Metroid, named after the fact that the player kills a Metroid at least once per game, has never been more true to its name; you must kill the final 40 Metroids in existence in Metroid: Samus Returns. It’s literally the genocide of an alien race, but that’s okay, let’s rate the game E10+. Isn’t sci-fi wonderful?
This 40-boss goal is established after the first ten minutes. As soon as you’re finished with the first tutorial-like area, a huge, ancient Chozo clock tells you how many Metroids are in the area, because apparently, the entire universe wanted these assholes dead since day one. You can always go back to these clocks to unlock the next area or to check where the next Metroid is located, which is great, as this game repeats this shtick seven times. This wouldn’t be that bad, unless the 40 Boss Metroids are the same boss battle over and over and over again. I’m not sure just how faithful this game is to its predecessors, yet when I was playing this remake of the worst Metroid game, it really did feel like I was playing a remake of the worst Metroid game. There are some great boss battles as well as a secret boss (it’s Ridley, I know, WILD) but they’re all at the end; why should I wait 8+ hours for the game to get good?
Ignoring the repetition and boring premise, the gameplay itself is great, a mix of traditional Metroid and pseudo-Prime. While I prefer the use of the normal D-pad, the forced use of the circle pad is ultimately super responsive. It’s easier than ever to control Samus, with precise aiming controls that allow you to hit enemies from any position on the screen. It sucks that you have to stand still while shooting this way instead of Metroid’s traditional run-and-gun, yet it provides more options than ever before. Additional to the accurate shooting mechanic is a melee counter, disorienting foes when they make certain attacks, yet the more you counter foes, the more time you waste waiting for them to attack. This transforms the run-and-gun to just a run, trying to avoid constantly respawning enemies in an attempt to save time. Combined with the fact that enemies do a crap-ton of damage and you get little to no health upgrades, fighting enemies, the staple of the series, is no longer fun.
Speaking of new mechanics, Samus grabs ledges just like she did in Zero Mission, but this time from the very beginning. Grabbing, combined with the Spider Ball, creates the smoothest and most dynamic usage of the Morphball to date. You can Spider Ball anywhere other than weird, honey-covered walls, and navigating new areas with this power-up is a joy.
That said, the map is utterly gigantic, which doesn’t seem like much of a problem, but other than taking up your time from reaching the objective it doesn’t serve much of a functional purpose. Thank god for teleportation statues, because it would be impossible to complete the game otherwise. You need every upgrade in an area to kill the Metroids in said area, yet you are only told where the Metroid is; hidden upgrades can impede your progress for hours, hidden in a single space of gigantic maps. Additionally, there are little to no power-ups scattered throughout, only recharge stations, and even when there are some it’s nearly always a missile capacity upgrade. There is no reward for discovery; where the hell are the energy tanks?
Aeon abilities attempt to counter the struggles of this game, offering four new abilities: map awareness, lightning armor, rapid fire, and time stop. Aeon doesn’t really change anything, but it provides some much-needed help. The focus of this game seems to be its puzzles rather than fighting Metroids, because that’s where you really apply what you’ve learned and the power-ups you’ve gained.
The music, atmosphere, and graphics are all Metroid Prime-inspired. The graphics are really awesome in 3-D, but I’d like to keep my already-bad eyesight, so no thank you. Norfair remixes are cool, but it’s pretty generic otherwise.
This is all coming from a guy who loves Fusion, a game with a beautiful, defined pixel art style, a wide variety of enemies and bosses new and old, and a small map filled to the brim with secrets. You are constantly told where to go, which might make the game linear, yet it gives you a defined direction while providing you with constant, unexpected surprises and new secrets as you backtrack. The story might drag on, but the atmosphere is handled perfectly, I remember feeling intense fear of the SA-X. Comparatively, the giant robot feels unfair and randomly placed in.
Why mention Fusion? They do a Back to the Future, Part 2 cliffhanger telling you to buy their next remake, Metroid Fusion. If it’s anything like this, I’m not excited for it. Metroid: Samus Returns is literally the return of Samus to her own franchise. If the community wasn’t starved of a Metroid game for so long, people would be harsher on this game (kind of like I am, oops). I am going to continue to support this series, but this was a disappointment after seven years of absence. I’d like to play another Metroid game with a balance between exploration and fighting bosses, but I believe if they could make this game at least playable, they can further improve other Metroid games. She’s not better than ever, but at least Samus is back.