Forget everything you think you know about Metroid, and release all of your pre-conceived notions into the void of space; you won't need them. Metroid: Samus Returns is so much more than a thoughtful remake. It's a wholly novel and intensely rewarding adventure that makes a convincing case for Nintendo's prolonged support of the Nintendo 3DS family of systems, and it's a game that every 3DS and 2DS owner should have on their shelf.
The 3DS and this particular Metroid game both share something special in common, and that's their ability to continually surprise us despite their dated origins. The action in Samus Returns is fast, punchy, and challenging by any standard, and animations are fluid and detailed. This is, for the most part, a fantastic-looking game featuring some of the best 3D effects I've seen on the system to-date.
A loving attention to detail and tailor-made cinematic camera cuts that blend seamlessly into boss fights offer up visual variety that is sometimes lacking in the game's repetitive brown environments. The expansive cave-scape that you'll explore in Samus Returns can come off a bit "same-y" after hours of play, but it is richly punctuated with natural geological features and alien artifacts that excite the imagination.
You'll begin Samus Returns with everything you need to kick some hostile Metroid ass. This game controls like a dream, and MercurySteam deserves special recognition for engineering such a tight action platforming experience. Samus, while swift and agile, runs and jumps with a satisfying and predictable weight that makes navigating this alien labyrinth a pleasure. Samus can gun on the go, and by holding down the left shoulder button you'll have the ability to freely aim in a full 360 degree circle.
Incoming attacks can (and should) be smacked back with a visceral melee swipe that leaves foes momentarily staggered and open to powerful counter-blasts. Encountering foes multiple times and mastering the timing of their attacks is vital, since the melee counter will be the most powerful arrow in your quiver when facing off against common enemies and Metroids large and small.
It's the simple things that offer perpetual delight in Samus Returns. Nimbly sprinting and flipping through narrow passages, hidden tunnels, eerie chambers, and dangerous ruins always yields unique treasures and even more mysteries. You'll fight for every inch of newly discovered ground, and the more you explore and fight, the better you become at exploring and fighting. This is the flagship Metroid hook, and it's never been more alluring.
Sure, you'll begin Samus Returns with everything you need to embark on a satisfying excavation and blasting spree, but you'll soon discover that you're not as aptly equipped as you thought you were. You'll encounter doors that cannot be opened with a simple shot of your blaster. Large chambers begging to be explored will threaten you with blazing heat that saps the life right out of you. Critical pathways will be hidden in plain sight, just over a ledge that you cannot hope to reach by jumping or climbing. You need to become more powerful, and by God, you will become more powerful.
Upgrades are hidden everywhere in Samus Returns, and as you flit from one boss fight to the next (you'll have to seek out and destroy dozens of Metroids), you'll constantly discover larger missile reservoirs, arm cannon upgrades, armor upgrades, and useful aeon abilities that make you more mobile, and more powerful.
It's incredibly addicting. Every major suit upgrade will send a current of dopamine surging through your brain and you'll think, "I couldn't possibly get more powerful than this." As soon as get comfortable with your newly found power you'll find another chamber you can't access, or a seemingly inconquerable foe that makes quick work of you.
There's some very tricky wizardry going on, here. Samus Returns maintains such a compelling pace because you are simultaneously challenged and empowered at all times. MercurySteam has managed to capture the mystical Metroidian essence and give it a beautiful modern polish.
Samus Returns offers a relentlessly rewarding 'seek, stumble, recover, and conquer' play loop. There is always another, more tantalizing carrot on the end of the stick, and no matter where you are on the map, even when you're seemingly fully upgraded, you can bet that there's a secret or upgrade nearby.
The sense of mystery and discovery I enjoyed while playing through this game rivaled the joy and addiction I felt while playing through my very first Metroidvania. The revival of that childlike wonder is precious. You can't really put a price on it, but Nintendo did. It's $39.99 (link here), and it's worth every single penny.
WWG's Score: 4.5 / 5