A tragedy, and a bad game (despite some of its charming qualities and moments/some of the music).
For the record I think it's likely mostly the Pokemon Company's fault - they've turned the game into basically a way to create a new run of merch and seasons of anime every few years.
I think Game Freak knows what's broken with the Pokemon formula but is probably restrained from changing anything about it. That combined with impossible deadlines and restrictions leads to this.

Interesting hardware gimmick game by Nintendo where they strap a laser mouse to the bottom of the DS, and as you move the mouse, the game's camera moves.
The gimmick in this game is you're a magnet that can explore this American family's home by hiding inside of things that the family moves around - glasses cases, picture books, paper bags, etc. You can then fight enemies by charging into them (done by moving the DS along a table quickly), connect with the enemies to gain powers and form a centipede of different enemy types. Most of the game has you searching the house for parts or turning into a particular chain of enemies.
This core gameplay loop isn't that fun although it is quite novel. I get motion sick pretty quickly moving around the house and it can be hard to remember what is where (you need to travel into objects, wait a while to get to the next area, then check if the enemies you need are there, etc.)
When you form a train of enemies, you can move quickly or shake to break it apart. That'll let you reattach to other enemies to use different abilities.
There are some boss fights, the one I played was actually kinda fun though easy, where you have to shut drawers by charging into them.
There are also some minigames, of which I only found one, a card-matching game where you have to match a card on screen to a card sitting amongst others on a desk. That was neat.
Well, I'll probably play more but I don't think my opinion will change much. Interesting experimental kids game! Kind of amazing they manufactured special hardware for one game and it never got localized.

You wake up amnesiac on a tiny island. Your goal: Find The Ebony Labyrinth. The world map is only 20x20 tiles with 6 landmarks. How long could it take?
Very long - maybe 15-30 hours - says Nepheshel, a free, indie JRPG released in 2002 and translated in 2022. Nepheshel's world is like an iceberg, where the majority of it is underground, labyrinthine. Get it here: https://rpgmaker.net/games/12678/
(Mild spoilers in the review)
(If you're just looking for a guide, check this one out. https://kt-rpg.sakura.ne.jp/nepheshel/main.htm . There's also some maps here. http://www.sk.aitai.ne.jp/~kakesu/summer/ )
The experience of playing Nepheshel is closest to Demon's Souls or Dark Souls. You must push from checkpoint to checkpoint without dying, finding treasure and eking out progress exploring the interconnected dungeons. People say this game is most like the King's Field series but I've never played to know if that's true. That being said, Nepheshel isn't a particularly Hard game most of the time - all the enemies appear in dungeons with different movement, so you can run around them much of the time. Outside of a few battles, you're rarely risking more than 3-5 minutes of exploration in Nepheshel unless you've gotten yourself loss or pushed into too difficult territory.
-The World-
My favorite thing about Nepheshel is the way its world unravels. The world is one big connected dungeon. Here's an example: You exit the town and can either enter the Temple, Underground Waterway, or King's Crypt. OR, you can enter this warp-portal world and warp into the King's Crypt. You'll soon run into impossible jellyfish or wolves in the Waterway or Temple, leaving you to explore the Crypt. But! If you dodge enemies well enough, you could find treasure in the Waterway or Temple.
As you explore the Crypt, you'll find it leads to an Underground Passage, connecting to the basement of the Temple. Get strong enough to explore the Temple and you'll find a new party member and a locked door to a late-game area! And so on. For better or worse, you never get a "first time in the great swamp" of Dark Souls moment in Nepheshel - the town is always a fast-travel warp away. But there are some unique senses of distance as you, say, push disturbingly further and further underneath the King's Castle. (Dark Souls 2's Ridiculously Deep Castle reminds me of this, funny enough)
Overall it always feels like you're winning your progress through the game kinda like Dark Souls. I like that a lot, and it's probably Nepheshel's coolest feeling, even if it can start to wear out by the end. (I had to put the game down for about a week or two before going back into its 2nd half). I would love to see this gameplay texture applied in other contexts.
Each area in the game usually has 1-2 enemy types which come in three colors - easy, hard, and Very Hard. By finding the right mob to fight you can level quickly. Encounters do get pretty stale once you settle on a strategy, and while you can run around enemies you also find yourself running into them a lot of times. What can be annoying is that a lot of late game enemies might be hard to fight without switching your party setup, so you end up only really fighting regular enemies if you're grinding or farming for item drops.
The battle strategy is pretty simple - you get 3 party members over the game and for most of the game can only fight with one of them. (An item later lets you fight with all 3.) What's fun is that while characters have their weaknesses and fixed spells/skills, you're free to equip anything on them, which can drastically change how you use them. Around the end of the game I have maybe 20-30 different weapons and armors that I need to mix and match to take on the tricky bosses. The battle system is typical RPG Maker 2000, it's just turn based. While nothing novel really happens in the battles, it's interesting to be stuck fighting in a team of 1 or 2 for much of the game. Near the end of the game you fight bosses in teams of 4 and the strategy gets a little more demanding, but it kind of comes down to prepping for the status debuffs and exploiting weaknesses.
Your equipment in the start comes from grinding for gold and buying, but maybe about 1/3 through it shifts to being mostly from dungeon treasure, a fun approach. There are hidden walls with lots of treasure, so watch out! Weapons have slash, jab or bludgeon types, which do damage to enemies differently. It ends up being kind of annoying to deal with in at times, although there are some cool aspects to it (like blunt weapons tend to be 2-handed, which means Deeva can't dual-wield, BUT, with a blunt weapon she gets access to powerful debuff skills).
Some dungeons are more puzzly than others. Each is a unique and memorable maze, even though some go on for too long or are actually too complex to even map by hand some times! It was unique to navigate the dungeons, weaving between enemies, trying to remember where I was. Each new dungeon feels newly tense as you try to figure out which enemies will steamroll your party and which you can experiment with. There are a few really bad dungeons, but you'll get to enjoy those yourself. Ha ha ha...! Just be ready for some Huge Mazes.
The writing is not particularly good. The girls on the cover really just come off as early 2000s moe fantasy fairies. Which is adorable but not a selling point IMO. There's some lore/backstory but not many other characters. The most common - and by the end, kinda funny - is all the other adventurers at the pub whose partners you find dead in dungeons, moaning their last words, before becoming a silent corpse.
Overall it's a cool approach to a JRPG world. It's spooky how much the feeling of playing it reminds me of what would be Dark Souls and Demon's Souls, even if they're different genres. I wonder what games Nepheshel influenced... I'll be thinking about it for a while!
Spoilers: World Connections
If you're like me and like seeing high-level maps of a game to decide whether to play, you're in luck!
I consider the game to take place in roughly 3 acts.
Act 1: The Island / Getting the party
King's Crypt -> Passage -> Sea Caves OR
Passage -> Temple.
Then, Sea Caves -> Waterway -> West Side of Island.
West Side of Island -> Mines, or King's Castle
Act 2: Finding the King's Key
King's Castle is a huge dungeon. The lower section leads to a Dungeon, which leads to The Byway, another cave where you'll eventually find the Priest's Key (connected to the Mines). The Priest's Key let's you go back to the Temple to find the True King's Crypt! There, you'll find the King's Key.
The King's Key lets you get to The Underworld by doing deep into the Byway and walking down a pit.
Act 3: Underworld / Ebony Labyrinth
The Underworld is a long (but easy to navigate) dungeon with a lot of optional bosses and great equipment. Killing the boss at the end lets you jump into a jar to reach the Ebony Labyrinth.
The EL is a 6-stratum dungeon with different gimmicks and tough enemies on each floor. Plenty of checkpoints but there are some challenging stretches. I haven't made it to the end yet but the final boss is at the bottom!

Likeable enough, fun world idea, but kind of just loses its pacing about 1/3 through and bored me. The pulpy/campy fantasy story seemed promising, but... the game's just so long.
There's not much interesting tension to the dungeons, etc. I mean they feel different and you have to go through multiple times but it gets repetitive. An interview said the game 'really starts' at Dharma temple but come on I'm like 10-15 hours in and I'm not there yet, I've played plenty of RPGs that Really Start in 5 minutes. I'm still putting the game on 8x and holding attack to win every random battle. If I had Nothing Else to play I would probably stick it out but I think I'm Good.
Music is great but there's still the problem where Sugiyama doesn't write enough songs so every dungeon and town feels the same despite the efforts of the artists/writing team.

Clever action game for mobile that makes good use of the phone interface! You have this stamina bar which also acts as your health/shield, and fight with two team members at once against enemies which throw attacks you have to guard against. Winning fast involves shielding at the right time for as short as possible, and managing to keep one of the two characters' attacks up. In between battles are some story sections in which the two characters learn the truth of their church and the demons in the world.


This review contains spoilers

Lovely visual-novel-esque game that is told as an alternating text-based MUD (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MUD) and a blog-post speculative/scifi thriller. My MMO games of choice as a kid didn't include MUDs (the closest roleplaying I did was in the beta of a game called Face of Mankind), so it was cool to learn about the format in detail and the appeal. Actually I think it would be fun to run a MUD with friends now. If that sounds interesting I'd go play the game now! You can finish it in a few sittings (I think it took me about 4-5 hours).
I liked the character interactions of Oz, Jace and Raine getting to know each other, the way their commitments to the fiction of the MUD differed, how Oz would offer writing help to others, and the Out of Character (OOC) lines. Their commitment to the world's fiction was nice to see, so I feel sad for Jace/Oz in the end, having in a sense having been 'used' by the company using the MUD as AI research. It's interesting to think about - the ways a corporation might ruin something simple and nice like a Text MUD.
I particularly liked how the story framed the fancy realistic cities at the end as being less interesting than the Text MUD. And it felt true, the MUD worlds (which make up most of the game's text) felt really fun because they were imagined up and given life to by the characters. There's a lot of power and wonder in person-to-person creativity and imagination.
I wondered what the people were doing IRL, reminding me of interacting with people online in games back in the 2000s. The MUD world reminded me of a game idea I've always had, of a game where the world is intentionally updated every week or two with new areas connecting to existing ones, sometimes deliberately, other times kind of random. Sort of like Yume Nikki presumably.

A playable but fairly flat multiplayer game prototype with randomized levels and equipment. Historically this is interesting as it was both indie and embodies various randomization elements that have become so popular in recent years in the roguelike/lite genre.
I think the level design and combat fundamentals are weak. Spatial layouts and enemy movements and damage are unbalanced or don't mesh well with the movesets. You often spawn into a room of enemies either with little way of approach, or that deal a lot of damage. The knight's sword range is strangely small, the archer's extremely far/powerful, the mage's flame attack has a short range. Everything drops money but shops are rare. Etc...
That being said it does have this janky charm to it. The way you can throw items at NPCs or to your teammates, the little red enemy that comes to kill you if you loiter, etc.
And the multiplayer is still pretty fun simply because there's someone else going through it with you. At its best it feels like some instanced, early 2000s MMO with grindy combat. As a single player experience there's not much there, not much drama or excitement to the flow of the levels except for enemies growing in power.

Very cool game! Really recommend it, one of my top of 2022.
I love the camera-switching mechanic. The game puts you in what amounts to a platforming level, but the perspective makes it look like a world map out of Shin Megami Tensei 4/3, sim city, etc.
You can switch between a zoomed-out 3rd person view or a close-up, 1st person view. What's really smart is it changes your movement speed when you switch views. You can walk slowly through building interiors in 1st person, and zoom around the world in 3rd person. And the game uses its 'dual screens' to always show both views.
Design-wise this game reminds me of that new Super Mario Bowser's Fury game, but I liked this more. We're seeing more of this kind of design: islands platforming challenges set in an open world, where you travel between them. I guess it's the 3D platformer's response to the open world trend - Sonic Frontiers, Bowser's Fury. But in those you have a lot of walking around waiting for platforming..
Sanctuarium is nice because you get some of that fun 1st person exploring (I think there could have been more? That, or I missed a bunch of it -I think I sequence broke a little). Then the 3rd person feels breezy as you go between landmark to landmark, with simple platforming challenges. You still get that fun open world feel of seeing landmarks in the distance, but things here feel much more streamlined than an actual slogging open world.
The platforming controls were workable, the moveset very simple, but there was a interesting trick of being able to fly up very steep slopes, which led to some fun parkour-esque design.
The narrative theming was about a dead MMORPG. I felt like this part didn't quite execute as well as the others, but I generally like the idea of games that reflect on MMORPGs. Still waiting for someone to make the meta-Maple-Story game I desire...

(update at bottom re final parts)
Some solid light-fiction writing half the time, but the other half of this game feels padded. My favorite moments were Swin/Nadia going to school, and working with Elaine in the prologue/Chapter 1, because it's putting characters into new situations that aren't just part of a Marvel Avenger's ensemble.
I liked a good number of the side quests up to the island, simply because by putting small groups of characters through events we actually do get to see them fleshed out a bit! The NPC dialogue in towns is still enjoyable as well. Edith is the biggest focus in the game.
But by Chapter 3, we get gigantic groups of characters behaving in expected ways in response to predictable threats. Chapter 3 does give some character backstory, but through the clunky method of turning the characters into temporary antagonists. It feels like fighting through no-stakes encounters just to get another character footnote.
A lot of the characters really aren't interesting enough to have the amount of screen-time they do (Cao, and that punching martial arts guy... Feri's brother...) - their development feels predictable or finalized. We might get a little 'trauma tater tot' to deepen a backstory, but ultimately a slightly-too-large-for-comfort portion of the events in Kuro 2 felt like rehashing a character's particular collection of tropes. I think such is the problem of light fiction writing so heavily relying on visual and speech shorthand, caricature to flesh out a character. It's hard to reasonably sustain more than one game's worth of development, so the character often falls to level of caricature by the second game unless there are enough scenarios Focusing On The Character to prevent that.
The final chapter (school festival) is nice, as is the character sendoffs. I actually like Ix/Yorda (so far), though I've yet to play past the final chapter to see how they unfold in the last dungeon.
Overall a mixed bag. Honestly you can really just skim the bad parts and play on Very Easy, but I would say the game'll be a slog if you're going to play on Normal or harder.
As far as fans of the overarching lore go, I think this game drops a lot of hints that Epstein could time travel (to maybe optimize his ability to develop technology), and we start to get some sense of how the Outside operates, but mostly it's left in the air. The fact there's going to be a 3rd game... will be nice from the overarching lore standpoint, but I'm a little worried because it truly does feel like all the characters are, more or less, "developed" as far as they can go. So even if the overarching plot develops, it might be a bit of a slog like like Hajimari's Rean or Crossbell sections.
The ending in the... multidimensional octorarium or whatever... honestly a little contrived feeling. To me it kind of drove home the feeling of Crimson Sin feeling a bit like filler. The boss tries to set up stakes of all of the time-warp Chapter 3 problems 'becoming real', but since that too felt so contrived...
The character of Dingo more or less felt all said and done? Eh. Even Ix and Yorda showing up in the final dungeon - they even COMPLAIN about 'why the heck are we here?'
Well, anyways. The ending credits were nice. The post-game EX chapter was pretty boring - just grinding through more Marchen Garden floors, but it did hint a bit at going to space and the last part of the Kuro arc. Still, I'm not sure how interesting the game could be. Even though Van still has backstory left, it feels pretty predictable (tortured by a cult) and he's already fleshed out enough. Same with Ix/Yorda's 'mysteries' - probably straightforward. I guess the main thing that will be interesting are Hamilton's connections to Gramhart and the Septterrion of Time (there's a hint that we might be going east into the mountains), so I really hope that the next chapter introduces some new characters (like cold Steel 3) and 'retires' old ones (no more Aaron or Feri please...).

I most enjoyed the manga-panel style of cutscenes that would happen from time to time. Nice art.
The characters are fun although they weren't particularly fleshed out and one of the interesting pupil-student relationships gets killed off early on, replaced by a bunch of characters who barely say anything or vanish pretty quickly. Too many twists are followed by more twists that it starts to become predictable, and the dungeon design also gets repetitive. Some of the boss fights can be tricky although I rarely felt like I was using any interesting strategy besides carefully managing my healing. Some great music though, was fun to hear how it got remixed into some Phantasy Star Online music (e.g. the VR areas in PSO Episode 2)

Much more of a 3 if someone were to release this today but gets points for being from the mid-80s. What stuck out to me the most was world 2 - and how the art and platforming challenges would smoothly change over a level. It reminded me of those giant , horizontal wall paintings describing an epic myth or the like - world 2 being like a contracted narration of Pit's journey across the world. The vertical worlds were okay, but not as visually interesting imo
The more glaring missteps aside, I like how precise Pit's movement and the economy of the arrows feel. At some times the enemies are a bit too fast and nimble to mesh well with the movement (the 'money rooms' with 8 of those quick-moving enemies often face this problem), but at other times the movement really shines (like the world 2 boss - I think that was an amazingly elegant application of the game's rules). Reminds me of some of the gunplay from later games like Cave Story or Kero Blaster.
I actually like the ways the vertical section's platforming gets trickier and trickier - world 3's areas where you need to shoot those demons while going back and forth from different sides of the screen were a highlight. (Even if the punishment of dying from falling is way too high...)
The money economy sort of made sense. I liked how you're encouraged to take a bit of risk to clear out screens of enemies so that you could buy health potions later. I feel like the healing springs were a bit overpowered, though...
That being said, this game reminds me of modern roguelites, especially Kid Icarus's room mechanic. The way you get a random assortment of items in the stores. As the game goes on and it gets easier to maintain a safe amount of health, the rooms become less interesting, although I appreciate the fortress levels removing your (overpowered?) weapon/armor upgrades.
The fortress levels were a cool twist, although they never amount to any kind of interesting spatial feeling - merely a labyrinth that feels randomly generated (despite being hand-authored). The need to buy the mapping items is a mistake - smaller dungeons without maps or automapping from the start would have been more interesting.
Other than that, I do love the kind of structural play Kid Icarus does with the labyrinth, vertical and horizontal levels...even if it's not executed great all the time
The finale was disappointing - to me, turning the game into a poorly executed shmup was not the best way to make finding these 'three great treasures' feel exciting. Pit's movement is slow and imprecise, the level often boring with lots of waiting, the only reasonable Medusa strategy (hanging to the back of the screen) feels like a cheese more than anything. If you removed the flying and made it a high or double jump, then built some enemies around pit's Light Arrow and the Shielding Mechanic, that could have made for a fun twist on what the game had been building up the whole way.

It was nice to learn about Hiroji Kiyotake, one of the directors of Metroid II, and probably a leading force in the sheer personality and fun that a run of good GB platformers have - Metroid II, Super Mario Land 2, the Wario Lands...
Despite having played most Metroid games I'd never played Metroid 2. I bounced off of it a few times, but after roughing it through Metroid 1 (another brilliant game), I went ahead and played through 2.
At first I was hesitant about the structure of the game - seeming to move away from the chaotic maze of Metroid 1 for a more linear experience. But I think the structure of Metroid 2 - that of burrowing into an ant farm, exploring smaller labyrinths budding from a main path - works well. It enforces the narrative of Samus as this bounty hunter, cold bringer of death, her triumphant "overworld medley" song being replaced by the quiet nature and sounds of Metroids merely living at home.
The black and white graphics look amazing at times - especially level 3 with its mechanical sand maze and the vertical, overgrown shafts. At its best there's a real sense of encroaching into disturbing territory, the way it feels to peer from a safe path into a deep patch of forest. The variety of 'nests' the game manages to convey is inspiring! The game fully understands its visual format and how to exploit it. Metroid fights remain tricky to cheese, with the metroid becoming invincible offscreen, always feeling claustrophobic and chaotic, thrilling.
There are a handful of rough edges (the lack of save points, occasional missile/energy grinding) but I think the rest of the game makes up for it. I love the setpieces with the Metroid counter resetting in the lair, or the omega metroid attacking you after killing the alpha, or the lair of the omegas. I do think that the art could have been a bit more interesting at parts, especially with all of the vine background layers in level 3 - some later levels feel a bit empty .
That being said, the atmosphere never feels overexplained. It was fun to stumble upon the massive Chozo compounds, with dangerous robots, butted right up against Metroid caves and lush caverns.

Shoutout to the ambient music, which works really well! Unsettling, dark stuff, really understanding the 'texture' of the game boy sound palette.
Overall, it's a very strong game, but I can't give it the "5 stars'... I think it might be related to the economy of ammo and energy and how they inevitably shift way in your favor as you progress through the game - enemy encounters always feel a little less exciting once you have the screw attack, plasma beam, etc. It feels a bit counter to the narrative they're setting up with you diving into more dangerous lairs. The Omega metroid may look spooky, but it's not much of a threat with my 150 missiles, varia suit, and 500 energy.

A game based on the fantasy world, "Iblard", of Inoue Naohisa. He has a bunch of "Natural Encyclopedias" (https://www.amazon.co.jp/%E3%82%A4%E3%83%90%E3%83%A9%E3%83%BC%E3%83%89%E5%8D%9A%E7%89%A9%E8%AA%8C-%E4%BA%95%E4%B8%8A-%E7%9B%B4%E4%B9%85/dp/4906268587) of Iblard, featuring many of his paintings from the 70s-present day, with little poetic descriptions of the things or places in the scene. I've know there's a game set in this world for a while, but never got around to playing it, and...
... sadly, some things are better in their original medium. The paintings are fun because they have a game-like spatial composition to it, their descriptions are "random" in that we see bits and pieces of Iblard (such as the cone-like Laputa, the trains, etc) , described in a way that's fun to imagine.
The game, instead, ties a bunch of these visual motifs into a game in a way that feels a little awkward. The game misunderstands how the wonder of Iblard works in its original medium, instead creating this 'assorted bag' of what amount to references to Iblard. The story involves a boy sucked into a picture book of Iblard, he's apparently trapped there but can do something regarding creating a "Laputa" (the flying saucer thing in the cover) to escape. As he goes along he meets some characters that pop up in the Iblard manga.
It's indeed cool, in theory, to explore and see places that the Iblard paintings and manga feature, but at some point in between the simple Myst-like puzzles and clunky 1st-person movement, the game feels like an awkward disservice to Inoue's paintings. Occasionally you literally see a painting from one of his art books, with a description that is sometimes the same as the artbooks themselves, offering info about the world. That's a neat approach, I guess, not much different from the way item lore functions in Dark Souls.
The spaces in the game are boring to walk around, occasionally you can tilt your camera or see over a small vista to get a nice sense of place, but honestly compared to the paintings I don't think this game does much visually... perhaps some games are better unplayed...
In some ways I wish this game waited a few years to be made. While I'm hesitant to say 'more graphics = better!' I think a few more years of better 3D controls and visual practices could have really helped out here. Of course, granted that they get rid of the terrible game design... enjoying Iblard's paintings is very much about vibing with and imagining yourself there, so in that sense I think a game similar to My Summer Vacation (Boku no Natsuyasumi), Attack of the Friday Monsters could work really well with the setting, depending on how willing the painter would be with letting a team write their own stories into the world.
Lastly, while I wasn't personally a fan of the music, it did resemble some of the Japanese ambient/new age/environmental music that is being uploaded to YouTube a lot nowadays, so it's worth checking out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zuiq93gh0lk

Visually this game is very pretty - lots of early 3D spaces, interesting color palettes, especially the overworlds. I played the first hour here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cxhU8zYErJ8
The game uses 2D sprites in 3D areas to neat effect, I love the cactus towers (sabokuri), and it was fun to see what areas each new kingdom held.
The writing was... pretty bare bones. The arcs in each kingdom feel sort of like a broken JRPG - you might stick a thorn into a train to slow it down. Or rescue a clan of chickens from an invasion. Or fix a rainbow bridge by finding 7 items, or help a marriage that's going to go wrong... most of the time it's fairly unremarkable, but occasionally some situations are surreal and unique - a guesthouse owner in the middle of a jungle, with a single guest - a man who can't wake up. Other humans trapped in the storybook, forced to work as clowns forever.
Due to how the game works, it's possible to miss entire kingdoms based on very unnoticeable decisions (I did). I might do a playthrough again to see those areas. Which leads to my next point - as an adventure game Fantastep... sucks lol. Puzzle solutions range from obvious to impossible to guess (one involves you having to return to the same room 5 or 6 times to find a different clue in the same spot). At one point I beat the final boss before saving each kingdom, and it set flags in such a way that some kingdom's quests were automatically completed. It's possible to miss items to complete quests! The game requires you to find 5 flower rings. The game actually has 7 or 8, relying on clues from hidden fairies to decipher which are the ones you want to use. I used the wrong rings and got the bad ending, but at that point I was locked out of the good end, and didn't really care...
Overall a pretty rough game with some great art and music. I really like the strange storybook fantasy atmosphere, even if it's roughly and poorly rendered. Definitely makes me want to check out similar vibe games from the mid/late 90s, like Napple Tale.

Pleasantly surprised at parts with Metroid! Dark Souls bonfire runs have nothing towards the run through Tourian, or making your way through ridiculously precise rooms of Kraid or Ridley's Lair before having to win at equally ridiculous fights.
The silence of Metroid's world works great - the art feels creepier and more organic as you go deeper into the planet, only to at times be replaced by the metallic architecture of Ridley or Kraid. It really conveys the sense of being in an alien planet, one that we'll never see all of, and one that wants Samus dead.
I found the moveset to be really well designed - not being able to shoot down and Samus being two tiles high means you have to really be aware of what's at your feet as well as how that distance affects where you shoot and jump. The screw attack adds an interesting (if chaotic) extra layer of strategy to later levels - although it feels powerful at first, it has an element of the unreliable against the flying beetles, and can feel slightly stiff to pull off in certain situations.
Enemy patterns can be very difficult but I feel like every room had some kind of 'solution', even if it was very hard to pull off. I found some of the timing windows too intense - the very long, narrow corridor in Ridley's lair with endless flying beetle pipes come to mind. Likewise, it can be hard to get your bearings as your health meter quickly depletes, with the game severely lagging when multiple enemies are on screen, and Samus's slightly limited movement conflicting with enemies that are somewhat too quick.
Health is hard to come by: this feels balanced throughout brinstar and Norfair, but takes a turn for the worse in Ridley and Kraid's areas. Part of this was that I never found the Varia suit (50% damage reduction!), but I do think that some of the long runs from the elevator to the bosses were just Too long, especially when you have to grind your health back after dying.
I thought the long beam, bombs, ice beam, missiles were all great additions to the arsenal, having their place within combat. Having the ice beam the whole game led to a really weird dynamic of having to be more precise with shots so as to not unfreeze enemies.
Room designs were generally pretty varied, and I liked that! It really felt like I was just stumbling across loot that the pirates left around - not as much like it was just a big world full of upgrades to find, designed just for me. That worked thematically with the setting. I liked that some rooms had an element of humor - the hidden hole near an energy tank, the secret morph ball passage beneath an otherwise very hard gauntlet, etc.
The copy pasted rooms felt a bit cheap, but it did add to the sense of being in a maze. I had a lot of fun drawing out my own maps for this game.
Overall I was pleasantly surprised! There's a lot to this game that could be improved, but I don't think improvement looks like Super Metroid. Key to this game are the arcade-y, yet nonlinear, stretches of making it to the next elevator or boss, and the way the game demands you to intimately know how to handle enemies and be on your guard. Things can go south really fast relative to other metroid games.