The announcement came as a bit of a shocker - for one that a new 2d Metroid game even exists, secondly that it's on the 3DS instead of the Switch! Here, I'll admit it, I was first to moan and cry on the forums. I had my concerns regarding the development team and the actual game being re-made. See Mercury's Steam record is not exactly what you'd want associate with a franchise as revered as Metroid and from the E3 footage it was clear the game's development is far along enough for any significant changes to be even a consideration at this point. Also Metroid II: Return of Samus was sort of an outlier, a game that did not follow the same kind of open progression of the others in the series.
I did what I could to help, which is crossed my fingers and placed a pre-order (something I never did before). As more and more in-game footage flooded the internets (BTW am I the only one who thinks Nintendo is showing too much prior to the games releases these days?) some confidence started to grow in me. As the package arrived on Friday I knew exactly what I'll be doing this weekend and as it turned out the following week.
Let's get my reservation on the platform of choice out the way first. As I said I was very skeptical about it being a 3DS exclusive. You know, Switch is the hot thing right now and everybody wants to see the 3DS platform dead at this point if only for the benefit of getting more games on the platform of Nintendo's main focus. After hundred percenting Metroid: Samus Returns I'm convinced it was the right decision to make.
Hear me out: on the New Nintendo 3DS XL the game looks gorgeous with the 3D slider all the way up - it has depth, it has crispness which would be impossible to replicate on the Switch with a simple port. Turn the 3D slider down and the game isn't all that impressive - if anything it looks kinda washed out, a bit blurry if you like. To cut the story short: on the aging 3DS with it's own bells and whistles it feels like a triple A title, like a fancy farewell this system rightfully deserves.
Speaking of the presentation the art-style has obviously seen a huge rework. The game is realized in 3d while the movement still takes place on a 2d plane. For the most part Samus Returns keeps a high level of attention to detail, the worlds feel nicely vivid and on a few occasions it really makes a great impression. Then there is the camera movement during boss fights showing Samus pulling of cool finishing moves. This could be grating if overused, luckily Mercury Steam kept it under control and it never gets to the point of being just another modern game design trait, instead accentuating the action where needed.
Not all is perfect though. After a while I noticed the Area's start feeling a bit samey, there just isn't enough variety to compete with some modern metroidvanias like Hollow Knight for example, in which entering a new area feels like peering into a completely new world of possibilities and perils. Here it's kind of more of the same although there are a few standouts. It's a shame they come so late though, as resurfacing just before the final boss fight brings a great change of mood which would be appreciated if it occurred more often. Other than that I really can't fault the presentation, if anything it reminds me of Metroid Prime games and that's a good thing as far as I'm concerned.
The audio is generally very good with familiar sounds and soundtrack that is a homage to the whole Metroid series. I have just one gripe with it - the music has been delegated way into the background, it is hard to hear during gameplay and there's no option to adjust the audio levels in game. It is a shame since only upon finishing the game and going back to the OST was I able to truly appreciate it and it is indeed great. Not quite Super Metroid levels of awesome and haunting, but still great nonetheless.
Presentation out of the way let's focus on the first thing that struck me upon delving under SR388's surface - which is how spot-on the controls are. The movement feels natural, fluid and connected for lack of a better term. It really feels like a modern game in that respect which is brutally apparent as you dive into, say, Super Metroid afterwards - the latter just feels clunky by comparison. First of, they've added 360 aiming, which gives you the ability to aim in any direction not being limited to 45 degrees increments. Here, I'd like to applaud the decision to omit the New 3DS controls, particularly the analog nub in this instance. It would be an easy mistake to make to use it for aiming and letting you move freely with the left analog for example, but instead one holds the left trigger down, at which point Samus is locked into position, and then the left analog stick controls aiming, which is a much more precise solution. It works great and comes in handy when you're standing on a tiny ledge and want to shoot a specific spot or enemy without falling off. It really fits the games design as a whole too and is a much more elegant solution to what we've had before.
Then there's the addition of the parrying mechanic which, to my surprise, works remarkably well. It is satisfying to pull off too and it makes you more considerate about how you approach enemies especially in the opening hours, at the same time as you progress and get more powerful you can ditch it in favor of brute firepower. So rather than being a gimmick that's being forced upon the player, it turned out to be just another option in Samus arsenal. Nice.
All in all, I would go as far as to say that this IS the best controlling 2d Metroid ever! It just feels natural and effective and the platforming - something I've always felt was not Metroid's strongest suit - is all the better for it.
There are other noteworthy additions too. The map has seen a big revamp and has been modernized in all the good ways while still retaining some of it's Metroid vagueness. There is a fast travel system in place and because it's been implemented with restrain, it doesn't detract from the exploration while making the backtracking less of a pain. Finally one of the new abilities is Scan Pulse, basically a location scanner which reveals blocks which can be detonated to get you access to secret locations and the like. Worry not, it is totally optional, it costs Aeion energy to use it and from my experience it actually can be helpful when you don't feel like licking walls anymore. And trust me getting that 100% requires a fair amount of that.
Now I wanna talk about the games actual progression and enemy variety for a while, cause I feel like this, together with the lack of variety in environments are the things that hold it back from being a truly excellent Metroid experience. The linear progression is of course the consequence of it being a Metroid II: Return of Samus remake and on it's own wouldn't be an issue for me. I don't think openness as such is necessary for a game to be good, variety however in most cases is. And it's in the variety department where Mercury Steam lets down a bit. I mean you'll be killing a lot of those Metroids thru the duration of this game and for the most part they are very similar to one another which is a shame cause in the closing hours they throw some other kinds into the mix, immediately making the act of hunting them down more thrilling. I just think it's too little too late. The regular enemies being repaints of the previously encountered ones is not an issue for me - after all they are just cannon fodder. But the boss fights should keep you engaged, on the edge of your seat - as it stands this is unfortunately lost due to the repeatability.
Upon finishing you'll be greeted with a summary screen showing a running Samus and the time it took to beat the game. There are a couple of different animations depending on the duration of your run. It's a small thing, but at the same time a nice throwback, plus it encourages speed running. 100% the game gives you access to the Hard Mode and Chozo Memories gallery - essentially 11 art works in stereoscopic 3d showing the ancient Chozo civilization and their connection to Metroids. It's a nice piece of lore for sure, however I have to mention the content being locked behind Amiibo. While I do think the actual figurines this time are cool, locking content behind a pay-wall - especially considering their limited availability - is not. So there's that.
Metroid: Samus Returns is a very good game, though for reasons mentioned above it just comes shy of being an excellent one. You absolutely shouldn't sleep on it though, if you've got this system I'd say it's a must-have. It is a great way to say goodbye to the 3DS and maybe, just maybe, to say hello to a series of new 2d Metroid installments.
Let's hope this is gonna happen cause after completing this game my opinion on Mercury Steam has changed significantly and it only shows the importance of a proper direction in the process of developing a game. They absolutely nailed some aspects, and keeping in mind the game they were re-making was not the fans favorite in the first place, it is an impressive achievement. The exquisite gameplay kept me hooked for the entirety of the adventure and having uncovered about 70% of all the secrets thru natural progression I went the extra mile to 100% the game in the first run which doesn't happen to me very often. Let that be my recommendation.
As usual, thanks for reading and play some more!
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