It’s difficult to critique Metroid: Samus Returns without factoring in at least some degree of history or nostalgia.
The road to the next 2D Metroid game has, in many ways, been a long a winding one; as much for Samus as it has been for her creators. Because in the same way that gaming’s most recognisable bounty hunter swerves and snakes her way through many an intergalactic cavern in the hope of eradicating a race of parasitic creatures, Nintendo has similarly rebounded to face their demons. This time with the help of western developer MercurySteam, who finds itself tasked with overhauling an underappreciated series classic.
For the most part, its efforts have not been in vain. In more of a retooling rather than a strict retelling of the original Metroid II, Samus Returns once again sees you revisit the volatile planet of SR388 in the hope of commencing a one man – or in this case woman – extermination mission. Weighed down by its necessity of being a semi-remake, your mission to hunt and destroy 40 individual Metroids is enough to urge you to go forth and explore, but is by no means as much of a compelling reason as one would expect in 2017.
It’s this kind of overly basic context that serves as a constant reminder of Samus Returns‘ roots, one that sees the experience treat itself as a game first and foremost, instead of something more encompassing. Of course, for most Metroid fans who have been (rather loudly) waiting in the wings for so long, this will be enough. Thankfully, this stripped-back approach is something which can’t be applied to Samus Returns’ luscious and vibrant art-style, that while polygonal, does a staggering job at making your progression through SR388’s many locations thrilling and never a bore.
Accompanying Samus on her suicide mission are all the usual gadgets and gizmos you’d expect, and also a suite of additional tools that help to ensure players never rest on their laurels. Known as Aeon abilities, most take the form of suit enhancements rather than the traditional weapon upgrades fans have come to expect.
Two of the four take the form of relatively passive abilities such a limited-time armour shield and a time slowdown mechanic, but the primary and most publicised skill is the ability to scan large areas. An experimental new ability that might appear detrimental to the exploratory nature the Metroid games have become known for, any controversy is avoided thanks to MercurySteam’s decision to make this Aeon scan entirely optional and in no way compulsory. It’s easy to forget that any Metroid could be anyone’s first and this mechanic is a nice workaround that will prevent most from becoming stuck.
What’s immediately noticeable about Metroid: Samus Returns is just how nimble the femme fatale badass is compared to her previous outings. Jumping is lively, morph ball rolling is swift, and perhaps most importantly, lining up a critter in the sights of your hand cannon is snappy and responsive. At odds with this natural sense of momentum however, is the newly added counter attack, which sees Samus able to bat away any and all creatures who fancy their luck. While in theory the idea of giving your enemies the backhand is a good one, it becomes tedious, and eventually begins to disrupt the natural flow of exploration. You should be taking the fight to your foes, instead of the other way around.
As you progress further through the hazard-filled veins and arteries running through SR388, it soon becomes clear that Metroid: Samus Returns has a few surprises and cleverly kept secrets up its sleeve. This is appropriate considering that last year saw the release of an unofficial version of Metroid II by way of AM2R, an adaptation littered with universe-building extras and fan service. Samus Returns equally takes a run at providing such hidden gems, and while they don’t quite reach the same level of 16-bit love evoked in 2016’s iteration, they’re appreciated and make for some cool set pieces that add a nice spin.
Metroid: Samus Returns’ amalgamation of some things old and some things new results in a 2D Metroid game that, while at its most evolved, is caught in somewhat of an identity crisis. There are brief flickers of brilliance showing us what this exploratory new take on the series could have been, but it often finds itself carrying the overbearing weight of being a pseudo-authentic remake. Metroid: Samus Returns will satisfy most, but leaves too much to be desired to be considered a true leap forward.