VERSION(S) REVIEWED: GAMEBOY
Metroid II: Return of Samus
Written & Edited by: Prof. Purble & Eria
Published: 27th, January, 2023
Metroid II: Return of Samus is an action-adventure game released for the Gameboy in 1991, developed by Nintendo R&D1.
Although this was released and titled as the second game, it is chronologically the seventh as the Metroid Prime series takes place just before Metroid II.
Overall, it took a little over 6 hours to finish and collect every item upgrade during the mission campaign.
Standing on its own, there is no starting intro or dialogue to explain anything, but enough is shown within the game itself that your main objective becomes quite clear enough: To exterminate an alien species. To get more context, you needed the manual which detailed the events leading up to this game across four pages with complimentary illustrations.
To summarize, Metroids are a deadly parasitic species known to suck the life energy out of any living organism it latches onto, killing its prey within mere moments. Since the discovery of the deadly species, the Galactic Federation have sought to study the creatures in order to understand them better, but due to the loss of countless soldiers and scientists, they have now been deemed far too dangerous to exist and pose a threat to galactic civilisation. After discovering the coordinates of their origins on the planet SR388, the Federation decide to send in their best bounty hunter, Samus Aran with the sole purpose of bringing them to total extinction by any means necessary.
What Samus didn't anticipate however, upon discovering there are in fact Metroids here, they have started to evolve into nastier versions of themselves and have grown immune to cryogenic freeze weapons. Completely eradicating them wasn't going to be an easy task.
The level of control and precision you get is impressive for a gameboy title. Samus's mobility is perhaps the most polished and commendable aspect of Metroid II. In addition to her move set from the first game on NES, shooting left, right and straight up, she can now do so while crouching and even fire below her while in mid air, giving yourself a better chance of defending yourself as you descend deeper into SR388. You can even change direction mid-jump, and this saved my butt on a lot of occasions.
You start with the Morph ball straight away, letting you crawl up into a ball to roll into narrow passages and future upgrades only make getting around easier. For example, the Spider ball lets you climb up walls and onto the cavern ceiling, and the Morph bomb can reveal hidden passageways, potentially leading to another area or a missile upgrade. The Space jump is especially useful for reaching high places, but this is near unreliable as it doesn’t always work when it should.
You start off with 30 Missiles straight from the get-go, which are necessary to take on the Metroids as they are impervious to your regular arm cannon. The total capacity of missiles can be increased in multiples of 10 via upgrades which are sparsely scattered across the map. There are even refill pods to replenish your ammo supply, but weirdly enough, these can usually only be found in some of the most unusual spots that aren’t immediately obvious and you could be finding yourself starving for missiles if you’re not having any luck finding these.
Energy Tanks to increase your overall health are even more sparse which can result in long grind sessions, killing enemies for resources just to be more prepared for the next area. It also doesn't help that there are next to no invincibility frames if you get hit.
Due to some cavern rooms being fairly compact, it’s not easy to dodge the Metroids as they move faster than you, but killing them only requires a certain amount of direct hit missiles and you're not likely to be spending more than a minute per encounter. It’s only until you start encountering the stronger variants which will require a little more careful finesse. This however becomes very repetitive. It would have been nice to face something different for a change, such as more boss fights, which are severely lacking here.
Navigation is to say the least, confusing at times. Particularly for first time playthroughs, without a guide you'll probably not get very far as you'll be required to traverse through fake walls just to get from one part of the map to the next and there are no hints, nor a map, leading to a lot of blind guess work. Notably there is a lava pit which acts as a barrier that goes down in proportions via killing Metroids. Once you’ve exterminated all that are in the area, the screen will suddenly shake with a rumbling sound, indicating the lava has gone down a little, allowing passage to the next area.
Samus's arm cannon has a standard pew pew laser, but this can be changed later on to a variety of different projectile forces, from an ice beam, or being able to shoot out multiple lasers at once. These are not permanent upgrades and are more like temporary equipable add-ons as Samus can return to a Chozo statue with a different weapon and swap it out. Some weapon add-ons are more effective than others depending on the enemy being fought, but this is left entirely down to experimentation and deciding what works best for you.
Due to the limitations of the gameboy handheld, the developers had to make a few compromises, especially due to the lack of color support. For example, there needed to be sprite redesigns for Samus' suit upgrade as you could not easily distinguish the difference otherwise. Credit where it's due though, despite the hardware limitations, they were able to at least give each area its own unique look and identity, and this certainly helped with making the environments a lot more memorable.
Playing the game with a special SNES insert cartridge, dubbed the Super Gameboy, colorizes the game while being able to display onto a TV screen, and you can change the color profile entirely to your preferred preferences. Most emulators also have many customizable options for various color pallets, as showcased throughout the many screenshots posted in this review.
Regarding the soundtrack and sfx, it's pretty lackluster, not solely due to the gameboys limitations but due to the stylistic choice of going with an ambience vibe. This sounds great on paper but the execution ends up just being a few beeps and boops that don’t really sell much on the immersion. The Surface theme is a really nice start to the game and it gives you that sense of adventure, but not long after that it falls off pretty quickly once you start going into other areas. Even the Chozo ruins and Metroid encounter themes are pretty forgettable.
As the second game in the franchise, it's impressive for what it accomplishes, such as the introduction of save points which become a main staple of the series. The amount of detail and polish put into Samus herself is nothing short of well deserved praise and there is a lot to appreciate with the presentation overall, even if the music falls a bit short of that.
Where it fails however, are the design and choice decisions around progression. This is not only one of the most linear games in the franchise, but navigating the caverns of SR388 is not particularly fun when you have no sense of direction and you're just not given anything to work with to help you at least get around. Back then when the game was released, you'd have to rely on Nintendo Power magazines or word of mouth as the internet was still in its infancy around this time without any guides yet to be published.
With that being said, it just doesn’t hold up to the test of time and I certainly don’t recommend it, even to existing Metroid fans. If you really want to experience Metroid II, you’re likely going to have a much better time with its official remake for the 3DS, or perhaps even AM2R, a fan recreation from the ground up, featuring many improvements. If you do decide to play the original however, with or without a guide, then good luck.