Nintendo is a great mystery to me. I recently picked up a 2DS XL and have had a great time with a few of Nintendo’s franchise games but I’m shocked by how few other games are released for their systems! I’m a longstanding fan of the Metroid games – Samus is one of my all-time favorite characters. Metroid: Samus Returns is a fun remake of Metroid II: Return of Samus, but it has some very weak traits worthy of critical discussion.
The original game was very slow-paced, and in part by virtue of the gameboy’s 4-color graphics very dark, even tenebrous. Though the original game’s feel is almost intolerably mushy by modern standards, it had a really mysterious vibe and really cool pixel art. Also, there were pretty awesome posters:
The developers elevated Samus Returns‘ gameplay and level design well above that of the source material. The game feel is tight, fast, and fun. Players can use a new parry mechanic to quickly dispatch certain otherwise difficult enemies – it feels good. The microscale level design is very interesting with a wide variety of small puzzles that let the player use their ever-expanding toolkit in creative ways to move forward. This is the sort of level design that first entered the series with Super Metroid, and Samus Returns surpasses all other metroid games in this area. (Yes, even Super Metroid I say!)
In spite of some really good technical design work, Samus Returns is unfortunately plagued by weak, self-indulgent, and even tasteless, art direction. While some areas of the world are very visually interesting and the overall theme of draining and descending through the acid swamps creates a strong feeling of depth, the overall composition lacks cohesion and harmony; lava areas are scattered in without context, the alien ruins have no sense of overall narrative (the final, deepest, supposedly most strange area looks the most human-made), and the overly dense populations of monsters (even in areas that were submerged in acid a few seconds before) ruin the feeling of a real ecology that has made the Metroid series shine.
Metroid games (let’s ignore Other M for a moment) are known for using very terse and subtle means of exposition and characterization. This is true in Samus Returns, but the portrayal of Samus seemed very self-indulgent and tokenistic. She is sassier, sultrier, and so ready to pose for “awesome” slow motion sequences – this adds nothing to the theming of the story and seems to have been forced in for fan service. Moreover, the dimension of Samus Aran’s character I have found most interesting, her development of empathy for her alien nemeses – all the more poignant for the player to feel after having blasted and bombed their way through caves of unique and interesting lifeforms – is all but absent from Samus Returns. While Samus does save the metroid larva, the developers focus on this creature like it is filling a new niche in the Nintendo pantheon. Obsessing over its cuteness and vulnerability cheapens Samus’ development. (Remember, she is based on Ripley from Ridley Scott’s 1979 Alien. Would Ripley be motivated such nonsense as cuteness?)
Beggining and endings are especially important to the framing of a work of art, and these are where Samus Returns is the ugliest. The introductory slideshow is so bright, sentimental, and guady that it sets the tone completely wrong for the entire mysterious adventure that characterizes Metroid.
Perhaps the most aggregious fan service in the last-minute introduction of Ridley as the final boss, which makes no sense in the Metroid story and serves no purpose in the narrative of Metroid 2 – it is Ridley after all who steals the Metroid larva to begin the action of Metroid 3, Super Metroid.
Nintendo focuses almost entirely on the production and maintenance of its franchesises; If they take such a hard stand about sticking to tradition, why can’t they take a hard stand to make these titles shine as true works of art – timeless heirlooms that define the medium of video games?