With so much focus on the hot-selling Switch console in 2017, you can't blame 3DS owners for feeling a little left out. The thing is, Nintendo wisely hasn't given up on its nearly 70 million 3DS players just yet, and Metroid: Samus Returns, which ships this Friday, is a true testament to that. With no brand-new Metroid titles for the Switch available, the 3DS is the only place to get more game time with Samus, and based on the reviews out there this week, it's more than worth the $40 Nintendo is asking.
The game is technically a remake of Metroid II from the Game Boy days, but it's been thoroughly updated by Spanish developer MercurySteam (Castlevania: Lords of Shadow) to take advantage of the 3DS. USgamer awarded Samus Returns a perfect 5-out-of-5 score and praised the developer's ability to "reinvigorate the source material."
"It definitely feels like a Metroid game, down to its updated tracks from Super Metroid and Metroid Prime," Kat Bailey wrote in her USgamer review. "I daresay that it's even beautiful, which is not something I say very often about a 2D game with 3D graphics. MercurySteam really pushes the 3DS to the limit, with the late battles featuring some of the best graphics the platform has ever seen."
"Fans of the original will recognize certain enemies and environments, but Samus Returns features so many fresh ideas that it feels like a completely new adventure"
Ben Reeves, GameInformer
Bailey commented that MercurySteam "borrows heavily" from Super Metroid, which certainly seems like a smart decision given that it's one of the most popular in the franchise. "Their take on Metroid II leans heavily toward action, but still incorporates plenty of the complex traversal puzzles that the series is known for. And it works wonderfully," she continued.
GameInformer had similar praise for Samus Returns, noting that it's almost not fair to label it a remake. "Fans of the original will recognize certain enemies and environments, but Samus Returns features so many fresh ideas that it feels like a completely new adventure," said Ben Reeves in his 9.75-out-of-10 review.
"One of the big new additions to the franchise is a melee counter system that allows Samus to stun enemies with well-timed button counters that expose their weak spots and leave them vulnerable to a quick finish. This counter makes the moment-to-moment action more engaging than past 2D Metroids, and it keeps you on your toes because you never know when some creature is going leap from the shadows."
In typical Metroid fashion, Samus Returns lives up to the genre it helped inspire, offering players an opportunity to continually explore and find new items along the way at just the right moment to leverage the positive reinforcement feedback loop.
"Thanks to a massive list of collectibles, your next reward is always just around the corner," Reeves added. "Every area is littered with tiny power-ups like extra missiles and energy tanks, so you constantly feel rewarded for exploring every nook and cranny. Of course, many of these toys remain tantalizingly out of reach and beg you to come back after you've acquired the right tools to extract them from their environmental cages. The big and small rewards are so evenly spaced out that Samus Returns' pacing remains superb, and I had trouble putting the game down for any length of time."
Not all reviews were glowing, but even in IGN's 8.5-out-of-10 appraisal (one of the lower scores out there), the publication's biggest "criticism" was that Samus Returns is simply playing it safe. And yet, that may not really be to its detriment.
"In a year when Breath of the Wild so radically reimagined Zelda, it's surprising to get such a formulaic Metroid adventure. It's also surprisingly satisfying"
Sam Claiborn, IGN
"Aside from a few minor tweaks and a new look, Metroid: Samus Returns doesn't do anything new to the series; and that's probably for the best," remarked IGN's Sam Claiborn. "Metroid has made a few wrong turns since the Metroid Prime Trilogy, with sub-par spinoffs like Federation Force and disappointing games like Other M leaving fans like myself longing for a return to the Super Metroid-style 2D adventure. Samus Returns may technically be 3D, but its 2D platforming gameplay still looks and feels like classic Metroid, and it plays even better."
He added, "In a year when Breath of the Wild so radically reimagined Zelda, it's surprising to get such a formulaic Metroid adventure. It's also surprisingly satisfying, while it lasts. I found myself wanting more, even though I'd just spent 13 hours 100-percenting it."
Claiborn lauded MercurySteam for including one of the biggest maps in a Metroid game outside of the Prime games, but did note that the title's difficulty at times forced users to contend with the sometimes cramp-inducing 3DS shoulder buttons. That said, he agreed with Bailey's Super Metroid comparison.
"While it's been marketed as a remake of Metroid II: The Return of Samus for Game Boy, Metroid: Samus Returns is more of a much-needed reboot of the 2D Metroid games we know and love," he said. "It's a safe, modern take on Super Metroid, one of the greatest games of all time. Aside from some repetitive boss fights and hand-cramping controls, it's nearly everything I could ask for as a fan of old-school Metroids."
Ultimately, Samus Returns gives fans what they've been craving: their first 2D Metroid experience in more than a dozen years, and it's seemingly worth the wait. The next adventure won't be 2D, as the franchise is returning to Metroid Prime 4 on the Switch some time next year.