Metroid II: Return of Samus – Game Boy
Platform: Game Boy
Release Date (NA): November 1991
Nerd Rating: 5.5 out of 10
Metroid has had some critical ups and downs during its day, but it’s always been a mainstay of Nintendo’s first party offerings, generally representing the company’s more action-oriented interests. I’ve counted the original Metroid among my favorite games ever since I was able to somewhat comprehend its non-linear nature, though I haven’t kept up with the series as well as I should have aside from some fractured experiences with Super Metroid. Which reminds me, have you ever noticed some of the first words on the screen when Super Metroid is booted up? “Metroid 3.” This sometimes leads gamers to scrounging around lists of NES or SNES games searching for “Metroid 2,” not realizing that this rather ignored installment had been tucked away on the Game Boy.
Yep, the only place to get a dose of both Metroid’s sequel and Super Metroid’s prequel is on the tiny, grainy Game Boy. On the plus side, this was one of a few games optimized for the Super Game Boy, so if you use it with the Super NES add-on or a later Game Boy (such as the Game Boy Color or Advance), there’s a reasonable bit of color imparted on the greyscale graphics. In fact, I would highly recommend playing Metroid II on something other than your ancient original Game Boy.
Metroid II: Return of Samus picks up some time after the first installment, and with a considerably less interesting story and setting. After hearing of her first adventure, the Galactic Federation resolves to commit mass genocide, and sends several extermination teams to the home planet of the Metroids (SR388) to wipe them out for good. Naturally, they all fail, and Samus is called upon to mop up.
The same basic layout and mechanics from the previous game are used; Samus navigates an underground world picking up power-ups and defeating odd little aliens. Her objective this time is to wipe out every single remaining Metroid, tracked by a counter on the screen. Metroids are growing and mutating into different forms over the course of the game, eventually turning into creatures looking something like a lizard or small dragon. The game is divided into a handful of discrete areas, located progressively deeper in the planet. Progress to the next area is usually blocked with “lava” until all Metroids in the previous area are defeated. Although Samus is continually moving up and down and through secret passages in all directions, there’s a distinctive linear feel as one area must be cleared before moving on. In some ways this helps cut down on the confusion, but it also dampens the exploratory emphasis from the first game.
Some of these areas are quite small, consisting of only one or two Metroids, while the largest house seven or more. Hunting down the aliens isn’t exactly hard, but it’s not really easy either. With so many secret passages and tunnels and false walls, it can be easy to overlook something. At times I enjoy the labyrinthine, almost piecemeal set up of SR388, but at others I feel as if the deliberate randomness is almost too deliberate, resulting in a disjointed playing experience.
Like the Metroidvania term that would become popular in a few years, Metroid II exhibits some of the early concepts that the “genre” would become known for. Specifically, Samus must collect certain items in order to access additional areas of the planet. Some of these abilities include higher jumping, using her “ball form” to climb walls and ceilings, and the “space jump” that let’s Samus jump multiple times in the air, sort of. Although I applaud the effort and idea, I question its relevance due to the linear nature mentioned above. Yes, these powers must be found in order to gain access, but typically this is a fairly local phenomenon since all Metroids must be cleared to open new areas. It’s not as purposeful as finding a power up and then going back and rediscovering the entire past playing area with a new ability. Since one area is completed before going to the next, there’s no reason to go back and search for anything.
On paper, Metroid II sounds pretty good. Unfortunately, the Game Boy really, really holds the game back. I spent a few minutes playing this on an original Game Boy with monochrome graphics, but spent the majority of my time with the cart in a GBA SP. And even with the limited colorized enhancements, Metroid II is still a tough sell. The majority of the enemies are abstract and unimaginative, and the scenery is difficult to distinguish from one area to another. Hunting down the 39 Metroids could be fun, except that the game is achingly monotonous. Some rocks are shaped differently than others, but for the most part, it’s just one cavern after another. I won’t say that they’re completely indistinguishable, but the limited color doesn’t exactly emphasize any of the differences in detail. One drab scene follows the next, and the enemies don’t help either. Blobs, lines, and other simple geometric shapes make up most of the baddies, and even the more intricate foes appear uninspired. Games like Kirby’s Dream Land 2 have taught us that there are creative ways around the Game Boy’s graphic limitations, so I don’t want to completely blame the hardware this time around, though I do think this was the wrong platform for the project.
The music suffers a good deal as well. It’s difficult to tell what’s a sound effect and what’s a part of the soundtrack. The original game played with minimalism and incorporating simple beeps and clicks into some sections, but the soundtrack of Metroid II is simply messy and garbled; I daresay almost annoying.
Ultimately I’m on the fence when it comes to Metroid II. I even played through it twice to see what a second time would feel like after being a little more acquainted with the title. I don’t truly hate it, though “fun” isn’t quite the word I’d use to describe playing through it. The repetitive graphics go a long way towards inducing both boredom and frustration. I think there are some great concepts packed into Metroid II and that the developers had a clear idea where they wanted to take it, they just couldn’t quite work around the Game Boy’s limitations. Were this designed for the NES, I think it’s probable that we would’ve had a game comparable to the original. I believe what we have here is a clear case of concept versus execution.
Metroid II: Return of Samus was divisive during its time, with some citing issues similar to the ones I’ve pointed out while others praised it as one of the strongest titles to hit the Game Boy. There’s a lot of good stuff happening here, but presentation counts and presentation is missed. I wouldn’t given Metroid II a glowing recommendation, but then again it is cheap and easy to find, so even if you hate it, it isn’t nearly the investment that Super Metroid will set you back.
Oh, and while we’re at it, the only 2 Game Genie codes that matter:
Reviewed by The Cubist
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