistic and dangerous compared to the lackadaisical ones in other Metroid titles.
The free aiming was surprisingly liberating. Samus was fixed in place in that mode but I felt more capable and in control of her because I had the ability to guide my shots. Samus always had the ability fire at fixed angles and this was just the natural extension of that capability. Now I wasn’t forced to hop about like an idiot trying to get shots in.
Combining the two new moves and general refinements to Samus controls made for a very slick controlling game — for the most part. There were instances where physical limitations of the Nintendo 3DS were making it cumbersome to switch weapons or abilities on the fly but I powered through them.
Hunting Metroids was a unique take on the Metroid formula for me but it wore out its welcome after a while. I grew bored of seeing the same Metroid bosses over and over. They mixed up each encounter with additional environmental hazards or obstacles but there was a lot of shooting missiles into Metroid faces. They did introduce other robotic bosses to break up the monotony of fighting Metroids but they only served as functional different and not aesthetically pleasing. I didn’t find the excavating robots remotely terrifying.
I enjoyed playing Metroid: Samus Returns every time I picked it up but I also had to put it down frequently. Partly due to the fact that I was playing it exclusively on bus rides but also because the game was structurally monotonous. Find the Metroids, extract their DNA, and deposit it into these weird Chozo gates. Repeat until the end. Along the way, I entered familiar lava territory among others with their accompanying iconic themes.
Despite its pacing issues, Metroid: Samus Returns was enjoyable overall. It was very much the ideal blend of old and new. MercurySteam integrated new moves and ideas into the Metroid formula without it feeling shoehorned. I felt they understood what to do with the Metroid formula but were held back by the fact that they were developing a remake. If Nintendo decides to partner up with the Spanish developer again, I will give their next game my undivided attention. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a quality Metroid title let alone a quality sidescrolling one.
I like it