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Metroid II: Return of Samus (Game Boy) artwork

Metroid II: Return of Samus (Game Boy) review

"Samus may have returned, but as failure."

Zebes is finally safe. After a grueling mission to rid the planet of invading Space Pirates, Samus Aran has been given a far more important task: the extermination of the entire Metroid species. Despite their apparent usefulness in tactical warfare and energy production, these creatures have been deemed too dangerous to be allowed to live. Their central hive is on SR388, a nearby network of underground caverns. Armed with only the most basic weapons in her arsenal, our heroine begins the hunt by delving deep beneath the surface. With only 39 targets still remaining, her genocidal crusade shouldn’t take long at all. But what Samus fails to realize is that the small, life-leeching beasts she previously encountered only represent a fraction of what the Metroids can do. There are far deadlier horrors lurking in the caverns below, and she’ll have to face them all.

It won’t take long to find them, either. Unlike its predecessor, Metroid II doesn’t focus on open-ended exploration and finding hidden areas. This time, everything is forced into a relatively linear progression. The caves of SR388 are sealed off by layers of acid that, for some inexplicable reason, lower only after you’ve wiped out all the Metroids in a given area. Rather than wandering around vast and accessible areas, you’ll inevitably resort to sweeping every room and blasting anything that moves. To the game’s credit, some of the enemies – especially the Queen Metroid – can be ridiculously difficult to kill. It’s bad when you’re running low on missiles and a deadly monstrosity might be lurking only a screen away. Unfortunately, the enemy placement detracts from the overall experience; aside from the last boss, there’s nothing in terms of dramatic build-up or epic confrontation. Instead, it feels like you’ve accidentally stumbled across some annoying enemy that eats most of your ammunition before keeling over. Since finding and beating your targets require little searching and strategy, there’s no sense of accomplishment.

The item implementation makes it even worse. Samus begins the quest with three of her most iconic weapons: the Long Beam, Missiles, and Morph Ball. By delving deeper into SR388, you’ll eventually come across alternate beams and upgrades. Some of these, such as the Ice Beam and Screw Attack, are practically a given. Metroid II attempted to take things a step further by giving Samus better mobility. The newly-implement Space Jump lets her somersault indefinitely, thus allowing for longer range and greater control over her aerial movements. The Jump Ball gives you free reign over the Morph Ball’s movement, while the Spider Ball makes exploring hard-to-reach ledges and large chasms a breeze. Despite such innovations, the game barely utilizes them. The Metroid series has always revolved around finding items and using them creatively to discover new areas. It rewarded gamers for their wits and curiosity. That charm is practically non-existent here. The puzzles and obstacles are laughable; there’s no need for imagination or attention to detail. Nearly all of the missile and energy upgrades are lying in plain sight; even if you’re not a completionist, you’ll find almost everything. With no incentive to backtrack and explore, the mission gets boring long before you kill the last Metroid.

The limited level design also affects the overall presentation. At a glance, it looks amazing for its age; Samus is drawn with far greater detail than her console counterpart. The running and crouching animations are a huge step up from the old, shifting blobs. The Varia Suit isn’t just palette swap; you can see the bulky shoulder pads and bolstered armor within the shaded pixels. You can even see how her gun changes shape when you equip the Missiles. Unfortunately, Samus is only thing worth looking at. Her detailed character model serves as a distraction from the incredibly bland setting. Since the Gameboy had no color, the entire game is a mishmash of gray rocks and poorly-rendered bricks. While the original Metroid suffered from the same repetitive layouts, at least it made an attempt to give each of its sections style and personality. It also gave the player a sense of scale; Samus was just a tiny creature exploring a vast world filled with secrets and perils. This time, everything feels cramped and hindered because the screen is focused far too close on her. The iconic musical themes are replaced by garbled bits of sound, and some lengths are played in silence. It is an attempt to create a more foreboding atmosphere, but it merely makes the experience even more boring.

That’s the problem with Metroid II. It has a lot of interesting concepts, but doesn’t use them to the fullest extent. The idea of a search and destroy mission is awesome, but the lack of exploration and creative level design kill its potential. The improvements to Samus’s arsenal and mobility are impressive, but you’re rarely given a reason to use them beyond laughably simplistic puzzles and obstacles. Many of the items and upgrades are easy to find and acquire, thus eliminating any incentive to explore. The open-ended feel of the previous game gives way to cramped corridors and linear progression. The bland color palette and cringe-worthy music make the adventure that much worse. It’s easy to complain about how Metroid II pales in comparison to the rest of the series. But once all the nostalgia and expectations are stripped away, the game is still fundamentally flawed. Samus may have returned, but as failure.

disco's avatar
Community review by disco (April 30, 2012)

Disco is a San Francisco Bay Area native, whose gaming repertoire spans nearly three decades and hundreds of titles. He loves fighting games, traveling the world, learning new things, writing, photography, and tea. Not necessarily in that order.

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