I would like to open this review with a couple points of honestly to reveal and possibly explain any biases I may have towards this game. First, Super Metroid is my favorite video game of all time; hands-down. Secondly, I did not play Metroid 2: The Return of Samus in the 90’s. I had a GameBoy but I did not invest a lot into it. I was a console gamer pretty exclusively into my early teens. So, I do not have any nostalgia bias about the original Metroid 2, but I do have a tendency to hold Metroid games to a pretty high standard. That said, I will try to be as objective as possible here.
I would start by saying that Samus Returns is a very good Metroid game. The 2/2.5D Metroidvania subgenre has been making a triumphant and successful comeback in recent years with great titles like Axiom Verge, Valdis Story and Ori and the Blind Forest, so I am so glad to see a classic franchise get the treatment it justly deserves. It plays well, looks fantastic and has that isolated, creepy feeling the franchise is famous for. As Samus Aran, you navigate the claustrophobic catacombs of an infested planet in search of 40 remaining Metroids in the hopes of eradicating the species for the sake of the galaxy. The goal is to find the statue that controls the acid flooding the world and locate the requisite number of target parasites in that area to return and lower the dangerous liquid so you can proceed deeper and deeper into the planet.
The problem with a remake like this one is you not only have to live up to the original to grab the nostalgic gamers, but you have to reel in younger gamers and players like myself who did not invest in this title as a kid. So, now you have possibly two full generations of gamers who did not have the opportunity to enjoy Metroid II when it landed. What Nintendo needed to do was stay true to the ideas of the original while modernizing the series. The risk of this sort of remake is that there is always someone who is not going to like a change here or there, so I believe keeping the concept of the original game alive while heavily modifying the world was a wise choice.
In terms of gameplay, at least for me, Samus Returns hits a few low points. First, the game is a lot quicker than I’m used to, a subjective complaint, I know, but I do believe it affects the flow of the game. However, aside from the way the movement feels here, the thing that I think keeps this from being a modern classic is the directional aiming. Having to lock in place with the triggers to aim and use missiles is dramatically slow. Differences in the controller layouts from older platforms made this somewhat necessary, but having to stop in place, aim with the stick, then fire to land your hits really kills the pace. Also, the constant need to counter with the uppercut to knock enemies into a weakened state is fun at first, but gets old really fast. It is one of those things where it is very cool to do, but because you are constantly performing this same, easy-to-land counter on enemies throughout the game, it kind of becomes repetitive and boring.
The final major complaint are the battles with the metroids in the game. As you work your way through the labyrinthine tunnels you will encounter dozens of these guys, so it is necessary to keep things fresh! Well… They don’t. With a few exceptions where you fight tougher, boss forms of the metroids, the battles are identical, the only changes being either the metroid having an elemental buff affecting its abilities and the layout of the battle arena. Some fights will have you fighting the target only to have it flee and head to another room nearby designated for such a fight. The downside being these fights are pretty much the same over and over with only a few exceptions. It would not be feasible to have 40 individual boss battles that are entirely different from each other but the solution is to at least add more major targets instead of keeping things so bare-bones.
In terms of aesthetics, it’s a very good-looking 2.5 action platformer and the 3D effects are some of the best on the platform. The models are well-animated and the world is varied in its themes and designs. The soundtrack is an excellent composition of new music and remakes of classic themes from titles past. They are faithful to the original while having a fresh, modern feel. In this respect the soundtrack is comparable to that of DuckTales: Remastered.
In all, I think Metroid: Samus Returns is a quality return to the classic Metroid model with a few flaws that may keep it from being a long-lasting classic. I think if there was a little more emphasis on variety, this would have been great, but it rests at a solid “good” for me. It is probably not a game that will go down for many gamers as a masterpiece. I wouldn’t be discouraged by this, though. There is always room for improvement and if additional content were added, and some things about the game were updated, it could be even better in the future. However, only time will tell.