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2D Metroid games : the good, the perfect, and the bitter one. And the other one that’s quite good too.

So, with Metroid Dread looming around the corner, and its release ending the fact that all 2D Metroid games can be played on a single system (the 3DS), I thought I'd play the games in chronological (well, story chronology) order. My rule was to go 100% on the games, without a time limit, and without playthroughs if possible. And obviously, I've played the remakes when possible.

Here we go.

Metroid : Zero Mission (the good)

This is the gold standard of post-2000 2D Metroid games. And also, a stellar remaking of the first Metroid.

If somehow you've never played it, you are Samus Aran, a mercenary sent on a planet to kill space pirates and metroids, an alien species which is being used as a weapon by the aforementioned pirates. Simple premise, as was the style at the time. You'll have to find powers to progress through the levels so you can reach and destroy Mother Brain, the head honcho of the space pirates.

The games manages to stay faithful to its source, while improving on the moveset, the pacing and the content. Everything just flows so well in there. And as fellow metroid players know, finishing the game is only the easy part of the challenge. You have to go 100% to experience the true Metroid challenge (and then you have to speedrun the game, but yeah I didn't go that far).

Finding 100% of the items was a joy, as the level design is very well crafted and manage to either direct or more subtly intrigue you toward the solution.

I think I've watched the walkthrough for one or two items there, so yeah, that's the first broken rule. There will be more.

Anyway, if you've never played a 2D metroid game, I strongly suggest to start with this one.

I've finished it at about 4 hours, 7 hours for 100%. Short but sweet.

Metroid : Samus Returns (the bitter)

This is the 2017 remake of my first ever played metroid game : Metroid II Return of Samus on Game Boy. The story is the same in the remake and in the original: you are sent on planet SR-388 to destroy every living metroid. If that sounds to you like a genocide, that's because it is (or is it a xenocide ? I don't know).

As you can tell by the title, I have mixed feelings on this one, and seeing that Metroid Dread is made by the same team makes me a bit wary.

But first things first, the progression here is quite unique in the Metroid realm, as killing metroids is the way to go further in the levels. It's a bit linear but it works, in terms of gameplay and storytelling.

Now, here are my gripes : first, the pacing is weird. I found the game way too long and tedious at times, with strange power distribution : you will spend 2 hours without unlocking a single power, and in one section you'll be offered 3 powers successively. The other games are way tighter in that aspect. Here this is a much longer game, but its length feels more like padding than actual interesting content.

Then, while I like most of the aeion powers, the "reveal" power is just… bad. It's one of the first powers you have, a baffling choice as you'll be tempted to use it all through the game, and it just spoils the map and the hidden content. While it makes completing the game simpler, it just kills the exploration, which to me is a crime in a metroid game.

And to finish with my discontent, this a really action-oriented game. You are given a parry, the enemies attack you on sight, it is way faster than its predecessors. And that's fine, I like good action, but that's not why I like Metroid games. I like Metroid games because of the exploration, because late in the game I roll on the enemies with my screw attack, because these are games that take their time. Plus, the layout of the levels made me bump into enemies more often than I'd like, for example while dropping to a lower ground. This disrupted the flow and irritated me to no end.

But the games has also good moments : its bosses are really cool and good tests of skills (the robot, mostly); the difficulty keeps you on your toes; Samus feels really good to control.

It's just a weird remake flawed by strange design decisions. Here's hoping that Dread learns from this one's failures.

Oh, I've also played AM2R (unofficial Metroid 2 remake out in 2016) at the time of its release, but not played since. I remember it quite fondly and I feel it was the superior version, but that would need another playthrough to decide.

Finished in about 8h, 100% in about 12h (it was not hard thanks to the "reveal" power, though I tried to not use it that much; still it is a large game)

Super Metroid (the perfect)

How can a nearly 30 year-old game hold up so well ?

The gameplay feels a bit floaty (especially when compared to the GBA games, though I heard there are mods for that) and the Maridia section is quite tedious. There, that's it, that's all I have against this game. Oh, and I got softlocked at the end which prevented me from completing it and made me break another rule (Do NOT save at that last savepoint !).

The music, the mood of the game, the level design, the pacing… This is the only games of the 4 that never explicitly tell you where to go and what to do, yet I've very rarely felt lost. After playing so many metroidvanias, this game still feels like one of the best.

My biggest regret is not completing it to its full extent, but hey, I'll come back to that one day.

I've played this game some 25 years ago, and the again at various points in my life, and it still feels fresh. This amazes me completely.

If you've never played it, do so. It proves to those that yet didn't know it, that you don't need cutscenes or intrusive narrative to make a powerful game.

And you've probably guessed it, but I don't think this game needs a remake. Certainly not one like Samus Returns, at least.

Finished in 4h I think. No 100% 🙁

Metroid Fusion (the good but weird one)

Storywise, this a good follow-up to SM : the Metroids having been wiped out, another predator takes over on SR-388 : the X parasite (imagine Covid after a thousand variants). After an encounter with it, Samus becomes infected and her suit mutates. Hijinks ensue.

Fusion is weird : it's unusually linear and story-focused for a Metroid game. Your objectives are always clearly defined after a quite long conversation and many paths are blocked until the end. And I mean blocked as "this door is locked for now", not as "this path can't be reached without this power", so that's a bit jarring.

The long texts also gave me pause : all through the game, Samus refers prominently to a character known as "Adam", which, if you've only played the 2D games, is completely unknown. This felt strange as Samus has apparently a strong connection to this character… but the player hasn't. I've never played the Prime series so I wouldn't know if Adam originates there, but this whole thing just emphasizes why this game feels weird to me.

Gameplay-wise, it's obviously very close to Zero Mission and feels great. Pacing is not really an issue here as you're thrown from one objective to the next; what is an issue however, is that at a certain point the game can open up, but doesn't tell you clearly. Not wise to it, I had to face the final boss with a slightly underpowered Samus. That was a challenge, but doing it again after collecting every item felt like a totally different fight.

Once again, collecting 100% of the items was a very interesting part of the game, transforming Fusion into a kind of puzzle game at times. I had to look at hints again for some items that were eluding but mostly it went ok.

Not much to say about this one after all that, this a good entry, but its interest lies more in its narration than in its gameplay, which is kind of a shame for a Metroid game.

Finished in about 5h, 8h for 100%.

All in all, I immensely enjoyed replaying these games; they're classics for a reason. I can't help but wonder if Metroid Dread will turn out good : after all, we've been spoiled with many great metroidvanias these past years (play Hollow Knight !), and I feel that following Samus Returns's steps won't do it for me. So yeah, here's hoping Dread will take inspiration from the best.

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