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Review

Metroid: Samus Returns (3DS) Review

by September 15, 2017

Remember Federation Force? I was sure Metroid was done and dusted, given its reception – that a frustratingly tone-deaf Nintendo would declare “nobody cares about Metroid anymore!” due to its failure to captivate critics and the commercial market. And yet, here we are! A year later, a new Metroid game emerges. I wasn’t sure if MercurySteam, the developer behind Metroid: Samus Returns, could pull it off – but they have. Metroid: Samus Returns is not only the first 2D Metroid game in the thirteen-year void since Zero Mission, but is also a remake of a game that’s over twenty years old. Yet it feels like an entirely new game and a true return to form for the franchise.

A lot has changed in Metroid: Samus Returns, but the story has remained largely the same. Samus has defeated the Space Pirates in the original game and discovered plans to use the life forms known as Metroids as weapons. To ensure that they can’t keep using the Metroids for their own nefarious means, Samus travels to the home planet of the organism, SR388, to wipe them out once and for all. The kicker? The galactic federation tried to already, but all of the teams disappeared. As you’d imagine, Samus has her work cut out for her, tasked with taking out 40 Metroids from the surface of the planet to the dark below.

The story is relegated mainly to some speechless cutscenes and flavour text at the beginning of the game, with some genuine surprises along the way, and Samus herself is characterised rather positively by her in-game actions. In short – this ain’t no Other M.

When Samus Returns was announced, I was apprehensive. How much of a remake would this be? Would it incorporate new areas, new bosses, and new storylines like the team who rebuilt Zero Mission did? Thankfully, Samus Returns isn’t a shot-for-shot remake; there’s some fantastic work done to restore the existing content, but there’s some absolutely exhilarating original content too. Even better, this content doesn’t feel like it’s been haphazardly added to pad the game out, it feels like it always belonged.

If you’ve never played a game like Metroid, I wouldn’t blame you. If you’re apprehensive because this is a sequel, fret not. Metroid: Samus Returns represents a fantastic opportunity for new players to get started with the franchise, as the story works as a self-contained narrative. Of course, it also works as a sequel to the original game that many fans might’ve missed on the Game Boy.

The main premise is to explore SR388 and exterminate the Metroids. As you do this, in waves, more and more of the planet is opened up to you. Metroid veterans may find this frustrating – sequence breaking and speed running are still possible, but much less viable or interesting than other games that involve a larger and more open world. For newcomers, it means that the game still provides some more manageable freedom to explore without being suffocatingly linear like Metroid Fusion.

As you’d expect, Metroid is all about exploration and discovery, and Samus Returns is no different. While the physical layout of the levels has been preserved from the original to some extent, the areas of SR388 you’ll be exploring feel and look brand new. The movement systems seen in more modern titles like Zero Mission and Fusion have also been brought over to Samus Returns. Small touches such as ledge grabbing and more fluid jumping systems also make navigating the locales of SR388 feel less like a chore.

Samus now has a melee counter that provides her with some close quarters defence options if jumped by an enemy. As you become used to timing your counters perfectly, jumping gaps with minimal effort, and climbing the most intimidating of ledges, you’ll realise that Samus Returns represents the most streamlined movement mechanics of the Metroid series to date, and is a better game for it, especially given how much you will be jumping, running, sliding and shooting your way through the games many locales.

The abilities and gear you’ll encounter on SR388 are pretty much what you’d expect for a Metroid game, with some classics making an appearance after their absence in the original Metroid II. Completely new to the franchise, on the other hand, are the Aeion abilities. These let Samus slow time, withstand a certain amount of damage, improve weapon power, or scan the area for clues. While these can be used to overcome some environmental obstacles, they also make the game much more accessible to newcomers by taking the edge off the already burdensome difficulty. Those who want a challenge can simply ignore them, though they are used to great effect in some of the more difficult puzzles.

Speaking of difficulty – the boss battles remain as hard as ever. Completely rebuilt from the ground up, every Metroid encounter feels different, whether it’s due to variations in the environment or their own abilities. You’ll slowly begin to understand what works best against each type as you exterminate them one by one, which is fulfilling. There are even some new boss battles thrown in for good measure, and while it would be cruel for me to spoil them, I will say that they’re incredibly exciting and make great use of the game’s mechanics.

Given the newer developer to the series, it must be asked how the level design complements Samus and her abilities in the game. In one word – fantastically. Each area of SR388 is riddled with new detail that fits within the context of what the planet is meant to be. You’ll notice that parts of each world are designed to be revisited later, encouraging backtracking and highlighting the tight integration of abilities with the planet’s level design. There are even fast travel stations to make backtracking more manageable and less tedious. In short, this is a Metroid game with thoughtful attention paid to its backtracking elements but also streamlined to invite players to willingly do so.

Zero Mission was a great remake but felt short despite the addition of new content. Samus Returns, fortunately, does not disappoint in this department. My initial blind run took me about ten or so hours to complete from beginning to end, though I didn’t backtrack too much to find items. Going back to explore and find everything took even more time, about twenty hours or more. Samus Returns is a meaty Metroid experience – once you’re done, there’s not a whole lot to do beyond speed runs for your own personal bragging rights. Unlocking Chozo Memories is tied directly to your item discovery percentage, which reveals something fascinating about the lore of Metroid through a short slideshow of sorts. Endings are tied to your completion time but don’t vary too much, providing the typical fanfare you’d expect from a Metroid title.

Samus Returns utilises a full 3D art style that provides the developers with better tools to create cinematic battles scenes and pull off some crafty camera work. On one hand, the game looks great and runs at a solid 30fps. On the other, it lacks some of the grittiness that other Metroid games (especially those built in 2D) have previously delivered. Regardless, the new camera work brings life to Samus in the game’s sparse cutscenes, and the 3D effect is used to great effect to bring SR388 to life, teeming with multiple layers and details to fuss over.

The soundtrack is fantastic too, though there is a clear divide between the reused tracks and the original compositions that have been created for this game specifically. As you’d expect, key tracks from Metroid II are reworked here to be just as effective as they were back in the day. Tracks from other games like Metroid Prime are also utilised, though this is more distracting than anything – while such tracks are great in their own right, they feel noticeably out of place in Samus Returns. The new pieces are fantastic and are easily the standout for me, bringing a mood to the atmosphere in their own way rather than trying to pointlessly emulate other games in the franchise.


It sounds cliché, but Metroid: Samus Returns feels like a return to form for the franchise. It has all the key characteristics that you’d expect from a Metroid game – level design crafted to encourage exploration and discovery, a positive characterization of Samus, and a general flow to it like no other game in the franchise. Visually, the game is a feast, if not slightly uninspired, but it takes great advantage of the 3DS hardware to really sell the idea of an abandoned planet that nature has taken back.

The looming question over Samus Returns is whether it will join the ranks of esteemed titles such as the approachable Zero Mission, or the seemingly untouchable Super Metroid. I was in no rush to play it again after finishing it just once, but what MercurySteam have provided here is a solid game – one that easily surpasses the original it’s based on, yet still respects the vision of the creators who built it. It’s so exciting to say this, but Metroid is well and truly back and hopefully here to stay.

Rating: 4 / 5

The Good

Samus Feels Like Samus Again
Strong Backtracking Elements
Complete Visual Overhaul

The Bad

Needless Reuse Of Old Soundtrack
Art Direction Sometimes Feels Uninspired
Not Infinitely Replayable

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Final Thoughts

It sounds cliché, but Metroid: Samus Returns feels like a return to form for the franchise. It has all the key characteristics that you’d expect from a Metroid game – level design crafted to encourage exploration and discovery, a positive characterization of Samus, and a general flow to it like no other game in the franchise. Visually, the game is a feast, if not slightly uninspired, but it takes great advantage of the 3DS hardware to really sell the idea of an abandoned planet that nature has taken back.

The looming question over Samus Returns is whether it will join the ranks of esteemed titles such as the approachable Zero Mission, or the seemingly untouchable Super Metroid. I was in no rush to play it again after finishing it just once, but what MercurySteam have provided here is a solid game – one that easily surpasses the original it’s based on, yet still respects the vision of the creators who built it. It’s so exciting to say this, but Metroid is well and truly back and hopefully here to stay.

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About The Author
James Mitchell
Avid gamer since I was as young as three years old when I received my first NES. Currently studying full time and consider myself a balanced gamer. Enjoy games on all systems, from all genres, on all platforms. Sometimes feels like he's too optimistic for this industry.
9 Comments
  • DarkScythe13
    September 12, 2017 at 8:09 pm

    Not keen about the 3DS part though. I really wanted this to be on the Switch, as i’m really sick of 3DS now. I might try aiming to finish this in a week and returning it, so I can put the money towards something on Switch later.

  • groovintillyouremoovin
    September 12, 2017 at 8:39 pm

    it’s probably just a coincidence but this reviewer sure does give allot of 8s, I get that it’s obviously his own opinion but it’s pretty insane and unlikely with a number of games that are getting 3 or 4 stars (6 or 8s(obviously I get that it doesn’t convert like that but you know what I mean)) maybe he just needs to be able to trust himself more or you guys should have a more rigorous review scoring format. If you’re gonna put a score there it should mean something.
    love the site keep on keeping on

    • September 12, 2017 at 9:48 pm

      I didn’t feel it was a 3, but there were enough issues I had with it to decide it wasn’t a 5. That’s basically how I came to my conclusion. I also think my last ten or so reviews have represented a wide range of our 5-point scale too.

  • Habanero
    September 13, 2017 at 1:33 am

    Your review makes it sound like the game running in 30fps was a good thing…

    • September 13, 2017 at 7:04 am

      I think given how dense the game is with details that I don’t mind that it’s 30fps, and even better I don’t mind that it’s a solid 30fps. I’ve played a lot of games on the 3DS and it could be worse.

      60fps would have been great but I just don’t feel like the flow or moment to moment gameplay suffers as a result of 30fps.

  • Majora
    September 13, 2017 at 12:48 pm

    Ok Nintendo, now make a new 2d Metroid. Starting to really get sick of remakes and ports.
    And hurry up and bring some decent original titles to the Switch, Im still waiting to buy one when something I havnt played to death on the Wiiu comes around…maybe Odyssey will be the one.

  • Anthony
    September 15, 2017 at 6:54 pm

    my body is ready for this. cant wait!!

  • Oliver Phommavanh
    September 16, 2017 at 8:31 am

    Thanks James, love your work on this and the vookscast too! I may pick it up but I am really ready to move on from the 3DS to the switch

  • Inmate4859
    September 17, 2017 at 6:52 am
    The Good

    First 2d/classic style Metroid game since super metroid free of the design rot that directly led to other m's terrible level/world design.

    Real sequence breaks as opposed to planned alternate sequences, which is a massive difference.

    By far largest 2d metroid world, but doesnt feel drawn out.

    Seems like many powerups are optional.

    Great mechanics

    Fantastic boss fights.

    Felt more free to liberally use missiles than other titles.

    The Bad

    100%ing seemed tedious to me as i organically came across every actual powerup, leaving only tank pick ups until 100%.

    Teleports were a nice qol time saver considering this was the largest 2d metroid map ever.... But i wish they had spent the time to find more organic/less cheap doors to before.

    New power bomb Shine sparking equivalent never explained in game world like super did with speed booster. Can only discover by accident.

    Production values a bit unpolished. Some effects are great, and then, in important cinematic moments, effects, sound effects, and proper punctuating music just isnt there.

    Rating
    Overall

    My score was supposed to be 4 stars, but the rating meter is NOT Cooperating.

    My copy got delivered a few days early, so i see my impressions after beating the game coincided with review day.

    Another Samus Returns review, another time to bask in the warm glow of fellow fans who thought this moment would never come.

    I am noticing a trend in pretty much every review, mostly concerning the melee, and really missing hard on the mechanic. I blame all the pr material focusing super hard on the ability of the melee to counter, and not showing it used any other way. Perhaps its also combined with the fact modern games are so binary in interaction. But come on reviewers this is METROID, expirimentation is the name of the game.

    The melee move is not just a counter, although with proper timing it can counter. Melees can be used even if an enemy is not attacking to get some room or breifly open up many a hard to hit enemies hittable area instead of repisotioning or simply bypassing. Melees can be used with the ice beam to instakill, melees done in air will not result in stopping/flow breaking, speed runners will use this mechanics system to great effect.

    Bomb jumping is left purposefully exploitable, although the devs did go out of their way to put a stop to it. Power bomb shine sparking (bomb sparking? Power sparking?) brings a lot of potential to the table.

    Wall jumping, has not made such a return. It is still the gimped forced direction wall jump implemented post super. Its also super simplistic unlike the beauty of supers perfectly skill based system.

    I do really have to disagree with the reviewers assertations in a couple regaurds however.

    First off making any quantative assertions about sequence breaking your first time through the game is a bad idea. You dont even know if the path you took IS the proper sequence. It was not until the internet became widely available and used that i learned my natural progression through super was sequence breaking the crud out of it. To follow on that, it was many many many years before the full scope of how much you could do with super came into view. Making sweeping assertions about sequence breaking after one runthrough before the game is even out is…. Not something i feel is likely to stand the test of time.

    Second, comparing it to other 2d metroids post super, implying those were big open metroid games veterans would prefer over something like this? Bro, what veterans you been speaking too? Sequence breakers (sequence breakers are not necessarily the same as speed runners) hate fusion and loathe zero mission.

    One has virtually no sequence breaking whatsoever, and the other has the patronising alternate sequences, that were like a kick to the gut of actual sequence breaking excitement and triumph. So fake.

    On top of that, Returns dwarfs both of them in size (combined), AND openess. Despite returns being tied to the original M2’s core progression mechanic of defeating metroids, the game is vastly more open than either fusion, with its constant locked door funneling, or zero mission, with its constant chozo statue forced direction garbage AND patronising alternate paths.

    For the first time in over twenty years, the qa team has chilled the heck out and said, its ok that the player can use the tools provided and find solutions b,c, and d, even though we specifically designed the game for solution A. Solution F however could end up getting the player permanently stuck or breaking the game, so we will remove that one”.

    As opposed to the previous design philosophy of ‘A is the solution we designed, it is the only solution allowed, any other solution found besides A is a glitch and must be removed’.
    Which has absolutely been slowly but surely destroying nintendos game design and franchises over the past decades(in stark contrast to the rising production values, making nintendo games look and sound better than ever…. It was a deep rot not seen on the surface.)

    However, after aunoma admitted the realization that the strict glotch philosophy was eroding the appeal of their games in a botw interview, we seem to be seeing more and more of a nintendo that might actually ‘get it’ again.

    First with botw, now with Samus returns finally feeling like a whole metroid game again, and with mario odessy putting world and systemic exploration front and center in 3d mario again…. It looks like there may yet be a future in videogames i may want to take part in.

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