When I popped Metroid Samus Returns into the little hidey hole slot on the underside of my 2DS XL, it being the first Metroid game I had played in a good while and having been a fan of past entries, I was understandably excited to play. It was also my first time playing this entry, having never played the original on the Game Boy, Metroid II: Return of Samus. Little did I know at the time that my latest adventure as the Space Pirate defeating, arm cannon wielding bounty hunter would end in disappointment.
The game loaded up and I’m treated to a bit of backstory about Samus and her defeat of Mother Brain, which serves as a reminder of the original game or its remake, Metroid Zero Mission for the Game Boy Advance, depending on which you’re familiar with. The story then leads on to explain about how the Space Pirates are once again planning an attempt to use the destructive power of Metroids to be an unstoppable force in the galaxy, so the Galactic Federation need Samus Aran and all her bounty hunter skills to go and wipe out all Metroids before anything bad can come from their existence.
Metroid Samus Returns is done in a 2.5D style and for the most part it serves it well, particularly during the cinematic sections of the game. My personal favourite bits were if you countered a boss enemy’s attack, Samus would show off just how much of a bad ass she is with her athletics and then proceed to blast her foes up close. When the game zooms in close however, that’s when you start to notice that it’s not as well polished as it appears on the surface, with Samus herself looking particularly rough and jagged. I felt as though the game might have benefited more if it were made in a 2D style, although I realise that would have made the cinematics possibly more time consuming to make and maybe a bit harder to pull off as well as they’re done in the current style.
Starting the game and all seems well, I press all the buttons to find out what each of them does, testing the waters, before running off to the right to begin my Metroid hunting. Blasting my way through the smaller fodder who serve as obstacles to my real objective, I begin to notice one glaring issue with the controls and it’s the same one many of you will also come across if you’re at all familiar with playing handheld consoles. If you’re like me and you have large hands, you’ll no doubt find the buttons to be too squashed in together and it can lead to some serious hand cramping. This made the game take longer to finish than I normally take with a game of this type because I had to keep stopping to give my hands a rest, something I don’t need to do when it comes to playing a game with a controller.
Typically I don’t notice any major hand cramping playing a DS since I usually play something like Pokemon on it, which isn’t at all fast paced, Metroid on the other hand requires you to be quick with the controls to maximise your skills with dodging and attacking. Even with a 2DS XL, everything is still too small, something I was disappointed to discover when I got one, having bought it only for its larger size. It’s true that there’s a very noticeable difference in the size of the screens but the systems themselves are closer in size than you might expect.
You’ll probably find that when you first start the game, the enemies will pose a reasonable challenge, nothing too hard that you can’t overcome but as you progress through the game and get used to the controls and enemy patterns it becomes incredibly easy. Most of the time when I took damage from one of the game’s regular enemies it was because they were somewhere off screen that I couldn’t see and happened to land on them. Even that occurred less as I got the weapon upgrade to allow my shots to travel through walls and further became less of an issue as I got the upgrade to allow my shots to penetrate multiple enemies at once. The most difficult part of the game for me was a small chase sequence about half way through, made difficult only by the fiddly controls of the DS and my massive lumbering meat hunks.
The worst thing about the game was that I found it to be repetitive and boring. When you come across your first Metroid, it’s exciting and you’re ready for the challenge to begin and indeed it does for a time, until you learn the pattern. When you conquer that Metroid and see the tracker at the bottom go down by one, you’re ready for the next one and so you go and hunt it down, only to encounter the exact same type of enemy you just defeated. This happens far too often, the Metroids are all the same, sure after a while you see one take on a different form and the game becomes mildly exciting again as you’re presented with a new challenge to overcome, until you realise that they’ve just replaced the previous one largely with this one while still having to fight a few of the last type.
Each time the Metroids change shape you have to fight a number of them but each variation has the exact same set of tactics, the only major changes are that now you sometimes fight them with hazards in the room, or you’ll get the upper hand so the Metroid will scuttle off back and forth between different rooms and you’ll have to chase them. The pattern for each variation is the same so it means once you’ve figured out their attacks and what you need to do to trigger the attack that you can counter, the fights can sometimes literally last less than 30 seconds. The most difficult thing about fighting them is the amount of damage they can inflict upon you, but if you’re good at following their patterns and avoiding their attacks you won’t even break a sweat.
Even the map design was repetitive in its own way. Each area requires you to defeat a set number of Metroids to lower the purple water level and proceed to the next floor, only one time did I find any deviation from this, when it moved the purple water to a different portion of the area and you had to defeat yet more Metroids to lower it properly. I even found very little use for backtracking, I would find as much as I needed always moving forward, it seemed like the only reason you’d want to backtrack would be if you were a completionist or needed some extra energy tanks and missiles.
The one time I did backtrack was the only time I noticed the defensive benefits of all the upgrades I’d found so far, but I wasn’t able to explore completely because there was still equipment I needed to access some places, some of which you don’t acquire until the very end. This to me meant that you should only backtrack at the end and only if you were struggling with the final boss and would benefit from finding more energy tanks. The missiles however didn’t seem to have an effect so I couldn’t even use all I’d collected to that point on the final boss, I never attempted to use the bombs though, as the boss took off quite a large amount of health and seeing as how I doubted I’d be quick enough to get away with using them unscathed, attempting to use them would have surely resulted in failure.
The one thing I can wholly praise the game for is it’s use of a map system. It has the ability to show you where hidden items are lurking and it can help you along the way, showing places you have yet to visit. If you’re the eagle eyed type of person, it won’t take you long to notice that where there isn’t a border to in a fully revealed room, there is likely an item tucked away there.
The game does have amiibo functionality, though I was unable to test it since I don’t own any of the Metroid related amiibos.
While Metroid Samus Returns isn’t really a bad game, it controls well enough if you don’t might the tight squashed in layout of a handheld system and graphically speaking there isn’t anything to complain about, it can actually look very nice at some points. What does ruin the experience for me is what feels like a lack of imagination, the whole game feels like rinse and repeat. Towards the end it feels like it’s rushing you along, giving several big upgrades in what feels like all at once. It even piles a bunch on regular Metroids on you in just a few rooms, I get that it may be representing that you’re close to where they’re coming from, but I felt that it would have been better to spread them out throughout the game world since you can’t simply plough through them like typical enemies. They are easy to defeat though, once you know how.
Overall I would say if you don’t mind the repetitive gameplay or are a Metroid fan, then you might want to consider adding this one to your 3DS library but if not, you might be better leaving it on the shelf and picking something else.