It’s not easy being a Metroid fan. One of Nintendo’s most beloved franchises, Metroid has never managed to be a blockbuster series, which made Ninty take some extreme measures to try to inject some life into the franchise over the past years, including the universally despised Federation Force. I hate the fact that game exists, but I understand why it was made: Metroid games usually sell pretty poorly, despite their critical acclaim. Tired of waiting, some fans decided to release some free and unofficial Metroid games out on the internet, most notably AM2R, or Another Metroid 2 Remake, a fantastic remake of the Game Boy title Metroid 2: The Return of Samus which received a cease-and-desist letter from good ol’ Ninty a few days after its release (Nintendo should have known, however, that once you’re on the internet, you’re there forever). Despite this setback, Nintendo itself announced a remake of the GB title, Metroid: Samus Returns, the first official 2D Metroid in nearly 15 years.
Samus Returns marks the franchise’s debut in the 2.5D perspective. It plays just like a good old Metroid from the 90s, but with polygonal graphics, some occasional camera angle shifts and much richer backgrounds. Despite this, I guess the 3DS itself wasn’t the most suitable system for this game, as Samus Returns does face some issues with occasional unstable framerates, no shadows, and underwhelming textural quality. Granted, the smaller screen hides a lot of these issues, but as you can see by the pictures, it could have been much better in a system like the Switch. On the flipside, I can’t help but praise Nintendo’s decision of still supporting the 3DS with big titles even after the release of the company’s newest system.
Same can be said about the sound department. For the most part, it’s pretty good. While the soundtrack isn’t exactly phenomenal (the SR-388 theme song is nowhere near as iconic this time around as it was back in the GB version), it gets the job done by setting up the appropriate atmosphere at the right occasion. For better results, the use of headphones is nearly mandatory, as the small 3DS speakers aren’t able to do justice. Sound effects, like monster growls and explosions, on the other hand, are really well done.
The biggest changes in this game aren’t solely the visuals or sound, however. For the first time in many iterations, 2D Metroid has received some well-deserved gameplay additions. Samus now has access to a physical counter whenever an enemy charges towards her, which is pretty easy to execute and extremely rewarding, given the fact it gives you way more health and ammo in return. Another nice addition is a scanner function which allows you to detect which pieces of the map are breakable, as well as the location of some enemies and special rooms. Is this a cheap shot, a means to make the game a lot easier? In a way, yes, but then again, this mechanic isn’t mandatory, therefore it feels more like a somewhat forgiving addition for newcomers to the series.
The main issue is, despite the interesting gameplay additions, some other gameplay decisions are, at the very least, questionable. First of all, you can only control Samus with the analog stick. For a 2D game, that’s a very odd decision, especially given the fact the portable’s stick isn’t exactly precise or reliable. That’s also an issue regarding the controls as a whole. Samus Returns isn’t exactly comfortable to play, and that’s mostly the entire system’s fault, and not just the game. The constant use of the somewhat unresponsive triggers, coupled with the analog stick, constant pressing of the Y button, and the overall shape of the 3DS, made for a weird control experience, a somewhat painful one after a few hours in a row.
Samus Returns is a very important title. It may not be the best 2D Metroid out there, nor did the 3DS itself help with its technical limitations, but this is an overall decent game that shows there is still potential to do a lot with the franchise besides making titles for the Prime series. While I still think AM2R was a somewhat more enjoyable experience (even though it was just an unofficial fan game), I won’t deny the fact I’m glad Samus Returns is a thing. I’m glad Nintendo listened to fan demands for once. I didn’t find it anywhere near as enjoyable as the other 2D titles from the last decade like Zero Mission or Fusion, but I really hope it does sell well enough to let Nintendo know people want more Metroid. If only it were released for the Switch.