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Breaking the Narrative Episode 64: Returning to the Basics! A Review of Metroid: Samus Returns!

I promised you something deeper and despite this being another review I am doing this from a surprisingly in depth standpoint. If you’ve been following my work for a while you’ll know that in Episode 7 of this article series I went through all of Samus’ past and analyzed her as a character. So by reviewing this game we are going to do three things:

1 – Give a concise overview of how the game mechanics have evolved since the original this remake is based on.

2 – Show how my initial analysis of the character holds up, particularly from the perspective of how the analysis affects gender depictions. Samus remains a strong, female character created independently of feminist interference.

3 – See how this game evolves the mindset and interpretation of the character in question.

With these three things as our core I’ll also put in analysis from the AM2R attempt at the same vision. This will give us a the perspective of how gamers view the character as opposed to how the creators do so. That’s why I took so long before approaching this review. I wanted a chance to investigate all three versions in-depth as I do legitimately own all three, the original Return of Samus on my 3DS, the PC exclusive AM2R, and Samus Returns in cartridge form. Now that I have all that set Let’s Hammer This In!

First things first: Let’s look back on where this is placed as a whole in the Metroid franchise. This is the second game in the series, and as we touched upon in my original article, this is a few years after Zero Mission (the canonical version  of the first game, making this the canon for the second). Depending on your opinions, the Prime series happens between the two missions for Samus and both remakes address this in their own ways. AM2R approaches this by adding in log entries reminiscent of Prime’s while SR (interesting how that aligns with SR-388) goes for how the Prime series added the Chozo mysticism to things, something the last two games of the timeline distinctly lack, even though effectively in
Fusion she has fulfilled the Chozo intent, and the prophecy is fulfilled by the end of that game.

This is why its hard for new games in the Metroid series to be created. They’ve explored as much as they could with the aspects provided, so unless they can give something more dangerous than the Metroid or the X parasite in the franchise they can only revisit games or add to Prime. Now what changes for SR-388 between the two remakes? Quite a bit! Both add new bosses, new abilities  and new areas and mechanics. When I went through my first playthrough, I came to this conclusion and it still stands: AM2R is faithful to the original game, and SR is faithful to the franchise as a whole. What does this mean? It means that while the fan-remake builds a Zero-Mission-like feel for the classic sequel work, Nintendo’s version ties the first game fully to Super Metroid in ways the simple remake just couldn’t.

To get this out of the way to where we can get into the meat of what I want to cover, let’s discuss the gameplay differences. The original game is a classic Game Boy title from the early 90’s plays closest to the original game with how you collect power ups. Which means you can do relatively little overall. AM2R mimics the powers of Zero Mission to a T. Adding in abilities also iconic to Super Metroid and Fusion. SR however deviates the most from the original formula. All the base power-ups are present. However, the Speed Booster was changed out for an Aeion ability, a concept unique to this remake. They are a mystical force similar to the different suits in Metroid Prime 2. One slows time, another gives an extra barrier, another gives basically the Hyper Beam, and the final gives the game’s unique Scan Pulse ability which replaces Map Rooms. These all pool from a shared gauge that can be replenished very easily if you use the game’s other added ability of the Melee Counter.

Artistically both games went in very different directions. AM2R took the original map near verbatim and added a few extra areas and bosses. Most of them are based around the Chozo technology left behind, while some of the extra boss aspects in SR are more additions from when the Federation decided to investigate the planet. With how both games evolved, the bosses from the original are equally interesting and intense. Another change from Return to AM2R is the scale of the world. It takes away from the darkness to add in space… a lot of space, enough to make you feel small at times which add to the feeling of isolation and solitude. SR creates this isolation by using the 3DS’s ability and nature as a Stereoscopic system to create background depth. Attention to detail is insane in the background, showing life all through-out the planet. At the same time it makes you feel claustrophobic and cut off most of the time.

So how does this affect Samus and her interactions with this world of SR-388? In the original title everything is very cold and nondescript. Considering the low power of the platform in question, this is no surprise. With AM2R the game is prefaced by Samus herself and she matter-of-factly states the mission overall. After that every development and event is done with actions as opposed to words short of the log book that you can access at any time in the menu which gives not only hints on bosses but crucial backstory elements. SR is a little more expanded on the backstory in the opening from an unnamed source, likely a Federation contact, and shares very little throughout the main game letting the environment and creatures tell the story for us.

The fan remake gives her a lot more agency over the situation, while the Nintendo remake depicts her as any other bounty hunter hired for a job, beholden to her employer for her current mission. This goes to better explain her actions during Other M. In essence, she was taking on an emergency contract the moment she answered “Baby’s Cry.” This mindset would obligate her to act in the best interest of her current client – in that case Adam, and in this case the Galactic Federation Council. This would also explain why the Aeion abilities would be only be in this particular title, due to their unknown nature and the fact that they likely couldn’t reproduce the energy used for the system, the compatibility was purged from her suit. This could represent why she has started from scratch in most of the series titles.

It also explains why she has all of them in Other M and Fusion at first. She just started to refuse to purge them since they became more understood. In in Other M, she didn’t have time to purge like usual and after that she just stopped caring to purge the functions, until the X Parasite gave her no other choice.

What does this tell us about Samus’ character now with this approach? It tells us that despite being a bounty hunter she was primarily contracted to the Galactic Federation and worked as one of their stable of hunters. However, she was allowed surprising amounts of leeway likely due to the Chozo technology and DNA present within her. Meaning they saw her as their tool, much like many men are seen in our contemporary society. It wasn’t until after Fusion that she got fully released from her underlying PTSD that we’ve touched on before.

I am also not the only one who has noticed this aspect to Samus and her characterization. YouTuber Lockstin & Gnoggin has made this observation as well. Though to be honest I made the observation first. Lockstin, if you read these articles and I helped you come to that realization you are welcome, I’m not mad. Anyway how does this PTSD play into the game’s story? Well its actually quite simple – The Baby. AM2R keeps the hatching and interaction the same. But SR shows something a little more when she hatches. Samus is charging and about to shoot, but the actions of The Baby show us a single youngling asking for her mother. This triggers something in Samus that makes her accept the imprinting – how she has wanted for nearly two decades at that point, having a single sample for just the Federation to use is an excuse. She wants that instinctive parent-child bond.

This is strengthened even more in the true final battle in SR of (spoiler alert) Proteus Ridley. When the Baby actually helps you fight this boss by helping transfer energy to Samus from Ridley. This not only solidifies the bond from earlier but shows how Samus connects with the little energy sucker. This is very similar to how men bond with their children overall, by playing with and working with their children as opposed to just storytelling and physical contact.

So how do I think my analysis holds up after over a year? Pretty solid if the concepts have influenced a YouTuber with nearly half a million subscribers is showing its worth at half a year. This has  evolved to show that for all intents and purposes the original creator had always intended for her PTSD to color how she interacts with her world. We know this because before now Metroid II was the only game in the franchise he had not worked on outside of the Prime series from Retro Studios.

What do I rate the game overall though? AM2R, if you can get hold of it, is a worthwhile play and I would suggest at least trying the original so you have some appreciation for what the team MercurySteam has done in this game. Over all I say its a solid sell, still not as strong as Super Metroid but its definitely a Metroid game through and through. It also gives adequate challenge even at normal. This is a definitive pick up for anyone who loves sci-fi horror.

Now next week I’m going to approach Uncyclopedia by deconstructing their article on Paganism and how it incorrectly tries to tie feminism to the religious structure. This is an anonymous request that I’ve received from a fan. Until then Please Remember to Game Freely!

Alex Tinsley
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Alex Tinsley

A student of Fine Arts and Japanese culture of six years at Murray State University. Having never graduated due to difficulties with a specific teacher has gained a unique perspective upon the issues being faced by men and boys. A father of a young boy and loving husband.
Alex Tinsley
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Alex Tinsley

A student of Fine Arts and Japanese culture of six years at Murray State University. Having never graduated due to difficulties with a specific teacher has gained a unique perspective upon the issues being faced by men and boys. A father of a young boy and loving husband.