Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Samus Returns (Nintendo 3DS, 2017)

The 2017 remake of Metroid 2: Return of Samus is pretty divisive. Some people loved it, some people didn't have much fun with it at all. I grew up with Metroid 2 and it was the first game I found myself really attached to, so this remake was long-awaited for me to say the least. They changed a LOT about the game though, and at the end of the day I think I prefer the fanmade AM2R over this. All Metroid 2 needed for a remake was a "Zero Mission II" type game, which AM2R is. However, it isn't like Samus Returns is terrible or anything. It sets up multiple future games and puts a more complex spin on Metroid II's world. Let's get it done.

The game begins with some very well-done illustrations of the history of the series. It all began when the Federation landed on SR388, the old Chozo homeworld, and found Metroids there. While transporting one back for study, their ship was attacked by Zebesian space pirates who wanted the Metroid for themselves.

That sets up the first game, where Samus infiltrates their base on Zebes and destroys their leader Mother Brain...along with a bunch of cloned Metroids. They were going to build an army with these things, despite the propensity of Metroids to wipe out entire planets (ask the Chozo about that, they created the things).

The Federation was so horrified by the Metroid threat that they...sent more people to SR388 to capture another one.

Yes, they borrowed liberally from the Alien series here.

This time they sent elite Federation troops. Apparently not elite enough, because none of them ever returned. A distress call did come back, indicating that the planet was full of Metroids.

"SEND IN SAMUS" screeches the Federation.

Here's a rare glimpse of the Federation's ruling class. They're gripped with fear, yet they also can't wait to get some Metroids for themselves. You know, for peaceful research and medicinal purposes.

Samus heads to SR388, a largely dead-looking world. The Chozo once thrived here until their creations presumably turned on them...or something did, anyway.

Note: While I think SR388 is the Chozo homeworld, it's hard to say. Tallon IV, the site of Metroid Prime, was also a Chozo world before it was impacted by a meteor that wiped them out. Pretty bad luck that the Chozo got wiped out on multiple worlds in the past 20 years or so. That said, the Prime series is sorta its own thing, so when analyzing the lore of the main-series Metroid games you're better off just focusing on the numbered entries: The original/Zero Mission, Metroid II, Super Metroid, Metroid Fusion, Metroid Dread.

How wild is it that there's finally a 5th one? Also, I left Other M (3.5) out on purpose, because I'm not sure how integral it is to the canon or how many people even think about it anymore.

The game BEGINS with Samus landing on SR388. The surface is much brighter than it was in the Game Boy original, where it was pitch-dark (likely by necessity).

Also, Samus begins on top of the ship rather than standing next to it.

Another thing to note here is that the overworld music isn't actually playing at the outset like it was in the original. Instead there's only quiet, creepy ambient sound.

First thing to say about the world of this game: It is VERY well-done. No joke, the art direction is absolutely fantastic. The Chozo-ness of the place is FAR more emphasized than it was in the Game Boy version of the game, with statues and technology visible almost everywhere. In light of Dread heavily featuring the Chozo, this game's lore-building adds a lot to the series and the game might be worth playing for that reason in particular. It's all set-up for Dread.

Unfortunately this still hasn't gotten a console port, so the only way to play it is either emulator or dig a 3DS out of the mothballs. Would have been a surefire seller if they'd dropped a Switch port of this a month ago...though at the same time it might have hurt Dread's sales a bit since this game isn't for everyone. 

One of the reasons this game isn't for everyone? The parry mechanic. This is new to Samus Returns and the Game Boy original had nothing like it. You're expected to master the parry very fast or you'll take a ton of damage just moving around the world.

Behold, the lost "Elite Trooper" expeditionary force. Kind of interested to know what happened to these guys. Imagine if Federation Force was about that instead of...whatever unimportant stuff it was about? You follow this doomed expedition into SR388 (in 3D!) and end up being the last surviving member, sending out the distress signal that ultimately warns the Federation of the real threat and prompts the deployment of Samus. Sort of a Halo: Reach in the Metroid universe. Oh well.

Each area has one of these Chozo statues that records how many Metroids are lurking in that area. Each purple circle is one Metroid, and they turn into a symbol once you defeat the corresponding Metroid. Once you eliminate all of the Metroids in an area, return to the statue to open the way to the next area. It keeps you moving in the right direction since you never need to wonder where the path forward is this time (though Metroid II was decent at aiming you down the right path even without this...just go wherever the lava was).

Samus finds a gold-armored Chozo statue. Are gold-armored Chozo like, elite Chozo? Regardless, this was definitely not in the original either. Grab the powerup (the Scan Pulse, which reveals breakable blocks nearby) and the overworld music finally kicks in:

And what a kick-in it is. The original overworld theme was tremendous (thank you, Koji Kondo), and this takes it up a notch. Absolutely triumphant music that fits for a return to this game world after 25 years.

New addition alert: Aeion is sort of like MP, and it powers some of the new abilities. Mainly the Scan Pulse, I guess to prevent players from spamming it. Enemies drop more Aeion so it's easy to be topped-off at most times.

Missile Tanks only give you 3 missiles here, compared to the usual 5. Also, surprising to see ANY item pick-ups in the first area. Already, the first area is so different from the Game Boy original that it's almost unrecognizable.

Egad! A Metroid, the first of many on this extermination crusade. I kinda wish another game would make Metroids the absolute focal point like this one did, and expand on the lore (their evolutions/forms, etc).

Luckily for Samus, the Metroid immediately molts into an Alpha form. It's lucky because she doesn't have the Ice Beam and is thus at the mercy of a base-form Metroid. I always thought Alpha Metroids were a downgrade from base-form Metroids for that very reason. However, this game actually fixes that by making Alpha Metroids far more aggressive and resilient to missile damage. In other words, the Ice Beam thing actually becomes an advantage for the Alpha Metroid. You can't freeze these and they're much nastier.

Another interesting thing this game does is make the Metroid fights different from one another. All Alpha fights won't be the same, for instance. Not only are their areas different (as in the original), but now they have a variety of abilities. Some Alpha Metroids use charge attacks, some fire electric pulses, etc. This first one is in a basic room and uses basic attacks.

This is new, the original didn't have a Charge Beam. It gives you a big advantage in the combat. ...or would, except that pretty much all enemies in this game are WAY more aggressive than in the original version. On the Game Boy, probably because of programming limitations, most of the foes in this game used very simple back-and-forth movement patterns and didn't even target you directly.

The first Energy Tank is acquired...again, early. Originally you didn't get this until well into the first ruins area, not the very beginning of it.

Missile door. For some reason I get really nostalgic about the missile doors in Metroid II, probably because it was a magical moment when I figured out how to open them and found my first item statue (Bombs) on the other side. I was a small lad.

Soon after Bombs, you also get the Ice Beam. This was another magical moment for me in the original because I'd read the instruction booklet to death and was intrigued by all of the different beams.

Spider Ball wall-climbing, as is tradition. This is super cool to mess around with, and it's a wonder that it hasn't made it into most of the other Metroid games since.

Here's the same moment in the original.

Further Alpha Metroids vary up their attacks, attack patterns, and sometimes looks as well. This one zips around dropping energy bombs, which just makes it more vulnerable to missile strikes on the exposed brain-bubble. Whatever that thing is.

This is kind of funny: The second ruins-area is a place that I erroneously called "Norfair" as a kid. Obviously that's a different world/game, but it's what I did. The first ruins were "Brinstar" and the second ruins were "Norfair". Both ruins were just plain ruins with no similarities to those places.

So it tickles my pickle that this remake actually makes the second ruins a fire area with the Norfair music. No joke.

Wave Beam acquired. Instead of firing in a wave pattern like other games, this just makes your shots purple and capable of passing through solid objects to hit foes on the other side.

Varia Suit. It isn't in a memorable "sphere room" like in the original game:

Getting little touches like this right would have added a LOT to the remake for us long-time fans. It isn't a big deal, but it's worth noting.

Gamma Metroids begin to pop up now, and like Alphas, their attack patterns vary wildly from encounter to encounter. Some of the more annoying ones flee from the fight randomly and show up in another nearby room, again randomly. The very first one is a fun battle, and unleashes electric bolts. You can also really see the evolution cycle of the Metroids now, as the Gamma is clearly just a more advanced/evolved version of the Alpha.

New addition alert: A giant mining robot stalks around the caverns and peers at you at one point. I sure hope we don't have to fight this thing later.

As Metroids are defeated in a specific area, the purple spheres turn into DNA symbols. All in all, there are more Metroids in this game than the original Metroid II and the locations of the existing ones are frequently moved around. Some players will like this for varying things up, some players will dislike it for not being faithful to the original.

New addition alert: Elevators are now a thing to travel between areas. This makes it easier to tell where one area ends and another begins, at least.

The map also does that. It's ever-present on the lower screen of the 3DS. The top area is the surface, then each one below it is Area 1, etc.

Here's Arachnus, noted for being the most powerful non-Metroid enemy in Metroid II. Here, it's just sort of there. I liked how in the original game you had to use bombs to win the fight, making it a pretty unique battle. Here, it's a pretty standard foe that you blast with missiles, and that's about it. At least they got the look perfect, unlike the Omega Metroids.

Those crystal things that the baby metroid (THE BABY. DRINK.) consumes are all over the place in this version. It actually ends up being another issue with this game: A lot of the items are locked behind crystals, meaning you can't get them (or 100%) until the very end of the game. It also turns the baby (DRINK) into an item itself, more of a prop/tool than the emotionally resonant pet that it was in the original.

We interrupt that thought because the Mining Bot has returned. And it wants BLOOD.

This boss fight is more like a puzzle/speedrun challenge, and it's the hardest thing in this entire game. You get chased back and forth by these rotating drills that insta-kill you if they hit, and it gets very frustrating. I'm guessing the EMMIs in Dread will be similarly obnoxious, but hopefully not. Nobody likes insta-death.

In any case, staying ahead of these drills is very difficult because it gives you almost no leeway. Miss a jump or make a mistake and you're probably dead. At the very least it does give you checkpoints so you don't do the fight from the beginning when you die...over and over again. If a fairly brief boss fight has a bunch of checkpoints in it, there's a good chance the fight itself might have some issues.

One of the tougher things you have to do here is use the Grappling Beam to pull blocks out of the way. That's most of the GB's use in this remake: Pulling blocks around. It's more of a tool for advancing in specific spots than a fun gadget with lots of applications like it was in Super Metroid. It takes a couple seconds to pull blocks, however, which is pretty rough when the giant instadeath drill-wall is bearing down on you.

Defeating the Murder Bot (no longer Mining Bot) gets you the Space Jump, a crucial item that didn't really have any memorable acquisition process in the Game Boy version. Worth noting that Super Metroid locked its Space Jump behind the hardest boss in that game as well.

Spazer acquired, which turns the Wave Beam into a triple-shot. I like how the beams all stack in this game, unlike the original version. The one downside to this is that because you can turn on the Ice Beam at will, the game never needs to give you a second one in the endgame.

And that second Ice Beam made for one of the original's more memorable shots, as the Queen Metroid evidently smashed this Chozo Statue because it was carrying the weapon that Metroids fear. This shot is, unfortunately, not in this remake.

Further areas have lots of crystals and are generally prettier than the earlier areas. Which is a good thing, because a lot of areas in this remake are pretty fugly to look at. There's a lot of grey and puke green to be found in Samus Returns.

Plasma Beam follows soon after, which gives you potent green beams that slice right through enemies without stopping. And unlike Super Metroid, it can be combined with the Spazer this time for an unprecedented 3 Plasma Beams.

Gravity Suit acquired. Wait, Gravity Suit? This wasn't in the original! Yeah, this game goes ahead and uses all parts of the Super Metroid item lineup. At this point, Zero Mission and this game make a lot more sense together canonically than either does with the original form of the other, if that makes sense. Both use Super's repertoire.

Screw Attack, which looks really cool in this one and is OP as usual. Travel in this game is a PITA until you get this. Enemies are so aggressive and numerous that backtracking becomes a chore quickly. The Screw Attack makes travel so much quicker and easier.

Behold, the rarest of all conventional Metroid breeds, the Zeta Metroid. In the original game there were only 3 of these (compared to 5 Omegas if I remember correctly). It's the most Xenomorph-y Metroid yet, and a much bigger challenge than earlier forms.

The game becomes heavily reliant on quicktime events for these later fights, which I'm not a fan of. If you can't parry or hit the right buttons on a fast-twitch basis, you just get beaten up a lot.

Also, super-fans may note that the number of eyes on these Zeta Metroids is all wrong. In the original, it went, per side:

Alpha: 1 eye
Gamma: 3 eyes
Zeta: 3 eyes
Omega: 4 eyes
Queen: 4 eyes

In this, it goes, per side:

Alpha: 1 eye
Gamma: 3 eyes
Zeta: 5 eyes
Omega: 5 eyes
Queen: 6 eyes

So the Zeta moved from having the same amount of eyes as the Gamma to having the same amount as the Omega, and the rest above that moved up. They completely skipped the 4 eyes phase. Not sure why any of this matters or why the changes in the first place.

Here's an interesting Gamma fight where the Metroid itself uses fire attacks and swoops in and out of lava pools. Alpha and Gamma Metroids continue to be things that pop up well into the lategame, while Zetas and Omegas are generally relegated to their specific sectors.

Behold, Omega Metroid, in a super Xenomorph-y area. These things were flying menaces in the original, but now they're mostly ground-based slow behemoths. Gamma and Zeta also both use a lot of ground attacks too.

Parrying is pretty much required at this point in order to make the Omega Metroids vulnerable to attack at all.

AH! JESUS! The Murder Bot returns AGAIN for another painful fight with insta-death mechanics. It's nowhere near as bad as the race-style fight with it earlier, at least.

This time the "puzzle" requires using the Spider Ball to get into the drill walls and blow them up.

Moving on, it's the final area. Already? Yeah, this game isn't too long. Base-form Metroids show up here in packs, and they're extremely easy to beat now. They usually take 5 missiles to beat, compared to Alphas taking 10-15 and the rest going up from there. For perspective, both base and Alpha took 5 missiles in the original. So yeah, Alpha definitely got buffed for this while the base form got no real enhancement.

Can also dish out a charged/Super Missile to one-shot them while frozen. Yep, this game has Super Missiles too, unlike the original version.

The final room before the Queen is pretty bland/normal, and the music doesn't even change. This is very disappointing, because Metroid 2 purists will recall how memorable this final room was:

It's a Chozo laboratory, heavily-damaged (and lined with spikes at the end), with an alarm going off in the background and the Queen Metroid bellowing a challenge. This room is likely where the Metroids were created in the first place.

Time for the Queen fight, and there she is. I wonder if this is as impactful to players who aren't expecting it as the original Queen was when you dropped into her room in the original version.

Yeah, once upon a time, this was a horrifying sight. Catches you totally off-guard as a first-time player who has no idea what's going to happen in the game. Not sure what I expected to be in here as a kid. I think I expected one last Omega Metroid, because as far as I knew, that was as big and bad as they could get.

This looks a lot like the Queen in Other M, which was of course the coolest moment of that game.

This is a very difficult and drawn-out fight, possibly even harder than the Murder-Bot race earlier. She uses all kinds of attacks in random orders that can cut off portions of the room (like the floor or ceiling) and heavily drain your health. It's one of those fights where it's crucial to take as little damage as possible early in the fight because it just gets worse and worse, and attrition is a thing.

In the original you could win with like 200 missiles, or drop bombs in the boss' stomach. Here the fight is a lot more controlled, and you have to pass quicktime events to get into the stomach and drop bombs, a specific amount of times, to win the fight.

Things get chaotic towards the end, with the Queen turning the room into bullet hell. If you've already taken a lot of damage, the fight might well be over at this point.

Honestly, I can't blame the Queen for being pissed. She just had her race exterminated, then all of her newest children exterminated too. Maternal instinct is a powerful thing. I mean, they made a whole game off of that idea (Other M). Where's the Queen's version of Other M? WHERE IS HER SYMPATHY?

In the grand scheme of this series the Metroids are victims more than anything else, because everyone wants to use them for some evil purpose. All they know is feeding and consuming, like any other predator. They're just doing their jobs.

Win, and the Junior Metroid hatches / joins the party. In the original, at this point you'd just head back to the surface while peaceful music plays, with no enemies around, giving you a few minutes to reflect on the game. It was one of the most pitch-perfect game endings I've ever seen and holds up today.

In this one it's a SMORGASBORD OF ACTION~! as the halls are still full of enemies and the game treats it more like a traditional escape. Also, Jr can eliminate these crystal walls that blocked off a lot of powerups, allowing you to run around getting 100% item completion if you want to.

I mean, this is all well and good, and in a way it's cool to be able to tote Jr around as a sidekick for a while. However, it is a completely different ending than what the original did, with none of the thoughtful quiet reflectiveness. And like I mentioned earlier, it turns The Baby (...drink) into essentially another tool or item.

Finish collecting items (or decide not to bother) and you can head back to the surface like the original...except now even the surface is crawling with enemies! Why though?

I hate the way they ruined this sequence. If they'd kept the peaceful original "escape" intact, then the arrival of the New Final Boss would be WAY more abrupt and impactful:

That's right, it's a RIDLEY AMBUSH. Which makes perfect sense because he probably went to SR388 looking for more Metroids to replenish the pirate supply.

What follows is an epic final boss fight. It's much more of a "traditional" boss fight rather than the ultra-scripted Queen fight. Just blast him with Plasma Beams and beat him before he beats you.

The fact that this fight takes place on the surface amid a storm makes it even better. It feels borderline apocalyptic in tone and importance.

There are quicktime-type events here too but it's nothing egregious.

Junior Metroid even joins the fight by latching onto Ridley and distracting him at a few points.

Once he's grounded, pound him into dust. That's right, GROUND AND POUND, BROTHERRR.

I love how the wee Metroid is sort of backing Samus up here.

Defeat Ridley and he flees, while Samus takes off to bring the Metroid back to the Federation for study. Said Metroid seems happy to be here, and probably thinks Samus is his mother. Yeah, what happens later is depressing AF, but it is what it is.

The end credits music of the original Metroid 2 is one of the greatest tunes I've ever heard in any game from that time.

This remix, while not as incredible as the original, is definitely comparable and obviously has more sound channels available to it. Gotta say, Gunpei Yokoi and Koji Kondo were the Two-Man Power Trip of their era in gaming.

While I'm on the music, here's another tremendous theme that made its way into this game in yet another remixed form. Far as I'm concerned, this track should be in every Metroid game in some form. I think this might be my favorite remix of it yet.

But wait! We cut back to SR388, where X Parasites are now beginning to emerge from the ground and infect the local creatures, turning them into John Carpenter's The Thing. Without their natural predators the Metroids around anymore, there's nothing to kill and consume the X Parasites, so they begin to run rampant. This sets up Metroid Fusion, much like the Ridley fight at the end set up Super Metroid. So retroactively-speaking, this game sets up multiple other games in the series.

And that's not all, it also sets up Metroid Dread with these "Chozo Memory" images that you unlock by getting 100% in each area of the game. There's a corresponding image for each area, and only by getting 100% in the entire game can you see the entire saga. Here, Chozo land on SR388, maybe for the first time.

Here, the Chozo seem to be battling their way through the caverns and collecting energy from the lifeforms here.

More battling and/or researching. It's worth noting that Chozo seem to come in all shapes and sizes.

X-Parasites infecting various hosts while Chozo attempt to fight them off.

Chozo creating Metroids via genetic manipulation, likely meant to wipe out the X-Parasites.

Metroids fighting X-Parasites and their infected hosts.

Peace appears to reign, with the X-Parasites driven underground, the Chozo ruling SR388, and the Metroids reined-in.

But wait! Chaos strikes, as the Metroids begin to evolve and morph into new forms, turning hostile on their creators in the process.

After no doubt a lot of fighting, the Chozo get driven back by the advancing Metroids and ultimately have to cede the planet to them as their own creation is too powerful en-masse to resist.

In the most famous of the pictures, the retreating Chozo scientists make it to the surface and find salvation in the apparent arrival of the Chozo military...

...whose leader then orders their execution. What happened next? SR388 fell to the Metroids, we know that. Did these guys take some Metroids with them back to their point of origin? What was the point of slaughtering their fellow Chozo? And does this mean they aren't extinct after all, if some of them actually survived the Metroid overrun of SR388? I guess we'll find out soon enough.

So final thoughts on this game? If 5 is just baseline passable, then as an overall game I'd give it a 7.5 out of 10. But as a Metroid II remake and a Metroid game in general, it's more like a 6 out of 10. The strongest element is easily the Chozo world-building.

Things that work:

-The intro images and Chozo Memories

-The new final boss

-Combining beams

-Finding out the fate of the previous assault team

-Soundtrack is incredible at times

Things that don't work:

-Overabundance of quicktime-type events and twitch gameplay, which Metroid isn't known for

-Too many liberties taken with the story

-Some of the later fights are way too scripted (Queen, Zeta/Omega Metroids, Murder Bot)

-Enemies are abundant and over-aggressive, making travel/backtracking a pain

-The tranquil walk back to the surface has been completely ruined

I'll be checking out AM2R soon to draw comparisons, so tune in for that.

Check out the original Metroid II Game Boy post HERE.

Other Metroid Posts


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  2. Wow, the surface looks way different.

    Reach is a good idea, but I don't think these guys got very far.

    The SR388 music is SO good.

    The animation of the wave beam is still cool.

    Great post. That Ridley fight at the end... man. About time he gets top billing.