The thought of a brand-new 2D Metroid game was often considered a pipedream among most Nintendo fans for quite some time. 2010’s Metroid: Other M didn’t exactly please many fans with its experimental, ever-swapping first and third-person gameplay, and the less said about last year’s Metroid Prime: Federation Force the better — especially given that fans called for its outright cancellation. While it seemed that Nintendo hasn’t been listening to fans’ pleas for a “proper” Metroid title, the upcoming Metroid: Samus Returns shows that perhaps they have, after all.
Announced during Nintendo’s series of Treehouse Live streams at E3 2017, Metroid: Samus Returns is heading to the Nintendo 3DS later this year and acts as a “reimagining” of the 1991 Game Boy classic Metroid II: Return of Samus. The game is in development by the team at MercurySteam, who previously worked on the Castlevania: Lords of Shadow series.
Given that the last “proper” title in the series that I’ve played was Metroid Fusion, it’s been quite some time since we’ve had a traditional title featuring Samus Aran that combined the series’ retro sci-fi aesthetic with its compelling exploration-based platforming and shooting. The so-called “Metroidvania” genre has come a long way since then thanks to titles like Axiom Verge (itself a loving homage to Metroid) and Ori and the Blind Forest. While the thought of a new Metroid title returning to its 2D roots might carry with it the feeling of purely being a nostalgia grab, Samus Returns gives me the confidence that perhaps we’ll get what fans have been hoping for for years.
During a preview event with Nintendo, DualShockers had the opportunity to check out the opening minutes of Metroid: Samus Returns for a closer look at the title. As the title was one of my personal highlights during Nintendo’s E3 presentation, I had equal parts excitement and hesitation about the prospects of playing a new 2D Metroid — in fact, I’m sure many of the series’ hardcore fans would have the same reatcion. However, the 20 minutes or so we had with the title was already enough to show that the game captures the look and feel of the series’ past in an exciting way.
Much like previous titles, Samus Returns starts you off with Samus exiting her gunship on a mysterious planet, with little in the way of guidance or forced objectives, instead letting the player find their way through the environments. Starting off with just the basic blaster and missiles, the demo gradually opened up (in typical Metroid fashion) thanks to the addition of new abilities and equipment.
Over the course of my playthrough, I happened to come across some of the accessories like extra missile containers and life expansions, while more substantial upgrades — like Samus’ morph ball and charge shot — gave me not only new weapons in my arsenal, but new means of exploring the environments and uncovering new paths.
All the familiar beats of a Metroid adventure were there thanks to the loop of exploring environments and unlocking new abilities, and that left me as much satisfied as it did relieved during my time with Samus Returns. Given the length of time that there’s been between this and more traditional entries in the series, playing Samus Returns felt as natural to me as it did with titles like Fusion or Zero Mission back in the day — that is certainly a good thing.
While Samus Returns is far from a wholly original entry in the series, it also happens to introduce some new features and gameplay mechanics that (smartly) update how Samus plays and feels, or at least for what players would expect from a modern Metroid entry.
The most notable feature that Samus Returns implements is a new free-aiming system that allows players to have more fine-tuned control of Samus’ blaster. While players can aim in varying angles by directing the 3DS’ analog nub while running, holding down the left shoulder button will plunk Samus down in place so players can instead aim her blaster in nearly any direction for shots that require some precision. Switching between the two shooting modes felt seamless and a welcome addition to Samus’ arsenal, given some of the more tricky enemies that I encountered and needed to place a better shot on.
The other additions to Samus Returns include a new melee attack that — more than anything — can allow players to get some breathing room between Samus and enemies, and a melee counter ability that can open up chances to attack against oncoming enemies. Admittedly, these took me a little getting used to given that I’ve (mostly) relied on Samus’ blaster to get the job done in past games, and figuring out the exact timing of the melee counters was a little tricky (with the main aid being an audio cue to activate the attack).
However, the new melee combat options offered a nice way to take on enemies that tend to get in-your-face outside of Samus’ ranged weapons. I’m sure will feel a little better once I get some more time in with the final game and can figure out the nuances a bit more. Given that Metroid games in the past have sometimes had a sluggish feel to combat, the new melee mechanics offer just the right balance to speed things up a bit, and offer Samus (and the player) some flexibility in how to deal with incoming enemies.
While some fans might have been looking forward to this release being on the Switch as opposed to the aging Nintendo 3DS hardware, Samus Returns does happen to make a great case for why the 3DS might have been the better choice here from a gameplay-standpoint — aside from just the larger volume of systems out there. As much as a Switch version could have brought the game to life in an even better display of visuals, Samus Returns feels right at home on the 3DS with vibrant, retro-futuristic graphics that the Metroid series has been known for, along with a blazing soundtrack that feels just right with the game’s aesthetic.
Most of all, the Nintendo 3DS’s second screen offers a perfect display to compliment the exploration elements of Metroid: Samus Returns. With the second screen displaying the game’s maps and environments, it’s easier than ever to keep track of the various rooms that have been unlocked and areas that still need to be explored, while players can also place pins on the map to mark down areas that have yet to be uncovered, or ones that players might want to return to at a point in the future.
Though the prospects of a new 2D Metroid seemed like a longshot dream for most fans, Metroid: Samus Returns (so far) feels like just what I was hoping for. Sure — it’s not entirely original given its roots in the original Metroid II as quote unquote “remake.” But more importantly, it brings back fond memories of that potent combination of deep exploration and challenging gameplay that fans have craved since the days of Super Metroid and Metroid Fusion, but with a new sci-fi coat of paint that comes to life on the 3DS.
Those waiting for Metroid Prime 4 will likely have to wait a considerable amount of time before we get back into the beloved Prime series, but Metroid: Samus Returns — which is out in just a few months — feels like the perfect way to be reintroduced to the Metroid series. Samus has been away for quite some time, and it’s great to see her back again for another adventure.
Metroid: Samus Returns will release for Nintendo 3DS on September 15th, 2017.