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Metroid: Samus Returns (3DS)

Metroid: Samus Returns (3DS) - Review

by Evan Norris , posted on 03 October 2017 / 5,472 Views

Thirteen long years have passed since intergalactic bounty hunter Samus Aran starred in a 2D side-scrolling adventure. In her absence a veritable cottage industry has sprung up on the indie scene, with titles like Shadow Complex, Guacamelee!, Teslagrad, and Axiom Verge offering the 2D "Metroidvania" experience Nintendo has been remiss in providing. So, how does this newest 2D Metroid, Samus Returns, stack up against the competition and its own impressive legacy? Relatively well. It manages successfully to replicate the formula that's made the franchise so enduringly popular — huge, labyrinthine maps; epic boss battles; and scores of hidden power-ups — and adds a few mechanical novelties of its own; some good, some bad, and some ugly.

Like Zero Mission, the last 2D Metroid released back in 2004, Samus Returns is an enhanced remake. It's a retelling of the story of Metroid II: Return of Samus, a perennially overlooked installment in the long-running series. Between Metroid, which introduced the concept, and Super Metroid, which perfected it, came Metroid II. It established series staples like the Plasma Beam, played with the idea of Metroid evolution, and set the stage, narratively, for the masterpiece to come, Super Metroid. Even so, its status in some corners of the Metroid community as a "black sheep" made it ideal for a remake.

Samus Returns Aeion

The story is simple. The Galactic Federation, fearing the spread of parasitic lifeforms called Metroids, dispatches legendary bounty hunter Samus Aran to the Metroid home planet SR388 to eradicate them all. 

Samus Returns, a collaboration between Nintendo and Spanish developer MercurySteam, honors this story. In fact, the game honors much of what Metroid II was and is, warts and all. In the original game, defeating a certain number of Metroids would trigger an earthquake, which granted players access to deeper parts of SR388. Likewise, in Samus Returns, players must bring a requisite number of Metroid DNA samples to an altar in order to clear an area of toxic liquid and move downward.

Samus Returns Alpha

It's an artificial construct, for sure, one that constantly reminds you you're playing a video game. It's aggravated by recycled boss encounters. Samus Returns boasts several different Metroid evolutions, each more terrifying than the last, but every evolution appears multiple times. MercurySteam attempts to mix things up with different elemental attacks and terrain specific to each encounter, but it's insufficient. One can only fight an Alpha Metroid so many times before it's "been there, done that." 

Luckily, the boss fights in Samus Returns are spectacular across the board. The first encounter with each new Metroid form is breathless and scary. They move and attack quickly and unexpectedly — at least during initial run-ins — and inflict high damage. Samus Returns also includes two brand new boss battles unique to this remake, both of which require quick reflexes, perfect timing, and an eye for weak points.

Samus Returns boss

While boss battles are routinely excellent in Samus Returns, regular combat in the caves of SR388 is consistently disappointing, thanks mostly to the game's signature move: the melee counter. The melee counter, inspired by MercurySteam's work on Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate, is Samus Returns' most advertised and, ironically, most unwelcome addition. This is how it works: many of the beastly denizens of SR388 will telegraph an attack, at which point players can press X to deflect the advance and stun the enemy, opening it up for a counterattack.

It robs combat of its fluidity and strategy. In the early levels of the game Samus will again and again move toward an enemy, stop in her tracks, wait for the prompt, then activate the counter. This constant stopping and starting wears thin quickly. It's an addition that, like many in Samus Returns, seems designed for cinematic flair, not mechanical depth. If there's one thing series producer Yoshio Sakamoto needs to re-learn, it's this: flashy moves and movie-like cut-scenes don't make Samus a badass; players, using the tools at her disposal, do.

Samus Returns melee counter

Luckily, most of the other novelties in Samus Return work more efficiently within the game. Samus can now swing her arm cannon and fire in 360 degrees, allowing for a wide range of horizontal and vertical attacks. A quasi-magic system, in which Samus can activate Aeion abilities to either slow time, generate a shield, or scan for hidden passageways, manages to spice up the proceedings also.

Scan pulse, the Aeion ability that marks breakable walls and shows unmarked paths, is something of a double-edged sword. Metroid purists might scoff at the idea of an ability that advertises the game's secrets when the process of seeking out such secrets is part of the genre's purpose. At the same time, however, it represents one of MercurySteam's triumphs: the replacement of trial-and-error snooping with skill-based problem-solving.

Samus Returns grapple

Many of the dozens of power-ups hidden around the game's gigantic world map are located in (seemingly) impossible-to-reach locations. The challenge comes from using unlocked skills and Aeion abilities to reach those unreachable spots. In other words, in Samus Returns, MercurySteam isn't trying to hide its power-ups; it's daring you to attain them once found.

This is a big part of what makes Samus Returns' final hours so mesmerizing. As players use fast-travel totems to travel across SR388's honeycomb interior, with all power-ups and weapons available, they'll finally snag those elusive missile upgrades and energy tanks that had been taunting them for 12 hours. Metroid games tend to get better as they go, and this is especially true for MercurySteam's remake.

Samus Returns evolution

Samus Returns isn't the finest 2D Metroid, nor is it the best Metroidvania of the generation. Peculiarities imported from Metroid II and MercurySteam's own blunder with melee counter keep it from greatness. Still, it's a solidly-constructed and engaging action-adventure game with a terrific set of boss battles and a huge world filled with secret chambers, ferocious monsters, and a hint of things to come for gaming's most celebrated bounty hunter. Welcome back to the second dimension, Samus Aran. You've been missed.

This review is based on a retail copy of Metroid: Samus Returns for the 3DS

Read more about our Review Methodology here

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Volterra_90 (on 03 October 2017)

Nice review, as always! :-). Agree with the cons partially. I don't think the melee counter is bad per se. It's just that almost every enemy can be countered. I'd prefer that they mix things more. There are a lot of enemies that can be OHKO with a counter-attack, so strategy is lost in the process. So more pure shooting and less counter-attack to balance both. And the Metroid II nature made the boss repetition impossible to avoid. Though tiresome, I appreciate the effort to make several Metroid types, but I agree it's still a weak point. Everything else makes an enjoyable and pretty good Metroid adventure though. The last half of the game was nevertheless stellar, and the boss battles were probably the best in the 2D franchise generally speaking.

  • +5
Veknoid_Outcast Volterra_90 (on 04 October 2017)

Well said. When the counter is used sparingly, as it is during boss fights, it's less of a problem. In regular combat, though, I just found it kind of boring. I'd inch close to an enemy, wait for the white flash, then counter and one-hit KO it. I get what they were going for, since Samus has always had to fight from a distance, and the melee counter closes the gap, so to speak. But it could have been employed better. It sort of feels like a glorified QTE at times.

  • 0
Goodnightmoon Volterra_90 (on 04 October 2017)

I'm constantly shooting my enemies and when they decide to charge at me I quickly counter them, I always try to kill them before they get too close to me, I think some people just get close, stop and then wait for the enemy to charge, that's boring, but there is no need to play like that, specially since the moment you get the wave bean the melee counter becames only an option since you can blast your enemy before they charge and is not the same for every enemy, some enemies only charge when they are too close so is not worth to use the melee there, then for exemple you have this red enemy that may charge when it sees you but also it may throw you acid, and you never know what's gonna do next so the strategy of getting close, wait for the charge and and then make the counter may not be the best one, you have to attack him fromt he moment you see it and then be fast either countering him or escaping from the acid, I don't think its bad implemented at all, I found it really satisfactory everytime, I would not consider that a low point in the game, maybe it should be a bit more balanced, but that's it.

  • +1
Volterra_90 Volterra_90 (on 04 October 2017)

I think the counter-attack issue is not balanced enought at the first levels of the game. You're basically counter-attacking every time, because your gun power is a bit pathetic, so you don't have time to actively kill your enemies, specially when you have 3/4 enemies on your screen, and it's in your best interest to not lose your health, so the way to go is stop and counter-attack. But I think it was better handled afterwards, and the last half of the game ironed out those issues (basically because of the power-ups you collected throughout the game which made shooting more rewarding), and it was a really brilliant experience. I think that Samus Returns was a pretty good Metroid game, but I feel that there's still room to improve, which is actually good because I really enjoyed it as it is. Now, the Metroid genocide was a bit too repetitive at times. But this is a remake, and they did everything they could to make this less repetitive, so I can appreciate that. Everything else was really ace, MercurySteam did an awesome job in the end.

  • +1
Goodnightmoon Volterra_90 (on 04 October 2017)

I agree that is specially unbalanced at the beggining and you end up using it a lot, but it doesn't take long until you get the wave beam and it becames more optional, since its a new hability in the franchise and feels pretty satisfactory, even if its unbalanced at first is still fun to use, by the time it gets boring you already have more options so i personally didn't had any problem with it in fact I like how the enemies feel more agresive now thanks to this mechanic and how the action moments feel more badass, now you don't only have to concentrate only on shooting and aiming (the free aiming its awesome btw) also you need good timing to counter those that charge at you.

  • +1
Volterra_90 Volterra_90 (on 04 October 2017)

Yeah, I think counter-attack per se isn't bad, it's just that it need adjusting for the next game, but I wouldn't mind if they keep it. It just need more balance, because I really liked how they use it in boss battles. It was not over-used, it demanded reflexes and knowing bosses attack patterns, so boss battles was what convinced me that is an actually good mechanic, but badly implemented at the beginning of the game. And, yeah, free aiming is a must. It'd probably feel a bit archaic keeping the 8-directions aiming of the previous games, and this 360º approach felt better for exploring, aiming and solving puzzles.

  • +1
Goodnightmoon (on 03 October 2017)

Personally I love the melee counter, don't really see what's so wrong about it, makes the combat more fun.

  • +4
Locknuts Goodnightmoon (on 03 October 2017)

I agree. I'm a pretty big Metroid fan and I think it's a great addition.

  • +2
Rogerioandrade (on 04 October 2017)

That´s the first and only review so far that considers the Melee counter as a bad mechanics......
Personally, I think it gaves the game more personality and it makes combat more dynamic and cinematic.... it should be a staple on future 2d Metroid games.

  • +3
mZuzek (on 05 October 2017)

Good job not letting Spencer write this, this was a good review.

  • +1
mZuzek mZuzek (on 05 October 2017)

Agreed on the "players make Samus badass" part. I don't like it when they try too hard to make Samus look badass in cutscenes (thankfully it didn't happen too often in this game), because if I'm not doing it, it just loses all impact.

  • 0
Mar1217 (on 04 October 2017)

Even as a con, I think it should be added as an essantial feature in the next games.

  • +1