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The Metroid franchise is one that Nintendo doesn’t quite seem to understand. There is an incredible consistency of quality throughout the entire series, save for a small handful of games fans don’t want to talk about, but in terms of the mainline 2D series and the Prime trilogy, there’s a stellar presence that could honestly put Mario and Zelda to shame. Metroid is one of the black sheep franchises Nintendo has, and they have difficulty marketing each game with increasingly less than ideal sales since Prime 2, so they unfortunately have repeatedly had to put the franchise on the shelf for a while. Thankfully, in full force, Nintendo has a new Prime game on its way and now a new 2D entry to give the constantly salivating fanbase.
The first Metroid was released in the mid-eighties, and even if it is remembered fondly, it did not age well, so Nintendo decided to release a remake in 2004 (Metroid: Zero Mission) that contained the entire original game with modern-Metroid enhancements to put it more in line with the quality of the likes of 2D masterpieces Super Metroid and Metroid Fusion (also known as Metroid 3 and Metroid 4, respectfully). The original Metroid 2 was developed specifically for the original GameBoy, and is in itself considered the black sheep of the series due to its more limited design thanks to its hardware. While it was a unique game, it too aged very poorly, so Nintendo has finally released a definitive remake that puts Metroid 2 in the same ballpark as its other respective 2D entries.
When this game was first announced, I was excited, but incredibly cynical. I was beyond happy that after a long wait, this storied franchise was finally returning, but something seemed off. MercurySteam, the developers behind the Castlevania: Lords of Shadow games, were working with Nintendo to create it. Their previous two games, Lords of Shadow 2 and Mirror of Fate were met with mixed reception, and I was getting nervous that the sins that Other M hath wrought would be repeated due to outsourcing development once again to a third party. It is with the utmost joy that I can say that I have been proven wrong.
If you’ve played any of the 2D Metroid games, or any Metroidvania titles, the setup is incredibly familiar: travel a large open map, uncover secrets, and gain access to previously inaccessible areas by gaining new power-ups and abilities. Like the original Metroid 2, the plot of Samus Returns is to eradicate the Metroid threat entirely from planet SR-388. Metroid 2 got away with the exploration-based concept by cutting the player off from lower sections of the map by having them drain poisonous liquid the further down they get, and this remake takes that idea and improves upon it to reveal an even more expansive planet.
The thing that I love the most about this game is that it takes a relatively mediocre title that time has not been kind to, and turns it into a full-on classic that is very deserving of its namesake. There’s really not a lot I can complain about with Metroid: Samus Returns, because whenever I picked it up I would enter this zen of non-stop gameplay that would take the power of outside intervention to stop me. Many power-ups that fans are familiar with are missing, such as Shinespark and the Speed Booster, but for what is here, the entire game has been designed meticulously around Samus’ abilities and potential, as it should be. The Spider-Ball makes its long-awaited return to the 2D games here, and it is smartly implemented. Some other features introduced are 360 degree aiming, and the new melee attack, a timing-based context sensitive counter that, when pulled off at the right moment, will give the enemy knockback and Samus the chance to obliterate them quicker. The biggest addition to her repertoire are the Aeion abilities, four gameplay-altering powers that I will not spoil here, but are somewhat optional and assist in exploration and combat greatly. Overall, Samus controls like a dream, and the map and bosses are designed so well that navigation and control will be second nature by the time you’re nearing the game’s end.
You’re tasked with defeating 40 Metroids in Samus Returns, and depending on how much the game asks for you at what moment, you can’t drain the water levels on SR-388 until your genocidal work in each area is done. You’ll experience the full life-cycle of the Metroid species, and you will be quite spooked while you do it. I recommend playing this game with headphones on for the whole duration, or at least with sound on most of the time, as the dank, lonely atmosphere that YouTube essays praise this franchise so much for is most definitely prevalent here and at its best when hearing the music. It’s mostly familiar and remixed tunes, but it only aids in achieving the Alien-esque tone that this series has become so famous for capturing. Samus Returns is very nice-looking as well, with great art direction and a style that suits the 3DS platform well, and even a few breathtaking moments if you even care to have the 3D on for more than five seconds.
Flaws with the game are uncommon. The difficulty is fair, but hard mode is locked away until you finish the story the first time through. The only problem I seriously have with this game is its amiibo functionality, as some cool features and difficulty settings are hidden behind four Metroid amiibo that I can’t promise will be easily accessible to future generations when this system is considered “retro.” Get them now while you can, or borrow them from a friend. They are not exactly required or anything, as their content can be considered somewhat of a novelty, but if you care about seeing everything this game has to offer, it will cost you more than the standard forty dollar manufacturer's suggested retail price.
By the time you’re done with Metroid: Samus Returns, you’ll be greeted with the familiar endgame tagline, “See you next mission!” I sincerely hope that Samus’ next mission is not too far away, and I have full faith in MercurySteam and Nintendo’s partnership for any future 2D titles. This series will only survive if its sales numbers speak volumes, so even if you have somewhat of an interest in purchasing a copy—get one now. The game is more than worth every penny, and the world definitely needs more Metroid. It sits proudly alongside greats like The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds and Super Mario 3D Land as some of the Nintendo 3DS’s greatest entries to date.