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Game Reviews

‘Metroid: Samus Returns’ Damn Well Lives Up To The Unsustainable Hype

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The Metroid franchise deserves all, and any, praise it has received over the years, if only for launching a winning formula, and one of Nintendo’s greatest franchises. From the NES debut to the Super Nintendo classic, to the underrated handheld entries, and the 3D debut, with the Prime series, the Metroid games have, for the most part, been providing fans with countless hours of high-quality entertainment. Nintendo’s sci-fi series helped pioneer the idea of non-linear exploration, and, even after 30 years, its influence on the industry is still felt. In the three-plus decades since Metroid first launched, there have been countless imitators, many forgotten and some beloved, yet despite the number of games that can trace their lineage back to Samus Aran’s first adventure, none, in this critic’s eyes, has come close to equaling the level of artistry found in the best of the Metroid series.

Metroid: Samus Returns, which launches this week on the Nintendo 3DS, can be added to the list of greatest games ever made for a Nintendo console. Samus Returns is technically brilliant, tense, and visually breathtaking, and there’s not a moment in this game that doesn’t excel well beyond the usual genre trappings. The long-awaited return to Metroid’s side-scrolling roots is simply amazing, and if you have fond memories of battling the titular parasite critters in a 2D setting, Metroid: Samus Returns might just be your kind of return trip. It’s been thirteen years since the last 2D game (Metroid: Zero Mission) was released, and thankfully Samus Returns supplies enough visual spectacle, tense action, and sticky, slithery monster attacks to hit the sweet spot with fans worldwide. Samus Returns is an experience that sticks with you and begs for numerous revisits — the kind of game that marks career milestones and makes you wonder why it has taken so long for Nintendo to give fans what they really want.

Hey Samus. Has anyone ever mistaken you for a man?

MercurySteam (best known for breathing new life into the Castlevania franchise) is the company responsible for putting Samus back on the map, and they deserve plenty of praise for delivering a game that lives up to the unsustainable hype. Samus Returns looks, feels, sounds, and moves like a traditional Metroid game, and longtime fans will be happy to know that Yoshio Sakamoto’s influence is most definitely felt throughout.

Technically, Samus Returns is a remake of Metroid II, which first launched on the original monochromatic Game Boy, but to simply label Samus Returns a remake/remaster feels criminal. The Spanish developers did well in remaining faithful to the basic structure, but took a number of creative liberties along the way, introducing a host of new features, and therefore making it more appealing to modern audiences. If anything, Samus Returns is a ground-up re-imagining of the 1991 title, and the game packs a much more visceral punch than its predecessor.

Samus Returns has been changed, updated and revamped in many ways from the original, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the plot. The story takes place immediately after the events of the first game, and right from the outset, Samus lands on SR388, the home planet of the Metroids, where she must explore a subterranean cavern and seek and destroy — count ‘em — all forty Metroids scattered across the planet. Her mission is essentially to commit genocide, and each time you defeat a parasitic monster, you must collect their DNA and bring it back to their altar, which drains a pool of acidic lava, thus allowing you to further explore the ominous planet (I swear, someone one day is going to write a 2000-word think piece about religion, war, and genocide and tie it into this game).

When it comes to technical wizardry and sheer visual spectacle, Metroid: Samus Returns unequivocally delivers.

As in all Metroid games, you start out with a limited arsenal of weapons and abilities, but over time you’ll unlock new ones, which in turn allows you to defeat new enemies and open up new areas to explore. In terms of story, Samus Returns won’t change the way people think about the franchise, but it reinforces the series’ strengths without alienating its biggest fans. Despite some gorgeously-rendered animated cutscenes, Samus Returns plays out like a silent film. That is to say, there is no voice acting, no dialogue, and no explicit storytelling. It’s just you and one bounty hunter on a mission, and its a better game for it.

When it comes to technical wizardry and sheer visual spectacle, Metroid: Samus Returns unequivocally delivers. Added to the expected nature of the game’s plot twists is the spooky, H.R. Giger-influenced production design, fluid controls, and colorful visuals. Samus Returns is bright, beautiful, yet dark and brooding. The level of detail in each of the environments is remarkable — from the plant-infested caves, bubbling pools of lava, crystal caverns, glistening waterfalls, and the vast subterranean Chozo ruin, Samus Returns may just be the best looking game on Nintendo’s portable system. MercurySteam really pushed the 3DS to the limit, especially with the boss battles, which feature some of the biggest highlights the platform has ever seen. In fact, Samus Returns is such a visually exquisite, unmissable game that it demands and deserves to be seen and played on the biggest screen available; it’s a shame it isn’t available on the Nintendo Switch as well.

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Of course, as with the best Metroid games, as you explore the world, there’s a powerful feeling that you’re completely alone, and that feeling of isolation goes a long way in helping to heighten the slow-building, atmospheric tension. Truth be told, reviewing the game prior to release brought back a feeling I haven’t felt in quite some time — the same feeling I had as a kid playing through a game before the days of online walkthroughs and Let’s Play videos. There was nowhere for me to turn to for clues — no Nintendo Power, no strategy guide, and nobody to help. It was just me making my way through complex environments, and being forced to play the game with little in the way of directions.

Compared to Metroid II, Samus Returns is massive, and if my memory serves me correctly, it seems that the original game’s entire layout has been completely redesigned. This is without a doubt the biggest map of any Metroid game outside of the Prime series — a dense and complex maze that requires you to constantly explore and re-explore areas. Yes, Samus Returns does require quite a bit of backtracking, and in true Metroid tradition, you will constantly come upon locked areas forcing you to investigate every nook and cranny. The good news is that the game is constantly rewarding players for backtracking since every area is littered with new surprises, abilities, and upgrades that you won’t have access to right away. And with each new ability, Samus is able to unlock new areas and uncover secrets hidden throughout the serpentine labyrinthine.

Metroid Samus Returns is quite simply an amazing game, and another huge win for Nintendo

In addition, in order to aid the player in their journey, Samus Returns includes a new ability that makes probing every corner of the planet easier. The scanning mechanism acts as a cheat (recommended for newcomers) and reveals the secret entrances to nearby rooms and lost treasures. Meanwhile, thanks to the 3DS’ dual screens, the second screen not only serves as a helpful map, but also allows you to place visual markers to help you find your way around.

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In gameplay, Samus Returns distinguishes itself from the older games by adding some new moves, the best of which is a timed counter-attack. Though parrying takes a bit of time to get used to, it becomes incredibly useful in boss fights. And that’s not all: in previous Metroid games, Samus can attack in eight directions, but with this installment, that is no longer the case. Samus Returns introduces Free Aim, an ability that allows Samus to aim in 360 degrees by holding the left trigger. Upon doing so, her gun will release a laser pointer that can easily target enemies from afar. The level of freedom this gives players is much appreciated, as it allows you to easily pick off enemies from a distance, solve puzzles, and uncover hidden secrets. There are other abilities as well, including the Grapple Beam, Power Bomb, and Super Missile pulled from later Metroid games, and the likes of the heat-resistant Varia Suit, the screw attack, the Ice Beam, and the High Jump Boots all make their return as well.

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Finally, I can’t end this review without mentioning the boss battles. Like Metroid PrimeSamus Returns cleverly places equal focus on exploration and combat, and as mentioned above, the objective is simple: kill Metroids. All forty serve as mini-boss battles. While the notion of 40 slightly-evolving mini-boss battles may seem a tad bit tedious, these Metroids come in five types, each representing a stage in the alien’s life cycle. The highlight of the game is the Metroids themselves, and as you progress through the game you’ll come across increasingly more advanced versions, starting with the Alpha Metroids, and eventually working your way up to the Omega Metroids, and so on. Early Metroids are fairly easy to defeat, needing only a counterattack and a few missiles, but the Metroids quickly evolve, leading to complex battles with challenging attack patterns to memorize.

In boss fights, countering often loads a cutscene, and don’t be surprised if, while in battle, a Metroid decides to just get up and slither its way to another room, forcing you to give chase. It’s tempting to continue to describe the brilliantly-staged scenes of horror and surprise, but it would be a shame not to allow the game to reveal its own secrets. It’s enough to say that the tension is savage, and that you are held in suspense, right up to the very end. There’s one fight in particular that will blow you away, and regardless if you are familiar with the ending of the original game, Metroid: Samus Returns has a surprise for everyone who finishes it.

Metroid Samus Returns is quite simply an amazing game, and another huge win for Nintendo, who is having a banner year. It’s also a great game for anyone not familiar with the franchise, as newcomers will welcome the scan ability mentioned above, and Samus Returns also comes with numerous checkpoints and a teleporting station that makes backtracking through areas less tedious. In almost every respect, Samus Return is a near-perfect game. It takes much of what worked in the original and dramatically updates it to modern times. It’s everything a sequel should be, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a masterpiece, there’s definite mastery here.

– Ricky D

Some people take my heart, others take my shoes, and some take me home. I write, I blog, I podcast, I edit, and I design websites. Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Goomba Stomp and the NXpress Nintendo Podcast. Former Editor-In-Chief of Sound On Sight, and host of several podcasts including the Game of Thrones and Walking Dead podcasts, as well as the Sound On Sight and Sordid Cinema shows. There is nothing I like more than basketball, travelling, and animals. You can find me online writing about anime, TV, movies, games and so much more.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Booski

    September 14, 2017 at 9:18 am

    Great review. My anticipation to play this is unreal. Like you said, what a year for Nintendo, might go down as their best ever.

    • Ricky D

      September 14, 2017 at 9:33 am

      Thanks. I was kind of afraid I was overselling it when I wrote the review but this is my kind of game. I didn’t 100% complete it but I did finish it in less than 10 hours which is great for someone like me who works a lot and doesn’t have time to play many long games. But I really think it is a great game for anyone who has never played Metroid since the check points, map and teleportation helps you move around the world. I only wish it was on the Nintendo Switch so I can also play it on my big screen TV.

      • Booski

        September 14, 2017 at 9:48 am

        Nah, I don’t think you oversold it. Plus 9.2 seems to be around the sweet spot most people are rating it. I wouldn’t be surprised if Nintendo made an HD port for the Switch eventually once 3DS sales of the game have dropped off. Do you think you’ll end up 100 percenting it?

        • Ricky D

          September 14, 2017 at 1:49 pm

          I wish I had time. Maybe in a few years when I go back and replay it but I work a lot. I have a full time job and I wear many hats here at Goomba Stomp. Feel free to check out our Nintendo podcast. We will be discussing it on the next two episodes. Also, I hate scoring games and personally I am trying to remove them from the site but I did notice Nintendo Life gave it a 10 . To mean, a 10 mean there are no flaws and honestly, I feel like 9.2 may be too high since it still technically is a remake.

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Game Reviews

‘House of Golf’ is No Hole-In-One, But it is Below Par

‘House of Golf’ may feel appropriate for Switch, but a lack of variety and reused content make this course nearly reach above par.

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Perhaps adding the word “mini” to the title would have been far more appropriate regarding the in-game circumstances of Atomicom’s newest family arcade sports styled game House of Golf. In the slew of golf games currently available on the Nintendo Switch, House of Golf may feel the most appropriate for the console’s capabilities due to its key focus on simplicity, portability, and accessibility, but a lack of diversity in individual hole design and reused content nearly makes this humdrum course reaching above par.

Simplicity is a key focus within House of Golf’s core mechanics. Controls, menus, and even gameplay are as simple as video games can get. The left analog stick operates the camera and holding down the A button fires your ball with a distinct power meter located on the right-hand side of the screen. Your goal is to attempt to achieve a hole-in-one or stay below a par number that changes depending on course and difficulty- just like regular golf, mini-golf, or any form of golf you can imagine. It never gets more complicated than that.

House of Golf may claim that its selling point is that it contains over 130 different holes divided into 5 different environments- or rather rooms- and 3 difficulties, but variety becomes bland after less than an hour of playtime. Despite there being five different environments, after completing one course on either the medium or hard difficulty setting, you practically have experienced all there is to do. Courses always remain compact and easy to navigate, but the game never gets challenging or adds some sort of flair that allows each hole to stand out from one another. It is a shame considering that the fluid gameplay foundation the courses are built on might just be the most tightly controlled golf game available on Switch.

As the title of the game implies, every course is designed around the interior aesthetics of a house- a rather small one at that as the game chooses to focus on table-top scenarios- quite literally. Each hole is rapid-fire short and manages to achieve a miniature sense of scale. They are stylized well but the game often reuses assets for each room despite the settings being entirely different. The atmospheres themselves manage to create a comfy aesthetic for each hole that only adds more cheerful feelings to the laid-back easy-going gameplay on top of a soundtrack that is extremely mellow yet quaint, but when you are on a nine-hole course that never completely changes that atmosphere can become tiresome.

What initially seems like House of Golf’s greatest strength though is being able to choose any environment, hole, and difficulty directly from the get-go, but this feature quickly takes the game south rather unintentionally. As soon as you open up the game, players can accommodate to their own personal skill level leaving the vast majority of them to skip more than a third of the levels. With no learning curve or incentive to play the game on its lowest difficulties, House of Golf rapidly begins to dwindle in new content.

When it comes to the ranking system, it is designed exactly like a traditional mini-golf game where your goal is to achieve a set number of strokes that will keep you above par. Stars will be awarded to players based on performance- a hole-in-one obviously being the highest gold star rank a player can achieve and a triple-bogey being the lowest. These stars, however, only unlock one feature: golf ball designs.

Extra unlockable golf ball designs are the only in-game rewards to collect throughout the game- and it is nothing to look forward to or worthwhile to commit to. They are charming to gander at for more then a couple of seconds, but they serve no real purpose in the long run- not even when it comes to the multiplayer. Rather then these rewards being applied to each individual player’s ball, House of Golf does not allow players to choose what golf ball design they wish to use. For some ridiculous reason, whatever player one chooses is applied to every golf ball.

Speaking of, while the singleplayer can be rather tiresome, House of Golf’s one notable addition that might just keep you on the course for longer than a few hours is the inclusion of a local multiplayer ranging from two to six players. Multiplayer presents a higher-stakes challenge for each course, which makes gameplay not only far more satisfying to win at but overall entertaining to play. Due to the compact course designs, often you can mess with your friend’s positions and overthrow the score of each hole. Multiplayer was clearly the go-to way to play as it is the first option that appears on the main menu.

One thing that should be noted is that only one joy-con is required for everyone to play as there is no other option to use multiple controllers- a convenient addition that you have to wonder why more games do not have it on the Nintendo Switch. It is by far the game’s most redeeming quality that absolutely deserves mentioning. For a game where one player controls the field at a time, this streamlines a lot of issues outside even that of the game itself.

It is no hole-in-one to ride home about, but Atomicom has managed to create an arcade-style sports game that is a mix of both simplistically relaxing and mildly infuriating. In its final state, the lackluster courses can make this one turn into a quick bore, but adding a few friends to the multiplayer scene can turn House of Golf into a few delightful hours. At its retail price of ten dollars, any Switch owner planning on picking up House of Golf should wait for it to land in a sale target-hole. It is not bad by any means, but there are better places to look to fill your golf fix, especially those looking for a single-player experience. For a cheap alternative, however, it might just be worth it for the multiplayer alone.

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Game Reviews

‘Riverbond’ Review: Colorful Hack’n’Slash Chaos

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Sometimes a little bit of mindless smashing is just what people play video games for, and if some light sword-swinging, spear-stabbing, laser-shooting giant hand-slapping action that crumbles a destructible world into tiny blocks sounds like a pleasant way to spend a few hours, then Riverbond might just satisfy that urge. Though its short campaign can get a little repetitive by the end, colorful voxel levels and quirky characters generally make this rampaging romp a button-mashing good time, especially if you bring along a few friends.

Riverbond grass

There really isn’t much of a story here outside something about some mystical leaders being imprisoned by a knight, and Riverbond lets players choose from its eight levels in Mega Man fashion, so don’t go in expecting some sort of narrative thread. Instead, each land has its own mini-situation going on, whether that involves eradicating some hostile pig warriors or reading library books or freeing numerous rabbit villagers scattered about, the narrative motivation is pretty light here. That doesn’t mean that these stages don’t each have their various charms, however, as several punnily named NPCs will blurt out humorous bits of dialogue that work well as breezy pit stops between all the cubic carnage.

Developer Cococucumber has also wisely created plenty of visual variety for their fantastical world, as players will find their polygonal hero traversing the lush greenery of grassy plains, the wooden piers of a ship’s dockyard, the surrounding battlements of a medieval castle, and the craggy outcroppings of a snowy mountain, among other locations, each with a distinct theme. Many of the trees or bridges or crates or whatever else happens to be lying around are completely destructible, able to be razed to the ground with enough brute force. Occasionally the physics involved in these crumbling structures helps gain access to jewels or other loot, but this mechanic mostly just their for the visual appeal one gets from cascading blocks; Riverbond isn’t exactly deep in its design.

Riverbond boss

That shallowness also applies to the basic gameplay, which pretty much involves hacking or shooting enemies and environments to pieces, activating whatever task happens to be the main goal for each sub-stage, then moving on or scouring around a bit for treasure before finally arriving at a boss. Though there are plenty of different weapons to find, they generally fall into only a few categories: small swinging implements that allow for quick slashes, large swinging implements that are slow but deal heavier damage, spears that offer quick jabs, or guns that…shoot stuff. There are some variations among these in speed, power, and possible side effects (a gun that fired electricity is somewhat weak, but sticks to opponents and gives off an extra, devastating burst), but once an agreeable weapon is found, there is little reason to give it up outside experimentation.

Still, there is a rhythmic pleasure to be found in games like this when they are done right, and Riverbond mostly comes through with tight controls, hummable tunes, and twisting levels that do a good job of mixing in some verticality to mask the repetitiveness. It’s easy for up to four players to get in on the dungeon-crawling-like pixelated slaughter, and the amount of blocks exploding onscreen can make for some fun and frenzied fireworks, especially when whomping on one of the game’s giant bosses. A plethora of skins for the hero are also discoverable, with at least one or two tucked away in locations both obvious and less so around each sub-stage. These goofy characters exist purely for aesthetic reasons, but those who prefer wiping out legions of enemies dressed as Shovel Knight or a sentient watermelon slice will be able to fulfill that fantasy.

Riverbond bears

By the end, the repetitive fights and quests can make Rivebond feel a little same-y, but the experience wraps up quickly without dragging things out. This may disappoint players looking for a more involved adventure, but those who sometimes find relaxation by going on autopilot — especially with some buddies on the couch — will appreciate how well the block-smashing basics are done here.

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Game Reviews

‘Earthnight’ Review: Hit the Dragon Running

Between its lush visuals and its constantly evolving gameplay, Earthnight never gets old, from the first dragon you slay to the hundredth.

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Earthnight

In Earthnight, you do one thing: run. There’s not much more to do in this roguelike auto-runner but to dash across the backs of massive dragons to reach their heads and strike them down. This may be an extremely simple gameplay loop, but Earthnight pulls it off with such elegance and style. Between its lush comic book visuals and its constantly evolving gameplay, it creates an experience that never gets old, from the first dragon you slay to the hundredth.

Dragons have descended from space and are wreaking havoc upon humanity. No one is powerful enough to take them down – except for the two-player characters, Sydney and Stanley, of course. As the chosen ones to save the human race, they must board a spaceship and drop from the heavens while slaying as many dragons on your way down as they can. For every defeated creature, they’ll be rewarded with water – an extremely precious resource in the wake of the dragon apocalypse. This resource can be exchanged for upgrades that make the next run that much better.

This simple story forms the basis for a similarly basic, yet engaging gameplay loop. Each time you dive from your spaceship, you’ll see an assortment of dragons to land on. Once you make a landing, you’ll dash across its back and avoid the obstacles it throws at you before reaching its head, where you’ll strike the final blow. Earthnight is procedurally generated, so every time you leap down from your home base, there’s a different set of dragons to face, making each run feel unique. There are often special rewards for hunting specific breeds of dragon, so it’s always exciting to see the new set of creatures before you and hunt for the one you need at any given moment.

Earthnight is an acrobatic, dragon-hunting ballet that only becomes more beautifully extravagant with every run.”

Earthnight

Landing on the dragons is only the first step to slaying them. Entire hordes of monsters live on their backs, and in true auto-runner fashion, they’ll rush at you with reckless abandon from the very start. During the game’s first few runs, the onrush of enemies can feel overwhelming. Massive crowds of them will burst forth at once, and it can feel impossible to survive their onslaughts. However, this is where Earthnight begins to truly shine. The more dragons you slay, the more upgrade items become available, which are either given as rewards for slaying specific dragons or can be purchased with the water you’ve gained in each run. Many of these feel essentially vital for progression – some allow you to kill certain enemies just by touching them, whereas others can grant you an additional jump, both of which are much appreciated in the utter chaos of obstacles found on each dragon.

Procedural generation can often result in bland or repetitive level design, but it’s this item progression system that keeps Earthnight from ever feeling dry. It creates a constant sense of improvement: with more items in your arsenal after each new defeated dragon, you’ll be able to descend even further in the next run. This makes every level that much more exciting: with more power under your belt, there are greater possibilities for defeating enemies, stacking up combos, or climbing high above the dragons. It becomes an acrobatic, dragon-hunting ballet that only becomes more beautifully extravagant with every run.

Earthnight

At its very best, Earthnight feels like a rhythm game. With the perfect upgrades for each level, it becomes only natural to bounce off of enemies’ heads and soar through the heavens with an almost musical flow. The vibrant chiptune soundtrack certainly helps with this. Packed full of driving beats and memorable melodies with a mixture of chiptune and modern instrumentation, the music makes it easy to charge forward through whatever each level will throw your way.

That is not to say that Earthnight never feels too chaotic for its own good – rather, there are some points where its flood of enemies and obstacles can feel too random or overwhelming, to the point where it can be hard to keep track of your character or feel as if it’s impossible to avoid enemies. Sometimes the game can’t even keep up with itself, with the performance beginning to chug once enemies crowd the screen too much, at least in the Switch version. However, this is the exception, rather than the rule, and for the most part, simply making good use of its upgrades and reacting quickly to the challenges before you will serve you well in your dragon-slaying quest.

Earthnight

Earthnight is a race that’s worth running time and time again.”

It certainly helps that Earthnight is a visual treat as well. It adopts a striking comic book style, in which nearly every frame of animation is lovingly hand-drawn and loaded with detail. Sometimes these details feel a bit excessive – some characters are almost grotesquely detailed, with the faces of the bobble-headed protagonists sometimes seeming too elaborate for comfort. However, in general, it’s a gorgeous game, with its luscious backdrops of deep space and high sky, along with creative monsters and dragon designs that only get more outlandish and spectacular the farther down you soar.

Earthnight is a competent auto-runner that might not revolutionize its genre, but it makes up for this simplicity by elegantly executing its core gameplay loop so that it constantly changes yet remains endlessly addictive. Its excellent visual and audio presentation helps to make it all the more engrossing, while it strikes the perfect balance between randomized level design and permanent progression thanks to its items and upgrades system. At times it may get too chaotic for its own good, but all told, Earthnight is a race that’s worth running time and time again.

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