Samus Aran returns in the 3DS remake of Metroid II, building on the original and breathing new life into the series.
After 13 years, Metroid makes a triumphant comeback to its side-scrolling roots. Despite being a remake of an original Gameboy game, Samus Returns delivers on the core experience of its inspiration, while making some much needed advancements forward.
As with Metroid II, the story follows Samus travelling to the Metroid home world, SR388, to eliminate the last remnants of the dangerous titular alien species. In this aspect, Samus Returns follows the original premise exactly, with Samus systematically hunting down the last 40 Metroids as she ventures deeper into the planet.
This concept however does work slightly against the game, with this remake clocking in at around 10 hours of gameplay, the formula can begin to grow stale. With no real narrative outside of the beginning and end to contextualize your journey, the game does run into some pacing problems with lengthening the core premise. Exploring SR388 and battling increasingly dangerous variants of Metroids is engaging, but starts to outstay its welcome without any added agency or meaningful shakeups in the second half.
Still, it is hard to fault the game for sticking close to the original Metroid II, and developer MercurySteam injects many of its own original ideas to supplement the gameplay. Of course the Metroid battles themselves have undergone a complexity overhaul, and players will have to stay on their toes and think smart to overcome their diverse attack patterns. Moreover, MercurySteam have added a few original bosses as well, along with a new climax ranking among some of the best in the series.
But it’s not just the progression that’s been tweaked, with the 3DS’ control capabilities allowing for a more lethally versatile Samus than ever before. Samus Returns adds two key gameplay changes that drastically alter combat, with a close-up melee counter and the ability to have Samus free-aim shots with the 3DS circle pad.
The counter attack changes the feel of combat significantly, with enemies frequently charging Samus, making themselves vulnerable to counters opening them up to fast kills. This stop-and-go style of combat could easily wear thin, but the counter manages to feel satisfying in its implementation throughout, and actually requires a bit of timing to perfect. Moreover, the melee counter is used in Metroid and boss fights as well, opening the enemies up to massive damage and displaying some awesome animations that depict Samus as the badass hunter prior games never truly did.
Less well implemented is the use of free-aim shooting, which while in concept seems a good step forward for the series, is held back by the 3DS’ control scheme. Entering free-aim mode means making Samus stop dead in her tracks, and though the game is mostly balanced around this with enemies giving clear signs of when they’re about to attack, can still lead to frustration and further use of the abrupt stop-and-go style movement as mentioned earlier.
And while Samus’ actual movement flows better than ever, it is still a hurdle at first to play in a 2D space using the circle pad rather than using the directional pad. It’s a bit unfair to criticize the limited controls of the 3DS, but it does beg the question if the game is held back in anyway way by the system. Nevertheless, MercurySteam was able to adapt the movement and combat as best they could to the 3DS, and I eventually found myself leaping over enemies and firing blasts in all directions like a pro by the end (even if it was always a little awkward to tap down twice to enter morph ball mode).
Alongside these new combat moves and a host of other familiar series staples like the Spider Ball and Screw Attack are the new Aeon abilities that basically act as a sort of “magic” to help in both exploration, defense, and offense. I won’t get into the specificities of all of them, but I appreciate both the added dimensions of gameplay they add to the standard Metroid formula, as well as their optionality as potential crutches for less experienced players. It’s exciting to see MercurySteam play with adding new rules to the Metroid series gameplay, which admittedly hasn’t evolved much since Super Metroid back in 1994.
And finally, Samus Returns adds some much needed quality of life improvements that further establish it as the definitive version of Metroid II. Despite my qualms about the 3DS, having the map easily viewable at all times makes exploration more intuitive than ever (the original didn’t even have an in-game map!)
Additionally, the map allows you to pin areas of interest, a feature that should be standard in all Metroidvania style games where backtracking is a necessity. Checkpoints are a first in Metroid series history, allowing the game to up the challenge without the frustration of sending you back to a prior save station on death.
But really, it’s the exploration and classic aforementioned Metroidvania style that makes Samus Returns such a joy to play. Thankfully, the game strays furthest from the original in this aspect, almost completely revitalizing the world of SR388 that both pays homage to the original while updating it for more a more engaging playthrough.
The rewarding hook of exploring every nook and cranny of the world, solving environmental puzzles, returning to past obstacles with new upgrades to solve them, it’s this addictive gameplay that makes the Metroid series great and Samus Returns is no exception.
With more movement abilities and puzzle-solving mechanics than ever, unlocking the mysteries of SR388 remains completely absorbing throughout its series-comparatively long run, and I suspect many players will actively seek that 100% completion rate just to wring every last bit of enjoyment out of the game.
And SR388 looks better than ever too, meticulously crafted in both foreground and background to give the 2D game true depth to its locale. Environments can be surprisingly stellar, although sometimes a bit samey as the game progresses through each area. The traditionally mysterious, sometimes creepy music is in full-swing as well, adding to the immersion of the world and creating that distinctly Metroid-feel of roaming through an isolating, hostile alien planet.
It may be the best looking 3DS game to date, and I’m a little surprised it ran so well on my original 3DS. Still, it does further add to the wonder of what MercurySteam could have achieved on the Switch’s hardware. Despite these nagging thoughts, Samus Returns works amazingly as a 3DS swansong, utilizing everything the 3DS is capable of in both gameplay and presentation.
With all that said, Metroid: Samus Returns is the best possible game it could have been. Being a remake of an old Gameboy game, as well as being rooted to a now outdated 3DS has made for a few hindrances keeping it from perfection. They’re outshined however by the sheer fun and excitement to be found in defeating every last Metroid and discovering each new upgrade.
The game honours its predecessors while progressing the series in bold new directions that both mixes feelings of nostalgia and excitement for the future. Metroid: Samus Returns is a true return to form for Metroid, and proves the series is in capable hands with MercurySteam.