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Metroid: Samus Returns - Hands-on at GameStop Expo 2017

It's been a quiet decade for Samus Aran and the Metroid franchise as a whole. But it looks like Nintendo is ready to return to the depths of space, as the skilled bounty hunter revisits one of her earliest adventures with Metroid: Samus Returns. Nintendo is calling this a "reimagining" of the Game Boy's Metroid II: Return of Samus, but there are going to be some eye-opening differences between the handheld classic and this new 3DS iteration. Shacknews got to see just how different things are going to be by going hands-on at this year's GameStop Expo.

The first thing I was told by the representative on-hand at the Nintendo was to switch on the 3D setting. The opening introduction has been completely modernized, with anime-style slides and videos setting up the game's plot. Following Mother Brain's defeat, the Metroids have become a threat to the galaxy and the Galactic Federation has ruled that they must be exterminated. Both the introduction and the gameplay as a whole is beautifully designed with 3D environments in mind that look gorgeous on the New 3DS hardware. Classic interactions, such as save points and resource stations also see Samus step into or otherwise interact with the background, in a nice visual touch. This should be a nice feature for 3DS owners and a kick in the teeth for anyone that just invested in the recently-released New 2DS XL.

The other thing to notice off the bat is that players get a map this time around. While this doesn't sound like a big deal, not every Metroid game was like Super Metroid. Metroid II did not include a map, so players had to traverse the planet and find locations from memory. Even the Metroid II diehards that have memorized the planet's layout may want to take note that select portions of the map have been re-designed, so this won't be a 1:1 remake of the original Metroid II world.

Combat also has a key change and it's going to be one that takes getting used to. Many of the foes Samus encounters are going to charge at her on sight. This opens the door for the new Melee Counter mechanic, an idea seemingly taken from Samus' time on the Super Smash Bros. circuit. As enemies charge in, the idea is to hit the X button to strike and momentarily stun the enemy. Samus will then auto-aim at the dizzy baddie and can hit Y right away to fire and dispose of it.

The Melee Counter takes precise timing to work, so there's a chance that after a long session, it's either going to become second nature or an exercise in frustration. Almost every enemy will offer an opportunity to use the Melee Counter, so it's going to be an essential mechanic. Even the Metroid encounter towards the end of the demo relied on Samus hitting this move just right before letting fly with missiles. But after decades of simply relying on a single button to fire, it's going to take some doing to reprogram my brain to switch from Y to X and back again. With that said, it's a novel idea and one that already makes this stand out from previous 2D Metroid outings.

The other new mechanic that stands out is the Free Aim, utilizing the L button. Whereas games like Super Metroid allowed Samus to aim diagnolly or straight up, Free Aim lets Samus aim wherever she wants while planting her feet. This is exceptionally helpful, given that this world is filled with tight spaces and tiny crevices. Precision is going to matter and this tool will prove handy.

The other elements of the classic Metroid formula are in place, down to Samus needing to find the Morph Ball at the start of the adventure. She'll also be able to upgrade her suit with different skills over time by finding them on Chozo statues. One such skill allows Samus to reveal surrounding areas of the map to find any particular points of interest, while another includes the classic Charge Beam.

The 2D Metroid feels as classic as ever, with players encouraged to explore by blasting walls, squeezing into tight spaces with the Morph Ball, or using the Wall Jump to reach higher areas. The immediate feeling after the demo was over was that the 2D Metroid platformer has been sorely missed. Fortunately for Metroid fans and fans of the genre, in general, Samus Returns in just a few weeks when the game hits all 3DS platforms on September 15.

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