REVIEW: Metroid: Samus Returns

Friday, September 22nd, 2017

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Title Metroid: Samus Returns
Developer MercurySteam Entertainment, Nintendo
Publisher Nintendo
Release Date September 15th, 2017
Genre Adventure, Platformer
Platform Nintendo 3DS
Age Rating E for Everyone – Animated Blood, Fantasy Violence, Mild Suggestive Themes
Official Website

It’s a little hard to believe that it’s been 13 years since we got a proper Metroid game. The last traditional adventure in the series was 2004’s Metroid: Zero Mission, itself a sort of prequel and remake of the original NES game. Since that time, the series became more experimental, and flirted with the 3D first person shooting found in the Prime series as well as the incredibly divisive Other M. And that’s not to mention the unmentionable Federation Force, a game I still maintain doesn’t belong in the series. With Samus Returns, we got not only a return to form, but also the second intensive remake in the series. While I had played some of Metroid II: Return of Samus, the handheld adventure Samus Returns is based on, it frustrated me with several archaic design choices and hardware limitations. With Samus Returns, the experience is totally reimagined, with streamlined new mechanics as well as revamped and totally new boss encounters. The question is, does Samus Returns herald a new beginning for everyone’s favorite bounty huntress? Or should Samus curl up in a Morph Ball and power bomb the series into oblivion?

Samus Returns | Intro

The adventure begins with a brief recap of the events of the original Metroid, presented with beautiful hand drawn art. Mother Brain may have been put down, but the threat presented by the Metroids still looms large, so Samus is sent by the Federation to SR388 in order to wipe them all out. That’s all the backstory you get, and really all you need for motivation. The series has always lived or died on atmosphere, combat and exploration, and all are on plentiful display here. The game will give you little hints and nudges in the right direction, but you will mostly have to rely on your own wits to find your way through, with some small provisos. One are the Metroid altars. When you first find them, you will be notified of a certain number of Metroids you need to hunt down to lower the purple miasma and provide a route to a new area. You can also return to altars after defeating at least one Metroid to plug in their DNA and reveal the location of any nearby Metroids.

Samus Returns | Aeion Abilities

Go on Samus, just roll into the statue’s gullet to get your new Aeion ability… Totally trustworthy.

The other feature that helps simplify things falls under the auspices of the brand new Aeion abilities. These work like any other upgrade, and must be first found in order to use them. There is a nice variety, ranging from tactical to combat, but the very first you get makes exploration a bit easier. This is the Scan Pulse, and it sends out a sonar pulse that reveals a bit of the map around you, as well as revealing hidden destructible blocks in your immediate vicinity. While I was worried this would make exploration too easy, I still got lost plenty of times. The Scan Pulse only serves to light your path, it doesn’t show you the way forward. Furthermore, since all Aeion abilities rely on a special meter, you won’t always have enough juice to activate them. Having said that, the Scan Pulse was always my go to ability, and the other Aeion abilities I only used when I was absolutely forced to (usually for puzzle solving).

Samus Returns | Foreboding

Besides the Aeion abilities, there are a number of other improvements and changes to the experience. First, and perhaps most enjoyable, is the new counter attack. By timing it just right, and waiting til an enemy is about to connect with you, you can uppercut foes with your gauntleted fist, stunning them and allowing you a moment to unleash a torrent of firepower. I admit I was initially worried about MercurySteam handling the development of the game (Lords of Shadow: Mirror of Fate was fun, though it wasn’t really the Castlevania I love), but they have more than proven their skill to me in Samus Returns. The counter could have been one note or overpowered, but I found it nuanced and fun. I appreciated you could activate it a little early and still make it work, but also liked that it wouldn’t help you much when multiple enemies swarmed you at once. Best of all, it can make boss fights a little easier, but doesn’t remove the challenge. Another nifty new feature is the free aiming. By holding the L button, you can aim your cannon in any direction, allowing Samus to snipe pesky foes with ease. Though it does occasionally become a chore to hold the L button, especially when the game requires you to also hold the R button to select missiles, overall I had few complaints.

Samus Returns | Counterattack

These guys aren’t so tough if you counter their attacks!

While the game isn’t what I would call linear, it does offer a distinct flow. You get to a new area, are told how many Metroids to hunt, find them as well as requisite suit upgrades, kill the Metroids, then return to the altar to reveal the way forward. The one nice thing is you won’t be able to get to a new area without finding the upgrades you need to progress. So if you’re worried about getting stuck, don’t be. I feared I had missed the Grapple Beam in Area 2, and thought I needed it to get anywhere in Area 3. As it turned out, I already had the upgrades required, and was able to find an alternate route using my nifty Spider Ball. Making things a bit easier is the return of Save Pedestals. You’ll note I didn’t say Save Room, since in Samus Returns, these are found out in the open. Further differentiating them, these Save areas don’t fully heal you or replenish your ammo. Instead, you’ll find separate terminals to charge your energy, ammo and Aeion meter. Though it would have been nice to have these all in one terminal, their separation does add a bit more challenge, and encourages you to get better at countering foes, since doing so successfully rewards you with more health and ammo. Lastly, this game takes a page from Castlevania’s playbook, and offers Warp Pedestals. These make backtracking much less of a hassle, and I hope they show up in future 2D Metroid games.

Samus Returns | Free Aim

More Samus on Page 2 ->

About Josh Speer

Josh Speer is addicted to two things in equal measure : Books and Videogames. He has a degree from the University of Washington in English with an emphasis on writing. He joined Operation Rainfall last year while following it on Facebook. His two giant life goals are to write his own series of fantasy / science fiction novels and to get into the creative side of the video game industry. He is beyond pleased to now have his proverbial foot in the door thanks to the opportunity provided by Oprainfall!


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  • SirPrimalform

    “using songs from Metroid II wasn’t really an option, since they have not aged well”

    Using *TUNES* from the original was absolutely an option. It’s not like those tunes are forever locked to the GB sound chip, just as I’m sure the tunes you recognised from Super Metroid were new arrangements rather than SNES audio.

    • Solbasa

      I haven’t played Samus Returns, but based on what I’ve heard of the original’s soundtrack, I feel like the problem isn’t that so much as that a lot of the “music” in the original is more ambient noises and mostly silence, at least in the caverns. Although there are some good songs there – like the SR388 surface theme – a lot of what IS actually music is really fucked up and would be really difficult to make sound good on a modern system.

      The Metroid series has obviously evolved since then, and is known for its atmospheric music. As cool as it would be to see a new game that takes Metroid II’s approach to background music, I don’t feel like it would go over particularly well with people unfamiliar with the original.

    • SirPrimalform

      I see what you’re saying… I guess my point was that a talented arranger should have been able to come up with a modern soundtrack based on Metroid II rather than just mining the best tunes from the entire back catalogue. That’s not to say whoever did this isn’t talented, I haven’t played Samus Returns either. I was just disputing the idea that the original soundtrack was unsalvageable because of how dated GB chiptunes are. Maybe I misunderstood the author.

      p.s. They’re tunes not songs guys. It’s not a song unless it’s sung.

  • Panpopo

    I agree with many of the points on this review. It definitely reminded me of super metroid (mostly from music), but it felt pretty linear – you don’t have backtrack if you don’t want to unless you want to 100% it.

    Maybe this is just me, but my hand started to cramp up over long periods of playtime. I think it is because of the analog stick on the 3ds (or maybe I’m getting old lol). It never really feels comfortable, so action games on the system feel uncomfortable. I hope this game gets ported to something with a better analog, like the switch.

    I hope this game does well, because it was fun. I would love more 2d metriod, even if they are remakes.