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CONSOLE: Nintendo 3DS DEVELOPER: MercurySteam PUBLISHER: Nintendo
RELEASE DATE (NA): September 15, 2017 GENRE: Action-Adventure
// review by SoyBomb

And Aran... Aran so far away...

I first popped in Metroid II: Return of Samus for the Game Boy a couple of years ago. I wanted to like it, I really did. The concept itself of having heroic figure Samus Aran visit the homeland of the Metroids, SR388, and destroy the species once and for all seemed like an exciting task to undertake. Unfortunately, the game itself turned out to be a bomb to me. It followed the same format as the original Metroid on NES, focusing on exploration and opening new areas after gaining new abilities. But with a purely grayscale palette, Metroid II suffered from having every area look far too similar to be recognizable from any other, making the journey far more tedious and confusing than it should be. Combined with a lack of a sorely-needed map (introduced in Super Metroid) or any indication of where to go next, and the sheer size of the explorable region, this one felt like an utter slog every time I picked it up to try and progress. I ended up dropping the game altogether, and I never gave it another thought.

During E3 2017, in a surprise move, Nintendo announced Metroid: Samus Returns, a remake of Metroid II, for the 3DS, alongside Metroid Prime 4 for the Switch as a bold push for the series that had been falling somewhat out of favour. And frankly, if there was a Metroid game in need of a facelift (or complete reconstruction), it was Metroid II. And it is a solid improvement. I saw this game to its conclusion, and I am far more satisfied with the result than I ever could have been with Metroid II. That's not to say it's a perfect reimagining, but this is definitely the right direction to take when revisiting an older game.

The storyline remains the same. There isn't much as far as storytelling throughout the game, aside from the occasional non-vocal, non-subtitled cutscene, typically showing Samus encountering something new and notable. The focus is purely on the action with relatively little downtime, save for the occasional over-emphasized elevator ride.

And there's plenty of action to see. Samus' prime directive is to hunt down and destroy all the Metroids on SR388, and a tally at the bottom lets you know how many remain. Each one feels like a boss battle in and of itself, which is good, considering you can count the number of non-Metroid boss battles on one hand and still have fingers left over for hanging onion rings. What boss battles ARE there, however, are heart-palpitating, hardcore showdowns, with high difficulty and multiple phases. They're rewarding when finished but infuriating when you take repeated defeat.

The focus is also on exploration, and as expected, there are numerous secrets found all over the place. You never know when you'll come across a missile upgrade or extra energy tank (you'll be forever grateful for the latter). As well, all the now-standard Samus upgrades are eventually made available: the Morph Ball, the Varia Suit (which was introduced in Metroid II), the Space Jump... all those good things. Metroid II also brought us the Spider Ball ability for climbing walls, which is definitely kept and used liberally in Samus Returns.

Dark, dingy, and doughty.

But Samus Returns introduces a few new features to make your journey even more tolerable. First and foremost is the inclusion of Aeion abilities. Once you gain the capability to harness the power of Aeion, a gauge will appear that can be expanded with upgrades. You'll start with one ability: the Scan Pulse, allowing Samus to scan her immediate surroundings looking for breakable blocks and other secrets. As the game progresses, new abilities will be added to her arsenal: Lightning Armor to absorb damage; Beam Burst to increase attack power and rapid-fire your way to victory; and the Phase Drift, to slow down time for everything except yourself. Each of these powers is used fairly effectively throughout the mission, which none of them feeling like just being there with the purpose of being there.

Samus also has a few new functions, both good and bad. Good is the ability to freely aim her beam by holding down the L button, helping your accuracy for sure. Bad is the melee counterattack where, after an enemy flashes and lunges at you, Samus can give the enemy a good whack and deal serious damage. If you miss your very brief window (which is even worse during boss battles), you just end up getting smacked and taking damage. In the end, this just slows down your exploring, as you end up pausing to wait for a key counterattack moment from each enemy, rather than just blasting them regularly. When multiple enemies attack you at slightly different times, you won't have enough time to counteract both, resulting in taking undue damage that could've been avoided by plain shooting. Melee counterattacks should've been left on the drawing board.

Another of my peeves with Samus Returns is the control scheme. Despite having many more buttons at your disposal than on the dusty Game Boy, sometimes the game feels like you have to perform extreme finger yoga to pull off the moves necessary to survive. For example, firing a single missile in a specific direction requires use of the Circle Pad, L, R, and B buttons all at once. In a leisurely stroll through a new or familiar area, it's a mild nuisance. During a boss battle, it can be nightmarish. I found, on many occasions, that I ended up taking damage because, in the heat of the moment, my fingers/brain were not in kahoots when it came to actually taking the right action quickly. Maybe I'm just a brain-dead oaf, or maybe the controls could've been more streamlined... or maybe Samus just has too many functions?

I will say this (as I should): Metroid: Samus Returns is a very nice-looking game. Having the 3D slider effect on makes this game rather engrossing and breathes life into the gooey environs of SR388. That being said, I played mostly in 2D, simply out of personal preference, but even so, Samus Returns looks great for a 3DS title. Every area has a somber atmosphere, yet you'll want to invest more time in investigating further. As well, the overall character and enemy design is on point with especially detailed bosses and Metroid models. Likewise, the audio has also been well-done, reinforcing the ominous surroundings of SR388.

Overall, Metroid: Samus Returns is the adventure that Metroid II wishes it had been. The game suffers from a few flaws, but that should not deter you from revisiting this chapter of Samus' story. It's far more digestible and satisfying than Metroid II ever was, with far more variety and excitement to keep you motivated to return and finish the mission.

Plus, there's a map. Thank you, Nintendo.

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