If you like cheesy sports games, you might want to sit down for this one, because believe it or not, there are game series’ out there that only release a new entry when someone can think of an idea or few that would make a great game, not just to tweak some rosters a bit. One of them is Metroid.
The Metroid series is one in which the game makers usually put in a monumental effort to make something enjoyable to play, and most gamers just sit it out even as those who’ve played the game rave about how great it is. Once again, those passive sit-this-one-out types are missing out while those of us who like Metroid games are once again enjoying one of the most immersive, atmospheric, and enjoyable games that gaming has to offer.
Metroid: Samus Returns is a retelling of the story of Metroid II: Return of Samus. Calling it a remake doesn’t do it justice, because the entire game has been redone from the ground up, leaving just the basic scenario intact. What this means is, having already played Metroid II doesn’t mean you’ve already played this game.
Samus Returns starts you off as Samus Aran, who has just landed on the planet SR388, tasked with the job of exterminating the metroids there. Apparently, at this point, the Galactic Federation has found the metroids to be more trouble than they’re worth, so they’ve decided that they’ve just got to go. What better way to exterminate a bunch of dangerous super-monsters than to send a lone bounty hunter to do the job, with no backup whatsoever.
This game is huge. Because the caverns you’ll be exploring are so immense, it helps to have plenty of tools at your disposal. As one might expect, typical Metroid series upgrades are here, including High Jump Boots, the Varia Suit, and the Spring Ball, which is to be expected because they are in the original. The Spider Ball is included as well, which is welcome because it definitely adds to Samus’ mobility and makes tons of areas accessible, and itself is available early on. So much freedom is given to Samus’ movement, that Samus Returns doesn’t feel like a typical platformer. Whereas in most platformers the walls are obstacles, in Samus Returns the Spider Ball makes them feel like a tool that can be used to reach new areas. Because of this, one can imagine the care that must be taken to take into account Samus’ abilities as each area is designed to keep the game balanced and consistently challenging. This is something that developer Mercury Steam succeeded at. What’s more, there is a real sense of empowerment in the number of options Samus may have in overcoming an enemy or obstacle. It really feels as though the player is in charge, and that if something can’t be reached, then the player simply wasn’t intended to access it just yet.
However, power-ups aren’t the main keys to progress in Samus Returns. Samus progresses by collecting metroid DNA, which can be obtained by slaying metroids that Samus comes across. This DNA is then scanned with a statue, which removes progress-blocking acid once Samus collects enough, and there’s just enough metroids in the area to do this. One could ask how an ancient race can know just how many metroids will be in an area and their exact DNA compositions decades in advance, or just what they’d have to gain by roadblocking an exterminator that wasn’t even born yet. But hey, it’s a video game, what matters is that the game is mechanically sound.
Samus does get some new abilities that weren’t present in the original, which add to the uniqueness of the experience of Samus Returns. Among these is the melee counter. This is achieved by quickly pressing the X button as an enemy charges you (easy to tell, because they’ll “glint” a certain way just before they do it). This stuns the enemy, giving you the opportunity to kill them while they’re stunned. If you respond with blaster fire quickly enough, you’ll automatically lock on to them and kill them with a single shot. As much as I’ve played Samus Returns, I’ve found this satisfying every single time.
Taking advantage of this isn’t a bad idea. Because otherwise, the enemies in this game are tough, taking more shots than I remember similar enemies taking in most other Metroid games. What’s more, the enemies in this game are very aggressive. Some of which will charge you on sight, which is usually right when they appear on screen, so you’ll have plenty of opportunity to use this fun new mechanic. Thankfully, there’s no cheesing it like the sensemove mechanic from Other M, so your timing has to be on point.
One welcome new mechanic is the inclusion of Aeion abilities, which are pretty powerful, but their use consumes an Aeion bar, which gets replenished by pick-ups, and its maximum is increased by Aeion tanks that can be found throughout the game. There is variety in these abilities, which can be switched on the fly due to them being mapped to the control pad. There’s an ability that helps offensively, one that’s defensive, one that just about renders the Speed Booster obsolete (how’s that for cryptic?), and one that’s controversial because it makes exploring the huge map much easier. In my opinion, it really didn’t take anything away from the game, and was great to have considering that the maps in Samus Returns are huge. The Aeion meter depleted faster than I would have preferred, but that’s fine, because these abilities would be broken if players could constantly use them as a crutch.
Another great ability that’s welcome is the ability to “analog aim” by holding down the L shoulder button. Doing this causes Samus to stop in place and you can aim her gun using the control slider. Because of this, Samus is no longer limited to the 8 traditional directions to aim her weapon (though this can still be done while moving), and you can now aim with more precision. This might take a little time to get used to, but once you get the hang of it, it’s great to have, as you no longer have to reposition Samus to hit certain targets, and can be used in boss battles to get more attacks in.
In the original, the boss battles were the metroids themselves, and there were a few dozen of them. The original was repetitive because the variation in experience between metroids of the same form was supplied by the environment you fought them in. In Samus Returns, however, that repetition mostly vanishes for several reasons. For one thing, there’s more variation in the obstacles the environments provide. What’s more, the metroids themselves are no longer straightforward in their attacks. Each one will usually have several attacks, which call for different responses. Better still, metroids also have attacks that can be melee countered, giving you the opportunity to deliver some serious damage.
Speaking of boss battles, there are a couple new battles in there to change things up, one of which has some pretty significant implications for the Metroid series continuity. It’s a welcome addition, especially for fans of the series.
Would you be missing anything if you didn’t use Amiibos? Yeah, but whether it’s a big deal would depend on who you are. Amiibos supply backup tanks for health, ammo, and Aeion energy, but they really aren’t game breaking and don’t count towards your item collection rate. There are more post-game bonuses, such as gallery images and a music room, but whether these are a big deal will depend on whether you care about such things.
The really big Amiibo to own would be the squishy Metroid one. During the game, it gives you the location of a metroid in the area. This can be a big help, but not always. It doesn’t always give you the location of the most practical one for you to find next. Still, this comes in real handy considering that otherwise you might be spending a lot more time combing these huge maps. But even more significant would be the post-game bonus that it provides: an extra mode that provides even more challenge than the Hard difficulty.
That’s something to think about right there. This game’s normal mode is already hard. Which is just how I would have wanted it. Each of the games challenges are just hard enough to offer a sense of satisfaction upon overcoming them. Then there’s a Hard mode, in which enemies do double the damage. The difficulty level offered by the Metroid Amiibo is Fusion Mode, in which the enemies do four times the damage, and you see Samus in her Fusion suit, serving as a reminder to watch your step. Having this hardcore difficulty behind an Amiibo paywall may upset some players, especially considering how difficult to find these Amiibos are right now. And we certainly don’t like the idea of rewarding Amiibo scalpers for what they’re doing, which is taking advantage of those who weren’t able to get their Amiibos on day one.
If you’re one of those gamers that don’t own a 3DS just yet, it would be worth going out to buy one, even if just to play this game. It’s that good. How many stars would I give it? How about a galaxy out of ten?
Which is a 10 out of 10. This game deserves it, and so does developer Mercury Steam. This game offers tight controls, atmospheric visuals and sound, high replay value, and novel gameplay mechanics that only add to the experience. The only catch is, you gotta buy it. Which I did. Twice. I did my part to encourage excellence in game design. How about you?
Welcome back, Samus.