Skip to main content

Metroid II: Return of Samus: The hunt for flying jellyfish

The second entry in the Metroid series arrived on the Game Boy at the end of 1991. It offers a more linear experience than the original, as Samus moves deeper and deeper into the cavernous SR-388 hunting Metroids. Although not as compelling as the original (let alone Super Metroid), Metroid II is a strong entry for the Game Boy.

The plot of Metroid II is that Samus has been tasked with exterminating every last Metroid on their home planet of SR-388. A tracker at the bottom of the screen displays how many remain, beginning at 39. Periodically, after she has slain a certain quota, the screen rumbles as if there were an earthquake. Each time this happens a new downward path opens where there used to be lava. There are ten underground areas, plus the planet's surface where Samus's ship has landed. 

The basic Metroids, called Alphas, are easy to destroy with missiles. These are not the same Metroids from the original. Apparently the classic Metroid is a larval form! Metroids metamorphose into a form with a shell and crab-like claws. As Samus goes deeper into SR-388, she faces Gamma, Zeta, and finally Omega Metroids. Each is a little tougher than the previous form. The Omega Metroids look almost humanoid and take 30 missiles to bring down!

Omega Metroid

The final boss is the Metroid Queen. She's a worthy adversary for Samus. She tries to bite Samus with an extendable neck and shoots projectiles from her mouth. Samus can stun her and then unload missiles into her open maw. With the Morph Ball she can even roll into her belly through her throat and bomb her from the inside! The battle is somewhat difficult. Samus can retreat through a hole in the ground, allowing her to recharge and try anew. The battle is a strong ending for the game. Anyone who has played Super Metroid knows what happens after the battle: a Metroid hatches from an egg, then bonds with Samus, who fatefully spares its life.

A downside of Metroid II is that many areas look very similar, in large part due to the Game Boy's small monochrome screen. As a result, the hunt for Metroids can grow confusing and even tedious. A discarded Metroid husk appears near each location to alert you to its presence, but there are so many of them that it can become hard to tell where you may have missed one.

All the abilities of the original game reappear: bombs, energy tanks, missiles, High Jump Boots, Ice Beam, Wave Beam, Varia Suit, Space Jump, and Screw Attack. Four new items appear as well: Spider Ball, Spring Ball, Plasma Beam, and Spazer Beam. The Spring Ball lets Samus jump while in Morph Ball form, which is convenient. The Spider Ball (engaged and disengaged by pressing ↓) causes the Morph Ball to cling to the surface it's on. This allows Samus to climb walls or even the ceiling. This is an unusual ability that (I just learned) appears in the Metroid Prime games. Another oddity is that Samus moves slowly before she acquires the High Jump Boots.

The Plasma Beam is a more powerful attack than Samus's regular beam, whereas the Spazer Beam fires a triple spread shot. As in the original, Samus can equip only one at a time. If you want to change it back, you have to go back and pick it up again. Near the end of the game, a section appears where all the weapons are next to each other.

After tracking down and destroying all 39 Metroids, the counter resets to ten. Samus needs to seek and destroy ten of the classic, larval Metroids. This of course requires the Ice Beam, and happily the game provides one, so you don't need to backtrack.

Two enormous improvements over the first Metroid are save stations and recharge stations. No more do you need to bother with passwords (Justin Bailey, anyone?). The recharge stations are a godsend, eliminating the need to grind health drops. Most unfortunately, there is still no in-game map.

The game looks good for a Game Boy game. Samus's sprite is much improved from the NES game. She and her ship look like they will in Super Metroid. However, the monochrome graphics and small screen hold the game back, because they make it harder to distinguish different areas of the vast map.

The game's music is excellent. Unfortunately, in many sections, no music plays; instead there are eerie, otherworldly beeping noises. The Game Boy hardware can't really pull the effect off, though. I think it would be better if it always played music.

Metroid II wasn't a step forward for the series. A linear hunt for Metroids did not prove to be a winning formula, and Super Metroid went back to the original for its inspiration. Still, considered by the standards of 1991, Metroid II is a lot of fun. The main appeal, as always, is slowly upgrading Samus until she becomes a death-dealing, flying, spinning powerhouse.

It didn't take me too long to get hooked on Metroid II. I recommend the game to fans of NES Metroid. People who have only played Super Metroid and later titles would be better off with the 3DS remake Metroid: Samus Returns. That game completely reinvents and expands Metroid II in the modern Metroid conventions (tons of secrets, backtracking, and so on). It's not so much a remake as a new game. From the point of view of the modern Metroid storyline, it's the canonical entry, with Metroid II a kind of apocryphal relic.

Grade: B+
Linked Reviews
"Although nowhere near the 2D masterpiece that is Super Metroid, Metroid II has held up better than the original game and as such is still very much worth playing."
— Marcel van Duyn, Nintendo Life, 7/10

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past: 30th anniversary

Hard to believe it's been thirty years since The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past came out on the Super Nintendo, yet here we are! A Link to the Past is in contention for the title of Best Nintendo Game Ever . It perfectly reinvented, reimagined, and revolutionized everything great about the original Legend of Zelda . First off, the story is expanded, with five pages devoted to it in the manual, including background mythology not included in-game about the three gods that made the Triforce. The opening cinematic tells of a war centuries earlier, which resulted in seven wise men sealing the Triforce away in the "Golden World." When the game begins, the boy Link awakens on a dark and stormy night, hearing the voice of Princess Zelda in his head, asking him to rescue her from the dungeon of Hyrule Castle, where she's been imprisoned by the evil wizard Agahnim. Link finds his uncle, wounded, who gives him his sword. Link's first task is to rescue Zelda, then lead h

The Legend of the Mystical Ninja: A whimsical adventure in Japan

Growing up, I played The Legend of the Mystical Ninja at my best friend's house (though I was bad at it), and I had been looking forward to trying it again. It's an unusual, fun adventure game. I recently learned that in Japan Legend of the Mystical Ninja was preceded by three Famicom games and followed by three more Super Famicom games, none of which were localized for the West! The Japanese name of the series is Go for It, Goemon! It's based on a 1980 Japanese arcade game called Mr. Goemon. The emulation community put out fan translations of the Famicom games between 2009 and 2017. Surprisingly, no translations of the Super Famicom games existed until 2020, all three created by the same people . The series takes place in early-modern Japan. It has a light-hearted anime aesthetic. The titular character is a spiky-haired kid named Goemon. If a second player joins the simultaneous action (highly recommended), Goemon is assisted by an older, overweight ninja named Ebisumaru.

Street Fighter II: 30th anniversary

Thirty years ago today Street Fighter II made the transition from arcade to living room on the Super NES. Although quickly eclipsed by its two successors, for one year it was the hotness. It would be hard to overstate how popular Street Fighter II was in the early 90's. Its predecessor was downright bad, but Street Fighter II invented the PVP fighting genre as we know it. Its roster of eight characters was a huge step-up from Street Fighter's two (Ken and Ryu, who returned for the sequel). The next iteration of the arcade game, Street Fighter II: Champion Edition, which hit arcades just as the SNES port arrived, let you play as the bosses as well, increasing the roster to twelve. A false rumor said a secret code would let you play them at home. While that wasn't true, there was a code (↓, R, ↑, L, Y, B) to let both players choose the same character for a mirror match. A prime strength of the game is how interesting each character is: the American airman Guile (think Top Gun