MercurySteam and Nintendo bring you Metroid II in its ultimate form. No joke.
When I was a young lad, the Game Boy was my way to play video games. I would play any game I could find and experience them with absolute glee. One game I certainly had some issues with was Metroid II: Return of Samus. While it was neat to play an exploration game with this set-up, the reality was that I didn't always feel in control. I ended up liking it back then, but I always found it hard to truly return to. Nintendo has addressed my concerns and delivers the goods with a fancy Nintendo 3DS remake. Developed by MercurySteam, this game shows that it can still learn some new tricks.
If you’ve ever played the original game, or know the lore inside and out, you will know the story. Samus is sent off to the planet SR388, which happens to be the home planet of the Metroid species. Your goal is to destroy all forty Metroids and earn the respect of the Galactic Federation. In this 2D adventure, you move Samus from screen to screen and deal with what crosses your path. From shooting various enemies to solving environmental puzzles, a good amount of wit will be useful to make it through. With trusty tools like your Ice Beam and Morph Ball, you will explore an ever growing world and explore every nook and cranny possible.
The remake's new tricks can be immediately felt at the start. Unlike the original game, Samus doesn't start with the Morph Ball ability. The beginning of the original felt freeform where you would randomly drop down shafts, but with the remake everything gets time to build. Like the games that came before and after, you will earn the Morph Ball from a Chozo Statue. After that, you’re immediately given a situation to use it and learn what your newly obtained function can do. Metroid: Samus Returns gives you time to learn alongside it, even if that is at a brisk pace.
The transformation between the original and the newly created game is staggering. The original was held back by the limitations of the hardware, which you can clearly see if you try to play it now. Where the remake succeeds is changing the way you approach it and try to overcome its challenges. It takes the fundamentals of what makes 2D Metroid great and offers it in a package that stands on its own. There is a fluidness to it that was built for the Nintendo 3DS. While the plot points of the original are absolutely present, it is actually unfair to compare these games anymore. The world itself has dramatically changed and can be seen as essentially a new game.
This is particularly true when it comes to the gameplay. While Metroid: Samus Returns is a 2D game at heart, the added Free Aim (activated with L-button) makes a whole world of difference. In the two hours I had to play the game, I never felt more in control of a video game character. The ability to aim beam shots and missiles with precision makes beating down enemies an enjoyable affair. There is a solid weight while controlling Samus and it benefits the overall flow in a major way. My favorite usage so far is when using the Ice Beam to create platforms. By freezing enemies, you would reach higher spots and open new passageways. To the dismay of some, the Arm Cannon also has a laser sight to make that 360 degree precision aiming even snappier. Personally it helped me to think more about my next destination, but more the experienced might want to leave the R-button be.
Another interesting change comes in the form of the Melee Counter. When you are in the sights of the baddies, they might rush towards Samus for a devastating blow. Luckily, you will be able to defend yourself with a timed press on the X-button. The game goes actively out of its way to ensure that you use this. No enemy skips a beat and they expect you to act on that last possible moment. Most of the enemies will be stunned, allowing you a quick kill. With Metroids however, it is essential that you nail down the timing. A successful counter leaves them wide open for a barrage of missiles. It took a while before I understood the timing, but the payoff makes the struggle worth it. Once you pair the Melee Counter with ledge grabbing and the added agility, you will be able to overcome any odds.
As you explore the 2D environments, various points of interest open up to you. Naturally, you have the Chozo Statues where new possibilities can be obtained such as the Charge Beam. The ability was never in the original to begin with, so that is certainly a nice touch. Considering how relenting the enemies have become, it is a great alternative than using all of your missiles. Another ability that you receive pretty early on are the bombs for the Morph Ball. There are used to a crazy degree for finding secrets and finding new opportunities for passageways.
Those passageways bring us to the Aeion abilities, which start you off with the Scan Pulse. With it, you can scan your direct surroundings for secrets and upcoming rooms. If you find the classic trial and error ways more endearing, you are free to ignore it as the classic Metroid fan you are. For me though, the ability was quite beneficial. I skim over areas extremely quickly, only to regret it later down the line. Scan Pulse helped me to manage my surroundings and observe the map on the touchscreen closely. It made finding Missile and Energy upgrade a snap, which minimized my frustration in the long run.
In many ways, that sentiment feels like the remake's main goal. Energy, Ammo and Save Stations are now more clearly marked on your map and look visually more recognizable. You see them at a glance, walk up to them and carry on. Even if you stray away from a save point too long, the remake offers more frequent checkpoints. You will notice this with the later Metroid fights as you lose your life. It doesn't throw you the long way back, but re-spawns to the door that grants you a quick rematch. This was incredibly helpful as the fight in question gave me a hard time. There were deadly plants beneath me and an incredibly fast Metroid above me. Not the best situation in any case!
The biggest change, however, is how the progression of the game feels. Naturally, the ultimate goal of destroying the Metroids is still in tact, but the visual representation stands on its own. With the original Game Boy release, this wasn't always made very clear. You would defeat the threshold needed, the screen would shake and you could move further down the hole. On the Nintendo 3DS, they approach it very differently. Starting from the other area, you will need to collect strings of DNA and bring it back to a dedicated pedestal. After that, it will show you in the next step of the process. If you think that this set-up will result in more backtracking, I wouldn't worry too much. Metroid: Samus Returns adds Transport Stations, which will easily bring you to important locations on the map.
When it comes to the visual presentation, I am very impressed with this particular title. It’s quite pleasing on the eyes and this will be particularly shown in 3D. With the slider cranked all the way up, you will see multi-layered backgrounds that make for the best stereoscopic usage this year. The music was pleasing throughout. The bleeps and bloops have been replaced with music similar to the recent outings and I couldn't be happier.
So far, Metroid: Samus Returns is a winner in my book. Most of the changes made are absolutely for the better and change it into something completely new. The gameplay strikes the right balance between modern and classic, while the flow minimizes potential frustration. The stunning visual presentation and chilling sound effects add even more to the picture for something incredibly fun. There are things that Metroid fans might not be completely on board with, but all of those trinkets are optional. After finishing off five Metroids, I really want to destroy them all now!