Metroidvania Returns: Hands On With Metroid: Samus Returns

Samus Aran’s place in the Nintendo lexicon is well known: the protagonist of the Metroid  series has appeared in many genres, but basically invented the side scrolling exploration platformer. While in later years we saw her appear in first person and whatever Other M counts as, there’s a reason “Metroidvania” is still used as a descriptor for many games released even today. So with that in mind, it was an interesting experience to play Metroid: Samus Returns, the ground up remake of the overlooked GameBoy sequel to the NES classic.

Firstly, let’s just clear up what you want to know: it plays very much like a “traditional” Metroid game. It is a side-scrolling “Metroidvania” exploration platformer, which will be a welcome return for a lot of fans. The setting and design, while rendered in 3D, capture the feel of the series very well, however with a few additions from the later 2D outings. Ledge grabbing from Fusion makes an appearance, wall jumps from Super are in and 360 free aim is available while holding L, removing a lot of the frustrations of the early games. The touchscreen acts as a quick toggle for weapons and Morph Ball, and Samus handles well on the 3DS’s stick, albeit a little looser than you might be used to on a D-Pad.

As mentioned above, the visuals in this one are rendered in 3D, a departure from the sprites of the other side scrolling titles in the series. While it definitely lacks the “charm” of the older artstyles, it does a decent job at reimagining it in a new way. The enemies look familiar, Samus herself moves with fluidity and the Chozo artifacts all maintain their own style. In the version we played, even the 3D movies looked impressive, though as per usual my eyes could only take 3D for a limited time. Either way, you can sense the effort that has been taken to realise the game in the frame of the series: Yoshio Sakamoto, a core influence to the Metroid series, was absent from Metroid 2’s original release, and seems to have taken great pains to bring his unique take on the series to this remake.

The only concerns with the game are somewhat obtuse and easy to dismiss. The game now has a “Scan” ability, tied to an expendable energy bar. With it, all “hidden” blocks in a certain range are highlighted, making the “exploration” a little more straightforward. Of course, it is entirely optional on whether to use it, and it still requires you to have the instinct to know where to look and how to access said secret. The more concerning point is around amiibo functionality: the new Samus and existing Smash Samus figurines will unlock an energy tank and concept art, so no great loss. However, the Metroid amiibo unlocks “Fusion” mode, a more difficult version of the existing game with Samus donning her suit from the Fusion game. While the game ships with a “Hard” difficulty setting, effectively paywalling the Fusion mode purchase behind a limited physical item is a very slippery slope to look down.

Those concerns aside, everything about Metroid: Samus Returns seems to be a great addition to the series. While a simple re-release of the Game Boy original would have been welcomed on Virtual Console, the effort that Nintendo have put into bringing Samus Returns into the modern franchise is noticeable, and leaves a good impression that an important chapter in the canon will be treated with enough care to make it worth a look come September.