Effectively re-envisioning the classic Game Boy release of Metroid II from the ground up, Samus Returns offers 2D gameplay of the best kind. It sticks close to the Metroidvania format of retracing your steps, using abilities to overcome certain areas and a multitude of weapons to annihilate bosses. At the same time however, that hasn't stopped the creators from tweaking with the formula a little. The 2.5D presentation dramatically improves the experience, freeing up the game to offer surprisingly more dynamic combat. Jumping through levels and engaging in airborne battles is far smoother an experience because of this, and it's helped by extremely responsive controls and more than a few creative uses of her equipment, such as the powerbomb boost.
The environments are as vast and sprawling as you would expect, but Samus Returns does a better job of hiding a few hidden doors and secrets. As such, even old hands of the franchise will find themselves challenged to pick out points of interest in the environment. These will not drag your progress to a screeching halt, but you might find yourself keeping a closer eye on the background.
Surprisingly, Yoshio Sakamoto's presence here definitely benefitted the game's direction. Having clearly taken a long hard look at what tanked Other M, Sakamoto focused upon more visual storytelling and badass moments while retaining the better boss-killing cutscenes that game utilised. So, you end up with moments like Samus riding dying Gamma Metroids to the ground while firing off missiles into their gullets.
The only notable flaws stem from a section towards the middle of the game where puzzle solving and navigation seems intended to pad out the experience. It's a surprisingly long marathon before you get back to the truly fun moments, filled only with generic mooks of a limited variety. Another issue is how the difficulty curve spikes at odd points, with the Diggernaut proving to be one of the series' most frustrating bosses thanks to a lack of checkpoints and emulating one of Echoes' most irritating battles.
There are a few problems here, but it's hardly enough to sink the game. It nevertheless still captures much of what made the classic series great. If you don't have a 3DS, this is the game which justifies buying one simply to see Samus at her best.
METROID: SAMUS RETURNS / DEVELOPER: MERCURYSTEAM, NINTENDO EPD / PUBLISHER: NINTENDO / PLATFORM: NINTENDO 3DS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW