Metroid 2 is surprisingly important. It might just be some old black-and-white Game Boy game, but the events of the plot (a genocidal mission on the Metroid home planet) reverberate out into Super Metroid, Metroid Fusion, and even the regrettable Other M.
But many modern players struggle to get through the game. It’s hard, it’s different, it’s confusing, it’s repetitive, it has no map, and the screen is cramped. I’m not saying they’re valid complaints, but they’re complaints nonetheless.
And so Nintendo decided to modernise the game (with the help of Castlevania custodian MercurySteam), to let every Metroid fan with a 3DS experience this critical part of Samus’s tale.
In the broad strokes, the game is the same as its GB predecessor. The world design, for one, is near identical: instead of bouncing around across a labyrinthine map, Samus just delves deeper and deeper into the Metroid’s caverns.
In each area, you have to track down and kill a handful of Metroid bosses, before you can open up a new pathway to take you further into the planet’s belly. It‘s an interesting mix of linear (the overall progression) and non-linear (the areas with the Metroids) layouts.
Though, unlike the original, Samus Returns offers lots of hidden secrets for those willing to backtrack to previous areas, using the new teleports. I’m not crazy about this: it makes going back for secrets a deliberate and chore-like mission, rather than a natural part of exploring to find the next key area.
In terms of control, Samus is way more nimble and agile, and has new moves like a ledge grab, and full 360 degree aiming with her blaster. You can even roll up into a ball with a single button press - though, sadly, it’s the touchscreen, which proves rather awkward.
Her biggest new move is definitely the melee counter. Pretty much every enemy and boss in the game will charge at Samus giving you a tiny window of opportunity to bat them away and lay into them with huge damage.
It’s cool - the first few times. It feels great, like returning a serve in a tennis match. And in bosses, you’re treated to a fancy cutscene of Samus lunging in for a stylish kill. But after a while the thrill starts to fade. The cutscenes become repetitive, and you stop playing aggressively and begin to fight defensively. You‘ll spend much of this game waiting.
Of course, you don’t have to use it. But enemies have huge amounts of health (compared to typical Metroid baddies, at least) to encourage the counter’s use. Meaning that normal combat is long, boring, and fraught with danger. Until you get much, much better weaponry, you’ll be using the counter a bunch.
One major change is to the boss fights. These different Metroids now have loads of different attack patterns and more specific weakpoints, making them feel more like real boss battles. And while, yes, they’re still repetitive, there’s something quite fun about facing the same enemy over and over as you get better and better at taking the critter down.
Until, a new type of Metroid is introduced, that is, and you start the process again. Or, until an entirely new boss appears. Samus Returns doesn’t add much to the original game, but there are new (fun, though surprisingly tough) bosses, additional items (like the grapple), and these new Aeon powers that give Samus an impenetrable shield, huge firepower, map data for the surrounding area, and more.
So is the game faithful to the original? Not really. I always saw Metroid 2 as being dark and scary. The dark colours, discordant music, tiny viewpoint into the world, and confusing world design made me feel on edge and underpowered.
Samus Returns doesn’t really feel like that. The world is almost effortless to navigate, and Samus is tooled up and ready to absolutely destroy anything in her way. The game’s not easy, I should note. Not at all: some bosses will eviscerate you. But with surprising new checkpoints before and after every encounter it’s not a huge deal to die in SR388.
There are also some minor and major changes to Metroid 2 that, as a fan, I found mind-boggling. But they’re mainly in the back half so I’ll let you discover them for yourself.
But, let’s put aside the remake thing. Taken on its own terms, divorced from the original game, is Samus Returns worth playing?
I’m going to say yes. Though with the caveat that it’s far from the best Metroid game - Nintendo’s obsession with turning Samus into some action hero goes against the exploratory point of the series, the game looks ugly and most of the music is just ripped from Metroid Prime, and it lacks much of the surprise of other Metroid games.
But it’s still a fun action shooter with some puzzles, wandering about, and stellar boss fights. If that’s all you’re looking for, it will do nicely. If you want something a bit more faithful, you might want to look out for another Metroid 2 remake, of some kind.