Metroid: Samus Returns may very well be the first time a bunch of Nintendo fans will play Samus as she was originally conceived, ditching first-person shooting and Smash Bros. antics for difficult, side-scrolling mayhem.
From the hour of hands-on time Stevivor recently spent with the upcoming 3DS title, it looks to be an amazing package.
A reimaging of Metroid II: Return of Samus, MercurySteam’s latest comes with crisp new visuals, a triumphant soundtrack and subtle 3D elements you’ll actually want to take advantage of on the ageing handheld. For all the changes, Samus Returns shares a bunch in common with its predecessor: those stupid, frustrating frog-like enemies, pesky Metroids that are ready for the conquering and, of course, exploration. Pure, unbridled exploration that brings rewards like abilities and upgrades to those who go looking.
Most deliciously, there is a complete and utter lack of hand-holding in Samus Returns.
The biggest additions to the game seem to focus on Samus herself, slimmed down and looking overly feminine as compared to her original sprites or even 2004’s Metroid: Zero Mission, a remake of the original in the same vein that Samus Returns is to Metroid II. Samus’ femininity is also extended into her death animation — when this occurs, her suit shatters and falls from her body, putting her blonde ponytail and Zero Suit on display for all to see.
Outside of her aesthetic appearance, Samus can fire her lazer and rockets at any angle as opposed to the few originally offered on GameBoy. New Aeion abilities are also quite useful; a scanning tool is found quite early on and assists with identifying breakable walls and floors. The scan is perhaps the least hand-holdy part of Samus Returns.
Samus’ melee counterattack is, by far, the best addition, used to stagger rushing foes or to put some distance between Samus and her prey. While precision aiming is useful against garden variety enemies, it makes some Metroid encounters ridiculously tough; as Samus can aim in any direction, you’re expected to hit fast-moving targets.
That said, an upgrade here and there can mean the difference between life and death; I cursed repeatedly, stuck on a certain Metroid while another journo looked on, laughing to herself.
“You don’t have the Ice Beam upgrade, do you?” she asked, innocently.
The relatively non-linear setup of Samus Returns means no two playthroughs will be the same; everyone will have their own methods and strategies. I didn’t backtrack for that Ice Beam upgrade; instead, I calmed myself, took better aim and landed a few well-placed shots on the Metroid before leaping out of its charge, firing my cannon at passing projectiles in an attempt to regain health and rockets. It took me a while, but I got the job done. Eventually.
Thankfully, while Samus Returns is tough, it implements a fairly friendly checkpoint system, meaning you’ll be thrown right into the same Metroid battle if you fail… though a smarter person might backtrack a bit to refill energy or ammo before doing so.
After an hour, I already had a list of to-do items I simply didn’t have a chance to complete – items to gather, areas that I could now get to with the proper upgrade and Metroids I hadn’t beaten. It seems like only the tip of the game’s total content; I walked away (for the time being) satisfied. Ultimately, Samus Returns’ changes feel like they’ve been inspired by modern titles the likes of Ori and the Blind Forest; games that exist today because of the legacy of the Metroid franchise itself.
Metroid: Samus Returns heads to 3DS next month.