After the events of the original Metroid, the Galactic Federation sends a recon team to a far-off planet by the name of SR388, where they soon discover Metroids have inhabited. Fearful of the threat they provide to the universe after their recon team goes MIA, the Federation enlists Samus to take on a mission to SR388 to eliminate the Metroid species. This storyline returns in full force with Metroid: Samus Returns.
Metroid: Samus Returns is available for digital download via Nintendo’s official site for your regional pricing.
There exists, however, a photo gallery that reveals itself in the Options menu, with its quantity based on the player’s item collection rate. Should one collect enough items, a story will show along with the collection of pictures, giving the player insight as to how the events leading up to the plot at hand took place. And while the actual gameplay doesn’t supply the narrative focus a game of this caliber typically adorns, it provides enough incentive for context-starved players to go back once all’s said and done and go item hunting.
What immediately becomes apparent when playing Samus Returns for the first time is how fluid and responsive the controls are, especially with the analog stick. New to the features present is the improved lock-on feature, which holds Samus in place and aims wherever one inputs on the analog stick. This level of preciseness makes beam and missile-fire all the better for control, and stands as one of the most basic, yet innovative features of a 2D Metroid title on the 3DS. It makes decimating creatures all the more efficient and fulfilling.
Outside of this feature, introduced for the first time are Aeion Abilities, which help to aid Samus (and particularly newcomers) with the journey at hand. Features such as the Scan Pulse and Lightning Armor, which scan the surrounding area for secrets and shield Samus from damage, respectively, become available for the player to peruse at their leisure. If that wasn’t enough, there also exists a new Counter feature, which knocks back an enemy and leaves them open for fire. It is, by all accounts, the most efficient way of killing every rotten creature on the planet, yet it takes precise timing to get the counter to activate correctly. Enemies will flash at a given moment, signaling their intent to charge at Samus, when the player must press a single button to trigger the Counter; firing their weapon afterwards will usually kill the creature in a single shot.
Outside of the few pleasant innovations, which aim to appease those looking for a more varied experience and an easier task of exploration, Samus Returns doesn’t do much outside the foundation of most Metroid titles. A strong emphasis on exploration and ambiance, destroying enemies in a flurry of gunfire, and traveling within expansive areas with secrets hidden all around. Fight a boss or seven, and collect items necessary to make Samus stronger as her quest continues. In this particular title, the adventure is fairly linear, which hampers some of that explorative aspect, yet makes the process feel more streamlined and focused. Trading the best qualities of Alien for the best qualities of Aliens, if you will.
What makes this straightforward scenario all the more rigid is the Metroid extermination plot, forcing the player to go up against at least 40 Metroids, all of them being one-on-one. In an effort to spice up the battles, Metroids have an evolutionary chain that goes from Alpha to Gamma to Zeta to Omega, resulting in four different battle styles for Samus to encounter. While fresh in the experience of discovery, some may find the repetition of Metroid-killing to be off-putting; combined with the lack of enemy variety within the game (one could count the number of species on both hands), it becomes a somewhat lacking combative experience.
Fortunately, where the basic combat feels stale, special scenarios more than make up for it. Various boss situations, though not all within the scenario of “mano a mano”, give a spark of life to Metroid: Samus Returns that too often feels like an updated game in aesthetic alone. The number of delightfully different settings present a pleasant feeling of unexpectedness with which even veterans could appreciate with the new technology.
Aside from the various upgrades in combative capabilities, the way one can fight, avoid, and strategize against formidable foes is a welcome addition to a game so heavily involved in initiating quick and extravagant action. Somewhat dismayed as I am that the focus on the uncanny and narrative intrigue the likes of Metroid Fusion exuded is never prevalent here, it allows more opportunity to embellish itself in the other aspect of Metroid’s defining genre: action.
What may be most important about critiquing a game that cements itself as either a spiritual successor or remake of another is its worth as an individual game, and what it does to improve upon its predecessor. Samus Returns already accomplishes the technical aspects of a remake—almost by default by the gap in time these games were released—while also fine-tuning every aspect of the game’s drive. A more involved map that details areas, items that expand upon the basics of the series, bosses that require more than spamming a single button. A polish that only Nintendo seems capable of makes even the more notable flaws of the game’s features feel inconsequential.
If there is one fatal flaw that prevents the game from attaining higher marks is that the ending few areas feel rushed in their development and pacing, as though it couldn’t wait to wrap up the experience on a high note, in which it does wonderfully. The final boss is one of the best boss fights I’ve ever had the pleasure of facing in a Metroid title.
Graphics & Audio
Let me be the first to say that I don’t much care for the overall design of this new 2D (or 2.5D) adventure. That is, not over the beautiful designs of the 2D games that came before in Zero Mission and Fusion. While the environment and atmosphere of the game is fairly good at presenting immersive atmospheres, the design of Samus and the creatures she encounters rarely left me in awe. In terms of fluidity and presentation, the worlds in which Samus travels underneath the planet have a wonderful array of different aesthetics attached, though too often I felt the environment was too runny in each area to truly distinguish themselves outside of various trope-ish traits (Water level, laboratory, etc).
Framerate was, for the most part, smooth sailing, though slowdown can be expected when a number of robotic enemies are onscreen shooting lasers and self-destructing. By no means is this worth complaining over, yet the fact that it exists itself is worth noting. At the very least, the number of boss battles look fairly intimidating.
What deserves more praise is the game’s soundtrack, which while not as good as other titles in the franchise, still asserts itself as a dominant force in creating ambiance and high-thrill adrenaline alike. While unlike Fusion in the way its structure presents itself, the tone of its soundtracks ring eerily similar by use of quiet, almost atmospheric tranquility, especially in the earlier areas in the journey.
Personally, I find soundtracks best when they can both evoke emotional immersion within a certain environment while also being catchy enough to listen to outside of that context. Samus Returns has a little of both individually, but rarely together. The best pieces of slow, unnerving tracks are best suited to their environment, while more upbeat, fast tracks are good only sporadically. It is enough, however, to be able to note while in a tight situation, if only for a millisecond, “Wow. I really dig this track.”