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Metroid: Samus Returns is 2D Metroid at its absolute finest

Nintendo hasn’t let even a whiff of its Metroid-based plans leak out since Team Ninja’s rather weak Metroid: Other M landed on the Wii back in 2010. The delay could have been down to a mix of its poor reception, or a lack of an appropriate studio to take up the Metroid mantle, but this year’s E3 treated us to not just the pleasant surprise that is Metroid: Samus Returns, but also Metroid Prime 4 for Nintendo Switch.

It’s still quite a wait until we get a glimpse of Metroid Prime 4 but Metroid fans can get their fill this year thanks to Metroid: Samus Returns. Released on the 15th of September for Nintendo’s 3DS and 2DS family of devices, I’ve had the chance to get hands on with this reimagining of Metroid II and it’s utterly sublime.

Metroid: Samus Returns review: The return of Samus

Such a statement may sound at odds for a game that, on the surface, seems nothing more than a remake of the 1991 Metroid II: Return of Samus. However, this isn’t a simple rehash. Just like the 2004 Metroid: Zero Mission, Samus Returns follows the same story but isn’t the same game.

All the action takes place on the planet SR388, where series antagonists the Space Pirates, have discovered another trove of Metroids to exploit. After a team of Galactic Federation soldiers are all killed trying to clear them out, it’s down to our friendly galactic bounty hunter, Samus Aran to get things sorted.

As with Metroid II, Samus Returns tasks you with navigating the labyrinth of tunnels beneath the surface of SR388, defeating Metroids and removing the Space Pirate threat. New areas of the planet are unlocked after you kill a set number of Metroids and infuse their DNA with Chozo Gates.

Because this is a Metroid game, moving deeper into the planet isn’t necessarily the right way to go. Revisiting old areas with new weapons and abilities yields new surprises, path-unlocking switches and suit upgrades. And, despite the intervening 26 years, it’s nearly as fiendishly difficult as Metroid II, with a few new tweaks to gameplay to make it slightly more accessible.

Metroid: Samus Returns review: Rebuilding a classic

I keep saying Metroid: Samus Returns is a reimagining instead of a straightforward remake because to do so is a disservice to what MercurySteam has built. This isn’t simply a lick of paint to spruce up the ageing Game Boy original. Instead, it’s a complete revitalisation of a classic, bringing gameplay elements from the likes of Super Metroid and Metroid Fusion into the mix, along with brand-new elements that make it feel as fresh as a Metroid title should do in 2017.

The Grapple Beam, automatic ledge grabs and an invaluable melee counterattack to help you bat away the aggressive wildlife all help spice things up. And, if that wasn’t enough, Samus Aran can now shoot freely in 360 degrees, which makes taking on a room of enemies, or just a hard-to-reach one, a whole lot easier. You’re still going to die countless times and curse Samus Returns for the sheer difficulty but without this, it would be a whole lot tougher.

Another completely new aspect to Metroid: Samus Returns is the Aeion metre. Using mysterious energy harvested from fallen foes or set points on the map, this opens up a new subset of suit functions for Samus to make use of. Metroid fans can think of it as something akin to the different visors in Metroid Prime, except that they require power to use.

During my hands-on time, which allowed me to freely explore the game’s initial regions, the Aeion gauge granted me the ability to scan my surroundings. This scan revealed hidden, breakable blocks and also helped track how close I was to a Metroid I needed to hunt down. There are slots for three other abilities, too, but currently Nintendo is staying tight lipped on those.

MercurySteam has also made some thoughtful revisions to the game’s controls, making the most of the four-button setup and bottom touchscreen found on the 3DS. A quick tap on the map drops Samus into her suit’s Morph Ball while tapping the left shoulder button enables Free Aim Mode. You can dive through some menus to activate weapon slots and abilities, but you can switch between beam cannons with a simple tap an icon and equip missiles with the squeeze of the “R” button.

This may all sound rather straightforward but for those who remember Metroid II, it’s a gift from heaven. No more do you have to trudge back and forth between ability stations to equip the right beam weapon to get through a locked door. Some might say this is simplifying the purity of Metroid II but those people are sadists, so I’d take what they have to say with a large pinch of salt.

Metroid: Samus Returns review: First impressions

Metroid: Samus Returns is a beautiful game and the use of the 3DS’ autostereoscopic display adds wonderful depth to the 2D levels, softening the somewhat jagged details often found within the dense level design. It also helps you pay attention to the new details of Chozo statues and architecture on SR388, tying it in neatly to the wider Metroid world.

It’s fitting that the developer behind the revival of Castlevania, Metroid’s spiritual sibling, is at the helm here. Even with my fleeting hands-on time, it’s clear that MercurySteam knows what it’s doing with the Metroid franchise and this could well be the perfect swansong for the 3DS family before the Nintendo Switch swallows it whole.

Metroid: Samus Returns is out on the 15 of September and you can expect a full review from us in the coming weeks.

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