It has certainly been a long time coming, but we finally have a new sidescrolling Metroid to delve into!
The last of these, Metroid 4 (Fusion), released in 2002. Since then we have recieved a few games, but none sidescrolling like the original three in the series. Metroid: Samus Returns is a return to basics for the series.
Plot and progression
Metroid: Samus Returns (MSR) is a basic remake of the original Gameboy game. The plot is basically the same: after Samus’ run in with the metroid species, she is hired to hunt them to extinction.
There isn’t much here in terms of plot, but given that this game is a remake of a 1991 handheld game, I think that is forgivable. Metroid games are usually light on plot anyway, and that is not a sleight.
Where plot usually draws players in and along, player progression takes the reigns in MSR. Like many Metroidvanias, the player character Samus gains new abilities, weapons, skills and more throughout the campaign. This mechanic and playstyle has been done to death, so I will just say that is works well in MSR.
There is constant progression, and it is rare that the player goes more than a few minutes without an upgrade. Even when the obvious path forward is slow going, the constant upgrades make what would be drudgery, feel a lot better.
Players go from being basically powerless, to all-powerful badasses in normal progression, and that feels good all the way through.
The progression follows a pretty linear path though. Destroying a certain number of metroid will open up the path forward, leading to a new area with another set number of metroid. This works well because the linearity keeps the focus narrow, while making the player feel as though they are exploring a whole new map on each “level.”
Gameplay and enemies
If you have ever played a Metroid game: there isn’t too much different going on here.
The biggest change is the counter system. Enemies of nearly every type, including the metroid, will flash a bright light and then charge. Pressing a button knocks them away and autolocks Samus in for a one hit kill. This feels really neat at first, but it really begins to burn quickly. Combat becomes trivialized.
That said, the counter is not bad. It feels fine, it just seems a little easy once players get the hang of it.
There are also new abilites that unlock as the player progresses through the game. These are huge abilities and add a new level of depth to the game. All of the standard upgrades still exist: wave beam, charge beam, missiles, super missiles and more are all still around.
While all that’s pretty cool, the enemies might be one of the worst parts of MSR. There are 40 metroid to hunt and kill. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these alien monster creatures are two types. The bigger ones serve as bigger and tougher boss fights. These are very cool when they happen, but unfortunately feel too spread out to hold any true menace.
Aside from the original Metroid II, these games have always looked great and had incredible soundtracks.
Now that this remake all but replaces the original Metroid II, that story also has great aesthetics and incredible music. The game looks fantastic with 3D turned on or off. Even on this aging hardware, the game looks and sounds great.
Metroid: Samus Returns is a great return to form for sidescrolling Metroid games. One has not existed in earnest since 2002, but this is a terrific reminder of what the series used to be. Crisp controls, isolated environments, compelling and rewarding exploration all come together to beat out the negatives of repeated enemies.
Metroid: Samus Returns
Release date: September 15th, 2017
Platform: Nintendo 3DS/2DS
Developer: MercurySteam, Nintendo