Metroid: Samus Returns is one of the year’s most thrilling, challenging 3DS games. Here’s why.

It’s got that ideal Metroid style

It’s all about deep, dark labyrinths. If you haven’t played a Metroid game before, digging through these magnificent mazes makes Samus Returns much more than a sidescroller. Here, you play as Samus Aran, a strong, silent bounty hunter. She’s trying to save the world by flying to the seemingly barren planet SR388. Underground, she discovers Metroids, alien parasites who seem to attack at every turn. She’ll find them wherever they are. To get into the small spaces of the mazes, Samus turns into an impenetrable rolling ball!

The 3-D is superb

There’s been a lot of talk about the Nintendo’s 3DS ending its production run completely. Don’t believe it (certainly not yet, anyway). The 3-D here doesn’t hurt the eyes. It doesn’t try to do too much. It simply enhances the science-fiction environments, much of which revolve around mysterious, alien caverns. (The music’s eerie yet powerful, too, and the sound designers make excellent use of the stereo speakers.) Take a look at the artwork in Samus Returns in the video above. (And, whoa, look at creepy Queen Metroid.)

The level design is almost perfect!

It’s like the game makers were persnickety editors with a goal of flawlessness. They were able to balance a challenging game with respect for the player’s patience. Yes, those tunnels hide constant secrets and awesome power ups. Just when you’re trying to get Samus up to a perch and it seems nearly impossible, you make it.

When you’re stuck, the designers don’t want you to give up. Exactly when you need it, you’ll find a way through. Shoot the little alien plants for a few minutes and you’ll achieve 100 percent health and weaponry, bit by bit. (Don’t walk into them, though. Then, they drain your energy.) And when you get to the bosses, memorize their patterns and learn to time your counter-attacks to win. See more on Metroid through the years in the video above.

Cool, hidden items

On your map, you’ll see many items that you can’t get to right away. The key here is to go through the game and make Samus as strong as possible. Then, once you’re done with the main game, you can storm through and pick up the items you can’t get early in the game.

Samus Returns kind of like a Lego game in that sense. And remember, you don’t have to get all the items to complete the game. But, also like Lego, getting everything gives you bragging rights. Tip: use your Scan Pulse ability a lot. It’ll show you the things in your immediate area that you can bust through, possibly to find items that give you strength. At then end of a level, get ready for this kind of battle.

The one downside: writing.

There isn’t much narrative writing in the game. But what’s there is kind of confusing. That’s especially true when a new ability is explained to you. There should be clarity in a game that’s this big and this challenging. The writing should be as easy to understand as what’s in the trailer above.

Should you buy Metroid: Samus Returns?

If you’ve never played a Metroid game, this is a fresh way to start. If you’re looking for a generally excellent game — no matter the console or genre — try Samus Returns. It one of those rare games that’s so compelling, you can’t go wrong by purchasing it.

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