Samus Returns impressions

Like many fans of the Game Boy Advance’s Metroid: Zero Mission, I was all-in for following it up with a much-needed remake of Metroid II: The Return of Samus. Unfortunately, Nintendo never did get around to it.

So, years later, I absolutely LOVED Another Metroid 2 Remake, which in many ways was the game we never got. It upped the visuals to be similar to Zero Mission, added the map system, and brought Samus’s arsenal up to Super Metroid standards, along with some new room puzzles to make use of them.

But it wasn’ perfect; by otherwise sticking so closely to the original design of the map (with the exception of adding new shortcuts, avoiding “impossible” overlaps, and added an extra Metroid city), it really hurt the interconnectedness of areas typical of a Metroidvania and made backtracking for 100% items a major chore.

(Samus Returns, unfortunately, suffers the same problem despite the majority of the map being entirely new.)

So, as is the wont of fan games of certain company’s IP, AM2R went down shortly after it went up. But unlike so many others, Nintendo was actually working on their own version of the banned game.

Fast forward to now. A real, honest-to-goodness Metroid II remake in my hands. The first new proper Metroid game in ages. (When Metroid gets a new game every year like Kirby does, THEN side-games and experiments the like of Federation Force would be perfectly OK). But does it have a place for somebody who already satisfied the itch with AM2R?

Once you’re past the introduction and into the game proper, a LOT of the differences come at you fast.

The game looks gorgeous in polygons, and there’s no 2½-D nonsense here with twisty paths. However, the camera will zoom in and out for effect sometimes. The camera also really, really wants to keep the Metroid on the screen anytime you’re fighting one.

The original music has been lovingly remixed into atmospheric versions. While I miss hearing the grand fanfare that played every time Samus was trudging through SR 388’s highway to all the metroid cities, what we got in its place is also great. That being said, every time you go into a high-temperature room, the music jumps to the foreground with a straight-up copy of the Magmoor Caverns theme. While it might be intentionally jarring, there was really no need for that contrast once the Varia suit removed the danger.

Finally, the controls are (naturally) quite different than those in the original Game Boy version. The D-pad has been reassigned to toggling some new abilities, so movement is done with the circle pad. And it’s very, very slippery. It will take a lot of practice and a lot of error to move with the precision necessary for many sections. While Super Smash Bros. for 3DS was famous for causing circle pads to rip right off the system, I think Samus Returns is going to be what really does mine in.

Samus also gains a melee attack designed to counter an enemy that charges at you. Which means that now ALL enemies charge at you (even Metroids, though the melee counter won’t work on them). This would have been better used as a new option to mix up combat rather than a requirement for damn near every enemy you encounter.

One place in which the controls improved is the MUCH more forgiving timing of the infinite bomb jump. Though all the places I found it would be logical to use it to sequence break, it turned out to be unnecessary or brought me face-to-face with a second, genuinely impassable obstacle.

Once you get rolling, you quickly gain an appreciation of just how much changed in Samus Returns. While you’ll run by some familiar landmarks from time to time, the majority of the map is all new, with each area at least twice the size of the original.

Other than making for a longer game, this also allows space to put all the new equipment and plenty of chances to put it to use. The game has a ton of wonderful and novel uses for the grapple beam. There’s also so much more room for extra missile tanks that they now increase your missiles by 3 rather than 10.

While this means that exploration is no longer entirely reliant on the Spider Ball and Space Jump, there is a clumsy dark side. All of the zones now have all sorts of goodies locked behind barriers requiring new weapons or abilities to access. Whereas in the games since Super Metroid, these barriers would allow new ways to trim valuable time of backtracking or provide a path forward to the next objective. But in Metroid II, progress is determined only by being able to kill enough Metroids to open the next area. So the only things that can be hidden in past areas are spare energy/aeon/missile/super missile/smart bomb tanks.

Owing to the original game’s limiting design, Mercury Steam installed a bunch of teleport stations throughout SR 388’s undergound. While they’re relatively close to where you need to go once you collect new gear, it’s a grating reminder that Metroid II was made long before the proper design sensibilities of the Metroidvania genre had been established, and it hurts the feeling of empowerment. I expect speedrunners to not do any of this backtracking at all so long as there’s enough missiles on the regular path to kill the strongest bosses.

It’s worth noting that the original Metroid II didn’t require backtracking to collect items impossible to get without ear from a later area. Had Mercury Steam aped that part of the design, no teleporting would ever have been necessary.

There’s a noticeable tendency for the Metroidvania genre’s fans in general (and Metroid fans in particular) demand casual perfection for these games. They might have issue with Samus Returns being a good-enough remake of an imperfect game. But — I must emphasise this — so was AM2R. I fully expect Samus Returns to be overly bashed as much as AM2R was overly praised. Standing on their own merits, they’re both pretty good.

And “pretty good” is damn important for Mercury Steam, as I was very, very worried when I heard that Metroid was in the hands of the makers of the wretched Castlevania: Lords of Shadow: Mirror of Fate. A Metroid-skinned version of that game would have fallen pitifully short of even the original Metroid.

But Samus Returns turned out alright. Perhaps without the shackles of Metroid II’s less refined map design, Mercury Steam can really show what they’ve learned for Samus Forever and Samus and Robin. Though I believe their next assignment is going to be the Metroid Fusion remake they wanted to do in the first place.


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