Like many, I was astounded at last year’s Nintendo E3 direct which prominently displayed the slightest tease of Metroid Prime 4 in the form of a logo. For the longest time we had all but given up hope of ever seeing a new entry in this franchise ever again, so it was nice when Nintendo took this one step further by later revealing yet another Metroid game, this time in the form of a Metroid II remake which once again returned to the traditional 2D side-scrolling format so preciously loved amongst many.
That game turned out to be none other than Metroid: Samus Returns, the first ever Western developed 2D Metroid game, sought to be a rollicking return to form for a franchise previously considered dead and buried. Overall developers MecurySteam did an amazing job retooling the forgotten Metroid II for a whole new generation on the 3DS, but in many ways, this acts as a fairly large factor that holds the game back from achieving greatness. You see, for as infinitely the art-style, gameplay, and “narrative” has been improved, the premise is far from gripping.
Following the defeat of Ridley on planet Zebes, as the fabled bounty hunter Samus Aran you are tasked with returning to SR388, the home planet of the parasitic metroids in order to eradicate 40 of the little blighters. In theory, this stripped-back approach acts as the perfect foundation in which to let yourself run wild and set your own pace on your mission to destroy everything in sight. In actual fact however, the premise means facing off against overly familiar bosses and enemies throughout the game, rendering the act of hunting them down and killing them quite tedious by the end.
MecurySteam’s hands were tied right from the off in this sense, and although such a simple yet ambiguous context helps add to planet SR388’s overall atmosphere, from a gameplay point of view it’s lacking. Subtle additions and extra features like Samus having the ability to shoot anywhere in a 360° angle, the various aeon abilities, and the power to teleport at various points in the map are handy, but these can only distract for a while.
An easy way to combat this would be to create an entirely new game, rather than a semi-remake/retelling of an established entry in the Metroid series, especially one that’s so unmemorable amongst most fans. For many Super Metroid represents the pinnacle of 2D side-scrolling Metroidvanias in their purest form, and sadly Samus Returns will never be considered as anything other than lesser than. Fusion couldn’t do it, Zero Mission had nostalgia on its side, and the Prime series is a totally different behemoth entirely.
That’s not to say that there’s plenty of enjoyment to be had in Metroid: Samus Returns. It perfectly scratches that itch gamers have been hankering for for so long, it’s just a shame that the experience is so limited by what came before.