The 3DS receives a remake of one of the best ever Game Boy games, but how well does Metroid II stand the test of time?
Game: Metroid: Samus Returns
Developer: MercurySteam and Nintendo
Reviewed on: 3DS (Review code/copy provided)
Just in case you don’t know what Metroid: Samus Returns is all about, then I’d forgive you. After all, this modern reimagining of 1991’s Metroid II on the original Game Boy has certainly taken me by surprise. Perhaps it’s because my eye has been well and truly fixed on Nintendo’s Switch console of late, but for whatever reason, this 3DS exclusive very nearly passed me by.
I am so glad that it didn’t.
The limited button capacity and incredibly basic graphical output of the original Game Boy effectively ensure that Samus Returns is far from just a makeover. Instead, it is a complete remake that shares concepts, theme, story and structure, but little else. The titular hero Samus is dispatched to the planet SR388 to deal with the Metroid threat before it can be weaponised by Space Pirates, which is just as it was on the Game Boy.
Also the same is the progression system which is pure Metroid (or Metroidvania, as it is now known). However, in addition to new abilities advancing progress within the immediate area, so too do certain ancient monuments that can be activated when Samus defeats a fixed number of Metroid enemies. When used, these monuments cause an earthquake that reduces the level of the toxic liquid that flows within the planet, thereby allowing Samus to progress ever deeper.
Samus Returns can be played in two distinctly different ways (or any way in between) and as a result it feels incredibly versatile. It’s a hard game, and many will play it like I do; slowly, carefully and ponderously. I explored every nook and cranny, every corner and every wall. Samus unlocks a scan ability early in the game, and whilst this provides an indication of where adjacent rooms are and shows weaknesses in the visibly architecture, it does not actually show the player how to progress.
A raft of other abilities fill out Samus’ move set, and whilst several return from the original and from later Metroid games, one or two (like the scan) are new as far as I recall. Most of these are weapons, including missiles, a charged shot, plasma blast, bombs and a grapple beam. Many of these enable Samus to blast through doors and walls, and many blocks are only vulnerable to specific attacks, so revisiting areas is a completionists dream.
For those who don’t want to explore, or spend so much time with the game that they want a greater challenge, then the other way to play Samus Returns is as a speed runner. This is the kind of game that will delight the sequence breakers, and by combining abilities, there are near-limitless possibilities for progressing through levels in record time. I’m a novice at this kind of thing, but even I found combinations of wall jumps, morph ball and bomb-jumps that got me to far away places.
However you do play it, Samus Returns is a pleasure to explore. Samus moves naturally, and the controls are as sharp and accurate as you need them to be. There are a lot of features to get to grips with, and switching weapons, morphing and placing bombs etc are all very natural and easy to achieve. A free aim mode that simply wouldn’t have been possible on the Game Boy is now included, as is a melee counter move that strikes the perfect balance between powerful enough to be worthwhile, but demanding to achieve.
You’ll need all these weapons and abilities too, because Samus Returns throws enemies at you like they are going out of fashion. Points that restore Samus ammunition and health are relatively scarce (as are save points) and planning the most efficient route through levels to key opponents like Metroids (especially as they get more powerful) is important for the average gamer. Dying and restarting sections will increase the playing time for most, but thankfully it isn’t too gratuitous. Should you complete the game on its standard difficulty, you will unlock a hard mode, which I have to say I’m finding rather challenging.
Samus Returns looks good too, and probably suits the 3DS perfectly among all consoles. It uses 3D graphics (and supports full 3D play) on a two-dimensional plane, meaning that it has some snazzy cut scenes that pan and zoom nicely. The animation of Samus and her enemies is excellent, as is the use of varied colours and a nice re-imagining of the theme from the original game. I did find many of the backdrops a little dull, but to be fair you’ll rarely look at them. Music composed by veterans of the series also enhances the experience, and the package is an immersive and authentic Metroid experience.
Return of Samus is the definitive modern take on a two-dimensional Metroid game. It has all of the challenge, all of the complexity and all of the potential for impressive and rewarding play that a Metroid game should have. It looks and sounds great, and it pulls no punches in terms of difficulty or level of expectation. It feels generous, with tons of variety in weapons, skills and level, and there are often two or three ways through every area should you seek them out. I can’t help it; I recommend this to just about anyone.