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Metroid II: Return of Samus (Game Boy) artwork

Metroid II: Return of Samus (Game Boy) review

"Label me elitist, dub me curmudgeonly, call me “old school” to a fault. Certainly, I originally purchased Metroid II out of a sense of obligation -- the cart being the follow-up to my favorite NES game -- and with little desire to actually enjoy myself while playing it. I perceived injustice being done -- I allowed myself to view this black-and-white atrocity as little more than an outright insult to an undeniable classic, an effort lacking in heart as much as in hype from a..."

Label me elitist, dub me curmudgeonly, call me “old school” to a fault. Certainly, I originally purchased Metroid II out of a sense of obligation -- the cart being the follow-up to my favorite NES game -- and with little desire to actually enjoy myself while playing it. I perceived injustice being done -- I allowed myself to view this black-and-white atrocity as little more than an outright insult to an undeniable classic, an effort lacking in heart as much as in hype from a despotic Nintendo entity that was more concerned with moving GameBoy units than preserving a legend. I begrudgingly pressed “Start” and set off on my mission, squinting at a screen displaying images that I could see all too well but perhaps didn’t want to see. I pressed on for a solid thirty minutes before getting stuck and tossing the cart into the drawer of doom where it subsisted with other worthless unfortunates for over a decade.

I relay this tale of near-tragedy because I believe that I was one of many who dismissed Metroid II in such abrupt, imprudent fashion. Perhaps the blame shouldn’t lie with us -- Nintendo’s lackluster support of what should have been a blockbuster sequel didn’t do much to convince skeptics that this was an adventure deserving of attention. The premise was disappointingly facile at first glance -- Samus Aran, the one-woman army, sent to terminate the thirty-nine remaining monstrosities on a lonely, desolate planet. No gargantuan Mother Brain to do battle with? No mini-boss lairs? No Kraid and Ridley? No color? Why should we give this game a shot?

Some ten years later, I found myself dusting off an old, forgotten cart and inserting it into my still-functional GameBoy. Once again, I was performing an obligatory gesture, partaking in a general reunion with my old games that probably won’t occur again for another decade, if not longer. I took control of venerable friend Samus Aran and penetrated this planet where the most feared of all villains reside, and found that I had entered a realm which perhaps would have been best left alone. I roamed these caliginous corridors with a sense of dread that went beyond the simple notion of atmosphere establishment. Never before had I felt so unwelcome while assuming the role of warrior and setting foot in the territory of my enemy. Never before had the feeling of immense danger been so inescapable, so overwhelming.

Metroid II is as sinister and foreboding in manner of presentation as any other game of its time.

Go on; step out from your ship and descend into the depths of darkness. Inanimate objects mock you in their coldness, their antipathy. Adorning foliage proves to be poisonous. Seemingly serene seas bait you and then scorch you. Dagger-like protrusions threaten to impale you. Indeed, this barren, eerie planet sans bloodthirsty creatures would contain sufficient means of slaughtering you. Unfortunately, you will encounter menacing adversaries at every turn as you patrol these intimidating grounds. Horned reptilian monstrosities rampaging about, fire-spewing lava-beasts, and steel-winged demons are but a few of the many sentinels you will wage war with. More frightening than all of these horrors will be the sounds that you simply can’t block out as you continue to wander about a world that you were never invited to. The accompanying soundtrack occasionally fades away, leaving you with little but the cold, unforgiving stone halls, and the organic sounds echoing throughout. What you hear are the most savage creatures that the universe will ever play host to. What you hear are the Metroids.

The tentacle-flaunting, energy-absorbing savages of the original Metroid are indeed amongst the denizens of this planet. Now, however, there are new breeds of Metroid to slay, and these horrors are far more brutal than any members of the race that you had encountered previously. Aerial serpents spewing lightning bolts, hurling fireballs, and ramming you into unyielding stone structures -- these are the sorts of hellish behemoths that you will have to contend with now.

Still, true warriors will press on. They will not only feel the desire but the need to face the grotesque, unforgiving ravagers that may be waiting around every corner. There is no little satisfaction, no little sense of pride, in seeing, in battling, and in conquering these daunting adversaries.

Victories will come gradually and in small doses at first. Glory is gained by discerning the layout of whatever sector you find yourself roaming, in stumbling upon an elusive item, in mastering a new technique. You will come to know the halls well, perhaps to the point where you feel comfortable inside of them. There is a certain feeling of complacence that sets in as one explores this world that seemed so hostile at first. Lurk about stone hallways, peek around for obscured apertures, make use of a newfound tool to enter previously inaccessible niches. Feel at ease. Enjoy the wonders that your journey will reveal to you. Cross through a portal and gradually dig through an amazing cavern dense with sand. Look forward to the hidden treasures and ethereal environments that await you.

And then watch in terror as all hell breaks loose.

The sand structure comes crumbling down to reveal the worst of all your fears. From out of those complacent grains soars the most vicious of your enemies, a Metroid who wastes no time prior to charging at you and blasting you with its beams of electricity. The bastard was waiting there for you all along. You’ll struggle to pump missiles into the beast’s hide, except that the uneven terrain that you yourself caused by shooting through the sand makes it difficult for you to find your footing and get off good shots. The Metroid continues to pound on you as you simply attempt to find a way to fight back on this uneven battleground. All the while, a chaotic dirge that shattered the silence when the Metroid first emerged contributes to this unabated storm that but a few seconds ago was the epitome of comfort.

There you will receive but a taste of the amazing effectiveness of Metroid II‘s aural element. Amongst all the horrifying sounds and onerous tracks is a melodic tune that serves as your introduction to this realm. This beautiful piece may remain with you the longest -- which makes it only appropriate that the game revisits it as you enter the final stretch of your adventure. It’s implemented perfectly to give you that extra dose of inspiration, that extra bit of courage, that will help you face the horrors yet to come. This game just does everything right.

Witness perfection in execution:

* As you prepare to raid the final corridor of terror, you come to a room containing the weapon necessary for defeating the remaining ranks of your opposition. In typical Metroid fashion, the orb containing this armament is held aloft by an impressive Chozo statue. Apparently, someone got here before you, as the great Chozo sits decapitated, its head resting on the ground. A short distance away lies another unidentifiable body piece. If these creatures are capable of ravaging, of maiming, this mighty, venerable structure, what might they do to you?

* Cross over a threshold in the midst of Metroid Hell to find yourself standing on a rather narrow platform. Right beneath you, a vicious Metroid lies in wait. You know very well that once you step off that platform, the creature will immediately attempt to pounce on you. Will you be quick enough to pull the trigger in the midst of your leap and fend him off? If you don’t -- and you will have but a split second to do it -- he will grasp on to you, thrust his tentacles inside of you, and drain you of your life. What are you waiting for? Go ahead.

* You have but a few Metroids left to eliminate as you carefully make your way from one narrow platform to the next, leaping over pits containing torrid lava as you proceed. Remaining are the stalwarts, the enemy’s elite troop. An appropriately ominous track plays in the background, so powerful that one can only assume that the adventure is about to reach its apex. Of course, completion of this segment gains one access to an entirely new branch of Hell’s realm, aural power replaced by dreadful, melodic eeriness. You’re still not done. Proceed to your death by setting foot inside the lair of the leader of all these savages, the most pounding, powerful track of all granting you notice of your demise. This is the wonderful game that Metroid II plays with you -- just as you think you’re in the clear, just when victory seems to be at hand, you find that something worse than anything you’ve faced before still must be confronted and overcome.

And each time you prove yourself worthy of advancing, you will rise not only in confidence but also in sheer power. The old familiar weapons from the first chapter -- Ice Beam, Wave Beam and missiles amongst them -- are all available here, along with some entirely new (and impressive) devastators. Don the High-Jump Boots to ascend to new heights; acquire the Screw Attack to become an aerial sphere of destruction. No longer must you curl up into a ball and “bomb away” in hopes of climbing narrow corridors; now, an item can be obtained that allows you to attach yourself to any structure and scale the largest of walls or explore the highest of ceilings. There is ultimately so much flexibility in controlling a powered-up Samus that exploring becomes an absolute pleasure as opposed to a necessity.

As brilliant a creation as Metroid II is, it is impossible to forget about its legendary predecessor, which still stands as the greater of the two projects. Hardware issues aside (but make no mistake, color does help the cause of the first chapter), the original Metroid featured a more varied enemy cast, more complex mazes to be traversed, and touched upon a wider variety of emotions than its successor. Nonetheless, there are too many new feelings explored in this sequel to let it rest in that pile of unplayed games where so many of us placed it long ago. Metroid stood as the initial test of your skill and wit; Metroid II will prove to be the ultimate test of your courage.

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Featured community review by darkfact (January 01, 2005)

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