Games: Watch out, energy-sucking parasites – famous Samus is back

Metroid nerds and feminists rejoice as Samus returns in, erm, Samus Returns
Neil McGreevy

Metroid: Samus Returns (3DS)

By: Nintendo

IN 1986 Nintendo's funhouse ditched the Prozac for a game that replaced smiles n' sunshine with labyrinthine dread, and the 10-year-old me couldn't have been happier. The company's only series with cajones, Metroid was a blend of sci-fi action and exploration, taking more than a leaf out of Ridley Scott's Alien as tooled-up bounty hunter Samus Aran tore space dragons a new one while searching for sweet upgrades on a maze-like planet.

Metroid pretty much invented backtracking in games and its influence has since shaped franchises like Castlevania and Dark Souls. None, however, can match Metroid's sense of isolation and dread. A trailblazer in level design and women's lib – the original's ending even revealed you had actually been playing as a girl all along. Ewww.

Well, nerds and feminists rejoice as Samus returns in, erm, Samus Returns – technically a remake of Metroid II, which first launched on the original Game Boy back in 1991. The ginger stepchild of the series, Metroid II suffered from ugly monochrome visuals and more linear Metroid-busting that hasn't been repeated since. In truth, this is more a reimagining that keeps the basic structure but updates everything else as Samus lands on SR388, home planet of the energy-sucking parasites, and must eradicate 40 of the blighters.

As with all Metroid adventures, you start out with bugger all weaponry but your arsenal and abilities swell handsomely as you poke around the map's every nook. And,yes, cranny.

On top of the usual range of lasers, a beefy new melee combat system lets you whack enemies upside the head while abilities such as the grappling beam have been yanked from later games.

Moody exploration still forms the core experience, which is as close as you'll get to playing a sat-nav, with the 3DS' second screen serving as a handy perma-map. As a sop to millennials, the rock-hard 90s gameplay has been peppered with save and recharge points while new teleport stations make backtracking less of a chore. Gorgeous visuals revamp the original's Etch-a-Sketch visuals, while the handheld's oft-overlooked glasses-free 3D is used to subtle effect.

Thirteen long years have passed since Zero Mission, the last old-school 2D Metroid. Putting that in perspective, the same period saw nine Zelda games – so you can't accuse Nintendo of over-milking this franchise's cobwebby teats.

Thankfully, Samus Returns proves getting lost in space is as good as it's ever been, and for gamers of a certain vintage this handheld space odyssey is likely to be the last cartridge they feed their hoary old 3DS. Hopefully we won't have to wait another decade for the follow-up.

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