Metroid: Samus Returns Review

Metroid: Samus Returns Review

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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.

Verdict:
I like it

Ratings Guide 

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy Review

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy Review

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Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End was an excellent way to wrap up the adventures of Nathan Drake. I don’t want the rapscallion to star in another adventure again. I am, however, perfectly fine with more Uncharted games — especially if they are in the same vein as Uncharted: The Lost Legacy. Giving secondary characters like Chloe Fraser and Nadine Ross their own adventure was something I wanted for quite some time. Although the bombastic action has become very familiar these days, playing as Chloe through the jungles of India felt surprisingly fresh. 

It’s been a long time since I’ve experienced Uncharted like this. A Thief’s End was a long adventure that explored Nathan Drake inside and out. The Lost Legacy fleshed out the likes of Chloe and Nadine more but they didn’t perform the playable deep dives like in the last game. As a result, The Lost Legacy was briskly paced like the earlier Uncharted titles. 

Many of the mechanics and ideas of A Thief’s End were remixed and brought over once again. Chloe and Nadine found themselves in an open area where they could tackle objectives in whatever order suited them. They fought through a train and bombed across the jungles in a jeep as well. Again, they were not fresh ideas but they were executed very well which made their repeat appearances acceptable.

Having just played more open ended games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Galaxy, The Lost Legacy (and the Uncharted franchise) felt restrictive. I was used to being able to go just about anywhere. It took some time to relearn the unspoken rules of Uncharted where only certain handholds, ledges, and selectively lit areas were accessible. Chloe fell to her untimely death numerous times under my control and I’ve played the game before. I cannot imagine how many times newcomers would die. Thankfully the checkpoints were generous and the load times were quick.

Franchises like Uncharted, God of War, and Assassin’s Creed do a great job of bringing mythologies, that I wouldn’t normally interact with, to my attention. The incidental learning is fantastic. I don’t know why I never looked up the origins of Shiva but I’m glad to know that she’s more than just a Final Fantasy summon now. It’s a shameful admission but I’m happy that Uncharted helped rectify that. 

I’m also glad to have played my first HDR game from beginning to end. I checked out Uncharted 4, Gears of War 4, and other titles briefly but the Lost Legacy was the first complete game. It shouldn’t be a surprise but the HDR implementation was great and the visual presentation as a whole was top notch. However, the number of weird glitches that I experienced was unusually high for me. Normally, I wouldn’t face bugs like this in a Naughty Dog title.

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune debuted 10 years ago and wooed me with a charming cast of characters. Little did I know, that 10 years later, I would be playing the fifth installment of the franchise starring none of the characters that debuted a decade ago. Chloe Fraser and Nadine Ross were strong and likable characters; I would love to see more adventures of this magnitude starring the two of them. They’ve proven that Uncharted doesn’t need Nathan Drake to succeed.

Verdict:
I love it

Ratings Guide

Super Mario Odyssey Review

Super Mario Odyssey Review

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Super Mario Galaxy is my favorite 3D Mario game and continues to be number one in my books. There was a sense of wonder and amazement when I played the Wii title for the first time that I just didn’t feel when I played Super Mario Odyssey.

With that out of the way: Super Mario Odyssey is a fantastic game.

Cappy was a wondrous gimmick that allowed for a lot of novel shenanigans to be had. Capturing (possessing) a T-Rex was amusing but I found the mechanics surrounding other enemies such as the Pokio and its ability to fling itself with its beak offered far more interesting gameplay challenges. Capturing different enemies offered a nice variety but I extracted the most joy out of using Mario’s core move set. I loved Mario’s ability to throw Cappy and hop on him. It expanded Mario’s core mobility options for the first time since Super Mario Sunshine and I appreciated it. I finally understand why a subset of the Mario audience didn’t like the reduction of moves in Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario 3D World.

Odyssey was visually intriguing but inconsistent and, in some cases, a bit of a let down. Mario has never looked better but I felt some Kingdoms like the Luncheon Kingdom were too safe. I loved the Metro Kingdom, Seaside Kingdom and a vast majority of other Kingdoms on offer but I was disappointed when I landed Luncheon only to discover pink goo and blocky vegetables strewn about. Rayman Origins pulled off that concept with superior pizzazz and craft. Odyssey was at its best when they leaned heavily into the theme of the Kingdoms. Luncheon stood out as a disappointment because it felt very static and capturing Hammer Bros. and Fireballs wore out their welcome quick. Also who thought talking cutlery was a good idea? Weird properly dressed humans, French beret wearing snails, and robots were more to my liking.

Aesthetics aside, many Kingdoms were dense with gameplay opportunities. A lot of it involved clever use of Cappy’s abilities, platforming and/or experimentation. Some of my favorite challenges involved racing other Koopa Troopers across the kingdom or figuring out how to reach certain spots to collect purple coins or Moons. I felt the races in particular allowed for creativity and tested gameplay knowledge very well. My only wish was for more Moons to feel this rewarding.

By littering collectible Moons everywhere, Nintendo cheapened their rewards. Collecting Stars in Super Mario Galaxy felt rewarding. There were less than stellar challenges and activities but at least I did more than look into a small nook for one. In Super Mario Odyssey, I was rewarded for the most mundane actions; I couldn’t walk into a cave without expecting to find a Moon. In some ways, it was like Nintendo’s commentary on positive feedback loop in modern games. “No matter what you did. Here’s a reward.”

While it’s a bit odd to see them cheapen Moons, I was amused by how they managed to make gold coins matter again. Traditionally used to gain additional 1UPs, the coin seemed like a relic of the past. In Odyssey, I redeemed coins for costumes, additional health, and Moons. With death being nothing more than a minor inconvenience in modern Mario games, this was a welcomed evolution.

Minor quibbles aside, Super Mario Odyssey will live on as one of the great games of 2017. Every time I picked up the game, I found something fun to do. I even found myself humming a few of the game’s excellent tracks to myself already. It’s a celebration of all things Mario and while it didn’t dislodge Super Mario Galaxy from top spot, there’s still a ton of fun to be had here.

Verdict
I love it

Ratings Guide

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Switch Review

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Switch Review

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It took me over four months to finish it but I finally reached the end of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I’m not 100% done with the game — there are so many shrines, side quests and a true ending to see – but I’ve played more than enough to render a verdict. There was so much to love and a handful of design decisions that assaulted my patience but in the end I ended up enjoying my time with Breath of the Wild and intend to return to Hyrule. 
  
There’s a level of expectation that comes with Nintendo first party efforts with regards to polish; everything needs to work well. Cramming a bunch of systems into the game and having them all interact with each other seamlessly may seem like a simple expectation but when I see the likes of Skyrim, Fallout, The Witcher 3, and other open world games mill about with its share of “jank”, I know it’s not so easy. 
  
The very fact that Link can climb anywhere and nearly anything was a mind blowing addition. He’s only restricted by his stamina gauge and if I decided that I didn’t want to wait until I leveled up my stamina gauge to climb a tower, I could cook cup a bunch of stamina food or potions and brute force my way up tower or mountain. It may seem like I’m pulling a fast one on the designers, but they really did fabricate a game where Link and I can go or do anything we want however we want.  
  
The unfortunate side effect to this open ended approach was the less than optimal experience for me early on. I ignored the Kakariko Village objective and bumbled my way through the most punishing Divine Beast who dwelled in Gerudo. I didn’t have any meaningful armor, didn’t realize I could parry attacks, didn’t get the camera, missed the ability to unlock additional inventory spaces, missed out on armor enhancements, and missed out on easy shrines to bolster my health and stamina. I may have made it more difficult for myself by ignoring the main objective for so long but I’m so glad Nintendo allowed me to make the journey so arduous for myself.  
  
Setting things on fire is fun and it’s about time Nintendo embraced that past time. I don’t think setting wooden weapons or arrows on fire and subsequently using them against Bokoblins ever got old for me. I also loved the fact that if I equipped a fire sword, it would keep me warm in the frigid lands of Hyrule. Systems like those kept me on my toes. What did wear out its welcome quickly was the weapon breakage and cooking.  
  
I felt weapons shouldn’t have broken so easily on the flesh of Moblins or other fleshy enemies. If I were striking rocks, shields, or the undead, I can see why my swords and spears would shatter in time. Thankfully as I unlocked more and more weapon slots, I was no longer fumbling around for weapons as frequently.  
  
Unfortunately there wasn’t much of a reprieve from cooking. I understood the need to combine different ingredients to create a dish or potion for Link to consume but it wasn’t necessary to force me to do that each and every time. If I discovered the recipe once, I should be able to select it from cookbook and be able to create whatever dish I had ingredients for with a press of a button. I wasn’t being more creative with my cooking as time wore on; I was becoming lazy and just tossing in the same ingredients over and over again.  
  
I cannot say I had a consistently enjoyable time with Breath of the Wild but such is life in the real world or Hyrule. For every piece of meat that I had to roast there was an awesome moment of floating through the sky or shield surfing down some slopes in Hedra. For every broken sword, there was a brilliant little puzzle shrine to be found and unravel. These aren’t the gives and takes that I’m used to encountering in a Legend of Zelda game and that alone makes it very special.  
 
Verdict: 
I like it 

Ratings Guide
 
 

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