It’s been many years since Samus, and Metroid by extension, has been present in gamer’s lives. Following the close of the Metroid Prime Trilogy (I guess we’ll have to rename that now) the series has taken a few odd, or downright deplorable, turns according to fans. Metroid: Other M painted Samus in a submissive, fragile light, while Metroid Prime: Federation Force was more of a “farce”. Metroid: Samus Returns, however, is a true return to form for the titular heroine. It takes a lot of what we love about 2D Metroid and raises the bar.
Metroid: Samus Returns is actually a remake of the Game Boy classic, Metroid II: Return of Samus. The premise, or overall goal, of the game remains unchanged. The Galactic Federation had dispatched a group of elite soldiers to the Metroid homeworld of SR388 to investigate the activity of said creatures. Problem is, the soldiers are never heard from again. The Federation then tasks Samus with taking on the mission of destroying all the Metroids on the planet.
Similar to many Metroid games before it, Samus Returns has players begin a subterranean trek through SR388 for a Metroid hunt. As you explore your surroundings you’ll come across new power ups and abilities that upgrade your armor and weapons. Many of these upgrades are necessary because there will be areas that you cannot reach without a particular power up. That means backtracking. I mean this in a good way. When I came to possess a new weapon or an upgrade that affected my mobility, I began to think of previously explored areas where I could put these powers to good use. I was rewarded for my curiosity with missile expansions, energy tanks, and Aeion expansions.
This is where Samus Returns leaves the original game behind. The addition of new Aeion abilities is an interesting, and rather enjoyable, new way to play Metroid. There are four Aeion abilities. Early on you receive the “Scan Pulse” ability that allows Samus to locate hidden paths and items in the environment. Having played Super Metroid after completing Samus Returns, I like how all encompassing the Scan Pulse can be as opposed to the Scan Visor, which could take you a long time to survey your surroundings. Other abilities allow Samus to take more damage and even turn her into Rambo with a rapid-fire arm cannon.
Another new, and useful, addition to Samus Returns is the use of Teleport Stations. With eight levels of the planet to explore, Samus can easily fast travel to another location far away if she’s come across that particular area’s Teleport Station. It’s very useful for tracking down your remaining expansions for a 100% completion rate. That’s how I primarily used the stations. Just for item pick ups. The majority of the time I was enjoying exploring every nook and cranny on-foot.
The best part of these new features is that they’re completely optional to use. For those who prefer a more traditional Metroid experience, you can explore and track down items without even using Scan Pulse or the Teleport Stations. Moreover, you can adjust the game’s settings so that hidden paths won’t be revealed to you.
The 3D feature also lends itself to the game’s presentation. Samus will explore caverns with pouring waterfalls, deep caves that have been hollowed out by machinery, and old, crumbling Chozo ruins long abandoned by its masters. Metroid: Samus Returns buffers the cinematic appeal by way of its soundtrack. Daisuke Matsuoka composed the overall soundtrack, with Super Metroid and Metroid Prime Trilogy composer, Kenji Yamamoto acting as director, and Samus Returns sounds amazing. Featuring reimagined takes on Metroid II’s soundtrack, as well as selections from Super Metroid, every depth of SR388 I explored truly felt like a thrilling and frightening adventure.
My one disappoint with the game, however, lies in its premise: hunting down Metroids. There are four types in the game, including: Alpha, Gamma, Omega, and Zeta Metroids. While there’s some variety, once you’ve fought one type of Metroid, you’ve fought that exact type of Metroid for the remainder of the game. That is to say, despite the variety, the fights with the Metroids can get a little repetitive halfway through the game. You’ll know you’re near a Metroid by the husks they shed, or an indicator will begin to blip and blink. It’s at times like these when I had to stop shy of the door the Metroid was behind to equip my ice beam and get my super missiles ready. Then I’d have to repeat every time the Metroid tracker started flaring up again. The fights are fun, but with 40 Metroids to track down and destroy, it gets to be a little bit of a slog.
That being said, Samus controls beautifully. Like Metroid Fusion, Samus can fire up, down, and at a diagonal even when running. On top of that, Samus Returns includes a free-aim mechanic. Samus’ feet may have to remain planted, but the increased mobility for her arm cannon means no creature is safe. Also new to Samus Returns is a counter feature. Practically every enemy, including the Metroids, will telegraph the moment they’re about to attack Samus. When that happens, Samus can use her arm cannon to knock back that enemy and stun them. You can then automatically gun them down for a flashy execution. It took some getting used to, but after getting an enemy’s movement pattern down, I was soon chaining those counter attacks together. It’s a feature that I hope stays with 2D Metroid in the long run.
Metroid: Samus Returns is no walk in the park either. It can be a tad difficult when confronting enemies that have a higher damage output, but that was possibly because I was still working on making myself stronger. The most aggravating, though fun, boss in the game had to be the Diggernaut. Geez, that Diggernaut. While disappointed that I had to repeat the boss about a half a dozen times, I didn’t think it was cheap. I was just not employing the right strategies to defeat the boss. Samus Returns won’t punish you for failing. Even respawning is generous. Just try again until you get it right. That being said, I put over a dozen hours into the game alone, and every one of them was very enjoyable.
Aside from some Chozo lore that you can unlock by going for 100% completion, a hard mode after beating the game once, and a Fusion mode (also added difficulty and an art gallery) unlocked via amiibo figures, there’s not much else to it. Though I suppose hardened fans of speed runs may find joy in seeing how fast they can complete the game due to its special, but hardly exceptional, ending sequences.
Metroid: Samus Returns truly brings Samus Aran into the spotlight after many years of absence. While a remake of an original Game Boy title, there’s so many new things to experience that it’s worth going on that Metroid hunt. Here’s hoping that Samus gets to stay in our lives for a time to come. I wouldn’t want her to become a stranger again.