Assuming you don’t count any Switch titles as exclusively handheld games — and the jury is still out on that one — then this is the sole appearance of a game on a handheld console this year. Given that the 3DS has mostly been supplanted by the Nintendo Switch and the PS Vita continues to barely exist outside of Japan, this might be the last hurrah for solid handheld exclusives for the rest of the console generation.
That said, it feels fitting to me that perhaps the final game on the 3DS to get this distinction is also a glorious return to form for a long absent series, as well as a solid reimagining of a classic game.
Delfies 2017 #9: Metroid: Samus Returns
Genre: 2D Action/Adventure/Platformer
Played on: 3DS (Exclusive)
It’s been a while, Samus. Good to see you again; I know many missed your games, and I’m definitely among them.
2016 was the 30th anniversary of the original Metroid, but it barely received even the slightest acknowledgement from Nintendo during this time. It had been six years since the last Metroid game, unless you count Federation Force (which nobody does), and it had been even longer than that since the last good Metroid game. For a long time, the fanbase of Metroid was distraught and felt that perhaps there’d not be a return of the armour clad bounty hunter heroine’s adventures.
Instead, it took the extremely well made fan game of Project AM2R (Another Metroid 2 Remake) to acknowledge the prestigious date of the anniversary. Boasting immense attention to detail and quality pushing it well beyond what fan games had ever seen before, Project AM2R was an instant success and massively adored by players. It was sad, then, that Nintendo culled the project barely a week after its release, ordering its total closure.
Fans were outraged, but it was nonetheless understandable and even somewhat expected. They were within their rights to do so. In the end, the game was on the internet now, so you could never truly get rid of AM2R, but it’s still a sore point. Many questioned just why Nintendo would torpedo a game that seemed to show the series more love and respect than they had in years.
Well, we got the answer to that later that year with the reveal of Metroid: Samus Returns for the 3DS. Created by the team responsible for the two Castlevania: Lords of Shadow titles and originally prototyped as a Metroid Fusion remake, this was Nintendo’s official answer to remastering their now dated Game Boy title.
I’ve spoken at length in the past before about comparisons between Samus Returns and AM2R, which you can find here. What’s important to note is that neither overrides the existence of the other and both have plenty of room to exist, being strong games in their own rights. If you’re a Metroid fan, you owe it to yourself to play both of them. The placement of this game on the list, then, should show you that Nintendo and MercurySteam returned to the series in triumph.
For those not on the know, the concept of Metroid games are as follows: You are Samus, the heavily armed and armoured bounty hunter. You’re dumped on a hostile alien world and told to deal with whatever kind of horrible nastiness lurks within, and then you do so. Along the way, you’ll find a selection of permanent additions to your arsenal which usually double as the means to progress through obstacles that blocked off previous areas. Combat is a big deal, but exploration is more so, and it’s what made the series stand out even to the modern day.
The last 2D Metroid game was Metroid: Zero Mission back on the GBA, and we’ve come a long way since then. Samus handles as swiftly as ever, but her moveset has been modernised dramatically. No longer are we confined to eight directional aiming, but now we can aim freely and rapidly in all directions. We can aim and fire while hanging from ledges, and Samus can now perform a melee strike to stun and counterattack foes.
With all these new additions to Samus’ arsenal, the gameplay and enemy encounters have been expanded far beyond what they were in just about any Metroid game. You’ll frequently be tasked with countering charging enemies and using the moments of vulnerability afterward to pull off armour plating. Weaknesses and target areas on flying creatures are often much smaller and require good aim to properly hit.
As noted above, however, combat is only one facet of a Metroid game to consider. The true test is exploration, which Samus Returns accomplishes nicely. While the overall shape and configuration of the map is almost identical to the original Game Boy version (with all the occasionally lackluster level design that entails), Samus’ new abilities allow for all sorts of creatively solved puzzles and challenges. There are chase sequences, Spider Ball puzzles, and a host of hidden upgrades to be found if you go off the beaten path and play smartly.
A welcome addition to Samus’ kit was the Scan Pulse, which reveals areas on the map in a radius around Samus as well as shows blocks that are breakable. Some of the most obtuse puzzles in Metroid history have emerged as a result of very subtle blocks that need to be struck with a specific weapon to break, so having a tool to point these out was heaven sent. People might argue that it would dumb down the game, but I found that wasn’t the case at all, since knowing where the blocks were still didn’t reveal what I needed to use to break them or how I’d follow up on it.
All of this combined means that Samus’ romp through this alien planet was more of an enjoyable and fluid experience than just about any time before.
Naturally, it isn’t without faults. The core mission of the original Metroid 2 was to find and destroy all Metroids on the entire planet. That holds true now, and while the fights are far more dynamic and fun than they’ve ever been, most of the complaints of the game emerge as a result of that notion. It might be entertaining to fight the Gamma Metroids, but you’ll end up doing so many times before the end of the game is reached. Even with a variety of spins on each encounter, repeating the same boss numerous times does get tedious.
Moreso, the nature of the game means that the free roaming exploration of Super Metroid and other series highlights isn’t present. You’re not able to simply dive into the planet and get completely lost very often. Instead you’re usually confined to set areas of SR-388, given a counter with the number of Metroids in the area, and then forced to search that segment until they’re all dispatched. The next area will then open up, and you repeat the process until the end of the game. There are other bosses throughout, but the core gameplay loop gets a little tedious by the end.
Still, the action rarely lets up except to give you a clever movement puzzle to bypass, and there are very few dull moments. Backtracking can be a bit of a chore, but it’s usually for optional upgrades and rarely forced. I picked the game up and played it all weekend until it was done, and I walked away satisfied.
The game also took decent steps to undo some of the damage to Metroid’s reputation that Other M left in its wake years ago. The strangely disconnected and oddly jarring delivery and presentation of Samus in that game is gone, and instead we have the professional and capable bounty hunter of old back.
Cutscenes are scattered throughout the game, and almost all of them see Samus capable and ready to take action against whatever threats we see. One particular moment of casually aiming her blaster behind her and firing at a beaten enemy that was struggling to stand was particularly endearing. Whenever we see Samus, we’re given plenty of insight and sense of her character and what she’s thinking despite her never saying a word.
All of this culminated at the very end of the game in the now iconic scene where Samus discovers the very last baby Metroid as it hatches, taking it with her. The scene and sequence that follows before the ending is entirely new to Samus Returns, but it’s a great one with a special final boss that I can only imagine was a labour of love on the part of MercurySteam. There’s even a few adjustments and a slight bonus to tie the game to the events of Metroid Fusion, which chronologically occur after these.
By the end, I was convinced that the developers were just as much a group of fans of Metroid as the team that made AM2R. Both are great games and excellent reimaginings of Metroid 2, and which you prefer is purely up to preference rather than quality. Still, only one of those came out in 2017, and that’s why Samus Returns gets the number 9 spot in the Delfies.
Metroid: Samus Returns is a solid action platformer for anyone interested, and a welcome return to the Metroid franchise after too long a hiatus. I sincerely hope Metroid Prime 4 matches the quality set here, as do any new Metroid games that follow.
…There will be more of them, right Nintendo? Please don’t make me wait that long again. Hell, give MercurySteam the chance to remake Metroid Fusion like they wanted, I’m sure it’d be awesome.