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When I played through AM2R – abbreviated title for Another Metroid II Remake – it came off as a product lacking in Nintendo’s more friendly accessibility. It was very much a game made by Metroid fans for fans of Metroid. Do you like sequence breaking? There’s plenty of that. Wall-jumps can be used to climb high walls, the bomb jump has been polished for easy timing, and mastering the speed booster’s shinespark is damn near a requirement to progress.

While AM2R had a degree of polish surpassing even many professionally developed imitators to Metroid, it always felt like it was not the Metroid Nintendo would make.

Well, I was right and wrong! Nintendo allowed European developer MercurySteam the opportunity to remake Metroid II: Return of Samus themselves – hence the DMCA takedown of AM2R. My expectations of the game to be easier than AM2R were dashed, as I don’t think I’ve died so often on a Metroid title since gravity-based monster Nightmare in Metroid: Fusion.

The counter-attack ability implemented into Samus Returns is an interesting new mechanic, but also a bit of a frustration. The ability is only truly justified as every enemy is a complete bullet sponge. The only way to defeat enemies swiftly is to stop, wait for them to strike, and then counter. Foes are aggressive and quick-to-lunge, which creates a quick but clunky pace. While the final fourth of Samus Returns gives Samus enough power-ups to make short work of most foes, reducing the importance of the counter ability outside of boss fights, the majority of the game has this odd stop-and-go, stop-and-go pacing to it that seems to slow it down compared to its compatriots.

This is particularly troublesome when the player has to loop back around to prior locations, passing through already explored hallways. While plenty of these aggressive foes can be dodged, their hostile nature and swift attacks mean players will often get roped into some degree of combat or delayed avoidance just to keep on their path. In prior games this wasn’t much problem since A.I. was relatively limited, followed simple patterns, and could easily be jumped over or otherwise evaded.

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Perhaps MercurySteam’s original desire to ]remake Metroid Fusion can help shed some light on the increased challenge. When it released Fusion was known for being surprisingly touch, even for veterans of Super Metroid. Particularly its boss fights, with previously mentioned Nightmare being the most challenging. As such, MercurySteam has also included new boss fights into Samus Returns, many of which are more elaborate and challenging than bosses included in prior entries. Between the new and more sophisticated strategies of the different Metroid forms and these massive, hard-hitting power houses, Samus Returns comes off as a game for veteran players of action side-scrollers.

So does this mean Nintendo did precisely what AM2R had? Made a game for Metroid fans?

I would say no. While the combat is certainly more demanding in Samus Returns, the wall jump retains it’s unreasonable outward-arc that makes scaling a single vertical surface impossible. In addition, the speed-running essential speed boost has been removed, its varying traits divided across two or three less tricky abilities.

Rather than building up speed to sprint across a crumbling walkway, the player can activate one of the new Aeion abilities that slows down time. Instead of activating the Shinespark – an ability in which a sprinting player could crouch, retain their hasty charge and then launch upwards or sideways – the player merely needs to activate the spider-ball while using a power bomb. The resulting explosion will launch the player upwards or sideways based on the surface they are currently attached to.

Personally, I prefer this change. The speed-boost is a finnicky, tricky upgrade that often relies on precise timing and more advanced skill to get the hang of. Even if you know how to reach an item, executing the precise steps required is a separate matter. Samus Returns removes a speed-run assisting power to remove that degree of skill, simplifying the experience to simply figuring out the puzzle.

Which isn’t to say Samus Returns suddenly isn’t for Metroid fans. It most certainly is an odd adjustment given the abilities required to avoid boss attacks and survive encounters with the Metroids. It’s also not like the game is being accurate to the original, either, as the Grappling Beam never made an appearance in Metroid II. Even the grappling beam requires less skill, as there’s never a puzzle requiring the acrobatics necessary even for some of Super Metroid’s shortcuts and upgrades.

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Perhaps Nintendo imagined that anyone that preferred exploration would find enough upgrades to make the bosses and Metroids more manageable, while those more interested in the challenge would skip the majority of upgrades and thus be capable of tackling the different denizens of each area with a significant and welcome handicap.

Even so, it all comes back to that damn counter-attack and how much it slows down and interferes with back-tracking.

Of course, this assumes you’re actually supposed to backtrack in Samus Returns. One detriment that both AM2R and Samus Returns share is that they are both based off of Metroid II: Return of Samus. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to insinuate Metroid II is a bad game. On the contrary, not only was it a vital step into building towards Super Metroid, it also has an atmosphere and style that no other game in the franchise manages to have in its entirety. I’m not even sure you could replicate it beyond the GameBoy, as the chip-tune notes and monochrome display are unable to be replicated with ease. Not only that, but these very same traits would be considered flaws today.

However, Metroid II: Return of Samus is a linear experience. Back-tracking for items isn’t really worth it until the player has approached the end of the game, and at that point the only reason to do it is simply to do it. Unlike Super Metroid, Metroid Prime or the many sequels following, Return of Samus – and as a result AM2R and Samus Returns – does not loop back around to prior locations and connect its disparate sectors together. It does not encourage finding new upgrades in previous regions by naturally directing the player back that direction.

If the player wishes to go back and find old items, it is best done at the game’s end. Too many of the upgrades will require late-game upgrades, and despite the provision of teleportation in both remakes, there are simply no suitable shortcuts to make the experience as easy and organic as other entries.

Which leaves Samus Returns in a bit of a spot, as any back-tracking means having to stop-and-go in response to certain enemies. Yes, it actually becomes less necessary to use the counter, but the majority of enemies will take multiple hits even after having every suit ability unlocked and will maintain their aggression.

This takes the pensive, exploratory nature of Metroid away in place of an action game. It does give SR-388 a much more hostile feel, but as Mark Brown illustrates in his video, it comes off as more of a playground to kick ass and take names rather than suppress tension and charge forward into the frightful unknown.

I enjoyed Metroid: Samus Returns. However, for a long-time franchise fan with a love for the exploration, item discovery, and yes, even many of the iconic bosses, it feels like we don’t have the best version of of a side-scrolling Metroid that could exist.


 

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