Metroid 30th: In Retrospect – Metroid II: Return of Samus


Following on from Conor’s wonderful review of Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, we continue our celebration of Nintendo’s futuristic adventure platform franchise, Metroid. This time, I’m turning my gaze way back to 1991 to look at Metroid II: Return of Samus, which has had a recent return to the limelight in the quickly removed fan remake Another Metroid 2 Remake. However, enough about that sore point, and on to the review.

The story of Metroid II takes place after the events of the first game, with Samus Aran having beaten Mother Brain and the Space Pirates. As her next mission, Samus travels to SR388, the Metroid homeworld, to completely eradicate the species. What follows is essentially a prolonged mission of genocide as Samus systematically eliminates her greatest adversaries. The ending I have already kind of spoiled in my Super Metroid review, but nonetheless, the events of this game do actually have a rather large bearing on the continued canon of the franchise.

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Gameplay-wise, Metroid II isn’t particularly far-removed from that of the original Metroid title. Albeit it’s a little slower owing to the relative technology downgrade from NES to Gameboy, but the controls still feel tight and responsive. The game involves the same hopeless, mapless exploration of the original through careful jumps, blasting enemies and doors, and collecting items and abilities to progress through the game’s world. The slowing of the action, in fact, doesn’t detriment the gameplay in any way and, in fact, it lends itself very well to the shift in platform from the home console original.

However, as opposed to the set linearity of the original, with bosses needing to be defeated in a particular order, the second game instead has a set number of Metroids (in various increments of evolution) to destroy across the whole game. This means that each one of these needs to be found and destroyed to finish the game, promoting exploration in a way that hasn’t been done in the franchise since in that item pick-ups such a missiles are a less important reason to explore. This being said, the monochromatic nature of this game means that distinction between the different areas of the game can be very tricky, meaning that the player is more likely to get lost in Metroid II than in the original.

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Which leads us on to the aesthetics and Metroid II hasn’t aged particularly well, especially in comparison to Metroid 3 (Super Metroid) or the Zero Mission remake of the first game. Although I will grant that this is a slightly unfair comparison to make, it more means that Metroid II is in dire need of a “legitimate” remake. The visuals, sound and overall presentation of Metroid II is severely inhibited by the hardware of the time, and although it makes a fantastic attempt at looking as close to the original title as possible, the roots of it being a Gameboy title means that it just doesn’t hold up today. This being said, the origins of Samus’ iconic bulkier Varia Suit are here, as the graphical limitations (with regards to colour) meant that Nintendo required a new method of showing upgrades to Samus’ suit than merely colour palette swopping, hence those beautiful shoulder pads coming into her design.

So, should you play Metroid II: Return of Samus? On this occasion, I would only really recommend this title to fans of the series. It’s a great little title in my honest opinion, but the lack of any real direction through the game or distinctive division between areas means that the game can be a very frustrating experience. I just hope that Nintendo notice that the reason AM2R came into being is because the fans want a remake of this game, which (in it’s current state) wouldn’t be enjoyable for a lot of players.

Metroid II: Return of Samus is available to download on the Nintendo 3DS eShop.

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