Metroid: Samus Returns is a great remake that does the 2D series justice

By Alex Donaldson, Tuesday, 12 September 2017 13:00 GMT

Metroid 2 is a personal favourite of mine, and this remake does it justice and some.

The details of my love for Metroid 2 are as much to do with the circumstances of its purchase as the game, I think. I remember that purchase well: it was during the school holidays, and it was picked up somewhere away from home, probably on holiday. A sweet silver Game Boy Pocket to replace my aged Yellow original model, bundled with two games: Wave Race and Metroid 2: Return of Samus.

I’d never played the NES Metroid; on console, I was a Sega kid. That made this game about aliens and a bounty hunter particularly inpenetrable, but I loved it. By the time I played it, Metroid 2 was old – the much better Super Metroid was already out – but it didn’t matter. I fell in love with it.

Thus I was happy but nervous when Metroid: Samus Returns was announced. I knew Metroid 2 was a little bit obtuse and dodgy in places, ripe for a remake, but it was special to me.

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“Metroid: Samus Returns is great, a strong return to form for the franchise and, yes, the definitive version of Metroid 2.”

There were good reasons to be nervous. The last Metroid game Nintendo put out was deeply problematic thanks to how it handled narrative, and Metroid 2 happens to be a fairly vital narrative beat in the overall Metroid story. On top of all this developer MercurySteam had made a middling 2D Castlevania for 3DS.

As it turns out, I didn’t need to be worried at all. Metroid: Samus Returns is great, a strong return to form for the franchise and, yes, the definitive version of Metroid 2.

If you want to know exactly what to expect from the overall Samus Returns package, look no further than the excellent Metroid: Zero Mission on Game Boy Advance. That’s a remake of the first game that packs in additional quality of life and gameplay features from later games such as weapons from Metroid 2 and control tweaks from Super Metroid. This package is tied off with additional puzzles, collectibles and even gameplay sections to make the first game better fit the expanded Metroid world and lore.

Zero Mission was clearly held in mind when MercurySteam and Nintendo collaborated on Samus Returns, as the game is much the same in this regard.

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Iconic Metroid items and skills such as the Grapple Beam, Super Missiles and Gravity Suit have been added, for instance. The map and puzzles have been adjusted to make all these items useful, but the overall shape and structure still keeps fairly close to the black-and-white original.

Where the original Metroid 2 basically only featured various forms of Metroid as bosses, there are a few larger and more spectacular boss encounters here too, inspired by the larger-than-life bosses other entries have featured.

Controls and the like are also improved to drag them up to date. There’s 360-degree aiming, ledge hanging and so on, with the game rebalanced and reconsidered to match this. There’s some light checkpointing and as well as your usual abilities some new resource-constrained ‘Aeion’ power ups that can be combined to devastating effect.

Also significant is Samus’ new counter move, something which reminds of how later in the series she’s been regarded as a generally competent fighter beyond gunslinging. It doesn’t make encounters trivial and feels great when you land it, particularly on bosses.

Underneath it all, however, this is still very respectful to Metroid 2. A lot of the changes are subtle, like how the morph ball is found early on rather than being in your arsenal from the onset. Samus Returns manages the difficult task of doing lots of different things while always channeling the overall spirit of Metroid 2, and that’s clever.

“While all eyes are likely on Metroid Prime 4 on Switch to make a big splash, Samus Returns might actually be the touchstone Metroid needs, a strong connection to its original vision that feels modern and exciting all the same.”

It’s not just true to Metroid 2, however – it’s true to the whole series. Samus’ death animation and the associated sound is straight from Super. Music and visual design elements from Prime show up. If you’re a Metroid fan, it’s a treat.

The structure of the game is similar to other 2D Metroid titles, though the way progression is gated behind how many Metroids you’ve killed means that it’s not as full of the sequence breaking, optional order shenanigans of some of its peers.

That’s one of my only criticisms, honestly: Metroid 2 is just a little too linear, and Samus Returns retains that structure. You have far more reason to backtrack to get optional items with your new skills here than before, however, and the game makes it easier to do so with fast-travel teleport stations scattered around the world.

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I have a few other minor complaints, such as how sometimes the game is poor at giving subtle clues to puzzles or bosses. There’s one little encounter at the end in particular where I wonder if you hadn’t played the original Metroid how you’d know the weakness beyond simple trial and error. I also just guess that, too, is being true to the 1991 original.

Linearity be damned, though, it’s fun. Back when Fire Emblem Fates launched I figured it’d likely be my 3DS swan song, and though I wish this game were on Switch I sure am glad I dug my 3DS out to play this.

While all eyes are likely on Metroid Prime 4 on Switch to make a big splash, Samus Returns might actually be the touchstone Metroid needs, a strong connection to its original vision that feels modern and exciting all the same. I yearn for a Star Fox game this good. Metroid is great in both forms, but this is proof that 2D Metroid can and should coexist with the excellent 3D Prime formula.

At the start of the year I never would’ve guessed two of my favourite games of the year would be a 2D Metroid revival and a 2D Sonic revival, but here we are. Samus Returns does Metroid justice – and that’s as strong a recommendation as one can give, really.

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