Metroid: Samus Returns (3DS)
It has been seven years since the last Metroid game was released, so naturally there is a lot of demand for a new installment. What we get here is a remake of the Game Boy game Metroid II: Return of Samus, developed by Mercury Steam who had the honor to run Castlevania into the ground. It is certainly an odd choice by Nintendo to trust such people enough to bring Metroid back to glory after the disastrous Other M. Where the Castlevania game for 3DS failed is that it tried to move elements from 3D games into a 2D game, so it was kinda like a God of War in 2D with long and drawn out enemy encounters. It doesn't come as much of a surprise that Samus Returns incorporates more elaborate puzzles or pseudo-puzzles similar to what is found in the Metroid Prime games. What works in 3D isn't necessarily fun in 2D. These things were fine in the Prime trilogy because the games were much slower to begin with. In a 2D game you only get slowed down.
The introduction of Aeion powers falls in a similar category. Before I get to them, I want to note that these powers are selected with the d-pad which means that the Circle Pad controls Samus. Gone are the days of ultra-precise movement, so bumping into stuff you don't want to or facing in the wrong direction when trying to crouch are common occurences. The sole benefit you get from analog controls is 360° aiming while holding the L button to stand still. While many players gush about this because it allows more precise aiming, I can only shake my head because this precise aiming wouldn't be needed if I could move Samus around with high accuracy. What you ultimately get in Samus Returns is the inverse of what we got in Other M: Analog controls in a 2D sidescroller are just as mindboggling as d-pad controls in a 3D space.
The first Aeion power allows you to reveal a portion of the map and nearby breakable blocks. The developers didn't shy away from using this power as an excuse for unintuitive level design, so you commonly find yourself using the power because it's not clear if there could be a path somewhere. The second power feels inspired by Halo, so you can use your Aeion bar as a shield gauge that only depletes upon hits. Enemies hit so hard in this game that I died quite a few times because I refused to fall back on such a cheap mechanic. The third power increases the efficiency of your beam which I consider pure annoyance because this is an IP where you already upgrade your beam through other means. The fourth power slows down time which is all about crossing paths with quickly breaking blocks, something that the Speed Booster accomplished in other installments.
All this sounds very negative, but that's because I have high expectations for a series that has delivered some of the most stellar games in video game history. Navigating through SR388 is still enjoyable, finding plenty of upgrades along the way. It's just that almost everything that is new isn't good. The original Metroid 2 had unique level design in that you entered an area, cleared it of Metroids, collected upgrades and then moved on to the next area. This core is still intact in the remake, but someone thought it would be a good idea to put in backtracking which led to the introduction of teleporters. What makes the design of Metroid so outstanding is that you can get around fast in late-game, so something like teleporters aren't even necessary. But here they are a necessity to at least somewhat reduce the tedious feeling you get from trying to collect 100% of the items.
After my first playthrough I was ready to hand Metroid: Samus Returns a 5 because it was such a letdown. But I gave the game another chance and got used to everything, including the use of the stupid melee attack. You get punished for trying to play well and kill enemies without melee, because they have a lot of health. But standing still, waiting for their attack and then using melee depletes almost all of their health and stuns them to be picked off with one or two shots. Much of my experience was better the second time around, however, collecting all items still sucked as much as before. In the end I am left with a game that feels a lot like Other M despite the mistakes that were made differing greatly. Other M might actually be the slightly better game because one of its biggest shortcomings (story) can be skipped on additional playthroughs.
|Controls||10||The Circle Pad controls come with a trade-off: Good for aiming
while standing still, but lacking in precision for movement.
|Gameplay||The typical 2D-Metroid gameplay is bogged down by too many
influences from 3D games that slow down the pace.
|Story||Go to planet, eradicate threats, the end. Intros for new
enemy types are kept at a reasonable length.
|Single-player||The original Metroid 2's level design doesn't gel with the
backtracking that is introduced in the remake.
|Graphics||Certainly looks nice, but it's not always a stable
experience. Too many framerate drops for my liking.
|Sound||Most of the soundtrack lives off of remixes which aren't
particularly good. Arrangements blend together too much.
|Value||The first any-percent playthrough lasts about eight hours.
Going for 100% adds another few hours.
|Replay Value||Hard mode makes you take more damage, no other changes.
A 100% route is going to be tedious, no matter what.
|Score||6||Not a Metroid game that will reignite the IP. Too many basic
mistakes make it an Other M that takes on a different form.