There are many reasons to remake a video game. The most common reason is to put the game on new consoles, usually giving it an HD touch-up but not really changing any core elements of the gameplay design. However, a remake is a prime opportunity to change what didn’t work in the original release, and with games made in the early eras of video games, a modern remake can do wonders in helping them reach their full potential. Metroid II: Return of Samus for the Game Boy was a rather flawed game, and while I will not be fully passing judgment on it until I’ve gone back to replay it, I do remember many of the issues with its game design. The lack of a map, the sprites being too large for a small screen, nearly identical environments, and little direction in a game all about exploring an area… Metroid II, perhaps more than any Metroid game, was begging for a remake.
And finally, it got one. …Or two, rather, but while I have not played the fan-made Another Metroid 2 Remake, that game and Metroid: Samus Returns thankfully took two different approaches to trying to salvage the second installment in the Metroid series and thus neither truly invalidates the other’s existence. Today though, let’s take a look at the official remake and see how it’s changed. I will evaluate the game on its own merits as well, but expect occasional deviations to note how this game was improved compared to the original Game Boy game.
Metroid: Samus Returns is a side-scrolling action game with a heavy focus on exploration. The titular bounty hunter Samus Aran is fresh off the fight with a group of space pirates who tried to use the life-draining parasites known as Metroids to gain the edge in their bid for power. Tracing the source of the Metroids back to the planet SR388, the Galactic Federation sends Samus to wipe the species out before they can be harnessed as weapons again. Even ignoring the Metroid menace, SR388 is not a very peaceful world, with a lot of aggressive fauna and harsh climes awaiting Samus as she plunges into the depths of the planet. Samus is certainly capable of dealing with the threats below, but only if she manages to find the upgrades scattered along the way.
For a 2D Metroid title, Samus controls perhaps better than she ever has. Movement is easy and aiming is just as good as it was in other titles like Super Metroid, but the bounty hunter can now point her arm cannon in any direction so long as you come to a stop and hold L. Shooting down enemies never requires too much precision, but you can achieve it if needed and you have a new nifty tool to help dispatch them with as well: a counter. Even the simplest enemies in Samus Returns have strong attacks that can knock you back, but before executing them, they’ll briefly flash, giving you a chance to activate a smack with your arm cannon that will stun them and lower their defenses. In some Metroid games, enemies are more like hazards to be avoided or foes to be blasted without a thought, but Samus Returns tries to make every creature a bit more interesting. At first, when you have no upgrades, every creature is a tiny fight, but you soon get a bit more strength and can blast them away easily enough. However, the next area you enter will up the enemy strength and you’ll be on the backstep again until you get something new in your arsenal. This back and forth continues on pretty well, and it’s usually pretty easy to breeze past annoying enemies if you don’t want to put the time into taking them out. Near the end, they’re cakewalks, making it enjoyable to go back and look for secrets you didn’t find the first go through.
Those secrets are a core element of the Metroid series that was sadly lacking in the original Metroid II. Metroid usually has large interconnected environments where new upgrades found along the way will allow you to go back to earlier areas to find hidden items or new ways onward. Metroid II was rather linear, and while Samus Returns throws in some teleportation stations to let you go back and forth more easily in an area, it still adheres to that bigger design. Thankfully, Samus Returns did a lot more to find in general, some things requiring return trips later that don’t feel like boring backtracking thanks to the spacing of teleportation stations and your ever climbing strength making earlier areas a breeze to traverse.
Samus’s beam cannon gradually grows in strength as you grab more upgrades, with other series staples that were absent in Metroid II like the grapple beam and super missiles added to the game to give you a decent drip feed of new features as you move along. The game is quick to throw a lot of them at you at the start so you don’t spend too long in a weak state, and it introduces a few new powers through a feature it calls Aeion abilities. Drawing from the same pool of power, Aeion abilities are primarily exploration aids, such as the Lightning Armor that resists damage and the Scan Pulse that helps clear away one of the series’s big issues with secret searching and progression. Metroid has a bad habit of hiding items behind walls and underneath floors with no indication that the wall or floor should be broken. Sometimes it will have a few hints or it will make the area look suspicious, but the games sometimes have rooms where you just need to bomb everything to see if anything is breakable. The Scan Pulse eliminates that tedium, indicating which blocks nearby are breakable as well as revealing part of the map in a radius around you. A quick deviation, but the map is such a wonderful and obvious addition that’s absence made Metroid II one of the most annoying Metroid games to play unassisted. Back to the Scan Pulse, the map already gives the player a hint if there is an item in an area, and most blocks have some small puzzle to get the item hiding behind these breakable walls so that it’s not just about finding them. Coupled with the Aeion energy being limited and required for other powers, the Scan Pulse feels like a properly balanced inclusion that rather than diminishing the search for secrets, it instead makes it a far more enjoyable task. Sadly, the secret search does get tedious in its own way, as the game’s creativity is low in designing puzzles for these life, ammo, and Aeion energy expansions. Even without the Scan Pulse to help out, the ample amount of fans meant to hamper Samus’s Morph Ball bombs from easily solving puzzles gives away the secrets’ presence.
The reason these fans likely exist comes from the game’s biggest issue: the source material. Although Samus Returns fixes a lot of the obvious issues with Metroid II like adding a map and increasing how much action is shown on screen, it does not make enough edits to fix the shortcomings that weren’t imposed by the Game Boy. The areas in this game are more fleshed out, annoyances are removed, and secrets are packed into the walls… but the rooms mostly still have the strange designs from the original game and it doesn’t do enough to accommodate this decision. It does try to spice things up with new hazards and one chase sequence, but the enormous empty rooms and the weird blocky design of smaller and simpler ones is still present, their presence made all the less appealing thanks to the graphical touch-up. The game looks nice enough, some models are a bit sketchy but on the whole things look about as well as you’d hope on the 3DS. The only issue is, while they tried to fix Metroid II’s problem with samey looking areas, they didn’t quite go far enough in helping to differentiate them. Sure, areas will have different colors and some stuff changed in the background, but the uniform ground design means most every place feels like either a cave interior or a slightly technological cave interior. You’ll also come across the same enemies throughout the game, their colors changed to indicate they’re tougher but the means of dispatching them virtually unchanged. Metroid is a series famed for its atmospheric feel, and while the music supports that well enough, the game using the blueprint of Metroid II made the environments fail in that department.
As mentioned earlier, this game’s goal is to defeat the Metroid species, and these jellyfish-like bugs make up the bulk of the game’s bosses. Samus will face Metroids at various stages of their life cycle, the creatures growing more powerful as they develop out of their jellyfish phase and become more fearsome creatures. To progress deeper into SR388, Samus might wipe out all the Metroids in the current area, a goal contextualized by a statue built to drain the liquid flooding the next area once you’ve done so. This does mean you’ll end up fighting a lot of Metroids at the same stage in their life cycle, but even when you’re fighting the same creature, the game tries to make it more interesting by putting them in interesting arenas or giving them unique skills. I must say, the combat has been made incredibly dynamic with the addition of the counter, and on certain enemies you can trigger a special scene where you can hammer on the foe while they’re vulnerable. For the most part though, you’ll be shooting the weak spots of the Metroids, and some of the gimmicks they try to spice up the battles fall flat such as the ones that run off once they’ve taken too much damage. The search for Metroids is made easier by the flashing light on your lower screen, and if you are having trouble finding them, you can turn in some of DNA from dead Metroids to the statue to have your map marked with a hint of where one might be. The game does add some bosses who aren’t Metroids to mix things up, but not enough of them to spice things up, even though one of those bosses is a blast to fight. They do all feel sufficiently challenging, even the weakest Metroids, as they all have a pretty good chance of killing you. The game does have a save point system, but it also puts in checkpoints before challenging areas so that you won’t lose your progress when the game ups the ante a bit.
THE VERDICT: Metroid: Samus Returns was made as a return to form for the Metroid series, and in that department, it certainly succeeded. Samus is back to shooting baddies on a two-dimensional plane and it’s got most of the aspects of that gameplay style that made it enjoyable in previous titles. However, new additions help this game feel fresh even though it is trying to revive the old gameplay style, allowing it to stand as something unique rather than just a rehash. All the additions to exploration, accommodations for difficult challenges, and the more interesting combat mechanics make Samus Returns fun… but it’s hampered by the fact it is a remake of a flawed title. A desire to remain faithful to Metroid II: Return of Samus leads to most of the game’s flaws, and it is held back because of it.
And so, I give Metroid: Samus Returns for the 3DS…
A GOOD rating. The mechanics of Samus Returns are strong, but the skeleton of Metroid II prevents them from reaching their full potential. Items like the grapple beam have little use in the world design lifted from the old Game Boy title, and the lack of variety in enemies and environments means it can’t explore its new additions like the Lightning Armor to full effect. In time we may see a new Metroid title evolve from the concepts created here, but we at least got a game that is still enjoyable despite being held back by the design of a game from a far less capable game system. Make no mistake, Metroid: Samus Returns is an excellent remake of Metroid II, fixing so many of its issues that it serves as a perfect replacement for the old title. Sure, there may be some small things Metroid II did a little better than its remake, but had that game not had the Metroid name, I feel people would have been more willing to admit its flaws. With the new coat of paint, many of the problems fixed, and a host of new elements to make a more enjoyable package, Metroid: Samus Returns has finally realized the potential of that old title, but that potential only went so far.
Metroid: Samus Returns is certainly a good return, but now that she’s back, here’s hoping we see something even better in her future titles.