This June during E3, I saw a headline that made my mind grind to a halt. I couldn't process what I was reading. I read it, quickly scanned the top paragraph of the story, then read the headline again.

Insane. It's been nearly 15 years since the last 2D Metroid. I always thought if Nintendo somehow brought the series back (any any Metroid game was considered an absurd longshot before this year), it would be in 3D. No offense to Metroid Prime, but Samus's two-dimensional adventures are what really caught my imagination. The idea that we were getting another 2D Metroid, this year, was unbelievable.

Well, that happened. We live in the timeline where Metroid is back. And after about 19 hours of quality time with my 3DS, I can tell you four reasons Samus Returns is well worth your time and one reason it isn't.

It recaptures the feeling of classic Metroid

Samus Returns, despite not being made by Nintendo itself, is an excellent Metroid game. Metroid-like indie games often use similar mechanics but fail to capture mood.

Metroid is all about feeling alone. It's about exploring a strange world. It's about having no guide but your wits. I love Metroid for making me feel curiosity, trepidation and wonder.

In one of my college literature classes, they taught us about realism, a certain kind of late-1800s American literature that focused more on where a story took place over what happened. To those writers, it was more important to transport you to a new world and give it rich color than to write a complicated narrative.

Metroid is like those stories. These games have never been about plot as much as place. They're about putting you on an unknown planet and making you feel it.

Samus Returns captures that feeling through wonderful audiovisual work. Developer MercurySteam pushed the little 3DS to its limits. Backgrounds hold rich details and small animations. The soundtrack bursts with classic Metroid tunes that, more than anything, set the tone. The lava world theme is incredible.

It's been said elsewhere, but if you play this game, try to do it with the 3D on and using headphones.

Classic gameplay has been refined

Super Metroid is a stone cold classic. Really, if you've never tried it, pick up a copy on Nintendo Virtual Console or the SNES Classic or an emulator. The world, gameplay and pacing are as perfect a Metroidvania as has ever been made.

However, that classic 2D Metroid gameplay has its issues.

  • Finnicky, floaty controls
  • Bombing every square of the map to find secrets
  • Wall-jumping is too difficult to consistently pull off
  • Unsolveable environmental puzzles without a walkthrough

MercurySteam's thoughtful additions to Samus Returns solve all of these problems. The controls feel much better (you don't feel punished for trying to do a precision jump while spinning).

As for obtuse environmental secrets, this remake of Metroid II adds a scanning pulse. The pulse shows unexplored areas of the map and highlights blocks that can be interacted with. In practice this ability feels pretty fair, given that progression at some points requires bombing some very hidden blocks.

The scan is one of several new abilities Samus can use. I won't spell them out here, since discovery is the point of Metroid, but all of them feel balanced and useful.

The other big change to gameplay is the counter. Enemies will charge you on sight. If you time it right (and the timing window is extremely generous), you can whack the enemy with your gun arm and blast them for a quick counter kill.

It's crazy that the counter system is in this game. If you'd polled a hundred Metroid fans before Samus Returns was announced, I would bet not one of them would have said they wanted a melee counter. And yet... counters feel great.

MercurySteam pulled one of the hardest tricks in game development - it gave us changes we didn't know we needed.

Very challenging boss battles

These don't show up until later in the game. Again, for the sake of spoilers I won't say much. These are lengthy and challenging. They require using Samus' abilities in creative ways and took me multiple tries to complete.

None of the battles felt unfair, though I did have to turn to a guide for two of them. In total, the bosses feel tough but fair. No complaints. Just be sure to stock up on missile tanks.

This game is the only way we'll get more 2D Metroid

I hate telling people it's their duty to support some corporation out of fan goodwill, so I won't. But this quote by producer Yoshio Sakamoto from GI's big feature of Samus Returns says it all:

Through the development of Metroid: Samus Returns, I was able to really grasp the possibility and fun of a 2D Metroid. Like when I finished the first game, if there is another opportunity to make another Metroid, that is something that I would love to do. Of course, that really depends on how much people really want to buy a 2D Metroid.

Metroid has traditionally enjoyed more fan love than actual sales, which is a damn shame. All I'll say is if you're interested in more 2D Metroid games, buying this could help a lot.

And now for the less positive parts of Samus Returns...

The Amiibos unfairly gate content

Look, I get it. Nintendo is a for-profit corporation which exists to make money. If they can get away with charging super fans more money for useless plastic statues, that's their prerogative. But it is ridiculous that they actually locked an entire difficulty mode behind one of their dumb Amiibos.

No, really. Beating the game unlocks hard mode, but extra-hard Fusion mode won't happen without the right Amiibo.

Putting extra content behind Amiibo is annoying, but whatever. Fine. When it's extra puzzles in Picross it's not as big a deal. Locking an entire difficulty mode behind a dumb statue that you have to buy separately should not be acceptable. This kind of gating off of content is consumer-hostile. Do not buy this Amiibo, do not support them and do not encourage Nintendo.

Final thoughts

Amiibo annoyances aside, Metroid: Samus Returns is great. As someone who found the original Metroid II unplayable, this is a great way to experience part two of Samus's adventures. It's a moody, exciting journey into an alien world. It scratches all the right exploration itches in my brain. It's exactly what a Metroid game should be.

If you do not have a 3DS or are unwilling to spend the $40 on a new copy, I would highly, highly recommend Super Metroid. It's aged extremely well and offers best-in-class 2D action. You can play it on Wii, Wii U and 3DS virtual console. There are also PC emulators, if you have a copy that fell off the back of a truck. Like I said above, Super Metroid is also on the SNES Classic.

The most important thing, though, are the three words I kept thinking while playing Samus Returns.