My mommy always said there were no monsters–no real ones–but there are.
-Newt to Ripley, Aliens
“The following is a contributor post by the ABXY Mage.”
Sequel. It’s a term that can evoke both excitement and vitriol. There are a dozen different opinions about sequels. Every once in a while, a game is so perfect that you aren’t sure if you really even want another installment (you know you do, we’re all so greedy). Sometimes a sequel can kill an entire series (what game did you think of? I thought of Earthworm Jim 3D and I haven’t even actually played it). Sometimes, you hope the initial game is successful enough to spawn a sequel so that the developers have a chance to fix the things you didn’t like in the first one.
What do you expect from a sequel when the original was on a more powerful system, though?
In the chronology of the series, as it stands today, there are five games between the original Metroid and Metroid II. However, at the time of its release, it was the immediate follow-up to the NES classic. Expectations and hopes were high. As is often the case with sequels, it received mixed reviews upon its release. Some people liked the changes, some hated them. Some hated the graphics, some loved the detail improvements. Much like Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, Metroid II is more accurately critiqued in retrospect.
When we last left the galaxy’s best space hunter, Samus Aran, she had infiltrated the Space Pirates’ base on Zebes, defeated them and Mother Brain, and destroyed the base with an explosive time bomb. Interestingly, it is at this point in the recap of the story, the instruction booklet happens to say, “Her [Samus’] destruction of the reactivated Mother Brain at the center of the fortress crushed the pirates’ evil plans.”
…”destruction of the reactivated Mother Brain”…
At the time of Metroid II’s release, and the time I am writing this (April 2018), Metroid and its remake, Metroid: Zero Mission, are the first game(s) in the chronology. So why, and how, was Mother Brain RE-activated? What happened to Mother Brain before?
Anyway, where were we? Oh, right…
Samus singlehandedly conquered Zebes, Kraid, Ridley, and Mother Brain, then blew up their base. Sometime after this, the Galactic Federation decided that the Metroid were too dangerous to be allowed to survive. So, they sent another research vessel to SR388. The purpose of this expedition was to find out whether or not there were more living Metroid still on the planet.
Shortly after the research ship arrived on SR388, all contact with the crew was lost.
The Federation Police immediately sent in a search and rescue team, and guess what happened to them? Well, if you guessed “they also were never heard from again!” then you guessed right.
After this second tragedy, the Galactic Federation decided to act upon the assumption that the Metroid must be alive and active on SR388, hiding, possibly deep underground. The Federation called all of the galaxy’s representatives together for an emergency congress. The unanimous decision? Send Samus Aran to SR388 with an order to destroy all Metroid.
Following their success with Metroid, Nintendo R&D1 took on the task of creating a portable Metroid adventure for the Game Boy, a sequel but on a smaller scale than its predecessor. In retrospect, the results are not surprising. Several new power-ups, advancement of the story, and familiar elements mixed with a smaller world, graphical restrictions, and unfamiliar elements.
Having just played this game for the first time, and having not yet played the remake, I still have to say that it’s about time they remade this game. After the original Metroid, I don’t think anybody wanted a smaller, more restricted Metroid game.
The 8-Bit Review
It’s an overall improvement from the first game. Sure, it’s not in color, unless you play the Game Boy Color version, which looks almost like it probably would have been made for the NES, but Samus’ suit is much more detailed. And not just her regular Power Suit, either, but the Varia Suit is also more detailed, with this being the first game to feature the now iconic, larger, rounded shoulders. These detail changes and additions were actually the result of the game’s lack of color and need for distinction between the two suits. Sometimes restrictions can lead to innovation. Unfortunately, the same didn’t hold true for the environments as they are almost all just bland rocky areas.
While Metroid II has more enemies than the first game, a lot of their designs are pretty boring. It’s not just their designs though. A lot of the enemies have very boring and simple movement patterns. A lot of them pose very little threat at all. I suppose this could be because they aren’t really enemies as much as they are planetary life but the same case could be made for the original Metroid and those enemies seemed much more hostile.
The different mutations of the Metroid are pretty cool. Well, for the most part. Considering the switch to monochrome, the Metroid you recognize from the original look pretty darn good. It’s very cool to get to see what they look like as they grow or evolve as well. The Alpha and Gamma Metroid both look interesting, menacing, and logically designed. The Zeta and Omega Metroid both look like intimidating designs (just look in the instruction booklet) but are unfortunately products of the Game Boy’s size limitations. Much like Kraid and Ridley in the first installment, the Zeta and Omega Metroid seem far smaller and simpler than they should be.
While Ryoji Yoshitomi did not do the music for the original Metroid, he clearly attempted to carry on the musical themes and ideas from it. Unfortunately, he falls short. And, once again, you won’t be tapping along to this soundtrack. We’re familiar with the idea of silence being used to increase the feeling of solitude and unknown, but here, silence mostly exists in short bursts or easily measured beats.
In the few areas where silence is used in excess, the non-silent parts of the score are almost completely covered by the sound effects. This all but eliminates the atmosphere of suspense and unsureness. Instead, most of the soundtrack comes across like a Metroid cover band that after decades of playing Metroid songs decided to try writing their own stuff. It sounds very similar but without being as good or effective.
All of this is perfectly exampled in the title screen. It starts off new but familiar. Any fan of the first game playing this for the first time must have been pumping so much adrenaline for the first fifteen seconds of this song. Then, the familiar theme kicks in. Almost immediately there are too many notes. It’s familiar, but somehow wrong; it’s a new twist on something that should not have been twisted.
Again, the majority of the sound effects sound only slightly better than Atari era sound effects. However, unlike the sounds in the first game, a lot of what you hear in this game gets very annoying very fast. The Ice Beam, jumping, the Wave Beam, and taking damage all get very tiresome quickly. On top of that, this game not only doesn’t have the wonderful bomb drop sound, but it also changes the sound of the Screw Attack. I highly suggest listening to something else while you play this one.
One of Metroid II’s biggest blunders is that the gameplay is oversimplified. The average person, if not every person, wants more out of a sequel. Metroid II, instead, offers less. Maybe it’s the product of being a Game Boy game and not an NES release but that would only excuse some of its faults.
First, let’s look at what it did improve. It introduced the Spring Ball, which allowed you to jump while in the Morph Ball. This is something that everyone wanted to do in Metroid. It also gave us the Spider Ball. This gave you the power to cling to walls and ceilings while in the Morph Ball. The Space Jump gave Samus the ability to jump infinitely. However, it almost makes the Spider Ball redundant once you acquire it.
Bosses. The first game had Kraid, Ridley, and Mother Brain. That’s it. Three. Metroid II has 39 Metroid in five different mutation and difficulty stages plus the Queen Metroid. Going this far to the other side of the spectrum, however, kind of makes the boss fights less exciting.
And now for the changes that were less than good. Did you occasionally get tired of going through areas again and again in search of your next passage in Metroid? Well, fear not, this game includes whole zones you won’t ever see again after a short period.
Worried you won’t know where to go again? Well, each new zone is blocked off by some kind of lava or acid that Samus cannot get through. Once you defeat the required amount of Metroid in an area, there is an earthquake. Naturally, once the quake is over, the place where the acid/lava was blocking your path is now clear.
As a result of the story and objective, your mission to eliminate the Metroid is clear. However, Metroid II took it one step further and gave you a meter that counts down how many total Metroid you have left to defeat. This, in conjunction with the quakes, makes retracing a lot of your steps unlikely and getting lost even less common.
While you couldn’t go so far as to say Metroid II is linear, when you compare it to Metroid and the expectations of the time, it is much more–and much too–linear for the followup to the original.
Given its increased linearity and the obvious cues it provides, Metroid II is quite a bit more accessible than the first game. The controls all make sense, and the biggest struggle is bombing while in Spider Ball on cave ceilings. But, most of those are for non-essentials anyway. Unlike the original Metroid, the instruction booklet is not mandatory for beating Metroid II.
Aside from the final battle with the Queen Metroid, by far, the hardest part of Metroid II is having enough missiles when you need them. With missiles being the only way to defeat the Metroid, you use them constantly and running out of missiles in the middle of a battle with a Metroid is really annoying. Luckily there are Missile Batteries peppered throughout the planet where you can fully refill your supply. In fact, most of the retreading you will need to do comes from having to refill your ammo.
Knowing what to do and where to go is much easier in this game than it was in the original. The secret paths are easier to find. A majority of the regular enemies pose little to no threat. Metroid II also brought save points to the series, making game overs not quite the hellish nightmare they once were.
With the simplified exploration and decreased difficulty, the game becomes a much more straightforward adventure. This eliminates the struggle that probably led to so many people replaying Metroid again and again on the NES. Surely, this game’s only replayability, which is long since gone, existed only because it was the only portable Metroid at the time, and everyone only had so many games for their Game Boys to begin with.
Unfortunately, Metroid II: Return of Samus abandons some of the mechanics that made the original Metroid so original. If you’ve played any of the other games in the series (and at this point, I’ve only played Metroid, Metroid II, and Super Metroid), then this game will likely feel almost incomplete. When you get to the end, you’ll probably think to yourself, “that was it?”
Having said that, it does retain the all-four-directions-scrolling, the giant map instead of levels, and the need for power-ups that allow you to access new areas. So it still has several of the key components of the still, at the time, newly evolving Metroidvania genre. Too bad it didn’t do anything to push the genre forward.
My Personal Grade: 4/10
I could play Super Metroid endlessly. I could play Metroid several more times. I could play this game again… I guess. It kind of felt like this should have been the first Metroid, and then the NES one is where they go with it, surpassing expectations. Instead, they didn’t meet them. Several cool concepts, multiple memorable items, and key arc moments for the Metroid story as an entire series just aren’t enough to make it the game everyone wants and wanted it to be. Metroid II: Return of Samus is one small step back before the giant leap for Metroid.
Aggregated Score: 4.6
The ABXY Mage leads a double life of unfathomable smoothness, if his expertise in jazz is any indication. Music maker, fandangoist, writer, you can find this hip cat as ABXY Reviews on Twitter and on YouTube.
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