She’s Back: Hands on with Metroid Samus Returns
Being invited to visit Nintendo Australia’s Melbourne HQ is a little like visiting Disneyland or your favourite beer maker, it can be the stuff that dreams are made of. The reason for this visit was to go hands on with Metroid Samus Returns and this was no 15-minute session, this was a dedicated 90 minutes.
Off the bat, there are two things to note about the game, it looks amazing, a style that blends ancient Egypt and sci-fi, kind of like Stargate and it plays even better, in fact, the game was so smooth it surprised me at times. When I was given the 3DS, we started from the very beginning of the game, there was a very well presented cutscene and it had some amazing artwork, like if someone decided to draw everything in the style from the original games box art, the mission is the same, Samus must head to SR-388 and eliminate all the Metroid’s and once the ship lands, you are free to explore as you want.
The map is almost the same as it was from the original game and given that I have completed that game at least a dozen times, I remembered it quite well, but while I knew the rough parts of where I was, things have been changed up enough to keep old hands like me from growing bored with the game. Perhaps the thing about the map that was most impressive is that it is now placed on the bottom screen, which means no pausing the game for any reason, as you can see everything in one place. For most people, that may not be the biggest plus, but anyone who has played a 2d Metroid game will tell you, that pausing the game, to check the map, just breaks the flow. It is not long after you start to play that you acquire one of the games two new additions, a melee counter and boy is it a blast to use.
Each enemy has a audial and visual queue to when they are going to perform an attack that you can counter, do it too soon and you take damage and even get pushed back, but do it right and you can stun the enemy. If you shoot them while stunned, you can clear them out with relative ease and it feels good, pressing the free aim button, Left shoulder button, your weapon snaps to the stunned enemy and if you shoot, within moments of dealing the damage, you will take them out in a single shot. Given the three phases of this move, it will take you time to get it right, but once you do, you will feel like some kind of intergalactic badass, though, you can only stun a single enemy with each strike and given that the enemies don’t just wait around for you, there are times when an airborne enemy and a land based one will attack.
The enemies themselves were fun to play around with, anyone who has played a Metroid game in the past will feel at home with the enemies, there are the ones that travel around in circles, ones that move back and forth and ones that are constantly spat from the ground, perfect for farming health. Each enemy, when killed, will drop health, missiles or Aeion energy, more on that later, so taking them out can reward you with a prize, but there were times when I would be surrounded by them and being over confident, they can deal out lots of damage in a short time, so there is a little risk vs reward, if your health is already low.
Of course, combating the enemies is done by your arm cannon, which as always can be upgraded with some cool additions and in my time with the game, I was able to get the Charge shot and Ice Beam, with both working like you, might expect. Additionally, I was able to acquire the morph ball, a given that it is found very early in almost every game, the bombs, which took me a while to get and finally, the Spider Ball, which helps with the exploration. Nintendo clearly know their fans, as in one giant room, there was both a weapon and health refill station hidden in the ceiling, nothing you could get to without the spider ball, or even see, but take the time to explore and you may find it. Of course, with that arsenal, I was able to locate lots of extra power ups, which ranged from missile tank expansion to energy, but there was a new kind of energy in the game as well, Aeion.
While only the first ability was available in the time I had, there is more for players to find, but that first ability, the Pulse Scan is a welcome option to be sure. Pressing the A button had a large pulse emanate from Samus, and it reveals a host of things around her, to a certain extent, hidden objects will show on the map for a limited time, room layouts as well, but closer to Samus, blocks that can be destroyed will be highlighted by a blue outline. It does not tell you what item you need to destroy the block, only that it can be done, which of course will lead you to more secrets and such to find. When you defeat enemies, they drop Purple energy, which is your health, but also Yellow energy which refills your Aeion ability bar, while I did not use it a lot, at least on purpose, I did hit the button a lot, thinking it was jump, but my bar never depleted.
Progress with the game happens as you take out the Metroids that have infested the planet and as you eliminate the energy vampires, you are rewarded with a helix. The use of which is what you use on the Chozo Seals, which unlock more areas and each seal requires more helixes to unlock, one to begin with, then 4 and the numbers will increase from there. Within the 90-minute session, 5 of the counted 40 Metroid’s were dispatched, so I am concerned about the actual length of the game, but I suspect that the first few will be the quickest to get.
My time with the game, while significant was nowhere near enough, but as the game is only a month from release, I can wait til then. Metroid 2 Return of Samus might not be the game that people love from the entire series, but so far this is shaping up to be something really special.