Some may see the title of this article and think, “Wait, updated? When did you ever cover it?” For those unaware, I am also a writer for online gaming publication KeenGamer, which houses many, many reviews for games I’ve covered since 2017. The very first one? Metroid: Samus Returns.
Writing it a couple weeks after its initial release, I had not touched it in the years since. Given Dread is coming in the next couple months, I found it dutiful to go back to pretty much any Metroid title I could get ahold of and re-coat myself in the sweet sci-fi aesthetic that I adore so much. Samus Returns was replayed over the course of late June and early July. Now, I have some re-adjusted things to speak about when it comes to the (currently) newest title in the franchise.
A Brief History
A remake of 1991’s Metroid II: Return of Samus, Samus Returns was randomly announced during a Treehouse Event showcase in 2017. This came nearly a year after the release of AM2R, a fan-made remake of Metroid II that made the rounds for, oh, a couple days before Nintendo did what Nintendo does. For that reason, I’m fairly sure that Samus Returns and AM2R, for those aware of the existence of the latter, will forever be linked and, undoubtedly, compared.
My introduction to Samus/Metroid came via Super Smash Bros. in the late ’90s, so going back to play either the original or the GameBoy-exclusive sequel was not high on my priority list. Even more so when Metroid Prime blew my expectations out of the water—I was a kid. Bad graphics were icky. So my only experience with anything remotely similar to Metroid II was the aforementioned AM2R. While I enjoyed it, I was intrigued with the prospect with an official remake of the lesser-known title.
As another quick note, it’s been nearly a month removed from when I actually re-completed the game. Thus, some details have become a little foggy due to time away, lost to the inefficiency of my memory. I’ll do what I can to note anything integral to the game.
A Brief(er) Synopsis
After the events of the original Metroid, Samus is contracted by the Galactic Federation to investigate planet SR388 after a Federation squad force goes MIA. Home planet of the Metroid species, it’s guaranteed to be dangerous and swarming with the life-sucking specimens. Once landed, Samus will come to find that the metroid species is evolving at an alarming rate. She will have to eradicate them all to keep the universe safe from their raw power.
The Actual Review
Booting up the game for the first time in several years, I came face-to-face with a fact once buried deep within: wow, this game is ugly. Not so much the aesthetic design of creatures or environments, but the graphical fidelity of the game as a whole. Incredibly blurry, saturated, smoothed to an absurd degree; the beauty of the GBA pixel-style games, this was not. It took a substantial amount of time for my eyes to adjust… even now scenes are somewhat hard to take in.
Although, it’s hard to really put sufficient blame on the developers given the hardware they’re working with. The 3DS is no Switch, much less even a PS Vita. I don’t know if I can think of any game for the system that looks great in the 3D space. It’s not really Nintendo’s priority.
Not only the graphical make-up of the title, but its control scheme, too, gave me some hassle upon replay. Somewhere my brain deemed that the 360-degree precision aiming was available without compromise—nope, you have to hold down the left trigger (L). That took some getting used to, and put extra pressure on my hands to squeeze the rather uncomfortable rectangular-shape of the console.
Precision is good in theory, though this is something else that suffers somewhat with Samus Returns. Given the analog stick for the 3DS can be a little slippery, you never really feel too precise while aiming. Add in having to (eventually) juggle a variety of weaponry and abilities, it can get a little overwhelming, especially during fast-paced sequences and timed escapades. While said action-packed scenarios do add a nice flavor to the game, they also had me theorizing how much smoother it would’ve been with Fusion’s / Zero Mission‘s control scheme.
Within the initial few hours, I was ready to rate this far lower than I originally did. The controls were not gelling with me, the graphics were shockingly mediocre, and my hands got uncomfortable fairly quickly. Then I kept playing.
There isn’t much I recall from my first time playing Samus Returns. Some events here and there, as well as various tunes beckoning the nostalgic part of my head. Playing it the second time through, I had a bit of an out-of-body experience as I progressed further in the game. Realizing I had the same mindset as back then, it was almost like peering over my own shoulder and nodding in approval—the further I go, the more I enjoy it. Such was true in 2017; the same can be said in 2021.
At a certain point, everything simply clicks. I have no idea how to elaborate on it in a more concise and rational way, so all I can say is that it’s just a Zen feeling. How Samus moves, what she can do, what the game expects of you, how the terrain evokes a certain mood… everything ends up becoming very clear. While still not the smoothest form of Samus, all the mechanisms of a fun, action-favoring adventure ends up coming full circle. Whether then or now, about four hours from the end, I couldn’t put it down.
What many may know Metroid for is its generally non-linear progression system. Sequence-breaking and vague clues on how to proceed or collect items; such is the reputation of the series. However, I feel this is overblown somewhat. I believe only a few games in a more vast collection of games truly adhere to non-linear exploration. Others, such as Samus Returns, are pretty clear-cut on where you need to go and (more variably by game) what you need to do.
Adhering to both modern accessibility measures and recreating a GameBoy game from 1991, it’s an intriguing mix of what Metroid tends to offer. Once you enter a certain “Area,” you’re pretty much stuck there or to prior Areas. Then outside accessing a device that tells you how many Metroids you need to kill, the game will let you go about your business without hints or prompts. You can, however, return to the Metroid-counting device and it will tell you the location of a random Metroid in the Area. Neat!
If your Metroid knowledge is adequate, it’s not too difficult to figure out where all you need to go in a given Area. It would also help if you’re good at spotting parts of the map you haven’t visited, no matter how small. Like most games in the series, Samus Returns is very easy to immerse yourself in. One will be running around enough that the Area layout will naturally become familiar. And if not, there’s always the handy hint device to fall back on.
On the topic of difficulty, I was pleasantly humbled to learn that this game can easily kick my ass if it wants to. I don’t die in Metroid games; it just doesn’t happen. Yet my second trek through SR388 had me dying close to ten times. A few came to boss fights and another couple came to dangerous experiments I tried to bypass (I blame older games). A lot of enemies hit hard in this game, and if you’re not careful, you will end up dying often. Protip: Don’t get hit. Ever.
But all this is old news. What about new stuff? What does this game provide that other games in the series don’t? Two things, specifically: Melee Counter and Aeon Abilities.
Melee Counter is something that makes battling a little quicker and more convenient, done by properly timing a button-click with enemy attacks. Given enemies tend to be blast-sponges throughout the game, it’s incentivized to use it whenever possible, especially with bosses. However fun it may be initially, it ends up becoming almost non-essential by the end, so it does come across as kind of a token thing. Nice to have early, easy to forget later.
Aeon Abilities are these nifty things you get periodically that enhance your suit’s capabilities. Ranging from a scan-nuke (uncovering secrets), a shield, and a gatling gun feature, they are generally very situational. Even more so than the Melee Counter, which is why that ends up being more essential to the game. The scan nuke is pretty much only if you’re stuck or searching for items, and the shield is a shield. The gatling gun is really fun, though. I’d like to see that return in future games. Dread?
Something I noted in the original review is that the pacing for the game tends to speed up near the end, with the final Areas becoming shorter and shorter. This still stands true, as by the time the near-end boss comes around, you end up going, “Oh, just like that?” The “slower” parts of the game, bereft of a lot of crucial abilities and upgrades, end up taking up the most time in the adventure. When you’re fully suited up and enemies are being decimated by your hand, you’re knocking on the door to the end. What gives?
Thankfully, there are a few bosses (not counting the forty-something Metroids) that test the player’s might in extravagant ways. Mixing a variety of different mechanics and requiring some occasional acrobatics, they’re a wonderful(ly testing) modicum of design. I quite liked the Diggernaut fight, and was a highlight for the entire game. The final boss waiting at the end is (still) among the most fun boss fights in the entire franchise.
Metroids, on the other hand, can be hit or miss. Alpha and Gamma Metroids are by far the most prevalent—Gammas, specifically, are fairly annoying to face. They have a tendency to run around the map in fear, requiring you to chase them around. This isn’t a one-time occurrence, either. You fight multiples of these idiots, running away at a certain point of damage taken. When I enter any room with a Metroid inside, I always hope for Alphas.
Zetas and Omegas are much beefier and more versatile, requiring a heavier focus on Melee Counters and other abilities. They aren’t too prevalent (especially Omegas), so their fights feel more integral to strategize for. Even so, they still hold the same plot-related importance that make their fights feel somewhat vapid. Another one off the checklist, so to say. They’re neat in theory; when you face them multiple times, it grinds against the ground.
Metroid doesn’t always try and have you bobbing your head to its soundtrack. It’s more atmospheric, more hearty in its grim/eerie nature. Samus Returns is another game that tends to favor ambiance over catchiness. Regardless, some tracks, such as “Lava Caves,” do instill a triumphant adventure tune that beautifully remixes themes of old (“Magmoor Caverns” for me; “Norfair Ancient Ruins” for others). Diggernaut’s battle theme, another one I like, is actually recognizable from Metroid Prime 3.
Luckily for the game, I do like some ambiance. Later Areas, particularly 4, 5, and 6, appropriately help make the skin crawl, unnerving the player with subtle hints of what’s to come. I wouldn’t call this soundtrack among the best in the franchise, but it’s certainly spirited enough to make for good download potential.
All right, about two-thousand words in, I’ll drive the review home by discussing the collectible items. There are a lot of missile expansions in this game. With 264 total missiles, an expansion rewards just three additional ones, as opposed to the traditional five. A lot of these are pretty easy to find—hell, some are just out in the open—while others you may certainly need that search burst tool. Getting to them is (generally) intuitive and efficient; a similar feeling of explorative whimsy that other Metroid titles provide.
Interestingly enough, energy tanks aren’t prevalent in this game, with only ten total. Many of these energy tanks are pretty clear-cut, too. Should I be remembering correctly, there’s only one I had to actively go out of my way for. They’re practically there on a silver platter. Perhaps an indication of the developers knowing the game is fairly difficult? Any extra energy tank is great, though getting to them felt a tad too easy for me here.
By the end, a familiar sigh left my mouth as I watched the credits roll. Filling and satisfying, it remains a very fruitful and more action-focused game in the franchise. While the flaws stuck out a tad more than last time, my enjoyment of it remains confidently high… at least past a certain point. Should that not deter you, I would highly recommend it, given you have a 3DS still lying around your home. It’s one of the better Metroid games in the entire franchise.
Final Score: 7.5/10
(All screenshots taken from a playthrough by BeardBear.)
For more reviews on this topic, be sure to check out the associated archive.
Thank you for your time. Have a great day.