While it has its fans, 2010’s Metroid: Other M was a bit of a ‘dandy’s hankerchief’. For starters it made tough-as-nails bounty hunter and original female gaming icon Samus Aran into a boring, whiny character obsessed with her former commander.
Worse still, it forced her to plod her way through a middling adventure with a forgettable supporting cast, a nonsensical F-grade Anime plot and cutscenes long enough to be timed by continental drift.
Given it came from the well-respected Team Ninja we all thought it was going to be fantastic, so the disappointment it was so much less than the sum of its parts was considerable. It was like going to a Michelin-starred restaurant expecting a delicious meal, and being served a photograph of a delicious meal and a bowl of stale breadsticks the waiter has just coughed on.
However: Other M is still a very important game to me. Why? Well, watching me beat the final boss in it was apparently tense enough viewing to trigger my wife to go into labour. A few hours after finishing the game, I had a daughter to look after. A daughter we called Samus in honour of the cause of her arrival, and raised as a bounty hunter! Except: I wasn’t allowed to do any of that. Stupid families and their ‘reasonable expectations’.
Anyway, that was it for Metroid for the best part of 7 years. There was a multiplayer spin-off last year (Federation Force), but regrettably this was a load of bums, and the series went dormant. Until? Until now!
Metroid: Samus Returns is actually a remake of the ancient Gameboy title Metroid II: Return of Samus. That came out in 1992 when I was (just about) still at school myself, and now my own aforementioned daughter is at school.
So can an old as the hills game from a franchise that’s been on ice for the best part of a decade appeal to the kids of people who were kids when it first came out?
Well, yes. But with a few reservations.
It certainly helps that Samus Returns doesn’t look like something that’s been dug out of a time capsule from the year that people thought it was acceptable to listen to Achy Breaky Heart. It actually looks and sounds sparklingly new and lovely, and the all-new 3D backdrops are some of the best use of the 3DS’s party trick I’ve ever seen.
So much so, it actually makes it worth having 3D for once rather than just the frequently wasted gimmick it so often turns out to be, and 2DS owners are missing a genuine treat.
The gameplay has also been booted into the 21st century – to a point. There are more save and teleport points, new combat moves such as a parry strike, and Samus also has a bunch of new abilities. The new scan pulse is worth the entry fee alone, as it makes searching for Metroid’s trademark hidden passages into a much less frustrating process.
But it’s also decidedly old school in that’s hard. In places, really hard. There’s no gentle tutorial-type levels or much in the way of hand-holding and signposting either, other than vague blips appearing on your map that you have no idea what to do about. You signed up to this mission, and you’re very much left to sort it out yourself.
That could put off some people, as there’s definitely a sense of bewilderment at points. There’s always the Internet to refer to of course, but not many games are quite as devious at hiding the way forward as Metroid titles can be and the backtracking can grate after a while.
The multitude of weapons takes a bit of getting your head (and hands) round too, and in the middle of a battle I frequently ended up firing missiles when I meant to free aim or using the scan pulse instead of dropping a bomb. All this frenzied clawing can lead to a fair bit of hand ache as well.
It has, however come at the right time. There’s been a resurgence of hardcore 2D platformers over the past few years, and Samus Returns is up there with the best of them. It’s huge, will keep you exploring for ages, and is a serious challenge.
Best of all, it’s proper Metroid again. One woman in a creepy, alien environment against hordes of strange creatures and space pirates. No dull exposition, sidekicks or wildly off-base characterisation to be seen.
If you like your games on the tough and meaty side, it’s well worth checking out. But make sure you know the way to the nearest maternity ward before you start playing. Just in case.
SCORE: 8.5 energy tanks out of 10