It's not every day that you get to play a complete reimagining of an over 25 year old Game Boy game. Metroid: Samus Returns is certainly a competent entry in the long-running series but does it retain the spirit of the original?
I remember being obsessed with Metroid II: Return of Samus when I was a kid. I played it constantly whether I was on my way to school, in the back seat of my mom's car on the way to visit relatives, or just hanging out in the living room when my family was watching a boring movie. Therefore, you can imagine my delight when Nintendo announced that they were remaking it for 3DS. Now that I've played it over the past week, I'm both impressed and mildly disappointed.
For starters, it looks absolutely phenomenal. This is one 3DS game that you'll want to play through with the 3D slider all the way up. The vast assortment of environments are all stunning and have an impressive amount of depth which makes the planet of SR388 come to life in a way that it never has before. I can easily say that it's one of the best-looking 3DS games that I've ever played.
Exploring the massive planet is where the gameplay of Metroid: Samus Returns shines brightest. Although the original game got rather confusing as you traversed the world, the map system implemented here makes exploration intuitive to the point where any gamer can find their way without issue. The most valuable feature that contributes to this is the scan pulse ability which reveals the surrounding map whenever you use it. Considering it also highlights breakable blocks, uncovering all of the secrets is a no-brainer. For the uninitiated, the primary goal of Metroid: Samus Returns is to find and destroy 40 Metroids. Doing so with this intuitive map system is so much more immediately gratifying and streamlined. Of course, battling these evil aliens can be quite a thrill, too, but more about that later.
As you progress through SR388, you'll unlock a wide variety of familiar and novel upgrades that quickly turn the gameplay from basic to immersive and involving. For example, transforming into the Morph Ball is great but then being able to deploy bombs, jump, and stick to walls while in ball form amplifies the fun factor to a whole new level. You'll also discover plenty of health and missile upgrades that help to ease the somewhat difficult nature of the campaign. Using the unlocked abilities to uncover these optional enhancements is oh so satisfying, especially when you implement everything you've discovered in a particularly tough segment or boss fight.
Metroid: Samus Returns makes plenty of gameplay adjustments to the classic formula. First of all, holding the L button allows you to stand still and rotate your arm cannon in any direction while holding the R button lets you fire missiles. Although mechanics like this work well, there are other gameplay changes that don't quite feel like they belong in a classic Metroid game. The most notable of which is the counter system. Basically, almost every enemy will charge at you and you have to tap the X button with near-perfect timing to counter them or they will hurt you. Seeing as I love Metroid for its exploration and hate being stopped dead in my tracks to concentrate on battling enemies, this dynamic frustrated me far more than it brought me joy. Usually, enemies in Metroid games can be taken care of simply by shooting them but apparently, that's not good enough anymore.
There are a few other annoying control issues, too. First, I don't understand why I have to select an Aeion ability with the digital pad then push A to use it. Why couldn't I just tap the digital pad to use the abilities and cut out the need for another button? Also, I found aiming jumps to be extremely irritating at times. The most annoying of which is when you freeze an enemy then try to use it as a platform. Finally, having to hold L to use the Spider Ball can be hard on your finger. Why can't you just toggle it instead?
Before I end this review, I should mention the amiibo implementation. Basically, you can use four amiibo (Samus and Zero Suit Samus from the Super Smash Bros. series and the new Samus Aran and Metroid statues) in order to unlock additional upgrades. Using the Metroid one will locate the nearest Metroid in-game as well as grant you Fusion mode after you beat the game. The other three unlock reserve health and missile tanks and gallery items. I found this implementation to be rather greedy as it blocks gamers from experiencing certain in-game content unless they make another purchase. More significantly, there's a pay-to-win aspect at play as having those reserve tanks makes the game far less challenging. In the end, this sort of content cheapens the overall experience whether you buy into it or not.
Complaints aside, there's no denying that Metroid: Samus Returns is an addictive and rewarding remake of a classic game. It's certainly not as good as other 2D entries in the series but what's here is sure to tide fans over until the next Metroid releases.
- + Massive world that's rewarding to explore, especially with the scan pulse ability
- + Variety of gorgeous 3D environments
- + Awesome array of unlockable upgrades
- - Too much emphasis on combat with an annoying counter system
- - Controls can occasionally be irritating
- - "Pay-to-win" amiibo implementation