We Don’t Dread the Return of Samus

Welcome to Save State, where everyone wants a new Metroid game but nobody wants to buy them. Metroid is one of those series that looks like it should sell incredibly well on paper- an incredibly beloved series that, alongside Castlevania, spawned an entire genre unto itself and its hundreds of contemporaries. Oddly enough, though, the Metroid franchise simply doesn’t sell well, with the best-selling Metroid title in the last 20 years being Metroid Prime from 2002. No Metroid game made since has even crested above 2 million units sold- even the original Super Metroid, one of the finest games of all time, hasn’t reached above 2 million in sales. Due to renewed interest in the series, however, Metroid fans will be able to experience yet another new title next month.

This week, I thought I’d take a look at a classic Metroid game reimagined since Metroid Dread is on the horizon. Metroid II: Return of Samus was never my favorite Metroid game- I liked it well enough a as a kid, but forgetting something and wandering around same-y environment screens with no in-game map made later playthroughs quite exhausting since I didn’t know the map of SR388 by heart, so missing one Metroid in an area could mean wandering around until you find, “That one room, but with a pillar in it this time.” The lack of an in-game map and the hide and seek nature of some Metroids could leave players getting lost somewhat often, even if Metroid II is more linear than the rest of the franchise. Metroid II has been ported to multiple systems over the years, and has even been remade twice, one remake being an unofficial fan remake, AM2R (“Another Metroid 2 Remake”). The 3DS game, Samus Returns, is the official Nintendo-licensed remake of Metroid II: The Return of Samus, and these two games are the ones I’ll be talking about this week.

Metroid II: Return of Samus has a very simple plot- Samus embarks on a mission to the homeworld of Metroids and attempts to wipe them out completely. Once there, she discovers 40 Metroids that need destroyed, and that they’re constantly evolving into new, more powerful creatures. It’s likely that fans of later games have seen an Omega Metroid in Fusion without ever having played Metroid II. As a Gameboy game, Metroid II featured an “atmospheric” soundtrack, or at least what passes for one via the beeps and boops of a Gameboy’s speakers, and the distinctive Varia suit shoulder pads make their appearance for the first time in this game specifically because of the Gameboy’s limited color palette. The original game has its place in history, but in the last few years, two remakes have come out that are strictly superior versions, in my opinion, and I’ll start by going over AM2R: Return of Samus.

AM2R is a subject of immense controversy, a brilliant fan project shut down shortly after its release by Nintendo, who at the time had not made a single 2D Metroid game in roughly 14 years. This fan game is effectively the Metroid Zero Mission of Metroid II- there are massively improved visuals and sound design, and a number of upgrades from Super Metroid and Fusion make their way into AM2R and make exploration significantly more dynamic as a result. Metroid II was the first game where Samus could aim directly beneath herself during a jump, but diagonal aim was missing, which could make some areas annoying to explore due to Samus’s large sprite and the Gameboy’s screen crunch. AM2R, on the other hand, gives the player full control with aiming in 8 directions, and beyond that, just being an absolute joy to control with solid, accurate platforming. If you enjoyed how Samus handled in Super Metroid, you will be right at home playing AM2R.

The AM2R version of Metroid II does change up the level design substantially to incorporate past power ups Samus had in Zero Mission, et al, but you do still get railroaded in certain areas until you find and kill a specific number of Metroids, much like the original Gameboy game. AM2R also features a much-needed in-game map, which helps negate the player getting lost. The mini-map, similar to Metroid Fusion, will give the player hints on items the player may have missed in areas of the map you’ve revealed- so if you see a large circle, you know to test your different weapons and explosives to see what might let you grab a new and shiny upgrade.

AM2R has its own soundtrack, with quite a number of unique compositions, to go along well with its fantastic new art style and improved visuals. The OST is kind of like the love child of Fusion and Prime, and does a great job of setting the atmosphere for whatever are you might be in at the time. On top of this, there’s added lore, similar to the encyclopedic systems in the Metroid Prime titles, as well. The extra reading material can be kind of nice to elucidate details about the Metroid series you otherwise would have glossed over, since so much of Metroid is relatively silent in its lore-building outside of the Prime games.

That being said, I wouldn’t consider AM2R to be newbie-friendly, and while it’s easy to find and play, someone just wanting to try out the 2D series for the first time might be better suited to Fusion, Super, or Zero Mission, where the difficulty is substantially more balanced. A good number of the bosses are new, and many of the Metroid enemies have been made extremely aggressive to compensate for all of the capabilities Samus now has in her kit, which can be a little off-putting when Samus has so much at her disposal, as a lot of them are nods to veterans, carried forward. AM2R was hit by a DMCA notice, but it’s easy enough to find with a simple Google search because this is, I’m not sure if you’re aware, the Internet, and the Streissand Effect is in full force- the game even receives periodic updates every so often with no further action seeming to have been taken by Nintendo. The takedown notices were likely predicated by the fact that Nintendo was already planning to publish its own remake of Metroid II, Metroid: Samus Returns.

Samus Returns, like AM2R, was the subject of controversy, but for the opposite reason. Fans hated seeing a brilliant fan remake like AM2R get hit with a takedown notice, and rebelled against it pretty hard. Could that have been the reason for Metroid: Samus Returns only selling a little over half a million copies? Or could the poor sales be explained by the game releasing on the Nintendo 3DS hardware, when the Switch had already been out for six months by that time? Analysts likely would know better than I, but I don’t think it wrong to think that fan backlash resulted in yet another Metroid game selling poorly since Samus Returns is actually a fantastic game. Oh yeah, there was also that awful problem with Hard mode being locked behind amiibo support, with amiibos that were ludicrously hard to find… okay, maybe it seems like developers involved with the Metroid series can’t stop stepping on landmines.

Samus Returns is a 2.5D remake of Metroid II: Return of Samus, which lets you take control of a three-dimensional rendition of Samus to jump and shoot your way through the alien planet, SR388. The starting areas of Samus Returns are about what you’d expect if you have any foreknowledge of the locations, though there are some new mechanics you’d have to work your way through in Samus Returns. Enemies in this version of the games are extremely aggressive- darting at you in ways you need to quickly learn to deal because it doesn’t take more than a few hits to kill you, at the start. You can dodge the enemies normally, and the game is a bit generous with health pickups, but one of your main methods of dealing with quick-striking enemies is the new melee counter that lets Samus smack an enemy just before it hits her, allowing you to follow up for big damage.

At the beginning of the game, the melee counter is likely a big pacebreaker as, rather than shooting, you’re probably just going to stand around for a second and wait for an enemy to attack you so you can get the counter and then blast the enemy while its reeling. As you become more accustomed to the controls and flow of the game, however, you’ll be able to easily weave it into the rest of your gameplay rotation as second nature. A lot of the enemies are newly inspired takes on the old enemies presented in the game, with a couple new bosses throughout, so it can be interesting to see new ways of tackling familiar enemies (not as many as AM2R, but suffice to say that the final boss of Samus Returns is the singular best final boss fight in the series. In my opinion, of course, but also if your opinion differs from mine, you’re wrong).

Of course, there are new mechanics and additions to the game in order to make it more convenient, as well. Teleporters dot the map that make backtracking a much faster proposition, which some other Metroid fans may not have enjoyed, but I appreciated the streamlining given Samus Returns still maintains that linear nature from Metroid II. The map is completely overhauled, carrying forward the core of Metroid II’s design while providing a refreshing experience for new players, as well. Players can also aim in all 360 degrees for the first time in the series, giving the most amount of control in your aim the 2D series has ever had. The enhanced aiming scheme works very well once you unlock beams that pass through objects, allowing you to dispatch enemies through walls who would have otherwise been a pain to deal with.

There’s also a new mechanic called Aeion abilities, which use their own separate resource pool. The Scan Pulse ability lets Samus reveal some of the map around herself, replacing map rooms from other Metroid games. Lightning Armor coats Samus in an ethereal coating of electricity that protects her from damage, consuming your Aeion reserves instead of your health, for a time. The Beam Burst ability lets you fire barrages of shots from the arm cannon like a machine gun, which can be one of the only ways to take out some specific enemies. Phase Drift is similar to an inverse Speed Booster, allowing Samus to slow down everything around her to get a leg up on enemies or traps. Each of these abilities will be called upon as you venture through SR388, and you can even get extra tanks that give you more Aeion reserves so you can use these powers more often.

The visuals of Samus Returns are fantastic. There’s a healthy amount of environment variation as you explore the planet, and the game makes solid use of the 3DS’s bottom screen to let you view the map or your health, giving you more screen real estate where the action happens- on the top screen. Utilizing additions like the Grapple Beam looks great on the 3DS, and the game makes romping around the planet, murdering Metroid after Metroid a pleasant experience. Of course, there are some weird areas, such as one where there are Gamma Metroids that run away into different rooms which… is extremely annoying, but that’s one of the few problems with Samus Returns as a whole.

All that being said, I don’t think you could go wrong playing either Samus Returns or AM2R- in fact, if you’re a fan of the series, I’d highly recommend playing both, and then check out Metroid Dread this month. If you’re a Metroid fan, there has to be some monetary incentive for publishers like Nintendo to dish out the cash to make a new installment in the series, which is primarily why I bought Samus Returns at all back when it released. Of course, I wound up greatly enjoying the game despite also being very satisfied with AM2R, so I definitely think that Metroid fans can enjoy both of these games because they each approach Metroid II from different angles. AM2R is extremely faithful to the source material, while Samus Returns is heavily inspired from, and reimagines the core game of Metroid II in interesting ways that you couldn’t experience otherwise. That being said, I’m super excited for a new entry in the Metroid Series, dropping a scant week after this article goes live, so I do hope to have a nice review from a Metroid fan’s perspective on Dread in the coming weeks.

Until then, this week’s Save State has been appropriately saved as a snapshot, ready for you to resume in a couple weeks. Take care, and stay healthy, everyone.

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