A few weeks ago I finished Metroid Samus Returns, a reimagining of the original Game Boy game Metroid II, and I can’t stop thinking about it. While there have been plenty of Metroid inspired games throughout the last decade, it has been over 10 years since Metroid Prime 3 Corruption and 15 years since the last original 2D installment, Metroid Fusion. Samus Returns isn’t Metroid 5, but it is far more than just a remake as the map and mechanics have been completely overhauled. With such a dramatic reinvention surrounding a humble foundation, not every element is in perfect sync, but I’m glad to see just how much of a success Samus Returns is.

Just as in the original Metroid II, Samus Returns begins with Samus’ arrival on SR388, the home world of the Metroids. She has been tasked by the Galatic Federation to completely eradicate them as their energy absorbing powers could prove dangerous if they fall into the wrong hands. After taking out the first Metroid you come across, you’ll soon be tasked with wiping out 40 of them. Unlike many Metroid games that primarily feature their iconic, jellyfish-like, larval stage, you’ll fight a wide variety of Metroids across their evolutionary cycle including the flying Alpha Metroids and bipedal Zeta Metroids, culminating with taking out the massive Metroid Queen.

I grew up with both Metroid II and Super Metroid so I have a lot of fondness for both games. Unlike Super Metroid which has aged beautifully, Metroid II is difficult to appreciate today as it a grayscale Game Boy game that lacks a map system which makes it incredibly easy to find yourself lost. In the original Metroid II, taking out all the Metroids in a given area would lower the acid level in a central shaft that was thankfully memorable due to its peppy music. Samus Returns breaks away from this structure by instead featuring distinct areas you travel to, though they are only labeled Area 1, Area 2, etc. While certain areas evoke the broad strokes of Metroid II, the map is very clearly distinct and dramatically expanded.

The new 3D environments are a massive leap forward over Metroid II's and they look especially impressive if you view them in stereoscopic 3D. Those environments together with a robust mapping system that even lets you place your own waypoints, helps ensure you won't get lost, but I always felt slightly disappointed that many rooms would occasionally feel a tad generic as environments are reused across the many zones and aren't necessarily coherently stitched together (the heat/lava rooms are especially egregious). There are however some standout zones that do feel properly cohesive such as a water themed level that prominently reuses Maridia's theme from Super Metroid.

Speaking of music, I was more impressed with Samus Return's soundtrack than I expected going in as the majority of the soundtrack are new arrangements of classic themes. I felt chills during the intro sequence as Samus' theme accentuated her ship landing on the planet and I felt right at home in the lava levels as the intimidating Magmoor Caverns theme triumphantly played. A few of the boss battle themes are entirely new and they comfortably fit right in with the rest.

While nailing the aesthetic upgrades is certainly important for Samus Returns, what is most fascinating are all the gameplay tweaks and additions. I mentioned earlier that the central progression changed from Metroid II as Samus now moves from area to area rather than revisiting a central shaft. This works well for portable play as you only need to consider the area you are in for hunting Metroids and discovering upgrades, which essentially distills Metroid gameplay into distinct, substantial chunks. As a result you no longer have to backtrack anymore to discover the next area, though teleport stations scattered around each level make it easy to jump back and claim upgrades when you have new abilities. I was impressed that upon arriving in each area I was often free to explore multiple routes rather than being gated along set paths. Thanks to bomb jumping, which is easier to perform than ever since you can set an extra bomb by default, and the Spider Ball, which lets you cling and climb to most surfaces, you have even more freedom to chart your own course through each zone which always feels empowering.

Samus acquires many of the classic upgrades you would expect over the course of the adventure such as the Varia Suit, Space Jump, and Plasma Beam, but there are three altogether new abilities Samus has access to including two that are available right from the start. First is her ability to enter a free aim state that proves incredibly useful to take out enemies from afar and hit moving targets with small weakpoints (such as the many Metroid boss encounters). Unfortunately you no longer can control Samus with the D-Pad as a result, but I ultimately think the tradeoff is worth it. The second ability which I didn't like at first is the melee counter that lets Samus repel charging enemies. Until you get the fairly precise timing down your adventure will often grind to a halt as you need to patiently wait for an enemy to pounce on you. Thankfully most enemies often have another weakness, like being vulnerable to missiles, so there are ways to avoid it when learning the timing becomes frustrating. Finally, Samus acquires Aeon abilities over the course of the adventure such as a shield or a hyper beam that are powered by an energy gauge. These abilities can turn desperate fights around and it just feels good to have another option at your disposal besides missiles.

What makes Samus Returns so special though is that it delivers both as a remake and as a new experience entirely. It nails all my favorite memories of Metroid II such as the very large open caves, the Spider Ball which still feels special even if reined in a bit, and the final epic showdown with the Metroid Queen. The moment to moment gameplay is simply put just a ton of fun and it successfully distills all the rewarding exploration, combat, and puzzle solving into the standalone levels. I won't spoil them, but there are a handful of twists on the basic Metroid hunting formula in certain zones that do a great job of catching you off guard and make you wonder what other surprises might be in store down the road. I'm hopeful future Metroid games will share the confidence of Samus Returns as it relies on solid fundamentals and is unafraid to introduce new ideas. Until then, I couldn't have asked for a better remake.