Metroid will always be fondly remembered for its 2D renditions. From the original NES classic which began changing the notion of what a hero is, through the SNES gem that is still to this day talked about as one of the greatest games of all time, on to the surprisingly creepy Gameboy Advance game, and coming full circle with the remake of the NES classic. Metroid II: Return of Samus for the Gameboy was always the black sheep of the series, but Metroid: Samus Returns remakes it as a worthy entry of this family.
New to this version is a bit of backstory, which explains the situation that forces the Galactic Federation to hire Samus and send her to SR388 on a genocidal mission. Aside from that though, and to the relief of those who had to bear with Metroid: Other M, there’s no other story dialogue in the entire game. Every action is presented on screen, which shows just how MercurySteam have taken the originals and their story telling to heart.
Heading ever deeper underground, Samus Returns blends many of the elements that Metroid II: Return of Samus is known for and some new and original gameplay ideas designed purely for the remake. You still collect a plethora of upgrades, though these upgrades now feel mandatory given the grander scale of SR388 this time around. There are also the four Aeion powers, which are a brand new addition to the game.
The Aeion powers tie into my biggest gripe with Metroid: Samus Returns, and one that could easily be fixed. For a 2D Metroid game, limiting control of Samus to the Circle Pad is more irksome than one might think. The D-pad is restricted for use with the new Aeion powers and the options menu doesn’t give players the option to swap them over. This led to many instances where I lost the fine and precise control of Samus that a D-pad would offer, taking a nasty bump in the process. It’s far more annoying than it needs to be.
As for the powers themselves, they’re actually pretty great. The first you’ll discover is at times a godsend, letting you send out a pulse of the local area, highlighting the map at a cost of some of the Aeion bar, showing you the way forward and even briefly highlighting secret pathways. Metroid II: Return of Samus was riddled with hidden pathways and it wasn’t immediately obvious where to go, so having this is especially useful.
Speaking of godsends, the other Aeion powers are equally as useful and yet serve to augment Samus’ other abilities rather than overshadow them. Yes, the alternative fire mode unlocked later is immensely powerful, but it drains the Aeion bar quickly, meaning the other gear Samus picked up is still important, even if a couple of series staples are missing.
One new ability that will probably take quite a lot of getting used to is the Melee Counter. Many enemies will now try to charge into you, but with a correctly timed press of the button, they can be stunned and let you counter-attack. The timing of this deflection is very precise at times and taking a hit, particularly in the early-game, is not insignificant. I did grow accustomed to it in time, but it took longer than I would like to admit.
Though the game takes place underground, it’s very colourful. In fact, each location now has a theme, though it isn’t as clearly defined as some of the later games in the series. Still, for converting a very basic 2D monochrome world into one with vivid and distinctive areas, filled with horrors trying to kill you, it’s an impressive feat. Equally impressive is how the original soundtrack is still there, but remixed into a more atmospheric piece to increase the tension a bit.
MecurySteam have however decided on using the same engine used for Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirrors of Fate. It’s a 2.5D style that honestly didn’t look great in that title, but for Metroid: Samus Returns, the effort put into the characters and locations has been drastically ramped up. I’m honestly impressed that the game looks decent, but it’s still not quite there and lacks some character compared to the glorious 2D sprites.
One of the key characteristics of Metroid II: Return of Samus was that most, if not all of the bosses were variants on Metroids. This means that the only real difference would have been between the forms and the arenas they’re fought in. This is still largely true and once you’ve beaten the third new form of the Metroids once, you’ll know how to beat the rest of that type.
However, MercurySteam felt the need not only to revamp the optional boss battle found in the original game, but include an all-new threat. This reoccurring nuisance is nowhere near as dread inducing as SA-X was in Metroid Fusion, but it does lead to some of the most unique and tense encounters in the game. These new additions and more are welcome changes and make the game feel far more fleshed out.
My first run clocked in at just under ten hours, which will probably be shattered by some Metroid speed-runner, but it’s a decent indication that it’s quite a lengthy adventure. It never got too taxing, but was far from a cakewalk. With plenty of secrets to unlock, as well as tons of hidden areas to explore, getting 100% completion could be a daunting challenge. Some extras are hidden behind some rare amiibo, so that’s worth bearing in mind as well.
Metroid: Samus Returns shows why 2D Metroid is still top-tier. It’s far from the perfection that Super Metroid had, but this takes my least liked 2D Metroid game and reimagines it so completely that it almost beats the remake of the original Metroid in my estimations. If someone at Nintendo can add the ability to switch control schemes, it would make a huge difference. This is the return we’ve been waiting for, though I want Nintendo to develop the “Next Mission” in 2D for the Switch themselves.