Review: Metroid: Samus Returns

In Metroid: Samus Returns, it is the return of Samus, quite literally. Back in June at the Nintendo E3 event fans were celebrating the tease of Metroid Prime 4, coming at some ambiguous point in the future. “But we want some Metroid now,” fans screamed, “It’s been too long since we’ve had a proper Metroid game; Federation Force doesn’t count!” They have a point. The last game starring Samus was Other M all the way back in 2010. Well, Nintendo delivered in their Treehouse Live stream, showing off Samus Returns – a re-make/re-imagining of the 1992 Game Boy classic, Metroid II - Return of Samus.

“Just a re-make? I’m not interested in that. Give us something new Nintendo!” I hear some of you mumbling. Well, that’s why I put re-imagining. While Samus Returns retains the general structure of its predecessor – the general plot, objectives, map shape, it’s pretty much a new game inspired by the original. While it brought many new elements to the series, I have always found Metroid II quite slow, clunky and largely limited by the Game Boy hardware. Samus Returns doesn’t just give it a performance boost and a lick of paint, and a few changes to the map. It’s truly a 2017 Metroid.

For those unfamiliar with the plot of the original, it follows on from Metroid/Zero Mission, in which Samus has defeated the Space Pirates on Planet Zebes. In Samus Returns, she is sent to the Metroid home planet of SR388 to exterminate the species. That is pretty much as far as the plot for the whole game goes, without spoiling the conclusion.

MetroidSamusReturnsImage1Samus standing atop her Gunship at the start of another mission.

While Metroid games are known for their mazy, non-linear maps in which you can progress in your own way to a certain degree, SR388’s map, composed of eight areas, leads you through a pretty defined path, with some exploration granted within each area. While backtracking is pretty much a series staple, it is never completely necessary in this game, with the game happy to lead you from one area to the next until you reach the final boss. Returning to a previous area is never encouraged, despite the fact that traversing the map has been streamlined by adding teleport points around the dark depths of the innards of SR388.

As with the original, it is your goal to destroy the Metroids, and destroying a certain number of Metroids in each area will cause the terrain of the map to change, allowing you to progress. While Metroid II signposted this with earthquakes, Samus Returns features a shrine in each locality that tells you how many creatures you must vanquish before returning their DNA sample to the statue to cause the acid filled pits to subside and allow you to progress deeper into the planet’s caves. There’s a total of 40 Metroids through the game, with your lower map screen showing a count of how many are remaining, with a radar that flashes when you’re getting near one of those pesky little tyrants.

If you’re not familiar with Metroid II, you might think “40 of those squishy little jellyfish? Easy.” Well sorry my friend, but you won’t be dealing with those energy-sucking parasites of the original. They’re just the larvae. You’ll be battling their monstrous evolutions and adult forms, with your opponents getting larger and tougher to beat as the game progresses. And believe me, they can be hard to beat.

MetroidSamusReturnsImage2Much more than your average Metroid encounter.

While all of the Metroid series staples formulate the core gameplay of Samus Returns, with missiles, bombs, the morph ball, energy tank upgrades – they’re all there; developers MercurySteam have made quite a few tweaks to the formula. While still built upon a classic eight direction aiming system, now the 3DS Circle Pad also provides you the ability to aim in any direction. Just hold down L and point whichever way you desire! While you may think this removes one of the limitations to movement that provides difficulty, it is countered by giving enemies, and especially Metroids and other bosses you will encounter on your adventure, more defined weak points that you will have to pick out in order to harm them.

The other main new gameplay mechanic is the melee counter system. Occasionally, an enemy will charge you, and by pressing X on your pad, you can whip your arm cannon up and knock them back giving you a free shot to cause some damage. When to counter is generally well signposted, although it was only when I was doing some research for this review and watched some trailers that I saw that you could you use it against some enemies and bosses that I hadn’t even thought of countering! While it is a fresh new gameplay mechanic, I would have liked its use to be used in a wider range of contexts – there is one bat-like enemy that is littered through the game that will prove to be your main use of this attack, and even then once you have upgraded your abilities you are likely to just blast them to high heaven with your cannon rather than wait for them to rush you and counter.

MetroidSamusReturnsImage3Samus has a few new tricks up her Arm Cannon.

Also new to the table are four “Aeion” abilities that you gain through your journey to help you navigate the challenges that SR388 will throw your way. Selected using the D-Pad and activated with the A button, these tools will consume Aeion, which you collect by defeating enemies. It’s essentially Metroid’s version of Zelda’s magic meter. The first of these abilities you acquire will unveil the map of the area around you, including the indication whether there’s a hidden item nearby, as well as showing any breakable blocks that might be holding you back from getting that new energy tank you desperately desire.

While series aficionados may see this as a dumbing down of the classic exploration and discovery, and a removal of the deep satisfaction when you finally work it out, it is of course optional to use – you can explore without it if you so desire. These abilities are there to make the game easier for you, but quite frankly, they’re a godsend.

MetroidSamusReturnsImage4It doesn't take long for Samus to get back into the swing of things.

Metroid: Samus Returns is not an easy game. There is no easy mode. On the normal difficulty, you will probably die quite a bit. I did. Now you have all these new-spangled abilities, the creators have balanced it out by making enemies tough. Even early in the game, miss a couple of counter attacks and you will be dead. So while you may not get lost, you will be monitoring that energy meter and panicking when you hear the low health alarm more often than you feel comfortable with! In particular, some of the late-game bosses caused me real frustration, one of the new additions to the original only affording you a couple of mistakes before you’re drained and must start a rather lengthy battle again. Quite forgivingly though, when you are defeated by a boss, you are not returned to your last save point, but to just outside their chamber.

But with great frustration and aching fingers comes greater satisfaction when you finally master the attack and defence tactics needed to vanquish a foe. While playing and trying to decide just how much I like this game, I realised it must be quite a lot seeing I was up at 2am, before a 6:30am start the next morning, playing with that “just one more try” attitude in an attempt to conquer a particularly tricky monster.

Metroid II: Return of Samus wasn’t much of a visual treat. Limited by the Game Boy hardware, it wasn’t much of a looker. The soundtrack was very limited, which added to the horror of your adventure, but was a bit too sparse. Samus Returns, as you’d expect, does a massive job in improving on a 25 year old game, and for a 3DS game, it’s a looker.

MetroidSamusReturnsImage5Mere screenshots really don't do this game enough justice.

While some may have preferred the sprite-based style of the classic 2D adventures, this game is a 3D game played on a 2D plane, taking the style of the Prime series and Other M and it looks gorgeous on the small screen. The background vistas have layers and a depth that really brings SR388 to life, especially with the 3D slider turned up – it doesn’t just feel like a dungeon, but a planet with defined regions. The animation is smooth and the attention to detail is fabulous, with sparks flying from doors and broken electronics and heat emanating from lava filled rooms. Being a console with a 3D screen, there is naturally a boss that attacks you out towards the fourth wall. The soundtrack is classic Metroid fare, but just what you need to compliment a thrilling sci-fi adventure.

While I have not tested it personally, Samus Returns features amiibo bonuses, with the currently available Samus figures providing energy and missile tanks to aid you in times of need as well as bonus art galleries, but what is more contentious is the new, squishy Metroid amiibo launching alongside the game. This toy will unlock a new mode after you’ve completed the game called Fusion Mode, in which Samus will be wearing her suit from 2002’s Metroid Fusion. Unfortunately I can’t detail exactly what this mode entails other than what Nintendo have said, which is increased difficulty, but it is again a sign of amiibo not just being used to give owners bonuses, but to lock game content behind toys. There is already a standard hard mode on completion, but we will find out in due course what differs about this feature.

MetroidSamusReturnsImage6Still retaining that essential ominous atmosphere which Metroid is famed for.

Samus Returns is a fantastic re-imagining of a game that is considered by many a classic, but is dated by today’s standards. We haven’t had a 2D Metroid since 2004’s Zero Mission and I have to say I had a blast in my 15 hours taken to complete the adventure, including time used to backtrack to pick up expansions in previous areas before taking on the final battle. It has that je ne c’est quoi that makes you not want to put it down. It looks beautiful and takes the Metroid formula and gives it some modern tweaks. Whether any of these new features would stay around if Nintendo’s traditional development team make a new 2D entry to the series I don’t know, but I for one would love to see a completely original adventure using this game engine, and I wouldn’t even be surprised to see this version ported to Switch in Full HD goodness.

Welcome back Samus – just don’t take so long to return next time, yeah?

N-Europe Final Verdict

Metroid: Samus Returns is a fantastic return for the Metroid series, taking the plot and core of a classic and bringing it up to date in an addictive modern action-platformer. Another great example that the 3DS should not be written off yet.

  • Gameplay5
  • Playability4
  • Visuals5
  • Audio4
  • Lifespan4
Final Score



A great re-imagining of a classic game
Looks fantastic
New mechanics are fun and fresh


Linear and little incentive to backtrack
Difficult for beginners
There could have been more enemy variety

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