What I’m Playing, part 21

Metroid: Samus Returns

It’s been a ridiculously long time since I’ve played a Metroid game.  When I heard that we were going to get the opportunity to revisit Samus’ outing to planet SR-388 from Metroid 2: Return of Samus I was giddy with excitement; I was a kid again.  I remember the original from back in the day, though with some mixed emotions.  I remember the overwhelming sense of accomplishment I had when I finished the original.  I remember the eerie chip tunes from some of the areas of the game and how they haunted me at night.  I also remember writing to Nintendo Power magazine asking for help back in the day and not getting a response from the game counselors until a full year later when I received a manila envelope in the mail with hand drawn maps of every single cave in the game along with locations of all the power-ups!  Sadly, those maps have long since been lost along the way.  In a way, the original was a type of horror game for me because of the overwhelming sense of isolation I had exploring the deathly quiet interior of SR-388.  I had hopes that this go round would be just as memorable and satisfying as the original, and in some ways it has been and in others it has not.

The Good Stuff

I went into this game thinking that it was just going to be something like an HD remake of the original, but I was treated with something that in some ways is better and some ways is worse.

This time around, you’re still all by yourself on SR-388, but where as before the atmosphere was desolate and oppressive, this time around the entire place feels like it’s alive.  The backgrounds are lush with action and impressive, immersive set pieces with alien creatures, insects, flowing water and lava and enticing ruins to be explored.

The main antagonists, the Metroids themselves, have been given a rather impressive graphical update and aren’t as much of a pushover as they once were.

The music in the fiery lava rooms is a nice homage to the music of Norfair from Super Metroid updated with a modern touch.

The user interface is also rather easy to navigate and having the area map on the lower screen of the 3DS is a god send.  Being able to put pins in the map is also very useful (but it would have been nice to be told I had this ability 15 gameplay hours ago instead of just discovering it by accident a minute ago)

The DNA collection statues are a nice touch and a nice way of showing you where your next target lies.  But it would be great if you could get a hint without having to possess Metroid DNA first.

The tried-and-true 3 phase boss battle formula used here is mostly a pleasure to figure out new strategies on how to defeat the game’s toughest enemies with one glaring exception.

The surprise Ridley battle at the end when making your way back to the ship was also a nice homage to Super Metroid but it ultimately feels tacked on and just an excuse to cruise around SR-388 with your newly acquired Metroid baby gathering the rest of the collectibles you couldn’t get to before.

The Not Good Stuff

While the controls are responsive with what feels like no input lag what so ever, it’s rather uncomfortable to hold the 3DS when you’re trying to precision shoot missiles or use the laser target with your regular gun.  It’s also very annoying that this time around the Spider Ball isn’t a toggle like it was in the original, now you have to hold the left bumper to use the ability.  Also thanks to poor game design choices, I’ve come out of Morph Ball form when I didn’t mean to more times than I care to count.

Samus’ Grapple Beam feels like an afterthought and is used maybe a handful of times and even then it’s only to solve one of the game’s very few puzzles, which I find a little disappointing and a waste of my time.

After a grueling boss battle that took way too many attempts, I finally got the stupid fucking power bombs. I feel like it took way too long to get them (you don’t get them until area 5 in the game) and the boss battle you had to complete to get them was overly difficult and now that I do have them, instead of backtracking all the way to the starting area for the third time and driving myself crazy I decided to press on to the end. I felt it was poetic justice watching Samus shoot that damn robot in the eye with a charged plasma beam shot. Oh, and I thought getting the power bombs would allow me to clear out the little diamond clusters I’ve seen all over the game.  Nope.  After trying this it dawned on me what I’ll need to clear them: the Metroid baby.  At the end of the original version, after killing the mother you were followed by the Metroid baby which ate the diamonds in your path on the way back to your ship.  I’m so over this game!

Upon reaching the end area of the game, the developers straight up copied the original game by making you fight 10 regular Metroids (surprise!) before fighting the mother, which was another needlessly difficult boss battle.

The counter attack ability, while novel, I feel is ultimately useless.  While I did use it in situations I was forced to (i.e. the early parts of the game) but once I became overpowered to the point I could just plasma beam or missile everything to death I never used it again.

The game is very, very stingy with Super Missiles and Power Bombs after you gain the ability to carry them.

The implementation of a fast travel system is nice, but ultimately doesn’t do much to alleviate the amount of backtracking that the series is known for.

If you’re going to copy things from Super Metroid, you could have given me the Super Speed ability instead of that sorry excuse Phase Drift ability.

Final Verdict

In the first few hours of game play, Metroid: Samus Returns definitely scratched the Metroid itch I’d been having for a while.  It was nice coming back to SR-388 and reminiscing with my childhood, albeit through typical rose colored glasses, but I feel now that I’m up to the 15-ish hour mark (according to my save file) that the game has worn out its welcome.  What started out as a fun romp around the planet has, due to some poor game design choices, turned into a mediocre experience.