Metroid Samus Returns Review
In Metroid: Samus Returns, intergalactic bounty hunter Samus Aran is given just one task: seek out and destroy every last Metroid on their home planet of SR388!
Read on for a spoiler-ey review, and my reflections on Samus’s venture into the depths of SR388. I don’t spoil everything in the game, but if you want to play Metroid: Samus Returns and discover what power-ups and bosses lie within for yourself, be warned that this review will spoil many of those things!
Metroid: Samus Returns released in 2017 for the Nintendo 3DS. Samus Returns is a remake of Metroid II: Return of Samus, originally released on the Game Boy in 1991, but features a multitude of new features and changes from the original. When Samus Returns released, the series hadn’t seen a true 2D Metroid title since the 2004 remake of the original, Metroid: Zero Mission. There was Metroid: Other M on the Wii in 2010, but that game mixes 2D and 3D gameplay, switching from 3rd-person to 1st-person, and seems like less of a classic Metroid experience (I haven’t played it personally).
So, what is the Metroid series all about? Broadly, Metroid is a series of action-adventure games focused on exploration and acquiring new abilities that enable you to reach new areas.
The games focus on intergalactic bounty hunter Samus Aran, who sports her iconic power suit in the majority of titles. The series namesake, the Metroids, are parasitic creatures that play some role in each of the games, often in the form of Samus fighting to prevent the Space Pirates from utilizing the Metroids as a weapon. Samus is almost always one of the only characters present. At least, one of the only friendly characters. Metroid: Samus Returns is no exception.
Since the player-controlled Samus is the only friendly face you’ll see in the game, Samus Returns retains the same feeling of isolation that many games in the series also utilize. You’re on your own against the world of SR388, and will live or die based on your abilities alone. I think that’s a really cool aspect of the Metroid series, personally. I love stepping into the shoes of Samus Aran knowing that no other characters are going to help me along the way.
In the early game, this can lead to the environments feeling foreboding, as Samus has only her starting abilities and your surroundings feel more threatening. The more you explore and the more abilities you collect, however, the more powerful Samus becomes. By the end of the game, I was tearing through the underground caverns of SR388, and had truly become a force to be reckoned with. When a game evokes that kind of feeling, I think it’s a sure sign it has done something right.
Gameplay begins when Samus lands her gunship on the surface of SR388. Everything she does after this is up to the player, you’re free to explore wherever you are able right from the beginning. The “wherever you are able” qualifier is important, because the world in Samus Returns is designed in such a way that you often can’t get too far off the beaten path. Certain obstacles in an area may block your way until you acquire a new ability, and if not that, the game prevents you from proceeding to the next area until you’ve defeated all the Metroids in the current one.
Within each area though, you seem to have some wiggle room in the level design and aren’t completely locked into a straight path. I believe there was at least one occasion where I was exploring through an area, collecting new abilities and upgrades. Eventually, I came across an area and realized I could have come here sooner, because there wasn’t anything special blocking my path that I couldn’t have overcome earlier. So there are some forks like that in the level design wherein you can choose where to go first, even if you might not realize it while exploring the world of SR388.
The world itself is large. SR388 is split into 9 different areas, the Surface and the aptly named Areas 1 through 8. It’s fun to explore each area, each new discovery fuels that enjoyment and makes you want to explore more. I did find myself getting stuck from time to time when I couldn’t locate a Metroid or figure out how to get to a certain upgrade, but once I figured it out and overcame that obstacle it was a great feeling.
One excellent improvement compared to the earlier Metroid games I’ve played was the ability to add Map Pins to mark locations on the map of each area. The game doesn’t force you to use these, or even really tell you how to use them. You can add around 10 colored pins to any revealed map tile on the mini-map. I liked to use these to mark off doors or upgrades I discovered that I couldn’t currently access with the abilities I had at that moment. By marking them with a color-coded pin, I would know to revisit that location later after I gained new abilities that let me bypass further obstructions. This kind little feature is incredibly useful in a game like Metroid, as you will find a number a upgrades that you can see but can’t reach with your current abilities.
A small complaint I have related to the map is that I never found a way to view the map of a previous area when I was in the middle of exploring. The only way to view the earlier maps while in a different area was by visiting a teleport station.
In the midst of all this exploration and ability-collecting, there’s also a horde of enemies crawling around most of the time. You’ll have to fight your way through them with Samus’s trusty arm cannon as you explore. The combat in Samus Returns saw some changes from the combat seen in the earlier 2D Metroid games. Notably, Samus can now aim at any angle when in free aim mode, though you can’t move her around when aiming this way.
The circle pad on the 3DS was comfortable enough to use for shooting when both free-aiming and doing the old run-and-gun. There aren’t a ton of times when you need precise aiming, though I did struggle with the controls a bit at select points when using the Grapple Beam to jump from one grapple point to another. Luckily the consequence of falling in those instances was pretty lax, it just ended with me falling in lava and I could grab the next grapple point from there.
The bigger and more controversial combat change is Samus’s new melee attack ability, which ties into the new parry mechanic. Essentially, enemies will charge you now, giving off an audio cue and a white glow just before they do, which is the player’s cue to hit the X button to parry.
Personally, I didn’t really mind the change, but it was a little jarring. Once you parry an enemy’s attack, they become much more vulnerable and common enemies can usually be defeated in one shot immediately after a parry. For much of the game, it’s far more effective to wait for enemies to charge you so that you can parry them. It’s not until after you get the Plasma Beam in the final third of Samus Returns that defeating enemies solely via shooting becomes effective.
The battles with Metroids were a different story. Metroids also charged, and could be parried. This is the best way to damage them, as once parried you have the opportunity to shoot them full of missiles while Samus grapples with the beasts. The difference is that Metroids had a variety of other attack patterns, and didn’t simply charge at every opportunity. Still though, as fun as finding and defeating the Metroids was, it did grow slightly repetitive towards the end.
Non-Metroid bosses never charged, but these are few and far between in Samus Returns. The vast majority of enemies you face are either common enemies, or a variety of Metroid. There are four unique bosses in the game, and one of them is actually a Metroid, but it is the only one of its kind. That boss, the Metroid Queen, can be parried like the other Metroids. It was still an enjoyable fight. Each of these unique bosses provides their own unique challenges, and I only wish that there had been more of them but I assume that this wasn’t possible in order for Samus Returns to stay at least somewhat faithful to the original game.
To wrap up my thoughts on the combat, I’m not sure how fond of it I am. It didn’t really bother me, but at the same time it did make fighting enemies feel vastly different from the other Metroid games. I don’t think I’d mind one way or the other if it returned in future entries, but it would be nice if more of the common enemies wouldn’t charge, to make battling common enemies feel more balanced between shooting and parrying.
Aieon is a new feature to the Metroid games. It basically results in Samus having a magic meter that depletes whenever she uses one of the four Aieon abilities. These are acquired the same way as her suit upgrades, whereby you find them during exploration and some of them enable you to bypass new obstacles.
One of them is basically a non-essential utility, Scan Pulse. This reveals map tiles in a radius around Samus’s current location, and can help you see what’s ahead or if there’s hidden paths. It does make finding hidden upgrades a lot easier. I liked Scan Pulse, it was a genuinely useful ability.
Two other abilities, Lightning Armor and Phase Drift, were also useful. Lightning Armor prevents physical damage and expends Aieon when Samus is hit instead. I used this one frequently, especially when struggling with a few boss battles. The level design strongly encourages you to use this sometimes, with corridors lined with damaging terrain and the like. Phase Drift slows down time while allowing Samus to move at her normal speed. So, although the Speed Booster upgrade isn’t in Samus Returns, Phase Drift allows some similar traversal in that you can walk across crumbling blocks while time is slowed, similar to how you could walk across crumbling blocks while using the Speed Booster in other Metroid games.
The Beam Burst Aieon ability was sort of pointless, in my opinion. It did allow you to destroy certain enemies that you couldn’t before, and as a traversal mechanic that worked well enough. You could also use it during normal combat, but I thought this was a waste of Aieon energy. Maybe “pointless” isn’t right for Beam Burst, but it was definitely underwhelming compared to how much I found myself using the other abilities.
For a 3DS game, Metroid: Samus Returns has excellent graphics. The opening scenes of Samus landing her ship looked great on the small 3DS screen.
The user interface worked well, the bottom screen is used effectively to display health, ammo, and remaining Metroid information at a glance, while also allowing you to see a large portion of the map.
Cutscenes are used infrequently to highlight notable events. Despite never saying a word, Samus was given a lot of character in some of these cutscenes. One that comes to mind is after the battle with the Diggernaut boss, an enormous robot with drill arms. The Diggernaut has collapsed, weakened and nearly defeated after the battle with Samus. It makes a move, and without looking at it Samus aims her arm cannon and fires to finish it off. I thought this was a really nice splash of character for Samus, portraying her as a battle-hardened bounty hunter.
Another notable cutscene that I thought was a great inclusion was a post-credits scene wherein we see a creative native to SR388 get infected by a strange flying parasite, and see it emerge seconds later looking more powerful, and more angry. This is a clear nod to the events of Metroid: Fusion, which is founded on the premise that after Samus defeated all the Metroids on SR388, the X Parasite no longer had any natural predators, and multiplied rapidly on the planet. I enjoyed this little nod, as I’ve always enjoyed Metroid: Fusion myself.
I’m really glad I played Metroid: Samus Returns. The classic Metroid gameplay formula remained as addicting as ever.
Since I haven’t played the Metroid II: Return of Samus on the Game Boy, I can’t speak to how true to the original Metroid: Samus Returns is, but I can say as a standalone Metroid title, it is quite enjoyable.
For purist Metroid fans, the addition of the Melee Counter may be a deal-breaker. It does make combat feel significantly different. The Scan Pulse Aieon ability may also turn some away, as it removes some of the mystery by making collectibles easier to find.
However, for the less hard-core Metroid fan, or someone who enjoys action-adventure games, Metroid: Samus Returns gets a definite recommendation from me!