Welcome back to planet SR388, Metroid Hunters. Your mission: to destroy all known life forms of these alien creatures. 26 years after the original release of Metroid II, Samus gets to shoot and destroy in style with new abilities, visuals and gameplay. Yet at the heart of Metroid: Samus Returns, there’s still a backdrop of nostalgia with music that feels tense and hostile to the trained ear of older fans. Though it’s a warm up to Prime 4, it feels good to have Samus Aran back and in fine form.
In 1996, there’s a six-year-old girl sat in the car travelling from England to Scotland playing Metroid II: Return of Samus on her purple Game Boy. It’s getting dark and she’s using the streetlights to see what she’s shooting. Fast travel to 2017 and she’s reviewing the reimagining of Metroid II on the 3DS. For many fans, Metroid II may not have been their first Metroid game, but it was mine. The slow jumps, the tense music, and the claustrophobic, hostile environment of planet SR388 only made that six-year-old girl more curious to find the answers. Back then, I never made it past Arachnus. But over the years, the 1991 original title was dug out of storage and slotted into place on the Game Boy. Perhaps it was the same for other fans, with Metroid II resurfacing from the collection of old games you enjoyed on long journeys.
Shifting around 1.72 million copies, Metroid II: Return of Samus was a success with fans and critics alike. The side-scrolling action game saw Samus Aran deployed by the Galactic Federation to SR388, the home planet of the Metroids. She’s tasked with the mission to destroy all Metroid life forms to keep humans safe from the critically dangerous species. Fortunately, Samus had some powerful weapons in her arsenal, including the Plasma Beam which could pierce enemies and obliterate them in moments, as well as her famed Morph Ball with its spring and spider-like enhancements allowing Samus to reach previously inaccessible places. With the release of Metroid: Samus Returns, the nostalgia remains in keeping with the modern, fresh look.
Developed by MercurySteam and Nintendo EPD, Metroid: Samus Returns is a beautiful and vibrant reimagining of the original. Produced by Metroid series director Yoshio Sakamoto, planet SR388 is home to many enemy varieties, including five stages of the Metroid life form, from original to omega. Housing many puzzles, which remain delightfully challenging, Samus Returns is brought to life through crystal clear visuals in stereoscopic 3D. From the ancient historic backgrounds to the otherworldly design in the foreground, SR388 is stunning to the eye. Even enemy design is nicely varied with a spectrum of colours used in their appearance to define difficulty.
On starting the game, players will notice Samus controls differently. She’s more fluid in movement and has a 360 degree shooting range with Free Aim mode, which is activated by holding the left shoulder button. No longer will players be shoehorned into using the crosshairs aim mechanic, with Free Aim incredibly useful when facing the various Metroid forms. Also new to the game is her ability to counterattack and automatically take aim at the enemy. While the melee counterattack is fun to use in a tight spot, the automatic aiming mechanic can be inaccurate, especially when there are multiple enemies in the room or when Samus is positioned at an odd angle. With free aim mode, though, players can easily counteract this minor flaw.
In Samus Returns, fans will also get to grips with an entirely new feature to the Metroid series. Aeion abilities are powered by mysterious glowing balls of energy that enable Samus to see hidden blocks and uncover parts of the map with Scan Pulse, protect herself against hazardous plant life with Lightning Armour and use more powerful attacks with Beam Burst. Used to solve puzzles and grab hidden items, Aeion abilities are a real game changer to the Metroid series, but they do so without altering the universe fans love. To use these abilities, an Aeion metre is equipped which will drain over time when in use. However, it’s easily restored by defeating enemies or by collecting it from Aeion points. Defeating enemies also allows you to collect additional health and missiles, with energy tanks and missile upgrades scattered throughout the planet.
For those familiar with the original, it was fairly easy to lose your bearings. In Samus Returns, a mini map is located on the bottom screen of the 3DS, aiding players with key information such as the location of save stations and item spheres, a touch screen to switch between beams easily, and the ability to use pins to mark areas of interest. And while it was a pain in the original to get from one area to another, particularly when you wanted to switch your beams, Samus Returns introduces teleport stations to get to previous areas in an instant. Nicely placed, the teleport stations are extremely useful when going back to previously locked areas for item upgrades, as well as returning the Metroid DNA strands back to the Chozo pods. A smart feature that appeals to long-time fans.
Even features from newer Metroid games make an appearance in Samus Returns. From ledge grabbing and the grappling beam to power bombs and super missiles, there’s a good variation in combat and weapon mechanics to keep fans and newcomers exploring. Of course, there are flaws to Samus Returns too. Enemy respawn rates become tiresome when moving from door to door, plus there’s even some framerate issues when there are many enemies on the screen at once. The game is not shy of the odd glitch either; particularly when fighting a Gamma Metroid. The poor creature didn’t see the nifty dodge from Samus and jammed itself into the foreground for the entire battle. Talk about being stuck between a rock a hard place.
Yet despite these issues, Samus Returns in normal mode feels easy. The boss fight with Arachnus, for example, was over in seconds with the wave beam equipped. Previously only weak to bombs, Arachnus was quite the pushover. That’s not to say a harder mode isn’t available though, but only once you’ve cleared the game does it unlock. Unfortunately, the Fusion mode – an additional layer of difficulty – is locked behind the Metroid Amiibo. With the hard mode locked behind a pay wall and completion, it seems unfair to fans of the original and becomes the game’s most glaring error.
Breathing new life into Metroid II’s storyline and setting, Samus Returns is a delightful, fully engaging and tense journey back to the depths of SR388. Between the music and bold visuals, the original nostalgia never feels lost amidst the new features. A new twist on an old format, albeit with a few errors, the essence of a Metroid game is firmly found in Samus Returns.