The bombshell announcement of Metroid Dread, the next Metroid game at this past E3 reminded me that I'd never finished the previous Metroid series release, Metroid: Samus Returns, on 3DS. Samus Returns was released four years ago (yikes!) and is a remake of Samus's second adventure, Metroid II on Game Boy. I'd enjoyed the step forward that Metroid II provided to the series, but when discussing Samus Returns you really have to compare it to Metroid: Zero Mission, the GBA remake of the very first Metroid game ever. I was really impressed with Metroid: Zero Mission, which took many of the items introduced in later installments and seamlessly retrofitted them into the original.
Samus Returns goes a step further and also incorporates four completely new abilities (called "Aeion" abilities) that are based on a separate energy reserve, as well as a melee counter. I thought the melee counter was going to be finicky and annoying, but it turned out to be easy to pick up and execute, and leads to some fun animations when used against bosses. I haven't done a side by side comparison, but it feels like Samus Returns reworks the original Metroid II maps much more extensively than the original. The original Metroid II was extremely linear and there was no reason or convenient way to go back to earlier areas. Samus Returns still has you focused on eliminating the Metroids within one area at a time, but in more modern-day Metroid fashion it gives you a lot of incentive to revisit previous areas because your ability to open previously blocked off paths grows with your increased abilities and it offers plenty of warp points as well as an indication of your percentage completed for each area.
The game is co-developed by MercurySteam, who previous to this game had produced what seems to have been a well-received Castlevania game, and they're also behind the upcoming Metroid Dread. Everything runs super smoothly and the game is pretty well paced, although the boss fights are almost all crammed towards the end and each often takes a bit longer to get through than they should. Defeating Metroids can get a little repetitive despite their different forms, but this is offset by slight differences in the rooms they appear in and your growing sense of powerfulness as your equipment improves. These are minor complaints, however, and in general the game is everything you'd expect from a Metroid game in terms of the puzzle-solving, action, design, and atmosphere. The four Aeion abilities give you a bit of flexibility in how you approach the game, and apparently the Amiibo provide some nice but pretty unnecessary perks.
It seems like every other indie game is a Metroidvania these days, so I've been quite burned out on them, but Samus Returns is a case of a remake done right and was really enjoyable, so much that I've had to add it to my list of greatest games of all time. My streak of great games has continued this year, surprisingly, although I don't have anything in particular lined up for the near future, so the rest of the year will probably be a bit less noteworthy. We'll see!