Format Reviewed: 3DS
Provided By: Purchase by Reviewer
Metroid II: Samus Returns was a product hampered by the limited technology of the Game Boy. It was small, clunky, and lacked the freedom that made Metroid famous. Over 20 years later, Metroid: Samus Returns takes the original’s flaws makes them its greatest strengths. Instead of creating a more traditional Metroid experience, Nintendo created a fast-paced 2D action game.
This focus on action comes at the cost of a strong atmosphere. That feeling of uneasiness when you explore an alien world is simply not present in Samus Returns as the pacing is too fast for you to fully immerse yourself in the world. It prefers to string you along from one Metroid encounter to the next, leaving only the occasional quiet moment.
Samus has gained a few abilities that complement Samus Returns’s emphasis on action. You can now find hidden items with a touch of a button, or take more damage with lightning armor. The most important ability Samus now has is her counter attack. However, the counter attack creates unneeded repetition and stagnates combat.
And this leads to the biggest problem in Metroid: Samus Returns; the first half of the game is boring. This is mainly due to an awkward beginning difficulty, where combat is easy enough to be forgettable, but hard enough to discourage experimentation. This makes every encounter overly similar and you will become tired of the constant countering. With exploration sidelined for action, the game becomes dull very quickly.
The early game boss fights exaggerate these combat flaws, as the best way to kill them is through countering. Each Alpha and Beta Metroid fight revolves around dodging their telegraphed attacks and countering their strikes. They are not only easy, but are monotonous and boring.
When the action does ramp up, the controls get in the way of the fun. Most actions outside of direct movement are unnecessarily convoluted and awkward. The most egregious of these issues is switching beams, which when relegated to the touch screen, stops the flow of combat entirely. These controls would have been fine for a more traditional Metroid game, but Samus Returns focus on action makes these controls unacceptable. They are simply too clunky for a 2D action game.
Luckily, the second half of Samus Returns is fantastic and fixes nearly all the issues present in the first half. Samus becomes powerful enough where the counter is unneeded for most enemies. Running and gunning through the world becomes exhilarating as you dodge enemies and obliterate them. Enemies can still hurt, but you don’t have to slowly wait for an opening to strike. The gameplay matches the power fantasy the rest of the game sets out to achieve.
The control issues that plagued the beginning half are mitigated as you rely primarily on one beam and the space jump. Awkward platforming and grappling are forgotten as you weave through enemies with the space jump. It can still be uncomfortable, but you are capable of compensating those issues with your abilities.
And your abilities will be tested with these late game boss fights. Metroids are finally the threat they deserve with each fight becoming intense and challenging. Zeta Metroids have you dodging projectiles as you try to create an opening to strike, while Omega Metroids have you weaving through a variety of attacks. Counters are still effective, but they are more of a rare bonus than the default strategy.
While the late game Metroids are great, the non-Metroid boss fights are the best parts of the game. Each fight has multiple stages and require nearly all of Samus’s abilities. These battles feel like an actual test in player skill instead tests of patience. They are difficult, but they are extremely rewarding.
Samus Returns is a game of highs and lows. Its first half failed to engage me, but its second half was amazing. It does not play like a traditional Metroid game, as it is focused almost solely on action. Like the original Metroid II, Samus Returns is flawed, but worth it in the end.