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Metroid Samus Returns review – A fresh take on a forgotten classic

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Metroid: Samus Returns is a hard sell to those who aren’t already interested in the Metroid series. Just like every other entry into the classic side-scrolling shooter that spawned an entire genre, Metroid: Samus Returns is unashamedly challenging. It’s a game meant for those who really want to test their mettle.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about Dark Souls levels of difficulty. Combat is certainly tough, with enemies dishing out more damage than expected, but in Metroid: Samus Returns, every area is a fiendish puzzle to navigate your way through.

The decision to make Metroid: Samus Returns this hard isn’t due to Nintendo and MercurySteam pandering to the industry’s current love for tough games. Instead, it’s because this is a complete, from-the-ground-up remake of the 1991 Game Boy classic Metroid II: The Return of Samus. Back in 1991, fiendish game design was standard practice and MercurySteam has held true to this approach in 2017.

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Metroid: Samus Returns review: Old meets new

Despite being a remake of Metroid II, Samus Returns is far from the same game. The story still follows the same beats, but now with new bosses and welcome gameplay additions from later entries in the series.

The story starts after the Galactic Federation reports a team of its soldiers have been killed by the infamous Space Pirates on the planet SR388, in the process of searching for the galaxy’s most dangerous creatures – Metroids. It falls upon bounty hunter and series protagonist, Samus Aran, to wade in and resolve the situation, removing the Metroid threat that exists throughout the cavernous planet.

To do this, Samus Returns tasks you with navigating the labyrinth of tunnels beneath the surface of SR388, unlocking new areas after you kill a set number of Metroids. Because this is a Metroid game, moving deeper into the planet isn’t necessarily the right way to go, though. Revisiting old areas with new weapons and abilities yields new surprises, path-unlocking switches and suit upgrades.

In Metroid II – and the more popular Super Metroid – traversing the vast maze of tunnels was quite arduous. Backtracking meant serious dedication, requiring you to remember where you had previously seen something, knowing that’s where you had to go next. In Samus Returns, things are much simpler. The addition of ledge grab and simplified wall jump moves, plus liberal placement of teleportation gates and a very detailed map makes going back and forth for missile expansions and life-extending Energy Tanks an enjoyable task instead of a brain-teasing chore.

Combat has also seen an overhaul and here MercurySteam has tapped into its history with the Castlevania franchise to make Metroid’s combat far more fluid. Now, instead of the eight-way aiming system of yore, Samus can root herself to the spot and fire with full 360-degrees of freedom. The addition of a melee counterattack also provides a chance for you to fight back against the more annoying enemy types that tend to lunge for you. However, the flip side to these changes is that enemies are more violent than ever before; rest assured you’re going to die countless times as you attempt to complete this game.

MercurySteam has also included new Aeion abilities to mix up gameplay. Utilising the new Aeion metre, which is filled by picking up yellow energy from fallen enemies, these abilities aid in combat and exploration throughout your journey. You’ll pick them up as you play through Samus Returns but the first ability – a scanning tool – is the most valuable. Here, in Metroid: Samus Returns, MercurySteam has masked almost all of its destructible pieces of environment behind standard textures, meaning you’ll be hunting everywhere to find secrets.

Metroid: Samus Returns review: Restoring history

If I’ve not made it clear already, Metroid: Samus Returns is more than a remake of the Game Boy Metroid sequel. Seeing as the 1991 original couldn’t simply be polished up due to its rudimentary visuals and single-colour palate, MercurySteam had to build everything from scratch and you can tell.

Side-by-side comparison of Metroid II and Metroid: Samus Returns’ Chozo Statues

Samus Returns is beautiful. Its environments are wonderfully detailed, especially for a 3DS title. Like every console reaching its final years, MercurySteam has managed to squeeze out everything Nintendo’s handheld can muster. In 3D, Metroid: Samus Returns is sharp and rich; in 2D it’s vibrant and crisp. It just sings.

MercurySteam and Nintendo have also worked together to breathe a new life into SR388’s environments. Instead of simply dull rocky backgrounds, there’s a whole host of activity taking place in the background of every cavern and they’ve also weaved in the Chozo architecture and lore that came in the later SNES Super Metroid to help tie it into the whole Metroid canon rather nicely. Small touches, but they make a big difference.

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Metroid: Samus Returns review: Verdict

As a long-term Metroid fan, it’s great to finally have Samus Aran back. It’s been seven years since Metroid last saw a release, and we’d all rather forget just how bad Metroid: Other M was on the Wii. And while this isn’t the full Metroid Prime sequel we’re all waiting for – that’s coming to Switch soon – it’s still a brilliant addition to the Metroid series, even if it is a remake.

In fact, my only real criticism of the entire game is the decision to map Samus’ Morph Ball ability to the lower touch screen or double-tapping down on the Circle Pad. Using the Circle Pad is slow – and near impossible in one particular boss fight – and touching the pad requires a thumb stretch that isn’t particularly helpful when trying to perform complex combos. If anything, MercurySteam should allow players to remap buttons, or utilise the New 3DS’ extra shoulder buttons.

However, the fact that this is my only criticism after hours of playing is testament to just how fantastic Metroid: Samus Returns is. Metroid co-creator Yoshio Sakamoto has expressed an interest in creating a brand-new 2D Metroid title – if it’s anywhere near as excellently made as Metroid: Samus Returns, I can’t wait for what comes next.

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