Metroid II: Return of Samus (is Substantial)

Until Metroid: Other M was released on the Nintendo Wii, Metroid II: Return of Samus, released for the Game Boy, was often considered the weakest entry in the Metroid series. Objectively, Metroid II may not be the near the top of the Metroid tier list but it is a very good game in its own right. Many features, now staples of the Metroid series, that were added in Samus’s second outing made it feel like a true sequel and greatly expanded on the original Metroid’s universe and game-play.

Samus is back. This time, she brought save files.

Samus is back. This time, she brought save files.

Battery Backup

Metroid games, especially the first time you play one, are not something you can experience in 30 minutes. Due to this, all Metroid games feature a way to save your progress. The first thing to do when playing the original Metroid is grab a pen and paper. Metroid featured a password system that contained 24 character passwords consisting of 65 possible options per character for an astronomically large 6524 possible passwords. The very first thing to do when starting Metroid II is to take a sigh of relief as the password system is replaced with battery backed save files.  This, in addition to save locations being peppered liberally throughout the game, make for a more comfortable game.

Fun, Interesting Items

Around... around... around...

Spider Ball is way more fun than it should be.

The original Metroid contained a handful of items that augmented Samus’s abilities. While these items were fun, Metroid II took it to the next level.  In terms of firepower, Metroid II almost doubled the amount of types of beam weapons you could fire. Only one beam could be used at a time, it gave the player the option to keep which ever beam they preferred, creating a small sense of customization. Where Metroid II really shines, is the expansion of mobility based items. In addition to the morph ball and the high-jump boots, this sequel added spider-ball (roll around on walls and ceilings), spring ball (jump freely while in morph ball form), and space jump (jump in midair, endlessly). These items were all extremely fun to use and made exploring the game feel genuinely exciting.

More Forgiving

I played very poorly. I apologize.

Samus encounters her first alpha metroid.

Metroid II: Return of Samus is not an easy game but it’s also not too hard. It manages to stay in that healthy middle ground where you should plan on dying a few times but not to the point where it gets frustrating. One of the most annoying aspects of the original Metroid was dying. In its case, upon death you would start back at the beginning of the area with a mere 30 health (very, very little) and however many missiles you had left.  In order to not risk dying again, you would have to exit and re-enter rooms, killing enemies to farm for health and missile pick-ups. It made death a total mood ruining event. Metroid II circumvents this issue in two ways: saves and recharge points. Dying in Metroid 2 merely takes you back to the exact state and spot (down to the pixel) you were in when you last saved. In addition to this, scattered around the game are special persistent recharge items that can completely refill your health or missiles. Death meant that you could immediately give it another go instead of wasting 5 minutes just to put yourself in a survivable state.

Streamlined Progression

I think it's acid... could be <i>any</i> fluid!

One of the many acid pools blocking your progress.

Metroid II: The Linearity of Samus? Compared to the “go-and-do-whatever” Metroid, its sequel follows a very specific progression. The game logs the current count of metroid creatures still left. Using this count, the game blocks off certain areas of the game with acid. When a certain number of metroids are defeated, the acid level lowers allowing you to access more areas. With this, Metroid II is more of a “do-what-you-can-then-move-on” type of game.

Thia type of progression is beneficial in at least two ways. First, it controls the difficulty of the game, allowing it to become progressively more difficult as you go. The original Metroid allowed free exploration which also meant you might find yourself in an area that is far too difficult for you to handle, leaving you frustrated. Second, it keeps you from becoming lost. Metroid and Metroid II are similar in that there are many areas that look identical and even use the same exact layout. However, the metroid counter tells you exactly how many more you need to destroy to move on. Using this, you can can tell exactly how much else you need to do in the area before moving on, keeping you on track.

The Sum of its Parts

If you couldn’t tell by now, I feel that Metroid II: Return of Samus is a fantastic game. I didn’t even get to discuss how atmospheric and fitting the soundtrack is (and it is!) or how they managed to fit a console-like experience onto a handheld system. Metroid II continued to push the limits of what can be done on the Game Boy and in video games in general. While some criticisms (which I dare not discuss!) are deserved, Metroid II: Return of Samus was, and still is, an amazing game.

Or… it might be…

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