Metroid impresses

Josh Wood, [email protected]

After 10 years of waiting, nothing was more torturous than the minute-long cut scene of the staple red and orange spaceship descending onto the surface of planet SR-388. But when the hatch opened and Samus rose from the depths of her ship to one of the most recognizable choral jingles in gaming, the excitement, apprehension and sheer delight at the first true Metroid game since “Metroid Prime 3” was uncontrollable.

I was not disappointed.

At its core, the Metroid franchise follows a simple system and play style dubbed “Metroidvania.” Players are given control of a character with various items they must pick up to progress and unlock new areas. Acquiring all of these upgrades requires players to advance through various rooms, kill bosses and find hidden secrets. All of these events lead to a culminating boss battle with the big bad.

This isn’t a genre ripe with story or innovation by nature, and that’s what makes “Metroid: Samus Returns” one of the strongest installments in the metroidvania genre. “Samus Returns” sports one of the most innovative and dynamic systems of any Metroid game to date, and quite possibly the first worthy successor to what is widely regarded as the greatest installment in franchise history, “Super Metroid.”

Players become Samus Aran, an intergalactic bounty hunter known for her incredible efficiency, power and her storied history with the vile metroids, life forms that feed off the energy of other living creatures. “Samus Returns” follows a simple story told in the wake of Super Metroid, and serves as a remake of the GameBoy installment, Metroid II: Return of Samus.

Samus is called to planet SR-388, the home of the metroids, in an attempt to exterminate the universe’s most dangerous organism entirely. To progress, Samus must acquire the DNA of metroids by killing them, using alien artifacts to drain pools of acid and unlock the next environment on the planet.

This is ultimately where the similarities end. “Samus Returns” is immediately a far more superior game to its GameBoy counterpart — sporting incredible sprites, detail rich environments, and an incredible soundtrack. Gameplay feels fast, dangerous, and incredibly fluid, and even the simple animation of Samus entering a save point has attitude and style. In addition to this, level design has been taken to an entirely new high, sporting many complex room structures that force players to observe, learn, and take advantage of Samus’s many new abilities. Of these newfound skills, Samus gains a tool that she has deserved for over 30 years: A melee attack.

Samus now has the ability to swat enemies away with her arm blaster by tapping the X button, stunning them briefly and immediately following up with an empowered blast from her weapon. When this ability was first revealed in a Nintendo Direct, and at E3, I thought that it would make this game one of the easiest installments in Metroid history. I’ve never been more wrong about a game.

Enemies in “Samus Returns” are incredibly aggressive, often dive-bombing towards the bounty hunter from the edge of the screen. Even the easiest of enemies can drain an entire energy tank in 2-3 hits. The melee counter isn’t a safety net, it’s a survival tool, and mastery of its timing and use is vital to the player’s ability to progress with any degree of safety.

In addition to this, the metroids have begun to evolve, shedding their simplistic, jellyfish-like form for more complex and insect-like appearances. Until Samus retrieves a certain upgrade, countering their diving attacks is the only way of damaging these incredibly dangerous foes. Even as Samus gains the upgrades, her task to exterminate the metroids is continually made more difficult by new environments, new evolutions, and even elemental abilities from the metroids themselves. Each fight is different from the last, providing enough variety to keep the player interested, while allowing the player to become more comfortable in the fight.

Several old bosses return as well, bringing references to classic installments into the series, while still presenting a new challenge for experienced players.

“Samus Returns” is one of the best installments in Metroid history, and the franchise’s triumphant return leaves new hope for one of the most favored characters Nintendo has ever made. With something for new players, and veteran hunters, Samus returns with a well deserved 9/10.