Metroid: samus returns
A worthwhile revival for Nintendo’s forgotten hero
The intergalactic bounty hunter’s adventures are the Samus they ever were in this shiny remake.
It’s been a lengthy absence for the galaxy’s greatest bounty hunter, but a couple of hours into Samus Aran’s comeback you wonder if she should have postponed it a little longer. A remake of Game Boy sequel Metroid II, generally considered one of the series’ weaker entries, Samus Returns does rather too good a job of making planet SR388 an unpleasant place to be. Hostile environments are part and parcel of any Metroid game, of course, but with only one energy tank to play with, mistakes are too aggressively punished in the early hours. Enemies are irritating rather than challenging, swooping down to attack the second you enter a room, and occasionally waiting for you at the bottom of a blind drop. Combat is built around a new melee counter system, a mighty swipe of Samus’s arm somehow much more effective than an arm cannon at taking down these skittering nasties. A swing leads to a stun, and then you unload. It’s satisfying when you get the timing down, but since it’s comfortably the most effective tactic, you end up using it all the time, and the pleasure of pulling it off is dulled.
With so many enemies – and in the larger rooms they’ll respawn, so when backtracking you’ll often have to kill the same creatures twice in short order – Samus Returns loses some of that sense of splendid isolation that’s been so key to Metroid’s appeal since the original. And at first, the 3DS circle pad doesn’t seem quite up to snuff when it comes to the more exacting exploration challenges, where precision and speed are required to make it through areas before destructible blocks reform.
With annoying bug swarms, collapsible blocks depositing you in deadly acid pools, and questionable collision detection that can see you die before a fatal blow actually connects, you might be convinced to give up. But Samus Returns is a game that eventually rewards perseverance. Progressing into the bowels of SR388 requires you to find and kill a given number of Metroids before you can descend further, and these battles are consistently exhilarating. The circle pad becomes a boon rather than a handicap, giving you full 360-degree control of Samus’s arm cannon, while the staging and soundtrack raise your pulse just as the build-up threatened to send it flatlining.
Then, once you’ve got yourself a fourth energy tank and a three-way laser, you’re laughing. Smaller enemies are no longer a threat, but an opportunity to top up your Aeion gauge – another new addition to the game – with counters, giving you access to a handy shield, a powerful burst-fire option, and a time-slowing phase drift. The big battles escalate pleasingly in scale and excitement, while exploration becomes more flexible and fun, even in the face of turrets and other hazards that hit hard enough to ensure you can’t simply breeze through without penalty.
A strong endgame isn’t quite enough to put MercurySteam’s effort among the upper echelons of Metroid games: it still lacks Super’s imposing solitude and the panicky tension of Fusion. Still, despite those faltering early steps, it’s (eventually) good to have Samus back.
“With only one energy tank, mistakes are too aggressively punished in the early hours”
Tiny enemies that drop from the ceiling are a handy source of energy and missiles before the Metroid battles.