Metroid: Samus Returns Review – Evolution at its “OK”

Metroid is a series that needs no introduction. It has been a staple of Nintendo consoles since its debut on the Nintendo Entertainment System or Famicom, depending on where you live. But unlike other Nintendo staple IPs, Metroid has been given a raw deal in the last 10 years, to say the least. So with the release of Metroid: Samus Returns, Metroid fans rejoiced to have a “proper” 2D game, but how good is it?

Metroid: Samus Returns
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo EPD and MercurySteam
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: September 15, 2017
Players: Single Player
Price: $39.99

Metroid: Samus Returns is quite the interesting game when it comes to visuals. Being a reimagining of Metroid II: Return of Samus on Gameboy, a lot of the visual structure and design remains the same but updated and polished for the Nintendo 3DS. A lot of visual staples can be found in the game, with a slightly updated look.

That last part is key “for the Nintendo 3DS.” While the game looks good for the system, I can honestly think of no reason why this was not developed and ported to the Nintendo Switch at this point in time instead, besides Nintendo’s wish to keep the system alive somehow. What looks good for the 3DS does not look good for 2017. In fact one thing that constantly made me laugh was the fact that every elevator load screen looked as if the game was an old 1997 pc game. The game was just released and it’s not aging well visually. But the graphics are serviceable nonetheless, if not disappointing.

The reimagined map design is actually quite entertaining and interesting. In a lot of ways, the game feels bigger and more robust on that point alone. But that too is not without its faults. Some of the new map designs can be either unintuitive or too simple, depending on the mechanics they want you to use, which leads us to gameplay.

Right from the start players will notice that Metroid: Samus Returns is a bit more fast paced than its predecessors. Timed jumps and pattern recognition are going to be the bread and butter for anyone playing the game. The game’s “melee counter” mechanic is used in every fight with some small exceptions, so learning how to pull that off while running through areas will be key for most players who do not operate at a snail’s pace. It gives a new but familiar feel to the gameplay that fans will enjoy. But once the player finds some decent power-ups, the mechanic becomes mostly useless as you can just blast everything to bits like a standard Metroid game.

The faster pace and sets of pattern recognition are also a double edge sword. While they are fun and interesting, the 3DS is just bad for it, it only took an hour for my hand to start cramping up and after I finished my playthrough my thumb was swollen from having to use the 3DS’s god awful circle pad and thin but heavy frame. This could have been avoided if it was released on the Nintendo Switch, which has very competent thumb sticks.

There is also the addition of a new mechanic that the game does not tell you about what so ever, which is a bit annoying and can leave players scratching their head. The game has added a morph ball super blast jump, that can propel you across the screen until you hit another wall. This is done by by using the Spider Grip ability which allows you to stick to surfaces of walls in morph ball form, and then planting a Power Bomb right under the player. This is used to get several upgrades in the game that are blocked by red crystal spikes, but the game never shows any sort of example for it. This is unlike any other Metroid game as they usually give you an example of hidden skills like this through the planet’s animal inhabitants. While this is a bit annoying, it is not required to complete the game.

Another issue about the gameplay in general is that the game serves up 40 or so repetitive mini boss type fights instead of a handful of big boss battles which would have served the game better. Originally, Metroid II was the same, there was a series of 40 or so fights with five ever evolving visuals were the Metroids changed visuals significantly after each iteration. There are also three major boss battles that differ wildly from the original game, but after completing the first and most difficult of them, the rest are a cake walk. (Editors Note: This paragraph was clarified slightly after post.)

It should also be noted that there is a little less than 10 hours of gameplay on the first playthrough if you are aiming for a 100% completion. I myself was able to pull an 8:33 on my first playthrough with 100% of the upgrades. But I am sure there are some players like Dean Takahashi who will find themselves playing the game for much, much longer, if you catch my drift.

The sound and music are uniquely Metroid, and hit all the right buttons to induce that sweet, sweet nostalgia. This is one area that the series never seems to get wrong, and is nice to see the sound teams at Nintendo EPD and MercurySteam pulled it off. The moody atmosphere the music brings and unique sounds that fill the areas you are exploring, make up for some of the visuals dated feel.

Like other 2D Metroid games, the story is light with basic context inscribed at the start of the game. You are on a simple search and destroy mission: Find the weaponized Metroids and destroy them. Normally there is a bit of mystery to the Metroid games, and you never know what you will find but in this installment, everything is pretty much a known quantity which giving a somewhat unsatisfying feel. This also extends to the mutated Metroid mini bosses and how plentiful they are. As bosses normally act as a reveal or climax point in these games, the numerous encounters only serves to dilute the experience, which makes the story repetitive. Since this was a reimagining, I can understand the need to expand for the platform while keeping it similar to the original, but this had to be the laziest way of doing it and is the laziest thing I have see in a long while with a Nintendo stamp of approval.

Metroid: Samus Returns is a fairly competent game completely neutered by the device it’s locked to and lazy design choices. While enjoyable, the game is extremely short and repetitive for the $40 price tag, while feeling dated right out the box. By the time of its completion you will feel like a 14 year old boy who just discovered the internet. Quickly finishing with a hand cramp while closing out what you were looking at until you get that “itch” again.

Metroid: Samus Returns was reviewed on Nintendo 3DS using a review copy received from Nintendo. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.

The Verdict: 7.5

The Good:

  • Nice new mechanic additions to the series.
  • Fun and fast paced combat.
  • Great sound design.

The Bad:

  • Graphically dated on release.
  • Held back by hardware that gives you hand cramps.
  • Repetitive Mini Boss fights.
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