Yahtzee reviews Metroid: Samus Returns.
You've got to admire the dedication of these AAA publisher types: new games like Doom and Prey and Breath of the Wild, with their employ of retro gameplay philosophy, have turned all the heads lately; re-releases of classic consoles sell out in roughly the time it takes to say the words "blatant artificial scarcity"; the Steam lists are choked with retro-style indie games like a first-time porn starlet to whom no one explained what DVDA stands for; and in response to all this, the AAA publishers say, "So what we're hearing is that we should make more bloody identikit Skinner box games!" As I say, you've got to admire their dedication, and shun every other square inch of their repugnant, amorphous, slug-like forms.
The exception, as always, is Nintendo, who do not need to be told that nostalgia pays off because they already carve that into the forehead of every fucking employee; it's part of the Induction Day schedule now, right after biscuits and pointing out the toilets. Seems they accidentally put their name on something halfway original this month, and the balance needs to be redressed, so they spun the Wheel of Nintendo Policy and it landed on "Remake Old Game", which shouldn't come as a surprise, as that option covers half the bloody wheel, with the other half split between "Make Low-Effort, Unwanted Spin-off" and "Announce Another Fucking New Console".
So we have Metroid: Samus Returns on 3DS, which is a remake of the Game Boy title Metroid II: Return of Samus. The microscopic change of subtitle might seem a bit needlessly fussy, but while expressing the same sentiment, the subtitle carries a vastly different connotation than it did in 1991. Back then, Samus was returning in triumph; Metroid 1 had been her glittering debut, and the gaming public were collectively holding out their dinner plates with a hearty "More, please!" Today, on the other hand, Samus is returning in the sense that she's being let out of the doghouse that Nintendo's been making her live in for the last few years. They let her out in Metroid: Other M to run around crying in her underpants while narrating like she was reading aloud a very boring 1950's textbook on gender politics, and then in Federation Force, her role was roughly equivalent to that of the sexy lady that fighter pilots paint on the side of their nose cone.
Nothing to do now but go back to formula: Samus explores an alien planet, shoots Metroids, walks oddly sexily for someone wearing a Sinclair C5. Story and dialogue has been rather mercilessly kicked down the priorities staircase, so my fellow Other M veterans can feel relieved that Samus keeps her mouth shut and doesn't spend the whole game going on about babies like a 35-year-old spinster after three months of dating. We're literally just handed a list of Metroids to kill and sent on our merry way, through a traditional Metroid adventure in 2D platforming, exploration, shooting at walls to find secrets, and shooting at angry wildlife to find a pathetic sense of limited power and superiority.
Now, I've never played Metroid II for the GameCube [sic], so I can't tell you how accurate a remake this is, but if that factor is important enough to be a deal-breaker for you, then please suck on an exhaust pipe and remove your lazy, nostalgia-centric pollution from the cultural gene pool. I am prepared to bet that the original didn't have a "Parry" button that effectively turns every single monster into a quick-time event, but honestly, I kind of like this feature, because it means I don't have to keep holding down the "Free Aim" button, a posture that, with the 3DS' sharp corners, is still as unpleasant for my large, dainty fingers as a fistful of angry plague rat.
Besides that, Samus Returns demonstrates a strong commitment to replicating those nostalgic feelings of frustrating gameplay and dodgy controls. At least, that's the only explanation I can think of for some of this interface design, considering how many wonderful buttons the modern handheld has and how many wonderful alternatives there could have been to the control layout we've got. Press Right on the D-pad to select rapid-fire, press A to activate it, and then finally, press X to actually shoot the bloody thing. Then you have to press A to deactivate it, unless you switch to a different special power, in which case, you'll have to press Right again first. And bear in mind, you'll have to do all of this in the twelve nanoseconds you have before the charging monster that, for God knows what reason, can only be harmed by rapid-fire smashes right into the big, stupid Lego spaceship cockpit that is your face.
Also, don't forget the Grapple Beam is now a setting of your main cannon, so you can't grapple and shoot at the same time and need to make sure that you haven't absentmindedly left it on "Grapple", lest you plow into the next room of baddies and end up ineffectively trying to lasso their turgid alien genitals. And since I brought it up, I didn't know that rapid-fire also has the ability to break the weird, grey spunk-bubble things that block narrow passages; I did three circuits through the fucking level looking for the Clumsy Fellatio power-up before I figured this out. I know we're going for that minimal-dialogue retro feel, but a speck more dialogue to clarify this wouldn't have hurt; hell, I'd have been happy with a fucking rebus.
Well, I think that sums up all my major nitpicks. I should clarify that, altogether, they probably won't be enough to turn off those of you looking for an authentic Metroid experience to while away the hours. Although, if you are more familiar with Metroid as the thing that coined the first half of the Metroidvania genre, you may be a little disappointed by the way this game's laid out as a linear sequence of progressively harder areas, when Metroidvania should ideally involve having to go through old areas to reach new ones, so the going back through Level 1 and finding the optional upgrades that you can't get without the Plasma Trouser Press from Level 4 can be done organically without having to temporarily slam the brakes on making progress.
Again, though, it shouldn't be a deal-breaker. I think the worst thing I can say about Metroid: Samus Returns is that, now I've played it, I will almost certainly never play or think about it again. Not that it was bad; it just went into my brain-space, my brain-space said, "Yep! That's a Metroid game, all right!" and then kicked it straight out the exhaust pipe. I've had a similar revelation of late concerning Zelda: Breath of the Wild: I remember being into it; I remember liking being into it, for there is such a thing as not liking being into something - heroin springs to mind - but I don't think I spared it a single thought ever since I beat it.
See, this retro style - heavier on the open-ended gameplay, lighter on the linear story - is all very well, but there was no need to throw the baby out with the malfunctioning automatic circumcision device, and while gameplay keeps us occupied on the moment-to-moment level, story is the part of the game you actually remember and stays with you. I suppose it's a question of what you'd rather have been in high school: the kid no one noticed, or the kid who tried to castrate themselves with a belt sander? Do you mind not getting invited to parties, or can you accept that every time you show up, someone's going to hum the opening riff to "Enter Sandman"?
- Returning officer: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- The real controller hazard is confusing the Grapple Beam with the Snapple Beam and drenching the environment with inferior fruit drink
- Let's all look forward to Metroid Prime 4 ruining things properly