If you’re anything like me, the moment you picked up Nintendo’s shiny console-portable hybrid the Switch this past spring, you immediately and heartlessly chucked your old Nintendo 3DS in a drawer, never to be thought of again. The Switch has had a killer first six months, with amazing titles like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Splatoon 2, and Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle, and the console has outsold PS4 and Xbox One the last two months. But it’s time to dust off your trusty old handheld and find your charger, because Metroid: Samus Returns (out now on 3DS) is not only a fantastic return to form for the series, it’s also one of the best games of the year.
When the game was announced at E3 in June, it didn’t even make the main Nintendo Direct showcase. Granted, Nintendo finally announced the long-awaited Metroid Prime 4 was in development for Switch, but they only showed a logo, and it’s seemingly a long way off. It was during the Treehouse Live aftershow that longtime Metroid director Yoshio Sakamoto revealed Samus was returning in a reimagining of the 1991 Gameboy game Metroid II: Return of Samus, in development by Spanish studio MercurySteam.
I was skeptical for several reasons. The last main Metroid title, 2010’s Other M on Wii, was a melodramatic misfire, and last year’s Metroid Prime: Federation Force was the spin-off no one wanted; it seemed like Nintendo no longer knew its fans. Developer MercurySteam was responsible for a trio of underwhelming Castlevania games, and the last time Nintendo released a 2D Metroid title was 2004’s Zero Mission (which coincidentally was a Game Boy Advance remake of the very first game). And besides, why would I want to play it on the old 3DS when I have a new Switch?
Well, after spending nearly 20 hours exploring the labyrinthine levels of planet SR388, discovering powerful weapons, hunting Metroids, and completely 100 percenting the game, I’m thrilled to say that Samus is officially back and better than ever. The classic Metroid gameplay returns in all its glory, but it’s been updated to modern standards; this doesn’t feel like a 1991 game. Combat is much more engaging, and Samus has a new parry move that makes fighting aliens much more active. She also earns four new Aeion abilities (a scanner, a shield, a super-powerful gun, and the ability to slow time), which are seamlessly integrated into the world. The game is beautifully paced, constantly propelling you forward to the next objective and showing just enough things you can’t quite do yet so that you’re itching to return once you acquire the proper ability.
It turns out the game was developed for 3DS for a reason: It completely takes advantage of all the handheld’s strengths. Nintendo released the slick 2DS XL earlier this summer, but it would be foolish to play the game in 2D. Crank the 3D slider on your 3DS to the max, because Metroid really shows off the system’s glasses-free 3D. Although the game plays on a 2D plane, the graphics are presented in a lush 3D art style that brings unprecedented depth to the series. It’s like staring into a beautiful diorama, with constant movement in the background that fully envelops you into its strange alien world. And having a map always available on the 3DS’ lower screen makes exploring every nook and cranny of the world so much more intuitive without ever having to pause the action.
Even though the Switch is clearly the future of Nintendo, it’s astonishing that the company was able to craft such a stellar adventure on six-year-old hardware, and it’s not to be missed. Samus’ return was long overdue but well worth the wait, and it proves that Nintendo has listened to what fans want from the series. And for the first time in a decade, I can’t wait to see what adventures Samus embarks on next.