Metroid II: Return of Samus

Review and Overview by Mike Finkelstein

The first Metroid was an instant classic. The game featured a brilliant mix of exploration, non-linear gameplay, and tense fighting, all set against a sparse, claustrophobic, sci-fi background. it was unlike anything else that came out around it and cemented an entire genre of games: Metroidvanias. Other's were soon to follow, including the Castlevania series (with Castlevania II: Simon's Quest), but it took four years for Nintendo to return and make their own sequel, Metroid II: Samus Returns.

Set some time after the events of the first game, our space-suited heroine, Samus Aran, has come to Planet SR388 on a mission to exterminate all the metroids in the universe (as they are indigenous to this planet). The metroids (which appeared in a few tense sequences in the first game) are feared as a biological super-weapon and the Galactic Federation wants to see them eliminated before anyone (like the villains of the first game) attempt to use them again. This leads Samus through another games of tense exploration as she tries to make her way through in interior of SR388 to complete her mission.

Fans and critics were split on just how to feel about Metroid II. As the game was released on the Game Boy, some concessions had to be made due to the limitations of the hardware. As everything was bathed in the same four monochromatic shades, the SR388 ends up looking very samey in plenty of its locations. People would coment that it was very easy to get lost in the game, even more so than in the original

Unlike with Zebes in the first game, Samus isn't free to explore the whole of the planet the second she lands. A meter in the bottom of the screen tells Samus just how many metroids are left on the planet. As she explores, looking for these metroids, she'll encounter lava-filled rooms she's unable to pass. Once she kills enough metroids, the lava will drain back some, allowing her further access deeper in the planet. This happens repeatedly throughout the game, preventing the player from being able to get to the very bottom of the planet too quick (so no sequence breaking the game, as was possible in the original title). This means players essentially have to explore everything on the planet before they can move to the next area.

This rigid structure does rankle some fans, as the whole point of the Metroid series is open exploration. While Metroid II gave Samus a whole host of new abilities she could find and use to traverse the planet, the fact is that players essentially had to find all of them -- nothing was really optional (aside from a few missile packs and energy tanks) if you wanted any chance at finishing the game.

Despite this, there were improvements to the game that were hard to argue with. As mentioned, many of the new powerups, from the Spider Ball to the Space Jump, were interesting enough to continue showing up throughout the series. Meanwhile, due to the limits of the Game Boy color palette, the programers had to find a way to give Samus an armor upgrade and make it recognizable to the players. Thus Samus's familiar armor, with the big rounded shoulders, that everyone associates with her character was created for this game (which Samus gain as part of the upgrade).

So while Metroid II may not be a favorite game among fans of the series, the game itself has had a lasting impact on the series as a whole (and that's before we discuss it's influence on Metroidvania games as well).

Similarities to Castevania Games

Although set on the Game Boy, and a solid translation of the Metroid NES forumla, the game does add a couple of additional improvements that help to bring the series closer to the standards of the modern Metroidvania formula. For starters, Metroid II introduced save rooms. While the NES title (and, similarly, Simon's Quest) used passwords to aid players in continuing their games beyond a single play session, by necessity Metroid II had to handle stop-start gameplay better since it was a portable system. Save rooms were introduced that allowed the player to save, stop, and come back later without simply being sent back to start. This simple convenience became a mainstay of basically all future Metroidvania titles.

The other big change in Metroid II from the first title was in the layout of the whole world. Although the first Metroid featured a connected, open world, the planet was not one large single zone. Elevators were put in at connecting zones, sending the players to different portions of the world. It wasn't seamless, and, by and large, the various zones remained fairly independent on one another. The design of Metroid II used a single, seamless, continuous world without long elevators or hard cutoffs between zones. While the Metroid series would go back to more segmented areas, this seamless approach is much more like other Metroidvania titles, harkening to the large, connected Dracula's castles we could expect in future Castlevania titles.

And while some players would lament to more linear, forced collection of the items in Metroid II, this is not far off from the way the various castles would be designed in various Castlevania titles to come. To explore into another area you'd need a key, or the double jump, or form of bat. Very often, most or all of the key items would be needed to finish a Castlevania-based Metroidvania game, and this game seems very much like a precursor to that explorational style.