REVIEW: Metroid: Samus Returns

metroid_samus_returns_boxartI spent ten hours last night finishing Metroid: Samus Returns, and haven’t stopped yawning since.  That’s the sucky part of being an adult; you rarely have time to play games, but when you do it’s hard to stop.  Who knows when you’ll get another chance?  Metroid, though, is worth it.  I’ve loved this series since its Super iteration, and have played most of the mainline games multiple times.   The only two I haven’t are the original and the Gameboy sequel,  Metroid II: Return of Samus.  Thankfully, the former was superseded by the excellent Zero Mission, but Metroid II had no official remake.

I’ve tried more than once to replay Metroid II, but thirty minutes in I’d quit.  As many have noted, it hasn’t aged well: everything looks the same in black and white, Samus’s sprite takes up too much of the small screen, and the music is painful.   Still, I’d beaten the game once (in line at the DMV, of all places), and have been eager to do so again.  The opportunity came last year when Milton Guasti released his brilliant fan game, AM2R (Another Metroid 2 Remake).  Taking much inspiration from Zero Mission and the Prime games, Guasti designed a professional-quality remake.  Had Nintendo never made one themselves I would have been satisfied; AM2R is that good.

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AM2R updated Metroid II with a Super Metroid/Zero Mission art-style.

Wonderfully, luckifully, and “I’m not worthy”-ily, Nintendo has now created their own remake, Metroid: Samus Returns.  That’s two remakes for the price of one!  Too good to be true!

Metroid: Samus Returns is one of the hardest games I’ve ever played.  I died oh-so-many times fighting the Metroids, and was felled by standard enemies more than once.  The item to enemy power ratio is about even, so I didn’t notice much improvement to my armaments until backtracking to previous areas.  The one ability that stood between myself and death was the melee counter, a mechanism in which fatal blows are delivered after parrying an enemy’s assault.  Unfortunately, it requires waiting for opponents to charge, which slows the game play to a halt.  Attacks from multiple foes are a death sentence; I’d ward off one enemy while being crushed by another.  A strong positive is that I felt insanely powerful once every power-up was collected, since I could then gleefully blast through anything in my way.

Samus Returns offers a special type of power-up called Aeion, which augments Samus’s powers temporarily; these upgrades include added fire power, shielding, and slowing down time.  Each is necessary to solve environmental puzzles, though can be forgotten outside these moments.

There is another Aeion ability called the scan pulse, which reveals  hidden items or passages in the immediate area.  It’s the first ability granted, and is one of Nintendo’s built in handicaps for new players.  I never used it on purpose, but accidently hit it’s assigned button a few times before obtaining another Aeion ability I could prioritize.  As a veteran Metroid player, I was annoyed to have secrets revealed that I would have rather uncovered myself

The game’s main gimmick is hunting Metroids (because sending one person to exterminate an entire species makes perfect sense).  There are 40 some-odd energy suckers in total, and for over half the game I fought the same two over and over (and over) again.  They’re tough, even after the umpteenth time, and are a slog to battle.  Think about it; there are nearly fifty bosses in this game, the majority of which are the same two types.   Like every other battle, they required methodical aiming and waiting for counter opportunities.  Compare this to Samus Returns’ illegitimate cousin, AM2R, where the first two Metroid evolutions are quick, tense, and deadly scuffles.   There’s a lot of ingenuity baked into Samus Return’s Metroid battles, but I prefer AM2R’s take.

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The melee counter in action.  Note the close-quarters combat.

Exploration, a hallmark of any Metroid game, wasn’t as fun as it could have been due to the zoomed in screen.  I wish they’d done with Samus Returns what they had with Fusion and Zero Mission, which was reduce the player’s sprite so they could emphasis full caverns.  The camera does zoom in and out depending on the situation, but was usually too close for comfort.

As such, I found the gameplay monotonous up until the last third of the game, at which point I strapped in and didn’t stop playing until the end.   The Metroid battles became more frantic, my power-level increased, and the atmosphere became more intriguing as I approached the inevitable showdown with the Queen Metroid.  I even enjoyed the backtracking, as I finally (and belatedly) became familiar enough with the map to re-explore.  Thank God for the teleporter system; it was a lot handier than I’d originally thought.

I didn’t dig the graphics; at least not entirely. Everything was green, purple, or orange up until the half-way point, when I started to experience semi-interesting environments.  The 3D sprites are somewhat jaggy, which I equate to the 3DS’s capabilities and the emphasis on 3D imagery.  The 3D itself is brilliant; the best I’ve seen on the system.  I do prefer Super Mario 3D Land, whose gameplay benefited from being in 3D.  Near the end of Samus Returns I turned off the 3D and didn’t miss it.

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Samus curiously examines a discarded Metroid husk.

The game feels like a repudiation of Other M.  Where that game was chatty and crowded, this one is quiet and isolated.  Samus is completely silent, without even the opening narration spoken by her.  Instead, her personality is expressed by action.   She shoots a fallen foe nonchalantly while glancing elsewhere, frantically taps her wrist-computer when its readings surprise her, and stares desperately at a late game companion while boxed in.   She’s portrayed as a badass loner instead of an introspective outsider, and it befits the character.

(Quick aside:  I liked Other M, and appreciated what it was trying to do despite how poorly it did it.   I loved the game play, the stuff with Ridley’s evolution, the concept of Melissa “MB” Bergman, and the re-imagining of 2D Metroid bosses as 3D adversaries.  I still remember how excited I was upon realizing the Metroid Queen was in the game.  That was cool.)

The endgame (SPOILERS!) is the best part of the experience.  The Queen Metroid fight was fantastic; tough, but fair, and with a lot of fun patterns.  It was sinfully gratifying to roll into the creature’s stomach and lay a power bomb; it’s one of the best boss kills in all of gaming.   The Queen herself is textured beautifully, and is my favorite model of the game.

Then, it’s the meeting we’ve all been waiting for, as you unite Samus with her adoptive child (“The baby!”).  This is one of the moments where Samus’s body language is more effective than words, as I could see her frightened hesitation while scrutinizing the Metroid hatch-ling.  Once she lays down her cannon they begin an ascent to the planet surface, but in a masterstroke of game design I could actually backtrack with the baby.  In previous areas there were crystal-like blocks that I couldn’t destroy, but the baby can eat.  Joining with the baby is necessary to clear the game 100%, and having it aid you is a wonderful way of establishing the mother/”thingy” bond.

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The later Metroid battles are notably more fun than the earlier.

At the end of Fusion there was a surprise skirmish with an Omega Metroid, and in Zero Mission you fought a ship of space pirates after the battle with Mother Brain.  Samus Returns proves no different in the surprise ending department, as Samus’s nemesis Ridley ambushes her to kidnap the baby Metroid.   I can’t imagine many fans were surprised by this; if you know Metroid you know Ridley will be shoe-horned in somehow.  It’s a great, three-part battle.  I died more on Ridley than I did any other boss (and that’s saying something), but it was worth it.  Killing the Queen Metroid, then taking out Ridley, was an exhilarating one-two punch.

Metroid: Samus Returns is a great game marred by slow progressiom and the 3DS’s screen (but not it’s capabilities), but picks up nicely in its last third.  Its graphical prowess is impressive despite a so-so art design, the remixed music is eerily atmospheric, and the later boss battles are difficult in the best possible ways.  I look forward to revisiting this in a few years, when hopefully my previous experience will make the front end more fun to play.

 

 

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One thought on “REVIEW: Metroid: Samus Returns

  1. Pingback: 2017: A Good Year for Nintendo Fans | Earnest Notions

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