Developer: MercurySteam – Publisher: Nintendo – Platform: Nintendo 3DS – Release Date: September 15

At A Glance

Another Metroid II remake–officially this time. 

Upon Further Inspection

Basically, what Metroid: Zero Mission was the first Metroid game: a modern re-imagining bolstered by new tweaks.

What’s The Story?

Hunt dozens of Metroids across an exotic alien planet as the galaxy’s most famous bounty hunter. Metroid has always been about sparse storytelling and that doesn’t change here. Cutscenes enhance the established narrative, plus cool twists that didn’t occur in the original game add a nice bit of unpredictability. 

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How Does It Look?

Though I initially felt iffy about the polygonal look, I grew to appreciate the updated visuals. Nicely detailed backdrops and smooth animations enhance make for an attractive presentation. Each main area sports a distinct appearance and, unlike the original Metroid II, I can tell exactly where I am!

How Does It Sound?

The ambient Metroid soundtrack creates that signature atmosphere of mystery and isolation. Plus it’s plain delightful to listen to. 

How Fun Is It?

Samus Returns pulls the inherent fun of Metroid II from beneath the weight of its poorly-aged presentation. MercurySteam cleans up the weaker elements while injecting smart, original ideas to create an experience that feels closer to brand new entry than a remake.

The original design remains the same: Samus must locate and eliminate Metroids scattered across a labyrinthine alien landscape. Hunting down the iconic foes remains an engrossing endeavor, made better by the supplementary Aeion abilities that add neat wrinkles to gameplay. The Scan Pulse stands as the most useful of these, as it highlights hidden nooks and pathways. Some purists might turn their nose up to that advantage; I found using it alleviates the headaches that arise when players, literally, hit a wall. Scan Pulse keeps things moving forward, letting players get to the good stuff quicker instead of stressing over which wall pixel they haven’t bombed yet. But those who prefer the classic experience can simply ignore it.

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Other cool Aeion powers include super-charged attacks and a time-slowing mechanic, their usage dictated by a meter. Samus’ new tricks are skillfully incorporated into the old level design with clever environmental puzzles that put them to good use. Metroid II is the most exploration-focused of the series, so its great to have even more interesting ways to get around. Not to mention that uncovering well-hidden upgrades to expand Samus’ capabilities still feels supremely rewarding. 

A melee counterattack shakes things up further. Performed like a parry, timing a button press before physical attacks hit Samus stuns the enemy, leaving it briefly vulnerable. I worried that this maneuver would adversely disrupt the run-and-gun flow but it feels great and fits within the series’ framework surprisingly well, especially during boss battles. Along with the Aeion powers, I’d love to see this move appear in future installments. 

Metroids are fun to take down and rarely grow dull thanks to the various forms they take (a feature of the original game as well). The large-scale boss encounters can be genuinely challenging, testing players’ skills in all of the best ways.

Despite being a remake, Samus Returns comes retrofitted with several post-Metroid II staples, such as the Grapple Beam and Super Bombs. That works for me; it simply wouldn’t feel right to play a modern Metroid release without that classic arsenal. Smart quality of life improvements like being able to place location markers on the map make for a friendlier experience. Throw in more acrobatic platforming and the freedom to fire in all directions, and the game largely plays like a dream. I say” largely” because using the circle pad to control Samus can feel slightly off at times, particularly when entering Morph Ball mode.

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The Verdict

Metroid: Samus Returns ranks among the best remakes I’ve ever played and the series’ strongest handheld outing since Metroid Fusion. Everything about Metroid II has been reworked or expanded in wonderful ways, accentuating that game’s solid foundation without the Game Boy’s hardware limitations. It’s an absolute blast and demonstrates Samus very much holds her own in an era where similar games have challenged her position. 

If you’ve played Metroid II and liked it, this is a no-brainer. If you’ve played Metroid II hated it due to technical reasons, this fixes everything and then some. And if you’re a newcomer to the franchise, Samus Returns offers a prime example of why the series has endured for so long, and why it’s among the most emulated franchises in gaming. 

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