Planet SR388 is colorful in this remake of the Game Boy’s Metroid: Return of Samus. Backgrounds shimmer from purple, crystalline formations. Yellow spikes line other corridors. Bounty hunter Samus Aran’s arsenal glows too; varying laser hues and rainbow colored shields, in addition to emboldened yellow armor, help her stand out.
SR388 is not the planet it was. The fault of videogame remakes, sometimes all remakes, is to assume all technological advances are a betterment. Not in Samus Returns. Lost is an alien quality. Purple crystals won’t sprout from Earth’s surface with regularity, no. But on Game Boy, with an acidic, ghastly palette, as if the entirety of SR388 choked on its own atmosphere, Return of Samus felt suitably inhospitable. Desolate, deprived. Only an alien as we envision them could live there. The firmness and stout form of Return of Samus’ pixels looked strong and prominent. Now it’s about polygons. Angular, yet muddy.
Samus is not a perfect heroine. In that sense, the dimensional world she now inhabits feels right. She’s athletic but not crisp. She fumbles and plops. It’s frustrating when in the control chair, trying to maneuver Samus with any precision. Undoubtedly, this is equally irritating for her too. Even the awkward, multiple-press control system fits her almost comical awkwardness. That’s character without Samus ever speaking a word.
Uncovering SR388’s secrets is still a joy. Seeing a map section open up is such a draw; the entire genre leans on it. Samus Returns isn’t the most well designed of exploratory 2D games. Emptiness is common. Combat tends to interfere rather than excite. Yet there’s Samus, and with a bit of violence, a silent story. The goal here is eradication of the Metroids, considered a hostile species until Samus discovers a helpful infant. Empathy, or maybe instinct takes over. What follows this chronologically is Super Metroid, a nearly perfect game, and one about the instincts of motherhood. Samus Returns then makes Super Metroid better, as did Return of Samus. Disparaging remarks over the remake aside, Samus Returns has the ability to make a classic more classic. That’s certainly noteworthy.