Rewind Review - Metroid II: Return of Samus
Today is Day 2 of my string of Rewind Reviews on the Metroid series. Last time we went back in time to 1986 and reviewed Metroid on the NES, pointing out the major flaws in-game design that would now be considered unforgivable. This time we will be looking into the franchise's second title: Metroid II: Return of Samus. As with all Rewind Reviews, this game will undergo a review process through the eyes of a 2015 critic, and so nostalgia glasses are not going to spare this game from anything that we - as modern gamers - would expect from the genre today. With that said and done, let's take a look at Metroid II: Return of Samus on the Nintendo Gameboy.
Metroid II: Return of Samus takes place almost immediately after the original NES title. After having destroyed the Space Pirate operations on Zebes, the Galactic Federation sent two teams to SR388. Rumours spread after both teams are never heard from again. Fearing that metroids are the cause, the Galactic Federation sends Samus Aran to exterminate the species once and for all.
Samus sets off on another perilous adventure, this time on planet SR388
What the game does give us, however, is a reason for the player to complete their mission. Unlike the first game that tries to tie together several random creatures (i.e.: Ridley, Kraid, and Mother Brain) under one banner, Metroid II: Return of Samus has a simple goal for us: kill all the Metroids because they are killing people. In its simplicity Metroid II excels over its predecessor since we never are detracted from our goal. It is one that we can understand since there is not a lack of story that makes us question why we are doing what we do, and since the game keeps reminding us of our goal with a constantly updating "metroid counter" we know how close we are to achieving said goal.The story - as was the case with the original Metroid - is completely contained within the game's instruction booklet. This is not necessarily a bad thing per se since it once again makes Metroid a game about isolation, not a story driven piece that is reliant on a deep and meaningful story. Unfortunately, the game does not leave much to speculation either. While there are presentations Chozo ruins throughout SR388 that can cause players to speculate how the Chozo are involved, there are no storytelling elements that offer anything more than the booklet already gives us, especially since we don't even know who the Chozo are (even with the booklets).
Metroid II has many improvements over its predecessor in terms of gameplay. For starters, players now have save points instead of relying on passwords which saves not only a lot of time, but also sets up a tradition for all future Metroid titles. Another useful feature that repeats itself from this game on is the ability to know what item you have acquired without having to look it up in the instruction manual as each power up has its name presented in the bottom third of the screen upon pickup.
Spider Ball... so that's what the glowing white circle is!
Several new weapons that reappear in future Metroid titles are also introduced in Metroid II. These items include: the spider ball, the spring ball, the spazer beam, and the plasma beam. These items are not merely for show as they greatly increase the variety of puzzles that Metroid II can offer. With the ability to crawl along walls Samus is now able to reach areas on the ceiling. A jumping morph ball also allows Samus to bomb-hop with ease while also speeding up traveling through morph ball sections which prevents pointless hang-time issues where waiting for a bomb to explode was necessary. The variety of the beams also change gameplay as players must decide which of the various beams they would like to use, each providing a single benefit over the other ones. Since players can only use one beam at a time it also prevents the player from being 'over-powered' as we see in later installments to the series.
The game also carries over many of the good features from its predecessor. One of these features is the variety of enemies. Despite being a Gameboy title, Metroid II sports a surprising 43 creature total (7 of which are metroid subspecies), effectively doubling the original number of enemies found in the NES Metroid.
Each enemy once again sports weaknesses that must be exploited if a player expects to survive the caverns of SR388. The stellar controls of the first game are also back, and this time players can crouch (that's right, Samus finally has knees!) and fire downward while jumping, allowing players to kill those pesky knee-high enemies that were sometimes unavoidable in the first game.
While Return of Samus addresses many of the issues from the first game, and brings back many of the original title's good mechanics, it also brings back some of the bad ones. However, they are slightly improved upon.
One of these features is the lack of a map. While this earned Metroid (NES) an "ugly" gameplay rep, Metroid II did remedy it slightly. By adding save points, making extremely varied tile sets, as well as certain set pieces to the foreground, Metroid II creates at least some variety in the stage layouts. As such we can differentiate one hallway from another based on the number of hills, if a statue was present, or if there was a save point instead of simply counting the number of enemies present in Norfair hallway 1 vs Norfair hallway 2. However, a map is still very much necessary in a game as large as Metroid II since players could easily spend 4 hours going back and forth in the same area wondering where to go next.
Only one real complaint found in this game that warrants an "ugly" section is one that carries over from the original title: reliance on the instruction booklet. Despite telling us which item we have now, we still don't know how to use the item unless we spend a good 1-5 minutes trying to figure out what the item we picked up does. Sure, we know the spider ball will help us do something like climb up walls while in morph ball form, but how do we use it? The answer: check the instruction booklet.
Samus's greatest weapon in the fight against the metroid menace is her detailed power suit instruction manual. I'm not kidding.
Due to the restraints of the Gameboy, Metroid II relies a lot more on the details of each sprite as opposed to colour or shape. This ultimately works in its favour in the best ways imaginable.
The image above presents not only the detail on Samus and her foe, but also the Gameboy's graphical superiority over the NES's graphics processing.
One of the ways this limitation benefits the series as a whole is the redesign of Samus's armor itself. The Power Suit physically changes shape after acquiring the Varia Suit, something that has been a tradition ever since. While in Metroid (NES) the suit changed color, this is the first time the suit has changed shape. This was actually a direct result of the Gameboy's monochromatic format since a different shade of black and white did not allow players to know the difference. Since Samus has had the detail on her armor increased, all enemy sprites have strong defining silhouettes as well. In fact, all objects, tiles, and so forth have been updated to make the game look surprisingly stunning for a Gameboy title, so much so that I could have mistaken it for a 16-bit platform when I first turned on my classic Gameboy system to make notes for this review.
While there are one or two BGM tracks that hit the nail on the head, the number of misses far outweigh the hits.
Unfortunately, with such greatness in visual presentation something must take the hit due to the cartridge's storage capacity. In this case it is the sound design. While not particularly awful, Metroid II sounds like a Gameboy game. Areas such as the Choso Ruins have upbeat themes that sound like they belong in The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons or Ages instead of a Metroid title, while other areas fall silent in terms of BGM with the only sounds being slight trickles of beeps that could simply have not existed.
All that being said, the game's music and graphical presentation combined does allow for immersion, something that the previous game did not do so well with. Playing through Metroid II I did feel a sense of wonder while traveling through the Choso Ruins or diving deep into the caves of SR388. Every monochromatic tile set flows into the next without so much as a hiccup, creating a unified world that feels like an actual breathing environment, unlike the game's predecessor that completely changed the colour scheme without so much as a warning.
While the game is by no means perfect, Metroid II was - and still is - a solid addition to the Metroid series. The game manages to fix many issues that were present in the original Metroid (NES) title, while also adding many new features that would become staples for the games to come. While the game could use some extra features that would undoubtedly improve the gameplay further, they are not so far lacking that the game suffers without them. As such, I for one warmly welcome Samus's return in Metroid II: Return of Samus and give the game a solid 8/10.
This ends Day 2 of my Metroid Rewind Review series. Be sure to check back on this article, or GameSkinny for future reviews as we make our way from the original 1986 Metroid on the NES to the 2010 release of Metroid: Other M.
Reviews in this Series: