Metroid: Samus Returns is a really tongue-in-cheek title because it really did feel like Samus left us for a long time-and Nintendo knows it. That's why in some ways Samus Returns feels like a big play to get both old and new fans reaquainted with her. I got a chance to play the first hour of Samus Returns last week, and as great a time I had playing the game, I couldn't help but feel that after seven years it will take more than a well-executed reimagining to win fans back.
Before heading in to meet with Nintendo I spent some time playing Super Metroid on my 3DS, which was actually kind of the perfect aperitif for Samus Returns since the game borrows design elements from Super Metroid. According to Nintendo, Metroid co-creator Yoshio Sakamoto was personally interested in revisiting Metroid II: Return of Samus as it was the one Metroid game he wasn't involved with originally. To that end it feels like Sakamoto infused Samus Returns with bits from Super Metroid, which he directed back in 1994. The game retains the same Metroid 2 premise of hunting down the remaining Metroids, but in terms of visuals and gameplay there's a lot here from other Metroid games.
Before getting into some specifics, I want to make a point by saying how gorgeous Samus Returns looks. When I heard MercurySteam was working with Nintendo on a side-scrolling Metroid game for the 3DS, I was kind of worried considering I had a pretty rough time with the last 3DS game I played from the Spanish studio (Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate).
Here, the 3D graphics are just spectacular and very reminiscent of Metroid Prime. Also, a particular shoutout to how great Samus looks while running or aiming her arm cannon. There's a lot of attention paid to how Samus moves, and her animation really makes showcases the power and dexterity of the Varia Suit. I'm pretty sure I spent a good five minutes just aiming and pointing her cannon to see the animation work in motion.
Which is a nice way to segue into Samus Returns' improved mechanics. Unlike Metroid 2 where Samus was limited in how she could move and aim, Samus Returns allows for 360 degrees of movement, and far more freedom of direction with regards to aiming, jumping, and anything else that requires her to get from point A to point B. She even has a new melee counter attack that will let her swat away charging enemies, and stun them if timed perfectly. Having failed a bunch of melee counters, I can say that the timing is definitely something that requires mastering.
All this adds to the feeling that moving around in Samus Returns feels far more fluid than any other 2D Metroid game I've played. It illustrates how refined Samus Returns feels as a classically-inspired Metroid game and I imagine hardcore fans of 2D Metroid will find the new game feel a revelation-while newcomers who play Samus Returns first might have a hard time going back to the original Metroid 2 after this.
I think about this game in terms of hardcore players and new players a lot because that's probably how this game views and categorizes its own audience. Hardcore players, waiting anxiously for a proper Metroid title will be content knowing that this is an improved and still very challenging Metroid game (having never played Metroid 2, I don't know how different the map is though Nintendo says it's been changed in noticeable ways). Meanwhile, newcomers will have all the luxuries of later Metroid games like autopopulating maps, a color-coded check mark system that lets players drag and drop their own little icons to mark key locations, and Aeon Abilities which are optional to use, but will help players with things like locating weak points in walls and ceilings if they get lost.
In hindsight, I'm actually really impressed by how well the game can play depending on your skill level. If you're a newbie, there's a lot in here that will help you navigate the fairly difficult game. If you're a veteran of Metroid games, the design and controls are so nuanced that any of the extras can disappear into the background if you just want to dive right in and play the game. Even the amiibo support is largely optional. But there's so much here that tries to balance new and old game styles, hardcore and first time players.
Basically, if you've been waiting for a side-scrolling, classic Metroid game, Samus Returns is shaping up to be the game you've been waiting for. But Samus Return also feels like a retread in a lot of ways. It's an improved reimagining of an existing Metroid game with graphics that's heavily influenced from another existing Metroid game. The new features are also borrowed from yet some more Metroid games.
I'm sure Nintendo is keeping secrets just beyond the opening portions of the game I played, I just couldn't help but feel like the game was spending a lot of time leveraging itself to appeal to two different kinds of players. Then again, Nintendo probably has to do this kind of housekeeping seeing as though it's been so long since the last Metroid game.