She’s back on Nintendo 3DS
The game’s title says it all—Samus Aran is back. Metroid: Samus Returns on Nintendo 3DS marks the first traditional 2D entry in the series in over 13 years. While dubbed a “reimagining” of 1991’s Metroid II: Return of Samus on Game Boy, this game is so much more. It’s bigger and more ambitious in every way, including completely refreshed visuals, all-new weapons, and maps entirely built-from-scratch. For all intents and purposes, Samus Returns is the new Metroid adventure we’ve been waiting for.
For Samus’ latest outing, Nintendo has handed the keys over to Spanish developer MercurySteam. They’re the team that recently breathed new life in Konami’s Castlevania series and are no stranger to the 3DS. In 2013 they released Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate—still one of the 3DS’ best action-adventure titles.
Overseeing this new Metroid project is none other than series creator Yoshio Sakamoto, and his influences can felt throughout. Together with MercurySteam they’ve created a game truly worthy of the Metroid name.
Platform(s): Nintendo 3DS
Samus sent on a new mission
Metroid: Samus Returns follows the events of the original game and the defeat of the Space Pirates at Samus’ hands. While victorious, the Galactic Federation’s concerns about Metroids—the deadly parasitic organisms used by the Space Pirates—continues to mount. As such, they decide to send Samus on another expedition to planet SR388, home of the Metroids.
Explore a vast alien world
On planet SR388, Samus has one objective: defeat the 40 Metroids that inhabit it. In typical Metrodvania style you’ll accomplish this by exploring huge cavernous areas while collecting power-ups along the way. Initially, many areas will be inaccessible and you’ll need to find specific suits or powers to enter them. Examples are the Spider Ball, which lets you roll up walls, or the heat-resistant Varia Suit. The further you progress the most powerful you’ll become, opening up new areas and new gameplay possibilities.
Instead of facing massive bosses like in other Metroid games, Samus Returns opts for recurring smaller fights. These take the form of the aforementioned Metroids, of which there are five variations—each representing a stage of evolution. At first you’ll face rather innocuous jellyfish types but soon they evolve into larger and more deadly entities. Once defeated you’ll collect the Metroid’s DNA, and a specific quantity of their genetic code is required to move on to the next area.
There’s a wealth of useful powers to collect in Metroid: Samus Returns, with some returning from the original, while others from later games. Back from Metroid II: Return of Samus are familiar items like the Morph Ball, Ice Beam, and Space Jump. They’re joined by the Charge Beam, Grapple Beam, Power Bomb, and others featured in 1994’s Super Metroid.
What’s neat, and a testament to the game’s superb game design, is that learning how to use powers happens organically. There are no tutorials or instructions, aside from a brief one line description in the menus. Generally, immediately after obtaining a new power you’ll need to put it to test by contending with all-new obstacles. Discovering how to use a new power-up feels very rewarding and keeps the game moving along at a brisk pace.
Four new Aeion Abilities
Perhaps even more exciting is the inclusion of all-new power-ups using a mysterious energy called Aeion. The earliest one you collect—Scan Pulse—also happens to be the most useful, and by a long shot. It enables you to scan the map region around you to reveal the layout and pinpoints rooms containing hidden items.
Moreover, it also highlights breakable blocks in your current room, of which there are hundreds in this game to discover. Destroying these blocks can lead to secret power-ups, or lead you to brand new areas. While some may see Scan Pulse as essentially cheating, I feel we’re long past the days of monotonous trial-and-error. I found it to be a wonderful quality of life addition that made exploration even more fun.
The next Aeion ability you can collect is Lightning Armor, a protective shield that also lets you bypass certain hazards. Later in the game you’ll discover the powerful Beam Burst, and the time-slowing Phase Drift device. All four of these abilities rely on Aeion power for fuel, an energy source dropped by defeated enemies.
Naturally, with all these newly added powers the map layouts and puzzles differ significantly from the original game. In fact if you compare the two games side-by-side you’ll quickly conclude they’re inherently completely different experiences. Some DNA is obviously shared between them, like the central premise and certain enemy types, but that’s about it.
New starting abilities
As if all these new powers weren’t enough, right from the get-go you’ll have access to two more. Both are making their Metroid debut, which makes them all the more significant.
The first is your Melee Counter that enables you to stun certain charging enemies with cinematic flair. Timing is crucial, and you only have a split-second to execute the counter, but doing so widely exposes your enemy to counterattacks. It might sound strange to be performing counters in a Metroid game but the mechanic works well here.
Next, and more significantly, Samus Returns introduces 360-degree Free Aim. Instead of being restricted to firing in eight directions (up, down, left, right, diagonals) you have full circular freedom. This lets you zone in and precisely target enemies, and especially their weak points. It’s a great addition, and again another superb quality of life improvement.
Top-notch 3D graphics
No Metroid: Samus Returns review would be complete without mentioning the stunning new visuals. Considering the original game was on an 8-bit monochrome Game Boy, big visual improvements were of course expected. However, MercurySteam went above and beyond expectations with sensational graphics that are easily among the 3DS’ best. The game’s underground lairs are richly detailed and hint at intelligent life long before your visit.
Moreover, the use of auto-stereoscopic 3D gives Samus Return a sense of depth rarely felt in 3DS games. The ominous caverns seemingly go back as far as the eye can see, and there are clear gaps between foreground and background. If there ever was a showcase title for the 3D capabilities of Nintendo 3DS this would be it.
Although Metroid: Samus Returns is considered a “reimagined” game from an older generation, ultimately it feels like a brand new entry. The game has been completely refreshed in every way imaginable and is such a joy to play. It features modernized controls, new and returning weapons, all-new maps, and beautiful stereoscopic 3D graphics. Considering how long it’s been since Nintendo has given us a 2D Metroid game, it’s way overdue. This game is must-play, no matter if you’re a fan of Metroid or it’s your first foray into the series.
+ Beautiful 3D graphics
+ Wide range of weapons from across the series
+ All-new Aeion Abilities are excellent
+ New starting abilities are welcome
+ Excellent level design with nice puzzles
+ Instills a great sense of exploration
– Can be challenging, especially later on
– Metroid amiibo required to unlock Fusion Mode
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 4.5/5