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Metroid II: Return of Samus (Game Boy) artwork

Metroid II: Return of Samus (Game Boy) review

"Something moved. What was that noise? Is something coming? I don't feel too safe walking down this dank corridor ..... wait, how many missiles do I have? Do I have enough? I haven't found a missile supplement in a while ..... should I keep going? Will a Metroid pop out at me? Do I really have enough missiles? Is it worth it to run back to the ship and recharge, or should I just blast a few enemies and hope for a few refills? What if oh God a Metroid AHHHHHH....... "

Something moved. What was that noise? Is something coming? I don't feel too safe walking down this dank corridor ..... wait, how many missiles do I have? Do I have enough? I haven't found a missile supplement in a while ..... should I keep going? Will a Metroid pop out at me? Do I really have enough missiles? Is it worth it to run back to the ship and recharge, or should I just blast a few enemies and hope for a few refills? What if oh God a Metroid AHHHHHH.......

Questions like these attack the first-time Metroid II player on all fronts without mercy. At the outset, intrepid bounty hunter Samus Aran touches down on the planet SR388 to a cold reception from the local sparse vegetation. Seeing only one direction to go in, you must wend your way through what initially appears to be a single-path cavern. However, the road quickly splits into paths culminating with lava, new areas, and ultimately Metroids. Once the trusty path diverges, the player loses all sense of gut instinct and direction. That mental divining rod snaps in two, the mouth goes slack, and you have no words to explain the sudden shutdown of half of your brain.

This is where some people decide to write the game off right then and there, pulling baseless reasons from the air as if they were balloons slowly running out of helium. Several goofy theories are posited, up to and including the way the linearity of the game as compared to the first Metroid ruins the experience, difficulty of control, terrible music, and the way the lava impedes forward progress and possible exploration. Lies! These impatient naysayers see the planet of SR388 in its dormant state, before its delicate balance is disrupted by Samus's arm cannon, before all the harmful miasma has dissipated as a result of the ruthless bounty hunter's systematic Metroid genocide. Following her successful infiltration of the space pirates' operation on Zebes, Samus travels to SR388 to wipe out the Metroids once and for all so that their life energy can never be used to a harmful end again. And despite the rumors and hearsay all the rabblerousers will toss at you, it's an experience that not to be forgotten, much less missed.

Granted, Samus dives headlong into her mission without a smidgen of regard for SR388's ecosystem, but these Metroids are ugly, primitive creatures that charge mindlessly at their targets and would shoot lightning bolts and plasma balls at their own mothers, so the ramifications of the whole ordeal are easily put out of mind. We're here for a good dose of adventure, and if we're patient, we'll get it.

Perhaps Metroid II's greatest achievement is its early pioneering of survival horror. Yes, read that again if you don't believe it, because it's an accurate and factual statement. Metroid II contributed vastly to the birth of survival horror, long before the concept even had a name. It seems to me that when the phrase ''survival horror'' hits the table, you immediately hear overwhelming cries of ''Resident Evil'', ''Alone in the Dark'', and the like. But I submit to you, where are the powerful, decibel meter-shattering cries of ''METROID II: RETURN OF SAMUS''? Anyone who suggests such an outlandish idea does so in a shrewish, timid voice, but to be heard, one must say things boldly, loudly, PROUDLY! Was not Copernicus scorned when he proclaimed that the earth was round? Surely the Wright brothers had their hecklers and pessimists before achieving the miracle of manmade flight! And so it is that I scream out, in the tradition of the great astronomers and aviators before me, that Metroid II invented survival horror!

After all, the elements are all in place. SR388 consists of one lugubrious labyrinth after another, and as Samus wends her way through the caverns and kills the required amount of Metroids in an area, earthquakes occur that cause the lava to subside just a bit more each time, unveiling a little bit more of the mystery to be found on the planet. And these aren't just the things from the first game that elicited reactions along the lines of, ''My stars, what a strange-looking jellyfish!'' The Metroids of SR388 evolve as you discover more of what the caverns have to offer, growing beaks and legs and gaining the ability to shoot lightning, as well as becoming increasingly aggressive.

The Metroids also have a knack for appearing in the worst places, often beginning their brutal assaults before you have time to switch to missiles and aim in spite of your violently convulsing thumb. The most memorable by far are the ones that your eyes process but your brain doesn't. One Gamma Metroid appears in your peripheral vision just as you run through what you first believed to be a predator-free corridor to a new sector; with no room to jump and a sudden situation on your hands, you must either allow Samus to be pushed further and further into a cowardly retreat on the previous screen, or forget any of the tactics or strategy that you normally devote a couple of seconds to at the beginning of a duel and crash into the lightning-spewing beast with reckless abandon. Others are more than willing to accost you just as you begin a freefall down a long expanse or work your way into a tricky area with spiky thickets above and below you.

Not a single organism on SR388 plays nice, not even the ones that crawl around the ground and look neutral. Anyone looking for epic monster battles won't be disappointed by the ones to be found here. Running blindly into action is not an option; if you're not ready, prepare to have your butt handed to you quickly and efficiently.

Having been thusly scared into slow, creeping, deliberate movement, you take time to notice the aesthetics of the planet. Cavern, cavern, and more cavern. There's very little variation between any two given areas, but almost all caves appear similar no matter what stretch of the galaxy you're exploring. Each one, however, lays before you a different set of challenges - new nooks and crannies to blast open, bomb through, and explore in hopes of finding all the items necessary to complete the quest. Objects like the Spider Ball, which helps you crawl tall walls, and the Space Jump, with which one could theoretically jump all the way across the infinite void, make for underground expanses of harrowing height and depth. Scattered about these deep pockets of igneous rock and abandoned technology are your targets, awaiting any sort of fresh meat they can sink their meat hooks into, even if they have to crack a hard metal shell to get to it.

Most heroes seem to have an orchestra pit following them at all times, but not so for our lone bounty hunter. With the exception of the main hub area, it is as if the traveling minstrels are afraid to follow Samus into the darker recesses of the planet, and your stomach drops out at the same time as the music. The little beeps and boops aren't music; they're background tittering - routine alien sounds and terrestrial shifting. This ambient noise fills in for the main theme, laying the natural atmosphere on thick. With few aural clues to guide you, mazes become overwhelming and even backtracking on a route once makes it feel like an entirely new area. And the closer to SR388's core one gets, the more guttural and pounding the noises become. The pulse quickens with each subsequent stomp, slowly bringing the game to a climax that's nothing short of terrifying.

When all the elements gel, Metroid II soars to one of the highest positions among its brethren - the series best, some might even contend. There are a few issues, like the stiffness of Samus's body and control (especially evident in midair) and the relative short length of the game. When it's over, you cry for more, but there is nothing more the game can offer. All it has for you is its humble mix of primitive spinach-green survival horror and good old-fashioned adventure, and it will offer you this until one of you taps out. Odds are the cartridge won't go down without a fight. Hopefully, you won't have to struggle with Metroid II to enjoy it, for there is plenty to relish in its own right. It's solid entertainment that, unlike the other Metroid games (save for Super), has the capacity to empty a person's stomach contents from no less than three orifices at once in the proper conditions. Between shoplifting and not having a copy of this game, I'd say the latter is the worse crime.

Wait ..... something moved. What was that noise? Is something coming? I don't feel too safe walking down this dank corridor.....

snowdragon's avatar
Community review by snowdragon (June 08, 2004)

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