Metroid II: Return of Samus (is Unfinished)

Metroid II is a great game… but it’s a mess. The more you play it, the more it feels like it was released a good 6 months before it should have been. Every step through the corridors reveal obnoxious and obvious errors and design flaws. You should avoid playing Metroid II: Return of Samus unless you want to experience a wonderful game of solid mediocrity.

Inactive Off-screen Enemies

Maybe he had an invisible shield?

Enemies are invincible when “inactive”.

One of the first annoyances you will notice is that enemies can only be hurt when they are on the screen. This means that the instant an enemy leaves the visible boundary, it becomes “inactive” and stops functioning in every way. This means that it stops moving, cannot be hurt, and cannot supply any fun. You are unable to shoot and run  because if you scroll the enemy off the screen, your shots will not hurt it. This occurs rather frequently and, considering how much of the screen Samus takes up, is incredibly frustrating. As a result, you have to be very close to enemies to even hurt them. Shown to the right, is one of the most blatant offenders. The Gamma Metroid is a very large creature who takes up about 1/4 of the screen width. Once it becomes “inactive” it does not become active again until it is entirely on the screen. You can argue that this is a result of memory limitations but I chalk it up to lazy programming and poor design.

Getting Hit Resets Jump State

It's actually faster to do it this way than to use spider ball.

Thanks for the boost, wall-face!

This is one of the most mind-boggling programming oversights I have ever seen in such a high-profile title. For whatever reason, any time you are hurt, for a brief moment you are able to jump. Using this, you can jump into an enemy and jump again reaching heights you are not yet supposed to reach. In the example shown here, Samus is supposed to find the spider ball power to scale this wall. Instead of bothering to use spider ball, you can simply jump, get hit, and jump again to reach the ledge. This “technique” can be exploited in many, many places throughout the game. Being able to do this makes no logical sense, is incredibly easy to do, and potentially ruins the intended item progression of the game by allowing players to skip certain items such as the high-jump boots. Clearly, this is another example of inept programmers at work.

Morph-ball Resets Jump State

Whoooaaaa!

I cannot logically explain this pre-Super Metroid phenomenon.

In what I can only guess is a related programming oversight, any time you exit morph-ball state, you are able to jump. For the same reasons listed above, this is a silly, easily exploitable “technique” that can be used to reach areas you aren’t normally supposed to. In combination with the spring ball item, you can effectively jump twice, jumping while in ball form, exiting ball form in mid-air, and jumping again. Interestingly enough, the same exact bug was present in it’s predecessor, Metroid for the NES. Perhaps the programmers intentionally added this bug (or neglected to fix it) as a kind of throwback to the original game? Or maybe it just happens to be the exact same programming oversight as they did in the first game? I’d like to believe it’s just a an example bad programming at it’s best… twice.

Missle-Only Tiles

I like the spinning action!

This is the only time these cool blocks are every used.

This isn’t a programming error but rather an example of poor game / level design. On exactly one occasion about 3/4 of the way through the game, Samus will encounter a block that can only be destroyed by firing a missile into it. It’s actually a cool block that has a interesting spin-then-explode effect. I like this block. In fact, I like this block a lot. I think it’s really awesome and I am the president of the “You Must Shoot a Missile At the Block to Destroy it in Metroid II” fan club. No, but seriously, this block is disappointingly underused. This sort of block would have had tons of applications, especially earlier on in the game. By utilizing this block more creatively, it would have considerably spiced up level design. It could even have been used to create more of a missile management scenario. It would have been interesting to require the player to use more missiles on these blocks which would leave less for the metroids. Instead, it appears as if the developers almost forgot about this block entirely. At one point, one level designer remembered it, placed two of them down and then forgot about them once again. It’s a shame because the blocks are just so freakin’ cool.

And that’s Not All

In addition to these, Metroid II is filled with even more programming errors and strange, illogical design choices that I don’t have the time to cover. It feels as though they had the base game down but never took the time to refine it. The entire game is a mesh of good and bad experiences which leave me feeling a bit perplexed. It’s an addictive, genuinely fun experience but lacks a certain polish that should be expected from a first-party game.  Metroid II: Return of Samus is a interesting game and if you can bear with all of its issues, it might even be an enjoyable game.

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Don’t Ever Stop! (Hit Reset)

I previously explored a few video games bugs that had no major impact on the game. They were fun, interesting and were generally something that had to be done on purpose. There is another category of video game bug; it’s a category that doesn’t rear it’s head that often. I am talking about the dreaded game ruining bugs. These are the bugs and glitches that, once they go into effect, give you no choice but to reset the game. There are many different ways this could happen but today I am exploring one particular phenomenon.

Endless Auto-running

While there are probably more, these three games all exhibit a game halting glitch which causes your character to travel endlessly to the right. There is no way to recover from this once the glitch has taken effect. Even more unfortunate, all three can theoretically be done accidentally!

Donkey Kong (Game Boy)

When you gotta go, you gotta go...

Climb up the ladder at the wrong time and it’s game over.

Ah, yes. Mario is one heck of guy! Year after year he goes out and saves all sorts of ladies from all sorts of animals.  One dreaded night, Mario was on the chase after Donkey Kong. That rascally ape have kidnapped Pauline once again! With Mario in pursuit, Donkey Kong leap and hollered with Pauline under arm. Suddenly and completely by accident, Donkey Kong’s ape-like howling precisely matched an ancient incantation designed to aid marathon runners. Donkey Kong jumped away with Pauline, not knowing what he had done. Mario, now under a powerful spell stopped his pursuit. Without any control of his body, he levitated mere feet above the ground and ran to the right. When he ran as far as he could, he found himself 20 feet behind where he was! He ran and he ran and he teleported and he teleported. Later that night, Donkey Kong, having escaped with Pauline, made a delicious soup out of her bones.

Mario ran on.

Metroid II: Return of Samus (Game Boy)

Naw, guys. It's cool. She knows what she's doing.

In morph ball form, turn around the same time you cause a screen transition and it’s roly poly time.

Samus has been directed to destroy all remaining metroids on planet SR-388. She landed, explored the surroundings, and gathered data. Little did she know, the foreign planet’s natural defenses, an invisible airborne poison, was slowly penetrating her suit. After a rather lengthy time in one of the tunnels, Samus started to feel a little woozy. The poison, bonding with her DNA, began to alter her… for the worse. Her body began to contort and force itself into morph ball form. Samus, unable to break the control of the poison, was thrust to the right. Fully conscious, Samus could do nothing but think to herself as the true, endless journey began. “This is what I have become. This is what I must be. This is what I deserve.” Her body, now one with the planet, freely moved though air, land, water as it traveled toward some unknown goal. She knew. Samus knew, for the rest of eternity, this would be her life. She was sure of it.

That morning the metroids ate her for breakfast.

Ghosts and Goblins (NES)

Round and round he goes, where does he stop? Nobody knows.

Collect a key in the wrong way and it’s bye-bye Arthur.

Arthur was tired. He was really tired. He had just battled though graveyards, cities, caverns and finally to the top of some ominous looking tower, all in his underwear! With the cross in hand and the captive Princess Prin Prin just ahead, Arthur entered Satan’s chamber. In an absurdly easy battle, Arthur destroys Satan in a matter of seconds. This was it! Arthur has saved the day! Suddenly, Arthur was transported back to the graveyard and a voice boomed overhead, “Har har, Arthur! It was all a trick… but this time it’s for real! Do it again and you can have you’re little princess.” Arthur was pretty upset but he knew it must be done! Once again, through the graveyard, city, cavern and up the tower. Arthur, now with dagger in hand, reaches the doorway to Satan’s chamber. Arthur reaches for the door, grips the handle and pulls.

The door does not open. The voice of Satan boomed again “Everybody knows the dagger is totally cheap and unfair. It’s cross or nothin’. Sorry chump.” Arthur, knowing he would have to go back down to the bottom of the tower to recollect the cross, lost his mind. “Whelp… I’m going home.”

And off he went.

And Then it Stopped

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…