Is it me, or does it really feel like the last few episodes have been a bit of a downer? Don’t blame me of course, for the Metroid series took quite a bit of a downturn for a while. Once the Prime series had completed and Retro Studios moved on to other things, it felt that the Metroid franchise was beginning to hibernate and take a bit of a back seat. It felt like a repeat of the N64 days, as fans clambered for a new entry that Nintendo just wasn’t going to give them.
Ironically, the same was rather true of a similar series; Castlevania. Whilst finding itself a wonderful little niche on handhelds like the GBA and Nintendo DS, this particular series was also finding itself to be in a bit of a funk. But, in a parallel to Metroid, Retro Studios and the Prime Trilogy; once again a Japanese publisher looked to foreign shores to revitalise the Belmont’s fortunes. A mostly unknown studio named MercurySteam, with some input from Kojima Productions, was charged by Konami to reboot Castlevania for a new generation. Lords of Shadow was a game I was rather fond of at the time, and definitely put this developer on my list of studios to watch out for, as the game received glowing reviews upon its 2010 release. With that game’s post-credits sequence providing a shockingly good twist, I certainly wanted more. In 2013, the studio would follow this up with Mirror of Fate on the Nintendo 3DS, and later on home consoles, a side-scrolling adventure not unlike the Metroid series, adopting the Metroidvania mechanics that had been a part of the series since Symphony of The Night. Lords of Shadow 2 would appear in 2014, to mixed reviews; with the game failing to match the original reboot. After this setback, Castlevania would once again disappear into the shadows, following this failure. Just don’t mention Pachinko.
However, following a studio visit by Metroid co-creator, Yoshio Sakamoto, MercurySteam would be given the keys to another fallen franchise; Metroid. MercurySteam had expressed a desire to remake Metroid Fusion, but Sakamoto had a better idea – Remake the Game Boy’s Metroid II; an incredibly important game to Metroid’s overarching narrative, but one that was limited by the system it resided on. Jointly developed between MercurySteam and Nintendo’s own EPD studio, Samus Returns’ release in 2016 was the first 2D game in the series since 2004’s Zero Mission.
Metroid: Samus Returns 3DS Review
What we have here is a title that casts away the shackles of a sprite-based, 8-bit game displaying on a 160×144 pixel display, to a more modern 2D game with 3D models. Additionally, the game also makes use of the 3DS’s stereoscopic display to create some real depth with the more detailed backgrounds. As a remake, it’s unrecognisable; yet the original game is there underneath. The narrative is the same; Samus is tasked with ridding the Metroid’s from existence by raiding their home planet of SR388.
As for Return of Samus’ more linear, area-based structure, that too is retained. However, whilst the majority of Metroid II’s pickups could originally be mopped up the first time you’re in their Area; Samus Returns adds the exploration that was sorely missing from the original version. Additionally, the planet is littered with Teleport Stations that, when discovered can be used to make backtracking a much less laborious process.
Yet it is how Samus controls that is possibly the biggest triumph of this remake. No longer limited to basic cardinal aiming directions, the player is now able to aim with full analogue precision. In fact, they can now free aim by holding the L button and rotating the analogue stick. Additionally, in a first for the series; a melee attack has been added; linked to the game’s new counter-attack system. When enemies attack, they quickly flash; at which point the player can use a timed press of X to counter, usually stunning the attacking enemy. It’s a pretty fun mechanic, and while some may feel like this addition slows down the combat slightly; I find that by the time you start to tire of this new function, you start to find more powerful weaponry, and the need to melee most enemies dissipates.
And once you do start to get all of those awesome weapons and upgrades, that feeling of running through levels like a badass, blasting enemies and jumping over hazards; that feeling that’s been missing from Metroid for so long, begins to come back. There’s a fluidity to the game that Other M tried and failed to implement, and it feels wonderful. The teams behind this game clearly know what makes Metroid work, and they pull out all the stops to make this remake something that will please anyone that’s ever played a 2D entry.
Even if you know Metroid II like the back of your hand, Samus Returns does what a remake should do and change things up. SR388 might well retain its segmented nature, but the environments have been completely redesigned to have a greater level of depth, especially as the returning and all-new weapons and equipment allow for all-new ways to explore. Another huge new feature is Aeion abilities, that whittle down the new Aeion bar that is replenished by defeating enemies, especially when you counter-melee them. These four tools are selected using the Dpad and are used to help Samus on her journey to the depths of SR388.
First up is the Scan Pulse; essentially a portable map station that can be used to reveal a gigantic chunk of the map, including the location of any collectables; plus it will reveal destructible blocks in the nearby area. Such an ability is a great inclusion for people that won’t want to have to shoot or Morph Ball Bomb every single block to find their way through, like prior Metroid games; but for those who prefer the old ways, they can simply not use it. The best of both worlds.
Next up is Lightning Armour, an ability that protects Samus from harm, but any damage received will deplete the Aeion bar instead; really useful when fighting tough enemies or even to get through damaging environmental hazards.
The Beam Burst adds a machine-gun burst shot to Samus’ arsenal, increasing attack power and also allowing the player to tackle more resilient enemies that are otherwise unharmed by standard shots.
Finally, the Phase Drift slows down time for everyone but Samus. If you ever find yourself in a Noob Bridge situation with blocks that crumble when you step on them; activate this ability and you’ll be able to walk past them before they can disintegrate.
The majority of weapons and suits from the original game return; but unlike Metroid II, beam upgrades now stack like in Super Metroid, instead of being replaced. The Grapple Beam from Super Metroid also makes a wonderful comeback and as well as its usage for traversing large gaps, it is also used for breaking or moving blocks that are blocking progress. It also has plenty of offensive uses too, so look out for red glowing areas that can be grappled!
These new abilities and refinements add some real depth to the Metroid formula and are also of great use to less capable players. In fact; because of the many quality of life upgrades this game has received; I think this game might be the ideal title to introduce new players to the Metroid series. The difficulty is challenging in places, but thanks to generous checkpoints and save stations, death never feels like too much or too little a punishment. This is good because there’s a couple of bosses around (including some new to this remake), that will definitely catch you off your guard.
However, with so many tools and abilities at her disposal, and only so many buttons available; Samus Returns does rely on the Touch Screen to switch between beam and missile types. Most of the time, in quieter areas it’s not a problem – But I did find lots of occasions where I’d be in the thick of the action, especially during boss fights, and stumble to switch between weapons without getting damaged. As the melee attack and Aeion abilities both take up the use of a button each as well as the Dpad, there probably could have been a better use of the control scheme. It’s not a massive issue; just a small annoyance.
However, the Touch Screen really comes into its own with the map. In its default display, you’ll also see a nice, easy to read map on the bottom of the screen, which is always useful in a game like this. However, it’s also possible to add your own markers to this map with a useful function that lets you drag a limited number of coloured pins to make a note of areas of interest for later exploration. It’s a feature that the series has been calling out for, for years, and it’s great to see it’s finally here and so incredibly useful!
It’s a really tricky balance to figure out how much you can really change an original game before it no longer ends up as a remake. Samus Returns admirably straddles that line reasonably well, even if some of those carried over elements create their own problems that can’t quite be resolved by removing them. This title is mostly locked to the conventions of the original game, including the multiple Metroids that need to be defeated in order to explore the planet further. As a result, there are a lot of instances of fighting the same enemies over and over again, and while there are some new additions to the rogues’ gallery, there’s also a lot of recoloured enemies that are slightly tougher than those you defeated before.
That’s not to say that fighting Metroids isn’t always the same experience, as the various different species from the original Metroid II return, but have become fully-fledged boss fights with new attack patterns and weak points; including times where you can even melee counter. There’s a lot of fun to be had in figuring out the most efficient way to defeat these creatures, although once you have worked that out, it can be a little frustrating to battle the same Metroids over and over again. Some of these nasties will even run away when damaged enough, meaning you have to then go and find them again before you can finish them off, which is a little annoying at times.
The soundtrack does a great job for the most part, in bringing those atmospheric 8-bit noises to modern standards. The returning tracks from the original game have been given a superb treatment and are much more pleasant to the ears. However, this is another Metroid game that reuses the same few tracks from Super Metroid – Which probably wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t for the fact I’ve played every Metroid game over the course of six months, and I’m getting a little fed up of the same Super Metroid tracks in most of them. Granted, they’re still great tracks; but I would appreciate a little originality or at least some tracks taken from other games in the series.
Visually, Samus Returns does the series justice; a wonderful thing to see after playing Federation Force. The 3D models look brilliant when compared to the original manual artwork, let alone the original game’s sprites. Samus herself looks brilliant in all of her suits, and she’s animated incredibly well, with a femininity to her movements that’s not really been implemented previously. Enemies also look great, despite the palette swapping, while the bigger beasties are really intimidating. It’s also quite a colourful game, with all sorts of purples, oranges, greens; a real treat to the eyes after playing a lot of brown and grey Metroid games of the 2000s.
A possible bone of contention for some might well be the game’s amiibo support. Samus Returns has some support for four specific figures; the Samus and Zero Suit Samus amiibo from the Super Smash Bros. line, and two figures released specially for this game – Samus in her Metroid II box art pose, and an awesome-looking Baby Metroid in a broken canister. These figures will not only unlock some concept art once the player has completed the game, but also provide some useful additions that cannot be unlocked any other way. The Baby Metroid can be used every day to show the player where the nearest Metroid can be found, while the other three figures will unlock reserve tanks for Energy, Missiles and Aeion energy. These tanks cannot be found without these amiibo figures, which might feel a bit like overly expensive DLC to some. Personally, the game can be enjoyed without ever needing any of the items provided by amiibo, and if you are already collecting these figures anyway (because they’re cool little items in their own right), they’re a nice little bonus. Additionally, the Metroid amiibo can also unlock an extra hard Fusion mode where enemies deal four times the damage. This is in addition to the standard Hard mode that is unlocked by finishingg the game once.
As for other unlockables, the game does give you slightly different results screens on completion, depending on how quickly you finish the game, as well as what difficulty mode you played. But if you also reach certain item completions in each area of the game, you will also unlock Chozo Memories; beautiful pieces of artwork that reveal a little more insight into what happened to the Chozo on SR388, and why the Metroids have been trapped in these caverns. It’s a nice little bonus to keep you playing, but you can always see these images online if you don’t quite have the patience. Unlike the original game, you won’t find all of the items on your first run of each area; on the contrary, some items require you to backtrack once you discover the Baby Metroid right at the end of the game before you escape to your ship to leave SR388.
I did a respectable run of the game in under 8 hours, not concentrating on getting all of the items, just the ones I could easily grab on my travels; but, even though I didn’t need all of those items, I enjoyed replaying Samus Returns again to the stage that I might actually come back to this one, once I’ve finished this video series. It’s an enjoyable reminder of what the Metroid series can be, and further proof that the series can still work in a 2D playing space.
The Aeion abilities, especially the Scan Pulse, make for more accessible exploration without feeling like a grind; the melee counter makes combat feel fresh and new, whilst the whole game plays so fluidly that I was grinning from ear to ear. Admittedly, much of what I didn’t like so much about Samus Returns, were elements carried over from the original Return of Samus, such as the overall game structure of hunting a certain number of Metroids before being able to explore further, and the repeating enemies.
It’s a real shame that this game hasn’t found its way onto the Switch yet, because it would be great to see it get another outing for those who might have missed out. This is to Metroid II, what Zero Mission was to the original Metroid. With the existence of Samus Returns, there is little reason to go back to Metroid II, as much as I quite liked that game. This is absolutely how to remake a game, even more so than Zero Mission.
And while the world waited years for a sniff of Metroid Prime 4, with nothing but a 42-second teaser of its logo since its announcement in 2017; Nintendo were quietly working on something else, and so was MercurySteam. After 15 videos, it all comes down to this; we have reached the end of this road, this journey, and that means one thing – Next week; I’ll be reviewing Metroid Dread. After playing, completing and reviewing every single official Metroid release, I’ll be giving my final judgement on Samus’s latest adventure – Don’t miss it.