Metroid and its heroic main character, Samus, have been neglected by Nintendo for years. Fans of the franchise kept asking for new entries and Nintendo seemed to had given in when it released Metroid Prime: Federation to a lukewarm reception from both critics and fans. However, the company seems focused on redeeming itself with the announcement of a new Metroid Prime for the Nintendo Switch and the recent release of Metroid: Samus Returns – a reimagining of a Game Boy title.
It’s fitting that this reimagining of a handheld classic gets a Nintendo 3DS release since it still feels like the perfect format for it to be on. This is a classic Metroid adventure with plenty of side scrolling platform action and a clever use of an ever increasing arsenal of abilities to uncover new paths and areas.
What is fascinating about this adventure is how it manages to encourage players to find solutions for the many obstacles in the way without making itself feel frustrating. Instead, it leaves the exploration mostly down to players and that makes for far more satisfying discoveries.
The idea is to defeat a certain number of Metroid creatures and feeding their DNA into a mechanism that in turn sucks up an acidic like liquid preventing Samus from moving on to the next area. As Samus goes deeper and deeper underground, it becomes clear that each of these areas is even bigger and contains more intricate paths to explore when compared to the previous area.
But what also works really well is the fact that by acquiring what are surprisingly easy to find abilities, players will have a reason to return to previous areas and make use of every new ability to find even more secrets and optional upgrades. Metroid: Samus Returns has the kind of level design that many developers envy because it’s so easy to lose hours exploring its world without even realising it. It also shows just how far ahead of time games like Metroid II: Samus Returns were when it came to ensuring that they would still be relevant years after they were released.
What seem like engaging confrontations against the Metroid creatures will eventually feel like a chore that needs to be done to move on to the next area. Even the introduction of new types of Metroid creatures is not enough to stop these boss battles from feeling repetitive. Not only that but the use of the ice beam also means that taking care of most of them is an easy feat and it really seems to make it less of an accomplishment to defeat what are some of the most formidable foes that Samus has faced.
At least the title is smart enough to add a few other bosses that make for far more interesting foes, such as a giant mech that occasionally pops up to terrorise Samus.
Given the arsenal that Samus has at her disposal over the course of this adventure, it’s not surprising to see that it means using every button on the Nintendo 3DS handheld. This seems to result in a couple of drawbacks when it comes to how the title is played. The most noticeable of these for a significant number of players is how Samus moves. Movement is restricted to the use of the analog stick and it doesn’t always work as intended when dealing with enemies or even attempting to multi-task. For example, trying to kneel down to destroy a small enemy or even just trying to make use of a morph ball ability to quickly stick to a wall isn’t always an easy feat. The main issue is that the use of the d-pad is already reserved for choosing between Aeion abilities that give Samus powers, such as a shield that comes in handy quite often. It feels like movement might have worked better if the d-pad had been used for a side scrolling adventure.
The other issue is just how difficult it can be to choose between abilities, such as different weapons, when fighting enemies. The amount of abilities that Samus has means having to constantly choose between types of weapons and missiles in real time, which isn’t particularly ideal when facing against fast enemies and being under pressure. Even being able to hold the left button to then aim a weapon isn’t particularly useful when facing most enemy types. If anything it would have been far better to have the ability to automatically lock-on and fire a weapon at the nearest enemy. At times Samus can automatically shoot an enemy, but it’s only after successfully making use of a counter ability to stun and then quickly shoot an enemy.
Although most of the adventure isn’t particularly challenging once finding out how to deal with each type of Metroid, there are a couple of rare occasions where the title suddenly ramps up the difficulty without much of a warning. It would have been far better to gradually build up to a much tougher boss battle, as it’s often done with each new area as new types of enemies are introduced that rely on the player remembering what acquired abilities do to find ways to dispatch them. It’s quite tricky to get the balance right when it comes to difficulty spikes and it’s made harder by the inclusion of such a high number of Metroid creatures that need to be defeated.
What the title gets right is the very world that it builds and makes it so easy to spend hours exploring it. If anything, finding new abilities and paths is often far more exciting than the many bosses that Samus must face. It’s also a clever idea to have various save points and other key features popping up regularly to ensure that this adventure can work as a title played anywhere.
Metroid: Samus Return is indeed a welcome return for the iconic bounty hunter, but it’s also one that is not without its flaws, which unfortunately just about prevent it from being as remarkable as the main Prime titles.