Metroid II: Return of Samus was first released in 1991, a time when I was doing very little console gaming (PC instead). My first foray into the world of Metroid was actually Metroid Prime and even that was only five or so years ago. I remember getting lost in the Chozo Ruins and becoming tired of back-tracking and having to fight endless waves of respawned enemies. While I still have my savegame, I have yet to go back to it.
But that’s in the past — when I saw Metroid: Samus Returns announced and that Mercury Steam (whose Castlevania games I really enjoyed) were doing the development, I was excited about getting back to this popular, but far from overdone Nintendo IP. In Metroid: Samus Returns, you’ll get to experience a vast re-imagining of Return of Samus. The core game is largely still intact apparently, although not having played the original I can’t do any sort of compare and contrast exercise justice. Entirely new to Samus Returns are Aeion infused abilities that allow Samus to scan the surrounding area for items and doors and also use a full-body shield, and two other abilities. The yellow orbs collected from fallen enemies and some power-ups or energy stations are what allow Samus to use these new powers. There is also a cool melee counterattack in which Samus strikes out with her gun-arm. The first enemy you encounter has a visual cue for when they’re about to quickly swoop in for a hit, and if you press X at just the right time Samus not only does a devastating counter, but auto-locks onto the enemy so you can pummel them with your energy weapon. Your ranged weapons are now aim-able in full 360 degrees, which you will have to make use of a lot. Enemies will be above, to the side, below, and many, including metroids, have shielding making precision aiming a requirement, even though Samus is packing some serious heat in the form of missiles.
While Samus Returns does not use all of the buttons on the New 3DSXL (understandable to be compatible with the other DS systems), I felt more control-interaction while playing Samus Returns than about any other game I have played on the platform. You won’t use the stylus at all, but you do tap the touch screen to get into and out of your morph ball, although Samus will automatically go into and out of it under certain environmental conditions. Holding L is for precision aim while holding R switches to missiles, and pressing Y fires your weapon (be it the standard energy weapon, the ice gun, or wave beam) or missiles if you’re holding R. So at times, and in every metroid battle, you are holding L, R, aiming with the stick, and pressing Y to shoot, and possibly going in and out of morph ball and jumping as well. It gets pretty hectic, especially too when you add in pressing left on the d-pad to switch to Aeion-powered shields and then A to activate and deactivate them (they run the energy meter out pretty fast, so you can’t just leave them on). For me, it was fun and challenging, then sometimes for a short while frustrating, but then a lot of fun again.
Metroid’s difficulty level deserves some mention as well. It’s not a painfully hard game, but it can be tough at times. The metroids drain your health fast, and you will at times wonder if you have enough energy tanks to get the job done. Fortunately, the game is smart about check-pointing right before a metroid encounter, and you will have warning of said encounter before you enter into the ‘room’ with the metroid to do battle. Energy, Health, and Ammo stations are around, although pretty scarce, as are of course save points. For me, most of the challenge in Samus Returns has been about not getting lost as it has been defeating metroids. The map is very helpful, and you will come to know what the dozen or more icons on it represent (there is a legend provided) in short order. Using that scan ability is a necessity to find hidden paths, including paths to secrets with energy and missile tank upgrades (much more of the latter than the former). I thought the developers did a nice job of making use of Samus’ full arsenal of abilities and weapons not only in combat, but in navigating the treacherous planet she is on. Ultimately, the difficulty of Metroid is well balanced and fair, sometimes it took me 15+ tries on a metroid, sure, but load times are quick, you can always take a break, and the reward of triumph and moving on and exploring the gameworld was well worth it.
A major part of the appeal of Samus Returns is the presentation quality. I played this on my Hyrule Edition New 3DSXL with 3D mode full-on and really enjoyed the beautiful color use and that literal extra dimension of the backgrounds. This is a purely 2D action platformer, but the 3D effects of the backgrounds are great. Seeing alien creatures moving about, or water flowing from the back to the fore, is really neat and every ‘room’ was something I looked forward to seeing first-hand. The music supports the atmosphere of being a lone hunter on a difficult mission, and the looks and sounds of the ancient Chozo artifacts were cool, too. It’s a really pretty game to look at and listen to, making it little wonder the soundtrack is available in a limited edition version, too.
Simply put, Metroid: Samus Returns is an excellent game. It honors the past and adds a lot of great new gameplay elements. The Metroid series strives in 2D, and Samus Returns is another clear demonstration of exactly that.