Due to the Coronavirus crisis, I am out of a job…and have plenty of free time on my hands! Now, I don’t want to dwell on the current global pandemic, or my own circumstances. A blog of this type is meant for light entertainment, a diversion from the world crashing around us. Media is also a diversion from the outside world (unless you watch Contagion…which I did last night, for some reason!). Now that I’ve had more time on my hands, I finally got around to playing Metroid – Samus Returns, the 3DS remake of the Game Boy game Metroid II – Return of Samus. And it got me to thinking about something less serious than a global pandemic…(so much so that this blog will be split into two parts!!!).
Part II: How And Why Metroid – Samus Returns Is A Poor Remake of Metroid II – Return of Samus
Let me just say…the 3D in this game is amazing.
a) Exploring Metroid: Samus Returns
I burned through the remake of Metroid II, Metroid – Samus Returns, in three days. It’s no longer than 10/12 hours, but I was compelled to play it as much as I could. That’s praise enough for a game that I’ve been waiting to play for a long time. I couldn’t help but to find one more power-up, destroy one more Metroid, delve deeper into the depths of SR-388… However, after finishing it, I felt unsatisfied. Yes, it was a decent game…but was it a good remake? My mind ticked over, flicking back and forth between the original and the remake.
The remake absolutely nails the exploration aspect of the Metroid franchise. You still follow a downward path like in the original, but there’s so much more to discover in each area (unimaginatively titled with numerals) then in Metroid II. As is the nature of Metroidvania games, there are no easy stopping points where you can say “oh, okay, I’ve reached the end of that level. Let’s put the game down for another day.” Metroidvania games encourage you to keep on playing without a break until you reach the end. No doubt about it, the exploration in Metroid – Samus Returns is refined and addictive. It’s by far the most appealing quality of the game. But all that exploration is hampered by the combat system, the aspect where the remake differs substantially from the original.
b) Action Over Exploration In A Metroid Game?
In every Metroid game, you must kill enemies. But the franchise is more about exploration and atmosphere than action. Metroid – Samus Returns, although it ticks off the “exploration” box, relies heavily on action. For any other franchise, that isn’t a problem. But when you are remaking Metroid II, the overwhelming focus on action causes havoc for the atmosphere and the experience, especially when the action centres on one mechanic.
The much-vaunted new mechanic is the melee counter, where you hit a button just as an enemy attacks to knock them aside and leave them vulnerable for a few seconds. Without this counter, enemies take a huge number of hits to die. In other words, you’re forced to use the counter on every occasion. It also means that each enemy rushes at you in the same way, an aggressive leap/dash forward that gives you plenty of time to use the counter. Yes, it gets repetitive. And this mechanic strips away a vital element of Metroid II: the vast majority of “enemies” in that game aren’t out to kill you. They’re harmless lifeforms, moving from side to side or jumping up and down. They are more like obstructions than things out to kill you. Your main purpose is to kill the Metroids. The other lifeforms are there to give out health/ammo drops.
(Also, on a tangent, this causes a retroactive problem with Metroid Fusion, a GBA sequel to Super Metroid. It takes place after the events of Super Metroid, and on planet SR388 the X parasite has become the dominant species thanks to Samus wiping out the Metroids. The X parasite was the Metroid’s natural pray. After Super Metroid, Samus revisits SR388 for some reason and is infected with the X parasite. It infects lifeforms and makes them more aggressive. To cut a long story short, in Metroid Fusion, you come across the same lifeforms you did in SR388. But now, they are aggressive and violent instead of the wandering lifeforms in Metroid II. Making them naturally aggressive in the remake of Metroid II undermines this narrative, doesn’t it?).
This focus on action improves the Metroid battles compared to Metroid II in terms of pure entertainment. But as soon as you use the melee counter (and you have no choice but to use it in these encounters), it triggers a mini-cutscene where Samus flips around and unloads missiles into the Metroid. These scenes took me out of the game and made me laugh with their action movie gusto and exaggeration. Samus doesn’t need to do backflips! The battles are tough, no doubt about it, but they are less nerve-racking than in the original because of these cut-scenes and the reliance on the melee counter. All you need to do is dodge the Metroid and enact the melee counter. Rinse, repeat.
It’s an instance of style over substance, all flash and no bang. Like I mentioned, the Metroids were one of the few lifeforms that were out to get you in the original (but were they simply defending their territory against an alien invader?). In the remake, all the lifeforms are out to get you. That undermines the Metroid battles. Not only that, but the game takes pleasure in the action. When you are effectively committing genocide, it shouldn’t be pleasurable, should it? The boss battles in the original were long, drawn-out slogs of endurance. Genocide should feel exhausting, shouldn’t it? It should feel like you are in an 80s Arnie movie.
c) How Metroid – Samus Returns Ends Compared to Metroid II – Return of Samus
The part that exemplified the difference between the original and the remake is the final “act.” In both, when there is one Metroid left to exterminate, the counter suddenly increases. Metroids hatch. In the original, after you wipe out these Metroid younglings, you hear something scream in anguish and the music hits a quick tempo, increasing the tension and fear. What is the last Metroid? I’ve made it angry, and it’s waiting for me…can I handle it? It’s a great example of video game design, using the limitations of the Game Boy to make you terrified of the Metroid Queen.
In the remake, there’s only the annoying beeping to alert you a Metroid is nearby. No metallic scream, nothing to ramp up the tension of the way to the final boss. There’s a little growl and the ground shakes, but that’s all there is to it. As with the other boss battles, the battle against the Metroid Queen involves the melee counter and a horde of mini-cutscenes. It gets dull very quickly, and is nothing compared to the claustrophobic, exasperating and difficult battle against the Metroid Queen in the original.
Both games have you coming across the Metroid egg after you defeat the Metroid Queen. Of course, the remake involves a cutscene that overstays its welcome. The wordless, seconds-long Game Boy meeting with the baby Metroid tells you all you need to know. The silly cutscene of the remake may as well scream “THIS IS THE METROID BABY THAT NOW THINKS YOU’RE ITS MOTHER!” But afterwards, the real weakness of the remake reveals itself. Like I mentioned before, the original had you trek back to your ship with the baby Metroid in tow. The corridors are empty, the music reflective and downbeat. It’s time to think about what your missions meant and what your relationship with the baby Metroid is all about.
In the remake, the same music is barely audible with a little remix. However, the action isn’t over. There are still enemies rushing at you. In my view the Metroid Queen was the final boss. Having any enemies after her undermines the purpose of the slow, empty walk back to your ship. There’s no time for reflection as you use the melee counter again and again, pausing for a yawn every now and again.
And if that wasn’t enough, as you reach your ship, a cutscene occurs. I feared I would have to battle another boss…maybe Metroid: Samus Returns would throw an Aliens-style twist where the Metroid Queen was still alive? That’s a better idea than what happened. A version of RIDLEY appeared, signalling the beginning of another endless, boring boss fight. Of course, they had to foreshadow the end of Super Metroid by having the baby Metroid help you defeat Ridley.
Why? Why was this necessary? It feels tacked on, an easy way to artificially extend the length of the game. Metroid II doesn’t need any Space Pirates. Ridley is in enough Metroid games. He didn’t have to be forced into this one. I could tolerate the focus on action. But from finding the baby Metroid onwards, I had a bitter taste in my mouth. Ridley’s return made no sense, narratively or thematically. Gone was the purposeful anti-climax of the original. In its place was an explosive stretch to another final boss battle that glorifies OTT action.
d) What’s More Powerful: A Climax or an Anti-Climax?
I felt deflated by this climax. Metroid – Samus Returns turns into just another 2D platform shooter that offers no lessons on morality. Shouldn’t you at least pause for thought after (almost) wiping out an entire species? No, according to the action-packed Metroid: Samus Returns. In trying to give the player a “great” climax, the developers missed the point of the original. Genocide isn’t something you should take lightly. We, as Samus, need to walk a mile or so alone with the baby Metroid to think about what we, as Samus, have done. Yes, we’ve just wiped out (almost) an alien species. Why? Because they could be used by someone as a biological weapon? Does that make them our enemy…or just an innocent lifeform, wrapped up in the game of survival of the fittest? Why did we, as Samus, obey the order to wipe them out? But the remake doesn’t want us to ask those questions. The remake asks us to shoot first and ask no questions later, which spits in the face of the spirit of the original.
I’d have less of a problem with the game if it wasn’t a Metroid game. Or even if it wasn’t a remake of Metroid II. Why not make a new entry in the Metroid franchise? It brings my back to my point: shouldn’t a remake embrace the best elements and the spirit of its inspiration whilst improving on its flaws? What makes a great remake? Metroid – Samus Returns improves on its predecessor with a map system, more refined controls and a greater level of exploration. But in focussing on action, the remake fails to understand and channel the spirit of the original. So why bother even attempting to remake something that you don’t understand? I ask again: what makes a great remake?
That is a question for another time…
(I’ve identified what ruins a remake. But here are some video game remakes that you should play, almost straight away (and I’m not merely talking about remastered versions of games, but full remakes!):
Legend of Zelda – Wind Waker HD (Wii U)
This rectifies some of the flaws of the Gamecube original, like faster sailing, and the annoying final end quest that in the HD version you can start halfway through the game instead of at the very end!
Metroid – Zero Mission (GBA)
Ahhh, this is how you do a Metroid remake! This adds a map and a guiding system to the original Metroid (with improved graphics, of course). Some purists may find the guiding system annoying, but it still allows for exploration…and is far better than the frustrating inability to navigate the original Metroid. Oh, and the added final act is the cherry on top.
Resident Evil (GameCube Edition)
Great, improved graphics, added bosses, slicker controls…this is perhaps the best video game remake ever! Who could play the original after playing this one?
Do you agree or disagree with my thoughts about ‘Metroid: Samus Returns’ (3DS)? What would you count among your favourite video game remakes? Comment below!