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Metroid: Samus Returns – Everything we learnt from hands-on gameplay

Metroid: Samus Returns is launching in less than a couple of months but last week Nintendo gave Recombu the opportunity to get up close and personal with the early stages of the game. Here’s what we learnt.

It’s a reimagining of one of the series’ most pivotal titles

Nintendo treated fans to the promise of not one but two new Metroid games for both the Switch (Metroid Prime 4) and its handheld platform, the 3DS family, at E3 2017.

Metroid: Samus Returns is a new take on 1991’s Metroid II: Return of Samus, the only game in the series that the company’s Yoshio Sakamoto wasn’t a part of. Luckily, he’s serving as producer this time around with Takehiko Hosokawa, one of the original game’s designers, now directing.

It’s not clear why Metroid II didn’t get the remake treatment sooner, as Nintendo did when it turned the original Metroid into Metroid: Zero Mission way back in 2004. Those looking to revisit the Metroid II in some form or another have either had to rely on virtual console ports of the original game or expertly-crafted fan-made efforts like AM2R (short for ‘Another Metroid 2 Remake’) in the interim.

It feels like a classic Metroid game

Eyebrows raised when it was revealed that MercuryStream was to be heading up development of this new title, mainly because the developer’s list of previous works is pretty slim.

Metroid: Samus Return preview: Samus and her ship

Nintendo Life even revealed that back in 2015 MercuryStream had previously been working on a Metroid prototype that was ultimately rejected but it isn’t a far stretch to think that some of that work was fed into what has ultimately become Samus Returns. The developer also championed Castlevania: Lords of Shadow and its sequel, both of which have been fairly well received.

Jump forward to 2017 and based on everything that we’ve seen and played so far (and with Sakamoto-san and Hosokawa-san onboard) it looks as though the team behind Samus Returns has nailed down the style and tonality of the original games extremely well, whilst also incorporating the more refined aspects of later games in the series like Super Metroid and Metroid Fusion.

It looks great

Whilst we’ve seen a couple of 3D Metroid games on Nintendo DS and 3DS hardware before (Hunters in 2006 and Federation Force in 2016), for the most part, both had you view the world from a first-person perspective (and one didn’t even let you play as Samus). In order to meld both the classic game’s structure and setting with more modern gameplay mechanics and aesthetics, the team behind it has opted for a 2.5D perspective.

Aside from the fact that playing the game in stereoscopic 3D is particularly immersive as a result, the game’s smart camera work and layered three-dimensional environment design make exploring the reimagined world of SR388 that much richer.

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The game is colourful and alive but hasn’t lost the sense of isolation that made the original stand-out. Brief in-game scripted scenes occur without cuts as the camera swings in towards Samus or the dangerous alien fauna she’s facing off against, creating a seamless flow between gameplay and narrative elements.

It sounds great

You can’t talk about immersion without discussing the game’s sound design. The scoring and soundtrack come courtesy of Kenji Yamamoto, the video game composer responsible for a number of the series’ previous titles. He’s reworked the game’s overworld theme and used some of the original game’s tracks as the basis for the new game’s soundtrack.

As for the game world’s sound design, Samus’ power armour makes all the distinctive and iconic noises that have helped define the bounty hunter and her signature abilities, whilst the cries of the planet’s various creatures are as diverse as their appearance.

The cavernous tunnel systems running under the planet’s surface also play host to a number of unsettling and unrecognisable sounds that reverberate around. You might be listening to a distant rock formation crumbling away, or then again, it could be the echoing cried of some Metroid evolution you’re yet to face.

Aeion Abilities don’t completely ruin the fun

We’re more than happy to be retreading the same basic storyline as the original game and the progression that entails for Samus, including rediscovering and utilising new variants of power armour, bombs and the Spider Ball, naturally.

Despite appearing to stick fairly closely to the source material, however, the development team have stretched their creative muscles in a number of areas including introducing new mechanics in the form of Aeion Abilities. Unlike her suit upgrades, these new capabilities are fed from a singular pool of energy known as the Aeion Gauge.

Metroid: Samus Returns preview: Aeion Ability - Scan Pulse upper screen Metroid: Samus Returns preview: Aeion Ability - Scan Pulse lower screen

One of the earliest Aeion Abilities you’ll unlock is called the Scan Pulse and it lets you complete a section of the minimap around Samus’ current position, unearthing destructible terrain for a short time in the process.

It’s a great way of finding and discovering new areas where hidden goodies like extra missile or energy tanks might be lurking but it doesn’t really undermine the game’s sense of exploration as you might suspect.

Just as the automap introduced in Super Metroid simply served to offer a smoother and more comprehensible gameplay experience, so too does the Scan Pulse and what’s more, it’s a wholly optional ability that you can toggle from the 3DS’s lower display.

Completionists will need four Amiibo

Whilst the game’s main campaign is fully playable as is, those interested in sampling every morsel of gameplay will have to be willing to invest in some new Amiibo to get the full experience.

Metroid: Samus Return preview: The Super Smash Bros. Samus and Zero Suit Samus Amiibo

The game is compatible with four Amiibo at launch: the Super Smash Bros. Collection Samus and Zero Suit Samus, which initially unlock a missile tank and energy tank respectively and grant access to some exclusive artwork and the game’s soundtrack on completion.

There are also two new Amiibo launching alongside the game; a new version of the bounty hunter in a crouching pose, just as on the game’s box art and a squishable Metroid that people are already scrambling for.

Metroid: Samus Return preview: The new Metroid: Samus Returns Samus and Metroid Amiibo

The new crouching Samus Amiibo will initially unlock another energy tank and after completing the game once through you’ll also snag yet more artwork for perusal at your leisure. It’s the most intriguing of the new collectables that you’ll want to set your sights on for the most significant unlockable features, however.

The Metroid Amiibo will not only uncover the location of any Metroid that may be lurking nearby by marking them on your automap but after completing the game at least once will also unlock a new tier of gameplay difficulty above hard mode called “Fusion” which not only serves as the game’s most challenging experience outright but also kits Samus out in her eye-catching Fusion suit from 2002’s Metroid Fusion.

You can play the game in September

Metroid: Samus Returns is scheduled to launch on September 15th this year and is already available for pre-order direct from Nintendo for £39.99, which includes a physical copy of the game and a branded t-shirt.

Metroid: Samus Return preview: The Legecy Edition and contents
The Legacy Edition and its contents

A version of the game called the Legacy Edition will be available for £59.99 that features the game’s soundtrack on CD, a 40-page art book, a Morph Ball keyring, an S-marked pin, a download code for the original Metroid II and a steel book designed to resemble an original Game Boy cartridge.

A special Samus Edition New 3DS XL is also set to launch alongside the game.

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