VERSION(S) REVIEWED: 3DS
Written & Edited by: Prof. Purble, A Tomato & Eria
Published: 1st, April, 2023
Metroid: Samus Returns is a 3DS action platformer remake of the original Gameboy title, Metroid II: Return of Samus, developed by Nintendo EDP in collaboration with MercurySteam.
It was decided to develop Metroid: Samus Returns for the 3DS rather than the Switch due to the handheld's benefits of dual screens and a general interest in making a Metroid title since the DS, allowing the use of a map to be constantly viewed on one screen, without interrupting gameplay on the other.
Due to technical difficulties, I was not able to fully finish the campaign for this review. With that said, my total playtime hours came to about 11 hours. My estimated guess is that it would take only one extra hour before finishing the game. Optionally, getting 100% of items is estimated to take about 15 hours.
Unlike the original, Samus Returns features a full story introduction, but to break it down:
The Metroids, a parasitic species that can leech the life out of any living organism are considered extinct as Samus killed the terrifying menaces during her mission assignment to investigate a space pirate's base of operations on planet Zebes.
In the aftermath that followed, a galactic congress of planets was established. A military, known as the Galactic Federation of police, is committed to keeping civilisation safe from any known threats; however, during an expedition on a peculiar planet, dubbed SR388, contact was lost from a group of armed soldiers. A transmission had fortunately gotten out, and suggests everyone's worst fears were realised: Metroids are found living deep within the planet's caverns.
The decision came swiftly and was supported unanimously by all: As long as the Metroids continue to exist, they pose a serious threat to galactic civilisation! Just one being allowed to roam free can potentially wipe out an inconceivable amount of lives all on its own. Without further delay, the Federation hired their best bounty hunter, Samus Aran to investigate planet SR388 and by any means necessary, kill every last one of them until they are brought to total extinction.
Samus has been substantially improved from the original game, now featuring full 360° targeting, with a neat little aiming laser. She can now wall jump and ledge grab. There are several instances where you need to shoot from a ledge, but it can be a little difficult to keep her from climbing over it.
New to the franchise is parrying. Enemies will briefly glow before attacking, giving Samus a window of opportunity to swing her arm cannon at any lunging enemy. Time the riposte right and the enemy is left vulnerable for an easy dispatch. A defensive playstyle is recommended, as many of the grunts charge at you relentlessly - so get ready to parry a whole lot.
The Metroids themselves have received quite the upgrade compared to the original Gameboy title. Owing to the enhanced controls, you’re required to target specific areas to deal any effective damage - your missiles just deflect off of them otherwise. The first variants you encounter, while not challenging, become annoying due to their inflated numbers throughout the game. Gamma Metroids were especially tedious: they all but require you to parry for any damage. Additionally, some Gammas will need to be chased down through the map. The Omega Metroids were far less cumbersome and annoying to deal with - It’s just a shame there are so few of them compared to the rest of the variants.
Each area requires a specific amount of Metroids to be eliminated with their DNA needing to be returned to a statue monument, a blinking indicator will begin and gradually become more intense when honing in on a nearby Metroid. Gathering them will remove a hazardous acid lake below the monument, allowing passage to the next area. If you don’t have enough DNA on hand, a hint to a Metroids’ general location will be revealed on the map.
This game doesn’t punish you too harshly, if at all, for dying. Upon death, you restart in the previous room with all of your energy and missile reserves that you had prior. You’re even allowed to backtrack and resupply further if needed.
There are more boss fights present here compared to the original game, but they are all situated towards the end of the game, these are no walk-in-the-park as it felt more like a boss rush with how little time is given between these foes.
Like in the original game, there are numerous save stations and refill statues for replenishing missiles and energy. This time they are made much more obvious to spot, even marking themselves on the map upon their discovery. Slain enemies still drop energy and ammo pickups, which home in on Samus when close enough. Energy Tanks and Missile Pods expand the total capacities respectively of the acquired upgrade. These can be easily found aplenty, and some are near unmissable. There’s a surplus of these upgrades throughout the game, so even with modest exploration, you can max out your reserves...
Many doors need a certain upgrade to get past and said upgrades are found deeper into SR388. Teleporting stations help you cut down on travel time for backtracking, thank goodness. As for acquiring the aforementioned abilities - Chozo statues can be found within the ruins throughout the planet. Seeking them out is crucial to progression and will grant Samus with her signature abilities, such as the Morph Ball.
Unlike in the original game, weapon upgrades are permanent and can be swapped on the fly. A few are permanently equipped to the default blaster cannon. Equipables that can be hot-swapped via the bottom touch screen are usually reserved for extra beams, which permit traversal in certain areas. Also new to the franchise are Aeion abilities, of which there are four to unlock. These are mainly for utility, with the first one revealing secrets in a radius. Using Aeion abilities costs its own resource; while the odd fuel station can replenish it, you’re better off killing enemies to do so.
It should go without saying that jumping from a fourth to an eighth-generation system will show massive differences. Not just in visuals, but animations, music and other things have all been given extensive work to bring this 1991 title up to date with more modern hardware and the love and dedication shows.
Some faithfulness to the original game can be seen in the level layout structuring, with some rooms being nearly identical. However, the similarities end where creative liberties were taken to extend areas out more to enhance the exploration feel, including making certain areas only accessible with certain upgrades such as the grapple beam.
Samus’ viewing radius on the 3DS handheld can feel rather limiting at times. There were many moments where I’d be blind sighted by a hidden off-screen enemy, sometimes several at once. The parry mechanic in turn also makes gameplay feel rather sluggish as you need to take your time navigating areas and avoiding grunts.
The map function allows you to drag and drop various coloured pins onto rooms, so you can keep a mental note to return later. This however feels much more like it was designed with the larger 3DS XL screen in mine as it felt rather tedious on the original 3DS model.
The music in this game, without a shadow of a doubt is a clear upgrade from the original game, now featuring a remastered surface theme. I immediately recognised some tracks and SFX that were taken from other games, and it fits quite nicely here.
Before you face the final boss, you are given a choice to go back and collect the remainder of the items throughout the eight different areas of the game. Collecting 100% of items in each area will unlock a Chozo memories page on the main menu, which dives into the lore behind planet SR388 and their involvement with the Metroids.
After beating the game once, you unlock Hard mode, which causes Samus to deal 50% less damage, but enemies deal 50% more damage on her. Given how difficult Normal mode already is, this is truly a feat that I can only take my hat off to anyone who manages to complete it. Additionally, there is a hidden Fusion mode that has Samus seen in her Fusion suit, and has her take even more damage. Ideally this should be unlocked after beating Hard mode, but alas this mode is not accessible without using the specific Amiibo’s, which has unfortunately become unreasonably expensive to attain in the second-hand market.
Samus Returns brings an experience that makes it an easy recommendation over playing the original game. Samus controls much more fluidly here and packs new mechanics and abilities that ultimately lead to a much more engaging experience.
Evaluating this game on its own however, there are some glaring oversights, such as the excessive and lack of variety of Metroid forms can feel rather monotonous over time, and all the bosses being clumped together near the end of the game creates an out-of-nowhere difficulty spike that can seem daunting to unsuspecting players.
The overall pacing can feel quite sluggish due to how often you need to stop and survey your surroundings. At first, if you try rushing around without knowing where enemies will pop up, you’ll definitely die a lot.
The majority of my time was spent enjoying the game for the most part. Despite facing some technical difficulties near the end-game, I can positively say I recommend it, but it is not for the faint of heart.
At the time of writing, getting a hold of this game is no longer commercially available anymore as a direct consequence of the Nintendo 3DS eShop closing its doors to new purchases. There are many offers going for second-hand copies online however, most aren’t cheap.
Hopefully Nintendo considers releasing a port, potentially remastering it with further QoL improvements by removing the Amiibo exclusive content functionality, as well as adding an Easy option for wider accessibility would be the best-case scenario.