Metroid: Samus Returns Early Impressions

Metroid has been a troubled franchise. It has a great run with the Prime series but after 2007 the Nintendo didn’t seem to know or care what happened to Samus. Other M was a neat idea, but a terrible narrative and redundant combat led to one of the worst handlings of a Nintendo IP in recent memory. And I won’t reopen the recent wound that was Federation Force. Take these 2 terrible games and add indignation at Zelda receiving much more press than Metroid over the years and you have a fanbase that feels scorned and bitter. When Samus Returns was announced this year at E3 there was hope and dismay. Hope, since a 2D Metroid title had not existed since the excellent Zero Mission, and dismay due to the choice of developer. This and the announcement of Prime 4 had the Metroid and larger Nintendo fans in a state of nervous anticipation

Well, it’s a good thing that Samus Returns isn’t a bad Metroid game then.

At least it seems like a good game from the time I’ve spent with it.

Samus Returns is a remake of the second Metroid game, Metroid II: Return of Samus on the original Game Boy. The original is remembered mostly for it’s abysmal screen size, introducing the Varia suit, and AM2R. While die hard Metroid fans praise the Game Boy game for its ambition, the existence of AM2R and now Samus Returns means that no one should ever seek out the original.

Samus Returns is an excellent Metroid game from almost every perspective.

It retains the classic loop of “get power, then backtrack” and includesone particular tool to make it easier, but these are optional if you want the pure original Metroid experience. That tool is the auto-map function, simply have it equipped and press “A” and Samus sends out a pulse from her current position that shows nearby surroundings on the minimap, and highlights any destructible walls for as long as the pulse is active. Personally, I haven’t used this function too often, but occasionally it is nice to have a quick way to see if it’s going to worth spider balling and dropping bombs all around a room.

Another major addition is 360 degree aiming. Instead of Samus’ aim being relegated to 8 directions, now you just simply hold the left shoulder button and Samus locks into place and can shoot any direction she wants. Combining this with the melee counter makes the combat more tense than any other 2D Metroid. Most enemies have a charging melee attack where they’ll flash right before launching themselves at Samus. Simply hit the “X” button with proper timing to counter the attack and get an opportunity to do major damage. I’ll admit that I’m still getting used to having a melee attack in a Metroid game. In all previous titles pure melee enemies were often the worst enemies, since all you had were various flavors of ranged attacks.

As for the classic Metroid elements, they all seem to be here. There’s been less backtracking than Fusion or even the Prime games, but that could be attributed to the teleporters that can zap you between zones. Right now, this could be one of the best Metroid games, from a pure gameplay perspective.

Unfortunately, a large part of any Metroid game is its presentation. At its core, Metroid is about exploration and any decent Metroid game has a wealth of strange and beautiful creatures and environments to discover. A large selling point of the Prime games was how the visor would react to the different environments as well as the insane music and sound design. I understand that I’m only a couple of hours into Samus Returns, but I’m already sick of the same blue bats, rocky crawlers, and slightly different boss metroid forms.

Samus Returns is fairly underwhelming ins the visuals.

The music is probably great, but the 3DS has terrible speakers, making even the greatest orchestral versions of the original Norfair theme sound like muddy garbage. And every music piece so far sounds like it’s trying to be “epic” and “memorable”. The best Metroid music is often the soft atmospheric pieces you don’t even consciously hear while you’re playing.

Pre-release concept art of Samus shows an interesting blend between the Prime and Other M designs, but the in-game model only shows us what a Metroid title on the N64 would have looked like. All the animations are very well done, however, and the camera switching angles when you land a counter is very satisfying and adds to the more action-y feel of the combat.

The fact this game came out on the 3DS is the only real reason I have anything truly negative to say about Metroid: Samus Returns at this point. The fact this was released on the 3DS instead of the Switch is frustrating. Mercury Steam obviously had a vision for the tone of this game, but all of that is hindered by the outdated hardware of the 3DS.

Overall, this is a great game so far. The mechanics have a superb balance between a more action style of play, with the classic Metroid loop; all while appealing to newcomers and veterans alike. For anyone who has ever enjoyed a Metroid game, or wants a place to jump in, this game offers a great Metroid experience.

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