Reviewed on 3DS, copy supplied by Nintendo.
Metroid: Samus Returns is yet another flagship title that has returned to its roots. After some missteps in a franchise that has a bloated history, this return to basics splendour is exactly what was needed.
Taking place shortly after the very first game and just before Metroid II:The Return of Samus, the lanky mercenary Samus is hired to eradicate the metroid menace on their home planet SR388. It’s almost a remake of the second game, but in all fairness, this is much more than just a rehash of an older idea.
Easing back into what made Metroid so damn likable, Samus Returns arms the titular character slowly, letting you get a feel for each weapon. Unlike other side-on shooters, you wont be slugging enemies full of holes in chaotic dashes (for the most part at least), instead you’re rewarded for tactically clearing out the map of enemies.
Bringing new features to 2D perspective Metroid games, Samus can now freely aim rather than be restricted by angles, has a melee counter hit, and several new special abilities. Each addition helps the game feel old school, but updated enough to enjoy without it feeling gimmicky. There’s a thin line between a game feeling antiquated and nostalgic, and this manages to hit the right side of that line.
Contrary to appearances, Samus Returns isn’t all about running and gunning- exploring is a key feature. As you progress into the depths of planet SR388, you’ll be greeted with new enemies, bosses and puzzles. To find your way you’ll need to be well equipped to meet the challenges ahead, and the game doesn’t necessarily help you out with gear locations, so it has this kind of rogue-lite feel of trial and error in exploring.
For me this was more error… I had to repeatedly clear rooms of the same enemies as I constantly lost my way. There is a helping hand in the form of a scanning ability – which pings hidden areas and paths – but using it and surviving after it’s used are very different challenges.
The game is difficult, but not ball crushingly difficult like other rehashes of old formulas (looking at you Sonic Mania). Progressing through the game the mini-bosses provide you with the most challenging experiences, as you have to make use of the varied skills and attack types you’ve accumulated to take them down. It’s a very 90s formula of gaming, and it’s a welcome one to revisit. Timing counter attacks and equipping the right weapon takes a fair bit of muscle memory to get right, as does remembering enemy attack patterns. But once you nail the formula you do feel incredibly powerful.
The only real fault of this game is that its on the 3DS. Don’t get me wrong, I love the 3DS as a console, but it feels like this game deserved a Switch release. The graphics and performance work fine, but that little extra push from the Switch capabilities would have made this shine all the stronger.
With alternate endings and an nonlinear approach to tackling the game, there’s plenty of replayability here. Fans of the series and newcomers alike will benefit from playing this solid entry into the 3DS catalogue.