Metroid: Zero Mission was the last traditional Metroid game released. It was released late in the Game Boy Advance’s lifespan, in 2004 – more than a decade ago. It was well received, and sold an above-average number of units. Why, then, was the 2D platform variety of the series discontinued? The FPS was becoming incredibly popular, and the Metroid Prime series fit that bill. Consequently, the mid 2000s also saw the collapse of the 2D platformer variant. Now, after 13 years, we have a new entry in the beloved (and nearly forgotten) franchise. All eyes are on this game, but will we like what we see?
Yes, you will.
Metroid: Samus Returns is a remake of Metroid II: Return of Samus for the original Game Boy. This technically makes it a sequel to Zero Mission, which was itself a remake of the original NES title. Samus Returns…returns…to the exploration-based 2D platforming that the franchise began with, aptly known as ‘Metroidvania’. In the game, Samus Aran must eliminate Metroids from a planet codenamed ‘SR388’ so that intergalactic bad guys don’t get their hands on them. You see, Metroids have life-sucking abilities and space pirates can’t afford real lawyers. Samus is sent to the planet, and your adventure begins.
Samus Returns deviates from the original Game Boy title in only minor ways. And when I say ‘minor’ I am of course lying. While Metroid II offered very little in terms of arsenal, Samus Returns gives you a great deal of gadgets to play with. Aeion abilities are a new feature, mapped to the D-pad. These abilities are restricted by a rechargeable meter, and they let you take more damage, stop time, make your standard attack more powerful, or reveal destructible parts of the map. This last one effectively reveals secrets, which would normally be blasphemy in a game like this. But Samus Returns’ ‘secret’ passages are sometimes even required for game progression, so this feature gets a begrudging pass. Other abilities (not reliant on Aeion) enhance Samus’ mobility, like the Screw Attack or the good ol’ Morph Ball.
Watch out for that not-tree!
You’re goin’ in the slammer, buster.
Metroid II’s environment is different to other games in the series. Instead of one enormous area with sub-areas inside, it featured a map separated into different levels. I much preferred the former, as finding out ways that the world looped back into itself was a real treat. Unfortunately, Samus Returns reuses the latter. It has its benefits – slightly easier to navigate, and much easier from a design standpoint to balance. Personally however, this way feels inorganic and less fun to navigate. Death doesn’t take you very far back in Samus Returns, and you’re much less likely to die as well. Having said that, enemies pack a real walloping so you’ll quickly learn to take things slowly. You’ll be navigating with the bottom screen quite a bit, but it’s disappointing that the bottom screen map is so damn small. Maybe it’s just me and my four eyes, but I can’t read that map to save my life. The UI in general is good, but the map is a real pain.
Every bit as satisfying as it looks.
The feeling of nailing a parry and pumping an alien creep full of laser is unbeatable
But oh man, you know what I hate? Forced backtracking. It’s why I never liked the Spyro sequels all that much. You know what I appreciate? Making backtracking fun. Samus Returns’ upgrades scale perfectly with the new areas you encounter, and backtracking with these upgrades basically means you can mash the fire button and re-explore old areas with reckless abandon. You feel as badass as Samus actually is, but it’s usually done for a small container upgrade or a super bomb. Every time I backtracked to a previously unreachable secret area, it was something not really worth the trouble – only something like a Super Bomb or extra missiles. So it’s not forced backtracking per se, but still necessary for the 100%. If you’re going for the extra endings, you’re gonna need that extra time. Yes, completion time endings are back! I missed them.
“You cannot burn me! I am already on fire!”
Samus sports a new melee attack in Samus Returns, and it slows down gameplay. If you’re a Metroid purist, it’s going to take some getting used to. Samus can smack enemies to do damage, or perform a cool parry that lets you take down enemies faster. Enemies will always melee attack you though, so you’ll be parrying a lot. Like, a lot. Is it fun? Oh boy, it sure is. The feeling of nailing a parry and pumping an alien creep full of laser is unbeatable. Is it repetitive? Quite so. Free-aiming is still available, but the circle pad often felt over-responsive. I found myself missing plenty of shots at the beginning of my playthrough, but eventually the hang of it was gotten. Once I’d mastered it, Samus Returns’ combat became as fluid as a Metroid game should be. Luckily, stationary shotting and its 360-degree goodness remains as trustworthy as ever. Metroid II is a combat-heavy game as well, so these features don’t go altogether unappreciated.
Upgrades are scattered through the world, but none of them will upgrade my Dignity Bar.
Here, you can see me making sure that this guy gets the [laser] point.
The planet of SR388 is an undeniably alien world, and Samus Returns nails the presentation. The visuals look great and run very smoothly. The music is about as atmospheric as a Metroid game can get, and the sound design packs a hell of a punch. Progress is tied to the former inhabitants of the planet – the mysterious Chozo. Upgrades lay nestled in a statue’s claws, progression is married to putting Metroid DNA into a monstrous machine, and backgrounds of some areas are impressively detailed. It’s all very Metroid, which is what I can say about the entire game. It’s good, but it doesn’t take any real risks. That’s probably not what the series needs after a 13-year break, to be fair. And that’s really what we should take away from all this: A stellar return to form for a series that’s been out of the loop for a decade, and had some real hiccups.
Metroid is back! All the exploration, all the action, and all the atmosphere have returned to the gaming world. It’s good to see Samus again. But here, I’d like to extend a warm reminder to Nintendo: where is F-Zero please I can only play GX so many times you had Star Fox and Metroid so please please pleeeeeeeease.