Game Time — Metroid: Samus Returns

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Metroid: Samus Returns — 2.75/5 Stars

Metroid: Samus Returns is a Nintendo 3DS game billed as a remake of Metroid II: The Return of Samus for the original Game Boy. This is a “remake” in the loosest sense of the word. There only seems to be two things that have been carried over from the original: 1) the basic premise that you are Samus Aran, female space bounty hunter in a high-tech suit wandering a 2D-formatted map, and 2) the plot. After the events of the first Metroid game, the powers that be decide that Samus may travel to the planet that is home to the dangerous Metroid creatures and eradicate them entirely.

There can be something tremendously appealing about a game with a silent protagonist with one single objective: get the bad guy. But Samus Returns does something that on the surface is a more novel and interesting; instead of trudging through your journey to reach the one Big Bad Guy at the end of the game, you have 40 smaller bosses, 40 Metroids all waiting to be blasted out of this universe by our ruthless, unspeaking heroine.

While the concept is something that is normally a perfectly baited hook for a gamer like me, the practice of it falls a touch short. Samus Returns follows the classic formula of some of my favorite games, mainly the legendary Castlevania series. You are given a sprawling 2D map filled with enemies and bosses, but can only progress as far as your equipment lets you. Certain doors only open by acquiring specific weapons for your arm cannon; some paths are only accessible once you can morph into a ball, or roll up and over walls and ceilings. This all works great and encourages a lot of map exploration, plus it can be a real thrill. The occasional “puzzle,” however, tends to be less about a clever answer to an environmental problem (How do I get from here to there?) and is more often coming to a wall or ledge and then shrugging. Guess I can’t do it yet. It can, at best, be a little irritating while still motivating you to seek out untouched corners of the map to discover new tools that allow you to progress. But it can also feel like a tremendous waste of time.

Being defeated in your progress this way can be a special kind of demoralizing. Pushing through hordes of enemies, finally reaching that far-off end of the map with just a few cells of health left, and realizing that you really weren’t supposed to come this way yet was enough to get me to put down my 3DS more than once. This isn’t new to these kinds of games. Castlevania and Metroid games have been following a similar structure for years. But Castlevania always seemed to succeed in a way that Samus Returns failed: a diversity of environments.

While in Castlevania backtracking through the castle can be a fun adventure (wandering through distinct and varied sections of an old gothic castle), Samus Returns has you wander through a series of different color-tinted space caves. There’s some diversity in the areas you explore—some are more natural, some are the ruins of an ancient civilization—but they are all monochromatic in tone. Having to pass back through them can be such a monotonous chore that you’ll be forgiven for getting lost in the 100th orange-tinted cavern with space bats flying around in it.

This really becomes Samus Returns’ biggest failing in my opinion. This game had a tremendous opportunity to really draw me in. A simple, straightforward story in space with a silent protagonist seemed like the perfect chance to rise to the challenge of showing and not telling in a video game. How does Samus feel about eradicating an entire species? Is this a mission we should reconsider, for any reason? What about this planet that they live on? How could you draw me deeper not only into the map, but also into the mystery of this place? I wanted this game to be a meditative journey of mystery through a dangerous, far-off planet. A single goal in mind, but one wrapped in intrigue, a ruined civilization that for whatever reason has been reduced to crumbling structures and homicidal neon-green blobs called Metroids.

Instead, it’s a mechanically sound trek through the same 10 rooms for hours and hours, because some of those rooms are locked for a reason that isn’t too clear at first glance. So, try not to get lost in the other rooms that look just like it, as you wander looking for answers. When you’re in the mood for that, it can feel great. Other times I had to convince myself to even pick up the darn system.

Good? Sure. Great? I’ll let you know if I ever bother to pick it up again. It currently isn’t giving me much incentive.

—Kyle Reardon | Southern Territory