She has been gone for a long time. Too long—her last featured game, Other M, was released in 2010 to low sales and a mixed critical reception. Fans were resigned that, aside from Super Smash Bros. appearances, they might never see her in a starring role again.
But on June 13 at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, Nintendo announced the unthinkable: Samus Aran—intergalactic bounty hunter and protector of the galaxy from evil space pirates—will star in not one, but two games.
Metroid Prime 4 will be released on the Switch. Nintendo didn't show gameplay footage or even cut scene footage yet—just a shot of the logo, although that was enough to get people talking.
Nintendo offered no release date, which means that fans shouldn't hold their breath for a quick turnaround. Nintendo has notoriously long development cycles, preferring to extend its deadlines instead of releasing something subpar. As Shigeru Miyamoto said years ago, when he was working on (and delaying) Super Mario 64: "A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad."
It's an oft-iterated E3 criticism: that in an attempt to "win" E3, hardware and software companies show off products that are years away from their release. It's a throw-everything-at-the wall-approach that inevitably leads to disappointment.
Which is why the second announced Metroid game was such a pleasant surprise; it came with a release month and year. Metroid: Samus Returns will be released on the 3DS in September 2017. It's a remake of the original Metroid II: Return of Samus, released on the Game Boy in 1991—over 25 years ago.
The fan response has been overwhelmingly positive.
When Return of Samus first came out, it was presented in 8-bit, monochromatic glory. The game was a product of its time. Although it's crucial to Samus' character arc—this is the game where she discovers the Metroid hatchling, which leads directly into Super Metroid (1994) and the mother/child motif that underpins the franchise—neither the graphics nor the music functions as a proper storytelling device, where the player sees or hears change as the narrative progresses.
Compare this to the Super Nintendo's Super Metroid, the bar by which all other 2D platformers are measured. The environments are realized, vividly, in thematic colors. Blue and black for the water of Maridia. Red and orange for the fire of Norfair. And green and brown for the teeming overgrowth of Brinstar. The music is similarly varied—quiet and menacing when it needs to be, and celebratory when it needs to be otherwise. It was not restrained by the technical limitations of 8-bit.
As seen in the previewed game footage, Samus Returns brings the original Return of Samus in line with fans' Super Metroid expectations. The graphics are lush and contextual. The gameplay adds a few, new wrinkles, like a melee counterattack and 360-degree shooting. And, in a brilliant coup, Super Metroid's original composers are crafting the game's soundtrack.
Fans have wanted a remake for years, and in its absence, created numerous tributes. The greatest of these was Another Metroid 2 Remake (AM2R), which was developed by Milton Guasti, also known as DoctorM64. From the updated visuals to the soundtrack, the game's features were widely praised for their unusually high quality. Nintendo, however, eventually lowered the boom with DMCA notices, and Guasti took the game down in compliance.
In the wake of Nintendo's Samus Returns announcement, fans of AM2R have been quick to defend Guasti's work, rushing to call it superior to the official, upcoming release.
When reached for comment, Guasti expressed only enthusiasm towards Samus Returns, and he resisted comparisons to AM2R.
"AM2R fans are awesome," said Guasti in an online interview with Motherboard. "They kept the entire team motivated during the development years, and helped define many of the game's features. Lots of people already compare AM2R with Metroid: Samus Returns, but I think it's a bit too early. It's not a competition, it's two points of view of the same important event [on planet] SR388."
Guasti noted that he faced limitations, in terms of his own skills and the software he had access to; he's excited to see a remake that has so many resources as its disposal.
"There's no resentment at all [towards Nintendo]," said Guasti. "Just a little disappointment in how they approach fan creations using their intellectual properties. I'm not saying they should be as permissive as Sega. But just letting fans express themselves creatively, and respectfully, would be beneficial for everybody."