It was about time. For some reason, Nintendo had left Samus Aran stranded on an unknown planet for many years, a full decade without a main entry, even with Metroid fans repeatedly asking for her return. A classic by-the-book return, that is. The story-driven experiment Other M failed to impress gameplay-wise, and with Federation Force also trying a new approach, they finally listened to those fans, and hence Samus Returns is here, a side-scrolling adventure on the 3DS ahead of her next immersive first-person odyssey on the Switch, Prime 4.
Now, enough wondering why this hasn't happened before, because what matters now is that the Metroid experience is back in full force and Mercury Steam seems like the perfect choice for the job, as the franchise's trademark gameplay returns with a very fitting modern twist.
A combination of throwback nostalgia and pretty cool, but nevertheless respectful new ideas, this reimagining is truly accessible to all players, no matter your previous experience with the series. Fans will, of course, enjoy the references and the many little, almost hidden nods, such as being able to spin attack as soon as you get your charge beam, how you can place bombs to reach higher ground when a morphball, or the legendary music playing in the lava areas. But the top-notch labyrinthine level design, along with the very satisfying abilities the bounty hunter acquires throughout her mission, make for a very compelling and renewed Metroidvania experience, especially now that we rarely see the genre outside of the indie scene.
The two main new features gameplay-wise fit Samus like a glove. The parry melee move, which seems more important during the first half of the game, feels both natural and rewarding and offers an interesting, well-integrated way to counter several types of enemies when they enter close quarters, as long as you react quickly and in a timely fashion.
The second one is so good that we'd love for it to stay in future iterations: the 360 aiming. Perhaps feeling a bit off for the first hour for long-time Metroid fans, it makes a lot of sense the longer you play, and opens up a whole range of new combat and puzzle possibilities. Especially when 360 aiming, but also in other situations, Samus's poses and animations feel as stylish as the game feels modernised, while at the same time cool, agile and useful, and no longer cumbersome due to old school mechanics.
With CQC counters and free aim in one hand, plus the usual plethora of upgrades (armour, rays, morphball, missiles, with a couple of new ideas as well) in the other, you have the tools to explore the intricate map full of secrets and hidden corridors, with ability-locked doors or areas you need inventiveness to access, offering you missiles and energy expansions. Add to this the new Aeion abilities, again fitting and stylish, and you have many, many parameters to consider, even if it's really accessible and easy to understand.