Playing Samus Returns showed that MercurySteam's foray with Metroid is looking extremely promising.
In terms of the Metroid series, specifically in 2D, I feel like I’ve been living in the past for a long time. I’ve replayed chunks of Super Metroid more times than I can count. I’ve relished the couple times I’ve run through Metroid: Zero Mission. Even the mildly maligned Metroid Fusion has been a source of enjoyment in the 15 years since its release. But since Zero Mission’s release in 2004, the last 2D Metroid has been in captivity and the galaxy hasn’t been at peace. Metroid, as a franchise, has been adrift like Sylux’s ship at the end of Metroid Prime 3.
Then, after a decade filled with an ambitious failure and a defiled spinoff, the series sprung back to life at E3 2017 with Metroid: Samus Returns and Metroid Prime 4. While Metroid Prime 4 is seemingly years away, Samus Returns is out in September. At a recent meeting with Nintendo, I got to play the opening moments of the 3DS-bound remake of Metroid II, and wow - it makes a fabulous first impression.
I was able to play the opening 15 minutes or so, culminating in a fight with the first of 40 Metroid you need to hunt. From the start, a few things are readily apparent. First, while the general structure and layout seem to be similar to Metroid II, this feels like a brand new game. That’s exemplified in that opening area. You begin with missiles already unlocked, and before you tackle that initial Metroid, the Morph Ball and Charge Beam power-ups are unearthed. The Charge Beam wasn’t even available in Metroid II and that’s not the only new ability being added, as, also at the outset, you can hang on ledges as first introduced in Fusion. Later on, the Grapple Beam, first in Super Metroid, can be obtained. But those are all relics of the past being brought into an even older relic of the past.
Samus Returns also adds a few brand-new abilities. The flashiest is the melee counter, which is at first a tad jarring. Metroid combat has always been focused on keeping distance between you and your enemies, because Samus has a gun and usually the enemies want to get up close and personal. This melee counter, executed with a well-timed button press, helps add more dimension to battles. I had to partially rewire my Metroid brain, but by the end of the demo, I had a good handle on how the counter system worked, and successfully landed some devastating cinematic hits on the boss Metroid. It changed up how I approached battles, as I started to bait enemies out to knock them back with the counter and, while they were momentarily stunned, blast them to bits.
Another new ability is free aim. Instead of dealing in diagonals, you can use the power of analog control to deftly aim at enemies and obstacles. By holding down the L button, you can use the Circle Pad to accurately aim. It’s made a little easier to judge as your arm cannon emits a light to show where you’re pointing. When you hover over an enemy, the light changes colors. This made for some fun moments when I could shoot enemies while they were off-screen, which was kind of awesome.
One other power-up I came across in my demo was the first Aeion ability. These new power-ups make use of a new meter and the first one you get is Scan Pulse, which lets you send out a surge that reveals nearby map squares and also highlights breakable blocks. Seemingly, these Aeion abilities might be able to be used as a difficulty modifier. If you want the harder, more trial-and-error style of Metroid item hunting, you can ignore it. However, if you don’t want to have shoot every last block to make sure you’re not missing anything, the Scan Pulse can be a good way to help you out. I love when games add in these “choose your own difficulty” options. More Aeion abilities will be nestled through Samus Returns, but it’s not known if they will all just be of the passive, difficulty-lessening variety.
This is all seems like the tip of the iceberg for what Samus Returns will contain, as everything I’ve discussed is basically laid out in the first 15 minutes or so. The most important thing I learned in my brief time with the game is that it felt like Metroid, and it felt damn good. After seeing what was shown at E3 2017, I was already excited for Metroid: Samus Returns. After playing a little bit of it, I’m doing Screw Attacks and backflips in the air as I anxiously wait for September 15 to roll around. After a 13-year absence, 2D Metroid is back. Here’s hoping the promise in this early portion holds true and Samus Returns becomes the catalyst for new 2D Metroid installments in the years ahead.