I can play games during lunch break.
As you probably guessed, this is a metroidvania. Along with your standard left/right movement and jump, you have regular shots that you can shoot in the 8 cardinal directions by holding the circle pad in that direction, or you can shoot in full 360-degrees by holding the L button to go into “free aim” mode. You also begin with the iconic Morph Ball already, as well as around 20 missiles (fired by holding R and shooting), but bomb-jumping was removed (or at least made waaayy harder to do) and wall-jumping was nerfed so you’re forced away from the wall until the peak of your jump (no more scaling sheer-face cliffs without the Space Jump, or the Spider Ball in some cases) and is disabled entirely if the vertical shaft is only one unit wide. Also, new to the Metroid games are honey-covered walls, which disable both wall-jumps and the Spider Ball, because apparently that power was just too broken to design a modern Metroid game around (there are also red spikes that will also knock you off a wall/ceiling if touched in Spider Ball mode, not to be confused with the red plants that simply need the green shield power to get past).
Another thing new to the Metroid franchise is a parry mechanic: almost every enemy has a charge attack (foreshadowed by a spark visual and shwing sound effect), and you have less than a second to hit the top face button to prevent them from ramming straight into you. This mechanic singlehandedly made me hesitant to get the game in the first place, but I also didn’t see too many promising 3DS games get physical copies recently, so I figured “what the heck, I’ll try it.” Sure enough, I found it annoying, but luckily, you don’t have to use it as much later on (for example, once you get the ice beam, you can just freeze enemies instead).
The game also adds some unnecessary fluff where there wasn’t any before. For example, in the original game, saving your progress only involved jumping on the save pillar and pushing the button; you didn’t even have to stop moving forward if you timed your jump right. In contrast, this game makes you stand on a switch for a solid second, then it brings up the “wanna save” choice, then you gotta wait several seconds for it to save. I can understand some of that, but why the switch? It’s not like it’ll prevent interrupting you while fighting enemies because there was one part in Area 2 where I accidentally stood on the save switch for too long while free-aiming my shots at an airborne enemy. Another example: in the original, when you killed all the area’s Metroids, the earthquake would happen less than a second after the last “Metroid killed” jingle, draining the acid without even interrupting your movement. In this game, each evolved-Metroid death triggers a brief cutscene showing Samus gathering the DNA evidence, and when the last one in the area is dead, it’s followed by another brief cutscene reminding you where the drainage tower is (which you always come across shortly after entering the area and is always marked on your map), then you gotta go there and stand on the drainage tower’s switch for a second before yet another not-so-brief cutscene plays, showing all the DNAs slowly stamp the tower (especially annoying when the area had 6+ Metroids), at which point the acid finally recedes.
Now, something a lot of you are probably wondering is “Is the game better than AM2R?” The answer is yes because Zeta Metroids won’t parry 75% of your missiles in this game, but there are other major differences as well. For one, AM2R was more like a graphical upgrade with some updated AI for the Alpha and Gamma Metroids, as well as throwing out the original AI of Zeta and Omega Metroids in favor of Metroid Fusion influence. EDIT: in the interest of fairness, I should mention that AM2R also has a new area right before the final one, as well as a couple new bosses. In contrast, this game takes the Zero Mission route and almost completely redesigns all the rooms with new level design, only really referencing the original with its basic map layout (sometimes even going further than that and adding new/larger rooms). The AI for the Metroids was also given a complete overhaul: for example, instead of Alphas just beelining towards you like in the original (or sine-curving towards you like in AM2R), they have a half-pipe charge attack and can also carpet-bomb the arena with little electric projectiles. Later Alphas can even drop a super-projectile that’ll turn the whole platform hazardous for a couple seconds. The game really turned the evolved Metroids into proper bosses and mini-bosses, as well as threw out the original AI of Zeta and Omega Metroids in favor of Metroid Fusion influence (even Gamma Metroids crawl on the ground half the time). Dang it Nintendo, I trusted you! The main thing I wanted from this remake was flying Zetas and Omegas! That, more than anything, tells me they took direct “inspiration” from AM2R instead of just going “Oh no, people are playing a free, fan-made remake of our game! Quick, put a stop to it and make our own!”
That said, there’s a bit of a problem with fleshing out the Metroids’ AI: just like in the original, you have to kill 40 them, but the level design doesn’t change all that much between arenas. Most of the Metroids you fight (well over half) are Alphas and Gammas, and there are a grand total of three arena types: flat ground, square-wave, and flat platforms over hazards (poor Zetas and Omegas don’t even get those last two). That last one might’ve actually meant something if you couldn’t just use free-aim to hit them wherever you stand. EDIT: OH WAIT, THERE WAS EXACTLY ONE OTHER ARENA TYPE: in area 2, exactly one Alpha Metroid’s flat arena is slightly flooded (one unit of water on the ground), meaning your jumps are lower and you need to be more precise when jumping over the Alpha Metroid, but that’s it. Really, game? You couldn’t have had, like, one Alpha arena have moving platforms over a hazard so the player couldn’t just stand on the same platform the whole time without being pushed off by the wall? The Alphas and Gammas DO have one trick up their sleeve, though: running away. Not to a trickier arena, mind you; there are still only just those three (and sometimes the new arena is easier). Plus, most of the time, rather than being able to follow them, they’ll just crawl into the wall and you gotta rely on the radar sound to track where their new location is. It just makes an already-repetitive part of the game more annoying.
Speaking of annoying, this game really likes putting collectibles behind roadblocks you won’t get until later. For the record, Metroid 2 is probably the most linear Metroid game: the hub is basically just a vertical shaft that branches off into the different areas (and this game sectioned off the hub and joined them with their nearby areas so it could shoehorn in the iconic Metroid elevators). This means you won’t find yourself going through an old area to get to a new area: the only reason you’d backtrack is to get the items you missed, and the only reason later-game roadblocks are put in earlier-game areas is to force you to miss items. For crying out loud, several items are blocked by blue crystals, and as anyone who’s played the original Metroid 2 will tell you: those crystals can only be destroyed with the Metroid larva you get after beating the final boss! Now, you might be thinking “oh, that’s probably foreshadowing a brand new area after the original final boss, like what Zero Mission did,” except no, the brand new area is Area 4 (EDIT: and maybe area 6, or at least the lower part); there’s no additional area after the original final boss.
However, there is an extra boss fight after the original final one: it’s Ridley, because of course it is (maybe Metroid 5 can be about Samus killing all the Ridleys? ☺). Although it’s tired from a narrative perspective, the extra boss does have a unique AI (even when compared to previous Ridleys) and is much more in-line with what I expected from the Zetas and Omegas. Oh, but if you thought this extra boss would give you a reason to go back and get all those items you missed, it turns out this Ridley is immune to missiles and super missiles; you can only damage it with the plasma beam. I swear, I don’t think I’ve seen a Metroidvania actively discourage exploration as much as this one; it’s almost like they’re just seeing what they can get away with. Seriously, there’s a difference between “new power in a Metroidvania lets you access previously inaccessible areas” and “here’s a late-game roadblock in an early game area that leads to a dead-end and a useless collectible exclusively to force backtracking for those who want 100% completion.” It’s not even like you can get it on the way to a new area because of how linear Metroid 2 is: once you make it to Area 2, you’re not gonna go back to Area 1, and so on. Ironically, this is something the original Metroid 2 understood (or at least got right by accident): every item in the original can be gotten with the powerups you find in that area or previous areas; no backtracking from later areas required.
Just to give you an idea of how bad it is: the game starts you off with a radar power: push the A button with it equipped and it reveals nearby rooms (map) and destructible blocks (in-game), but even with that and with me trying to get as many items as I could without backtracking between areas, I only had 61% of items when I beat the game.
Lastly, some nitpicks about boss AI. There’s a second new boss, located in Area 6 (before the final boss). It’s pretty good for the most part, but there’s one attack where it summons a wind vortex to try to suck you into it, and it isn’t very intuitive that you have to lay bombs in the vortex’s path to damage it (I only figured that out after watching the pattern loop a couple times and doing some trial-and-error). After you stun the boss doing that, it starts rotating and generating electricity for a bit, but shooting it does nothing and laying bombs against it also does nothing, not even against the dark-blue lines. After some more trial and error, it turns out laying bombs against the dark-blue lines WAS what I was supposed to do; I just had to wait until they were lined up with some other dark-blue lines in the center.
The final boss isn’t immune from bad conveyance, either. A couple of its attacks will make you think “I can avoid this with Space Jump/Time Slow/etc.” and it isn’t until after that doesn’t work and you take damage when you realize “oh, the game wanted me to use the Spider Ball.” On one hand, it’s kinda neat they tried to incorporate the Spider Ball into a boss, but the game gives you so many abilities that the attacks should be less ambiguous. Ridley also has a tail-stab move, which is one thing, but on the second phase, it suddenly gets a ground-shockwave added to it that you won’t expect or have much time to react to when it first happens.
Overall, I’d say this is definitely better than the original Metroid 2, and even better than AM2R, but is it worth $40 USD? I don’t know about that. It’s definitely a stretch to say the least, what with the repetitive boss fights, mediocre backtracking excuses, ambiguous attacks, and parry mechanic. Unfortunately, it hasn’t had a price-drop since 2018, and it doesn’t look like the price of physical copies will go down any time soon.
P.S. Despite the many tutorial messages near the beginning, the game never tells you how to get a larva Metroid off of you once it latches on (there’s a cinematic showing you struggling the first time it happens, but no text or visual showing how to escape), meaning Metroid Prime is still the only game that actually tells you this. Also, even though the only difference between normal mode and hard mode is enemies dealing more damage, it’s still locked until you beat normal mode for some reason.