Metroid II: Return of Samus
by Vanor Orion

I love Metroid, which is why it's such a shock to me that everyone has pretty much forgotten about Return of Samus. Unlike The Adventures of Link, Doki Doki Panic/The Lost Levels, Castlevania 2, and Final Fantasy 2, where the developers veered off on some extreme tangents with their game design (which for the most part didn't end up very well, or pissed off the fanbase), Samus' foray on the Game Boy stayed refreshingly true to what made the original game so fun in the first place. This is probably no small thanks to Gunpei Yokoi, who not only made Metroid, but the Game Boy as well. Everything in Metroid 2 is hellishly progressive, expanding and building upon the game design established on the original game. And considering that this is on the Game Boy, is an astounding feat.

"Hell yeah! Let's go blow some shit up!"

Metroid 2 puts Samus on the world where the Metroids were first discovered, SR388. Unlike the first game where she had to infilitrate Tourian, here on SR388 she's on a search-and-destroy mission. When you start the game on the surface (also the first time we see Samus' gunship, no less) Samus begins the game with a special counter. This device tells you how many metroids are left on the planet. And your mission is to hunt them down, and eradicate every last one. It sounds simple, at least for any Metroid vet, but this game throws some nasty curveballs that will have the player screaming like a little girl.

"You never see these guys again after 2."

First off, unlike the original Metroid, where you only fought the title creatures in the last 15 minutes of the game, on this one, it's all about the metroids. From the very beginning, to the very end, you fight metroids non-stop. The only thing is that a lot of them are hiding deep within the planet's labyrinthine caverns, and Samus has to navigate through them all, and investigate every knoll and cave to destroy each one. And that's just on top of all the other deadly beasts that inhabit the planet along with them.

Oh, and did I mention that they fucking mutate?! That's a major element that Metroid 2 employs, and is never seen again in any of the following games (except for very briefly in Fusion). The first Metroid you find is in it's normal state, but then it hatches from its body, and takes on an entirely different appearance. The upside to this is that these mutations make them much more susceptible to missiles, meaning you won't need the freeze beam to make them vulnerable to attack. But as you delve deeper into SR388, you begin to come across more advanced variatons of what has come to be known as the Metroid's growth cycle. Eventually they begin to grow appendages, and then even take on a freakishly humanoid appearance.

"Trust me, they get bigger..."

As for Samus, she finds plenty of new toys in this game, along with many of her old gadgets making a return, such as the Morph Ball and Missiles. This was the first game in the series to introduce the Space Jump, the Spider Ball (horribly watered down in the Prime games), the Spazer and Plasma beams, the Spring Ball, and the iconic visual alteration that the Varia Suit bestows upon Samus when she obtains it.

Having all these tools is helped by the fact that the controls are very fluid, and the full extent of Samus's capabilities are all mapped to the controller in a deftly simple but clearly logical manner. If one wishes to activate Morph Ball, hit down on the D-Pad. Hitting down again activates the Spider Ball and allows Samus to gelatinously roll along walls or ceilings to investigate places that would normally be beyond her ability navigate. The Space Jump works just as it would in Super Metroid, though beam-stacking wouldn't make its debut until the aforementioned game. Thankfully there were many places in the game to find the Wave, Ice, Plasma, and Spazer beams. Especially in the last area of the game, with the convenient placement of a room with the Ice Bream. This showed that the developers had learned from their mistake in the first game where the last area of the game was populated with enemies that were only vulnerable to freezing, and yet they never bothered to put an ice beam nearby for the player to use, forcing them to backtrack when they should be tackling the final area of the game.

All of these items allow Samus to navigate every nook and cranny in SR388. To this day I'm still impresed with the layout of Metroid 2's world. There's a lot to explore while still being somewhat more linear than the first game. What holds the player's progression back (to some extent) in 2 is the fluid. It's never called lava, only some powerful acid-like fluid that drains Samus's health, hindering her progress until it conveniently drains after killing a certain number of metroids in a given area. Though, this is still a far cry from the hand-holding in Metroid Fusion, one could count this as the first time a Metroid game put a roadblock on free-roaming exploration, if just a teeny bit. But, looking back at it, they probably did this to try and mitigate the level of confusion the player would have navigating SR388, because like the first game, this one also featured no map. And as perplexing as it was to navigate through all the dead ends of Zebes on Metroid, imagine not having any color to go by for SR388, and you can see why they put so much effort into making the environments more detailed and trying to open the path to progression by killing X number of metroids.

Ah, and let's not forget that this was the first Metroid game to feature battery-assisted saving, and no more annoying passwords to memorize and write down. Another step forward for Metroid. Metroid 2 kept it simple for the player to pick up where they left off, which meant the seconds it took to start from where you left on the original, was reduced to almost nothing on 2. Pretty convenient, eh?

"Good riddance... wait, what the fuck?!"

And then we got the music. What little music there is in the game is quite catchy and enjoyable, and even gives way to much more ambient sounds in certain areas that would become a staple of future Metroid games. Overall, while the Game Boy wasn't too good with sound processing, they did well enough on Return of Samus to give it a few good themes, and laced it with plenty of ambient noises to give more mood and tone to the exploration bits of the game.

The actual environments are very neat. At the start it's all mostly caverns and tunnels, but then you start finding highly-detailed structures and ruins, and then later you start finding all sorts of geography that you just didn't see on its predecessor. And given the level of freedom that the Spider Ball gave in exploring SR388, Metroid 2 may have been the most immersive of the series in terms of exloration. Even moreso than Super Metroid. Chozo Statues also make an appearance, offering Samus her upgrades, and this would be the first time the Chozo had a recurring presence on Metroid.

Then there's the enemies. Much to my shock, the enemies shown in the book, actually resemble the sprites you obliterate in the game. There's a lot more enemy variety in this game, and they all have a lot more to make themselves distinct from each other. It's not just pallete swaps. There's some downright bizarre looking creatures in Return of Samus, and they range from aggressively organic, to the defectively mechanical (neglected Chozo tech gone haywire). A lot of enemies will actually try to shoot you with death rays and such, and mutated metroids have the power to shoot projectiles at Samus. And they get a hell of a lot stronger as their life cycle progresses.

"Holy shit! I'm sorry I'm sorry!"

There's really no bosses in the game, unless you count progressively harder metroids. Only at the end do you square off with the only boss of SR388: The metroid queen. Man, she's hard...until you realize you can roll down her throat and plant bombs in her core, which makes destroying her go from tough, to laughable. And then right after that, Samus finds the metroid hatchling and the rest is history.

"You're one ugly bitch."

Metroid 2 is still a really cool game. A lot of the things that were implemented in Return of Samus led to many of the staples that appear in Metroid today. And yet it's almost like Nintendo has forgotten about this little gem that tried to improve upon what the first one did, instead of trying to reinvent itself. Fortunately, there are some fans that haven't, and several fan-remakes of the this forgotten Metroid title are beginning to make an appearance on the net. Whether they come to fruition or not, I can't say. Whether they'll be any good or not I can't say. Whether they retain the feel of the original I can't say. All I am gonna say is that they're all doing something that Nintendo should've fucking done ever since they made Zero Mission.

And of course, there was one more thing that Return of Samus did that became iconic of the series afterwards.

"Not bad for a GameBoy game."

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