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Metroid Samus Returns Review

by Gray Beard Nerd 9 months ago in product review
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How Dread paints the 3DS game in a new light.

Context is everything, it can make a victory seem more like a defeat and a loss can be softened in time. 2017 was a stellar year for gaming. Breath of the Wild, Mario Odyssey and Hollow Knight released along with several other incredible titles. Zelda and Mario both got seminal titles that pushed their franchises in all new directions and the little Indie studio Team Cherry produced what is to some the best 2d adventure Metroidvania of all time. But in the midst of all these incredible releases Metroid Samus Returns came out for the aging 3DS platform. I personally did not pick up the game till 2018, and playing it I had a lot of fun, but I was also a little disappointed. Not because of Hollow Knight per se, but because of another smaller release.

It was a jam packed year.

AM2R also known as Another Metroid 2 Remake released in 2016 before swiftly being removed from the official online scene by Nintendo. The game was good, especially for an independently developed free to play game made by one person. The passion project of Milton Gausti of Argentina AM2R captured the hearts of the Metroid fanbase during a time when the franchise felt largely forgotten by Nintendo. A lot of fans took the DMCA take down personally and this was in large part to another release that showed how things could have been.

Not to mention a lot of us were kind of partial to the pixel art esthetic.

Sonic Mania, another great title from 2017 was largely made by independent developer Christian Whitehead and Sega was pioneering the new age of embracing support from fans to create and update the games they loved. In the wake of this celebrated and successful partnership the take down of AM2R was especially bad press for Nintendo. But the big N had its own reasons for pulling the plug on the fan project. They had their own remake of Metroid 2 coming.

Sega does what Nintenwon't

Yes, Samus Returns is a remake of the 1991 Gameboy release and a sorely needed one. Like the original NES Metroid the game was becoming much less accessible with each passing year. Mercury Steam was brought in to develop the game, the same team that would go on to make the excellent Metroid Dread. At this time though they were a relatively unknown studio who was being handed a franchise that had been largely ignored by Nintendo. Coupled this with the unfortunate take down of AM2R and the pressure was incredibly high to perform. When you take all of this into account it is easy to see why a cloud hung over the game during its initial release. No one, including myself, was able to approach the game based solely on its own merits. I even said in my last review of Dread that as I played the game I was met with a pervasive sense of something being missing.

Comparisons were rampant with reviewers at the time.

However, when I recently finished Dread (see my review below by the way,) I remarked that I was not ready to put the game down, but did so my daughter could have a go at the game. But I had an itch, a desire for more Metroid and while I own all of them and several other titles in the genre I found myself going to the shelf and pulling down Returns to give it another try, and I have to say it made a big difference. You can feel Dread’s DNA in the game, beyond the counter mechanic and fluid movement and I do not think I would ever have gone back and appreciated the game without playing Dread. I did not give the game an honest shake all those years ago, I admit it, but I am now ready to look at this game again with a fresh perspective.

Just like Dread we get right into the game. No lengthy cutscenes, no excessive plot, boom gameplay. Samus moves really well and while Dread would improve this still further, considering the screen size the game play and movement feel great. The 3D effect is well rendered but like most games on the platform I played the majority of the game with the effect turned off. That said I was floored over and over again this time by Returns presentation. Details like seeing a Metroid dart in the background for a second before encountering it in the next room to other background fauna interacting with each other in the backgrounds of certain areas. The game like Dread feels alive and there are some impressive locals and backgrounds that are varied from area to area. The music is classic Metroid and cycles, somewhat abruptly at times depending on the area or room you are in. Samus' suit is stylish and well modeled, again for the hardware, and every element is incredibly polished. But really none of these things are new revelations. For many including myself there were other factors that held the game back upon its initial release.

Ready to hunt some Metroid's

Being a remake is as good a place to start as any. The game in order to qualify as a remake has to contain a majority of elements from the original game. As an example, many people regarded the Metroid hunting mechanic to be a tedious affair only lessened slightly by the different evolutions of the Metroid's. But upon replaying the game I actually really liked the way the developers applied this “hold over” in game. Each area never has more than ten Metroid fights and the harder versions tend to be fewer in number. I like killing an alpha in a late area of the game because it really helps sell the progression of Samus on the planet. She feels more powerful as one time bosses become regular enemies. That said, the Metroid's do not feel like a threat to the fauna of the planet like they should. As the Metroid's grow in strength one would think there would be less regular enemies to encounter. Remember entering that room in Super Metroid and all the enemies have been sucked dry and turned to dust only to encounter the mutated baby Metroid. This game lacks the punch of that moment and with the great environmental storytelling on display at the start of the game it makes its exclusion toward the end far more apparent.

A classic moment.

Lack of item variety on par with the rest of the series is another flaw quickly pointed out by others. Yes it is true that some of the abilities are missing from previous titles, but the abilities that are here are tailored into the design of the levels and varied. Yes the Spider Ball is very slow, but combined with the space jump you can speed up its use and later when the morphball bombs become available the game really opens up in terms of speedy movement. I used to be in the group that wished for a more traditional move-set for Samus, but playing the game now I find myself really enjoying the variety that the game brings compared to the others in the series. The moves are tailored to the hardware and the map design and fit in a way that I am not sure that the shinespark would here. I do think the skill level is lower in this game than Dread and there is less opportunity for creative sequence breaking, but it serves the 3DS well.

Also look at this epic stuff!!

Most of the nitpicks I and others had were directly addressed in Dread. The X parasites have a direct impact on the environment and allow for varied boss design due to their more flexible abilities in general. The larger scale of the hardware allows for more skill based platforming and speed of movement that the series is known for and brings back some classic abilities. But I think that I have come to understand and appreciate Returns different design philosophy this time around, which I would say is much more focused on exploration. It is designed to be slower paced and for the player to explore every nook and cranny and most of the challenge in the game is figuring out how to access things that are initially just out of reach by exploring. Dread focuses on stringing together fast paced precise movement to reach these goals, whereas Returns, with its focus on exploration, gives you tools to open the environment slowly. The games are very similar in a lot of respects, due to that Metroid DNA being the core of the experience. But one thing I learned to appreciate this time that I did not expect was the different approaches to exploration and player reward.

The Spider Ball in Action.

So in general, I think I am better equipped to enjoy this game now than I was in 2018. I think that might be the case for a lot of people in general and I do think that Nintendo should work to make this game more accessible for new fans of the franchise considering the sales numbers Dread is experiencing. A Switch port could be difficult, with the reliance on the second screen from the 3DS. But it would definitely be a welcome improvement in many other ways. I think for me the ultimate testament to the error on my part of not giving this game a fair shake on its initial release comes down to my initial premise for playing it again and even this review. When I finished Dread I felt drawn to play it again over the other titles I own. The two games are connected and in the context of Dread, Returns finds its own footing.

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About the author

Gray Beard Nerd

A nerd who is into cars, video games, movies, book and more. I love to write and hope to share what I have written with others. Please enjoy!!

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