“Metroid II: Return of Samus” is arguably the most obscure Metroid game and is most definitely the least played game in the core series. As it is a Game Boy game, many gamers never got around to playing it once the follow-ups to the Game Boy system were released (Game Boy Advance, DS, 3DS), due to the fact that few gamers still play on the old, inferior hardware. The Game Boy Advance SP and Game Boy Micro were the last systems to play original Game Boy games, with the DS system line cutting out the ability to play games released for the regular Game Boy entirely.
While you could still play Game Boy games on your TV via an old Super Nintendo if you owned a Super Game Boy accessory (released in 1994), or on the GameCube via the Game Boy Player accessory (released in 2003), few people owned these accessories or still played games released for old hardware; making it less likely that they have played Metroid II.
Thankfully, this was remedied recently in an official way thanks to the 3DS eShop, where Metroid II has been re-released by Nintendo in it’s original Game Boy form (with an additional stereoscopic 3D digital manual included) on the 3DS Game Boy Virtual Console for a paltry $4 ($3.99) bucks!
This should go a long way toward ensuring that many people who missed out on the franchises second entry will finally get to play this Game Boy masterpiece. It also makes it easy for those modern gamers or players who are too young to remember the original Game Boy, to quickly, easily and painlessly digitally purchase Metroid II legally and get to eradicating Metroid’s!
Of course, Metroid II has long-been one of the most illegally downloaded Game Boy titles; where downloading the ROM for the game and playing it on a Game Boy emulator on your PC has been the easiest way to play the game in the modern age (the vast majority of youtube walkthroughs of the game were recorded this way).
So it’s great to see Nintendo finally wising up and releasing an official re-release of this fantastic game (via the 3DS online store) for the masses.
Metroid II takes place directly after the first Metroid game. Where, following the defeat of the Space Pirate leader ‘Mother Brain’, Samus heads to the homeworld of the Metroid species themselves, the planet SR388. To wipe them out once and for all!
This planet manifests itself as a never-ending series of caverns and tunnels, played from a strictly side-scrolling 2D viewpoint, where Samus is on a mission to eliminate each and every Metroid from the face of the planet… Literally one-by-one!
Here is the official story for Metroid II, taken from the instruction booklet for the original Game Boy version from 1991.
In the year 2000 of the history of the cosmos, representatives of many different planets in the galaxy established a congress called the Galactic Federation. A successful exchange of cultures and civilization resulted, and thousands of interstellar spaceships ferried back and forth between planets. When space pirates appeared to attack the spaceships, the Federation Bureau created the Galactic Federation Police.
There are many unknown planets throughout the galaxy. Many of these are causes of concern to the Galactic Federation. To take care of this, they employ Space Hunters, the greatest of which is Samus Aran.
Samus’ greatest achievement has been the destruction of the pirates’ Metroid plans on the planet Zebes. In the year 20X5 of the cosmos, an unknown lifeform was discovered on planet SR388 by a Galactic Federation deep-space research ship. The research crew took a sample of the creature and placed it into a suspended animation statis capsule and dubbed the lifeform “Metroid”. On their way back to their home base, the research ship was attacked by pirates who stole the stasis capsule containing the lifeform!
The Metroid in suspended animation could easily be brought back to life, and exposure to beta rays was all that was needed to cause it to multiply. The highly dangerous creature will cling to any other creature and suck away its victim’s energy.
Samus, by order of the Galactic Federal Police, successfully and singlehandedly penetrated the Space PIrates’ natural fortress on the planet Zebes. After a series of intense battles, Samus destroyed all of the Metroids she encountered. Her destruction of the reactivated Mother Brain at the center of the fortress crushed the pirates’ evil plans.
After serious consideration of how terrible and destructive the Metroid lifeform was, the Galactic Federation sent another research ship to SR388. This trip was to make sure there were no more Metroids left on the planet.
After a short time the Federation recieved an emergency notice from the research base. They had lost contact , and the research ship was missing. The base had already sent a search and rescue party, but after their initial contact, the rescue ship was not heard from again.
A special combat group was assembled consisting of armed soldiers from the Federation Police and was immediatly dispatched to SR388. After transmitting their primary landing data, they also were never heard from!
Rumors spread fast, and again, the whole galaxy was seized with the fear of Metroids.
With this limited information, the Federation was positive that a Metroid must still be surviving, hiding deep in the planet underground. Even one living Metroid could easily wipe out an entire planetary civilization! So, the Galactic Federation called its members to an urgent conference to find a way to overcome this menace. They quickly came to one conclusion, which was unanimous and simple…. Give Samus Aran the order to exterminate the Metroids!
The underworld of the planet SR388 is a complicated structure of multi-layered domes and spaces. Some of these contain the ancient ruins of some unknown civilization. These are home to many lifeforms living on the planet. Samus, charged with her mission from the Galactic Federation, hurried to the planet SR388.
Samus’ confrontation with the Metroids has started again! You must help Samus save the galaxy from the Metroids!”
Metroid II starts off with Samus landing at the site of the planet SR388 from her ship. Thanks to her adventures in the first game, she comes equipped with the Morph Ball ability, which allows her to curl into a perfect metallic sphere, from which point she can lay Bombs to blow up holes in walls, floors, or ceilings and enter small gaps (once you find the Morph Ball, the first Power-Up you obtain). She can also blast Metroids with her arm canon using a basic Beam shot.
Metroid II features controls that are identical to that of the original Metroid. The B Button shoots Samus’ arm cannon, while the A Button jumps. Holding right or left allows her to navigate the game’s environments by running in that direction, and pressing B while holding Left or Right on the Directional Pad makes Samus flip. Not holding it will have her leap straight into the air. Whether leaping straight up or flipping, you can press the B Button to shoot enemies. The Select Button switches to your Missiles while Start pauses the game, also allowing you view how many Metroids you still have to kill in the area you are in (shown on the bottom right of the screen when paused).
The screen display when playing shows your energy units on the bottom left (and Energy Tanks, worth an additional 99 units of energy, designated as boxes once you collect one), your supply of available Missiles in the middle (collect a Missile Pack to increase your max Missile capacity by 5) and your “Metroid Detector” in the bottom right, which showcases how many total Metroids are still left to kill and reach the end of the game (pause, as mentioned above, to see how many Metroids you missed in the area you’re in). There is no mapscreen in Metroid II… which would’ve been a HUGE help, but that innovation wouldn’t come until Super Metroid, released for the Super NES three years after Metroid II in 1994. You’re on your own figuring out the layout of the world this time!
Right off the bat, you will notice some huge changes from the original Metroid (assuming you’ve played through that adventure). While Metroid II lacks color since it was on the monochrome, black and white Game Boy, the graphics are nevertheless much improved over it’s predecessor. Samus appears large and bold on the screen, and you can make out individual sections of her body and armor suit.
Whereas in the original Metroid you couldn’t exactly tell that she was shooting an arm cannon (I originally thought it was its “nose” when I was a child), in this game there is no doubt. Additionally, Samus has gained two new abilities.
First off, you can now crouch by pressing down on the D-Pad. Pressing Down again makes you even smaller as you roll into Samus’ Morth Ball. Additionally, you can now shoot directly downward by jumping into the air and pressing down then firing with B (also being able to shoot right, left or up, naturally).
Although these changes seem slight, they, along with the “zoomed” in viewpoing and much larger figure of Samus, combine to create a HUGE difference in feel from the original Metroid; and help to truly set this game apart and give it a gameplay of its own.
And although crouching and shooting down seems like it wouldn’t much change the gameplay, you’d be surprised; because the original Metroid completely lacked these abilities; and having them in Metroid II makes the gameplay feel much more natural and user-friendly. It is now much easier to hit enemies who are crawling on a wall directly in front of you, whereas before you couldn’t hit them if they went below Samus arm cannon (usually causing you to roll into a ball and bomb to take them out instead).
And having the ability to shoot below you opens up a number of possiblities, such as enemies that can only be killed by hitting their tops (requiring you to leap over them and shoot downward) or sand that you can shoot through and make a path in any direction… which would’ve been impossible in the original Metroid if you couldn’t shoot down. To give just two examples.
Two other big features were introduced in Metroid II, to speak nothing of the actual gameplay. These included the obliteration of the convoluted Password system from the original NES Metroid (a system that was almost impossible to write down back in the pen and paper days, because of the complicated mix of lowercase & capital letters, mixed with numbers, mixed with crazy symbols. It was a child’s nightmare. I know. I remember trying and failing!).
The Password system has been replaced with a much friendlier Save Slot system. There are three Save Files (even in the digital 3DS eShop version) which you can switch between on the Title Screen by pressing Right or Left (Start 1, Start 2, Start 3). Saving your game was now possible, and you can do so by pressing the Start Button on a Save Point totempole, of which there are many scattered about SR388, and well positioned before you enter a new major area or face a major enemy.
The next major feature which was first introduced in Metroid II, and sorely lacking from the original Metroid (to the point of being a potential game-breaker for newbies to the series, who found Metroid 1 too hard thanks to this), is the addition of Energy Refill and Missile (ammo) Refill stations scattered throughout different sections of the Planet SR388. By touching one of these Refill stations, your Energy or your Missile Ammo will be completely replenished in an instant!
Furthermore, these Refill Stations (one of which is located inside your ship. Use the Morph Ball to go to the extreme left or right to find them) can be used an unlimited number of times, so taking note to their locations will exponentially help you in your quest; allowing you to refill whenever you get low on either health or Missiles.
This is a huge change because, as stated above, one of the biggest impediments to enjoying the original Metroid, and being able to complete it, was the fact that it was so very difficult to refill on energy once you had fallen too low. The only real way to do so was to collect an Energy Tank (which not only refills you all the way, but gave you an additional 99 units of energy) and purposefully leaving one Energy Tank uncollected, so you could collect it near the end of the game and recharge.
That’s because collecting energy pellets from fallen foes in Metroid 1 didn’t refill your energy to a great degree, and getting hit would take more away than the pellet gave you back. So to refill your energy, players would stand beside holes where flying enemies constantly emerge, blasting each one and collecting the energy they left behind. But ONE mistake, where you accidentally got hit instead of killing the enemy, would set you way back!
This made it extremely tough to finish the game, and made it that much more frustrating for new players. So having Refill Stations PLUS the ability to save in Metroid II is a huge relief considering the original; and each subsequent Metroid game followed up by offering Save and Recharge Stations (sometimes offered all in the same device, so a Save Station also recharged your Missiles and Health).
With all that out of the way, how does the game actually play, you ask?
Metroid II is like the bastard child of the Metroid series that feels somewhere in between the original Metroid and Super Metroid…. because, you know, IT IS. But still, I mean this game REALLY feels like it!
That’s because of how the game is structured differently than any previous game in the series (hunting each and every Metroid is you’re goal here) and due to the fact that the game makes major improvements over the original. In terms of nice, large graphics and cool new basic abilities and advanced Power-Ups and Weapons.
At the same time however, Metroid II takes a huge step back in the graphic and sound department due to the tiny underpowered Game Boy system, which did not feature enough power to match the NES (and thus the original Metroid).
This means that the game features incredibly sucky music, albeit with a very cool opening theme (that takes a while to get going, but just sit and listen before you play and you’re in for a treat) and a pretty great main them called the “Tunnel Theme”, which is basically you’re overworld music.
But outside of those two tracks, the music in Metroid II is EXTREMELY lacking and cannot even begin to hold a candle to the eerie and awesome music of the original Metroid. MUCH LESS the music of Super Metroid, which, as you’d expect from the superior hardware, blows this game to smithereens and leaves it dead and buried in every respect.
Not only is the music lacking… what little music there is takes a backseat, so in many ways the further you get, the less there even really is music; but the game’s graphics take a big hit thanks to the black and white color pallete and the underpowered graphical capabilities of the Game Boy.
This means that the environments are less distinctive and less diverse than in the original Metroid (step back), and are also much, much more repetitive (two steps back). Adding insult to injury, the environments in Metroid II are so repetitive and the lack of color is so obvious and uniform, that it makes it arguably even harder to tell where you are in Metroid II than in the original (three steps back. :/ OUCH). Now, that third one was an issue with the original Metroid 1 as well, but Metroid II isn’t an improvement in any way, shape, or form.
What makes Metroid II really interesting though is how the game is structured. As mentioned several times, your goal in Metroid II is to literally ELIMINATE each and every Metroid from the face of the planet.
Driving that point home is how you navigate your way around the world. The game world is a series of branching paths made almost entirely out of large caverns, skinny tunnels and cave-like environments; with a focus on areas that are multiple levels tall or with multiple entrances/exits/paths (which is what makes the game confusing in later portions).
Additionally, two unique Power-Ups that you earn in Metroid II (very cool and now iconic Metroid abilities, which made their debut in this game) open up your ability to freely navigate in ways you couldn’t even dream of in the original Metroid. These abilities put the space above you (which is previously inaccessible) and even the roof of areas into play in Metroid II. And this allows for more interesting level design that is utilized to great effect.
The uniquness of how the game is structured though really hits home in how you proceed. Progress in Metroid II is made by delving deeper and deeper into the underground depths of Planet SR388. However your ability to progress is obstructed by lethal acid that will kill you in seconds and keeps you from going ever-lower into the planet . . . Until you wipe out each Metroid in the given area you are currently exploring (press Start to pause the game and check the lower-right corner of the screen to see how many Metroids are left in your current area. You must kill them to proceed further than your current area).
Killing all of the Metroid’s in an area will cause an earthquake to occur, this earthquake will then lower the acid, allowing you to proceed ever deeper into the bowels of this alien world.
Speaking of aliens (or is it… Aliens?), Metroid II is unique amongst the Metroid series in another very distinctive (and totally awesome) way… Metroid II is the only classic Metroid game that features every evolutionary phase of the Metroid creature! As you progress further in the game, you will face off against new species that are different phases of the Metroid lifeform!
And, as you’d expect, they get deadlier and deadlier (and less Metroid jellyfish-like-looking, I must confess) the further you get. And harder to kill. Until you reach the end and face-off against one of the greatest end-bosses in 8-bit Game Boy history! And while it can’t hold a candle to the totally epic conclusion of this game’s sequel (Super Metroid), it does one HELL of a job of holding its own.
These two aspects alone (different, and unique, phases of Metroids, and the end-boss) make Metroid II worth checking out for every Metroid fan, and possibly worth checking out even for none fans. These two aspects, as well as the third which I’ll discuss in a bit, truly makeup for the lackluster showing in the graphic and music departments discussed earlier.
The introduction of different phases of Metroid is also really cool. When you first start the game you will come across empty Metroid “shells”, and face off against several Metroid’s in their original form. But you will also soon encounter a Metroid mid-metamorphosis, and they will literally start evolving before your eyes! These Metroids, like all Metroids, can only be taken out by shooting them with Missiles. Freezing them also helps greatly.
As mentioned, these Metroids get tougher and tougher and evolve further as you progress in the game. For reasons I can’t quite grasp, these different evolutionary phases of Metroid have never again been featured in a Metroid game (sadly), so they remain entirely unique to Metroid II and really set it apart from previous games.
It’s also interesting to think about how, when you think about it, Metroid II is actually more focused on the “Metroid” creature itself, than any other “Metroid” game in the series. Given how the premise of the entire title is hunting all the Metroids down! And given that it is actually set on the Metroid homeworld of SR388 (likely inspired by Ridley Scott’s Aliens film).
Here is a list of all the different phases of Metroid that you’ll encounter in Metroid II!
Infant, Mature, Alpha, Gamma, Zeta, Omega, Queen
What also puts Metroid II over the top and helps it achieve “Game Boy Masterpiece” status is the introduction of some of the most iconic abilities, weapons and Power-Ups that the Metroid series had yet seen. Believe it or not, many of them did not get their debut in Super Metroid, but rather in Metroid II. Which only makes this game more appealing.
And now I’ll actually talk about the new Weapons and Abilities introduced in Metroid II via then-new Power-Ups, so if you don’t want to know what they are because you haven’t played Metroid II yet, then you’ll want to skip to the end of the spoiler mark.
As you are exploring the mean tunnels of SR388, you’ll come across the iconic crouched Chozo Statues, relics of an ancient race (those that built Samus’ Power Suit and Advanced Weapons) that hold the key to defeating the evil Metroids.
These bird-like statues look arguably even cooler here than they did in the original game (although mostly the same), and will reward you with a new Power-Up by shooting the orb the Chozo Statue holds in its cupped hands.
You’ll find these Chozo Statues (interestingly called “Artifactor Statues” in the 1991 instruction book) guarded by metallic bubble doors, that can only be opened by shooting them with 5 Missiles.
Metroid II really features some of the coolest “new additions” to the Metroid series, and they appeared in their debut in perfect form, adding new abilities that really expanded the gameplay of Metroid by allowing you to access every open space available, allowing for new ways of designing the game’s world.
The biggest new addition is known as the Spider-Ball. The Spider-Ball allows you to coat your Morph Ball in a sticky substance, and subsequently climb directly UP any surface! Do this by pressing Down when in Morph Ball form to activate the Spide-Ball, you can then exit by pressing A to turn the Spider-Ball off and go back to your normal Ball at any time. And the Spider-Ball is semi-automatic, meaning you can turn it off, fall off the wall a bit, then turn it back on to regrip a wall. It’s really cool!
While you may think that being able to crawl up any wall is what really opens the game up, what actually really makes the game feel open is the fact that the Spider-Ball allows you to crawl up ANY surface, that includes the CEILING! Yup that’s right, the roofs of rooms are now completely in play!
Sadly, the game doesn’t really take advantage of this as much as you’d think… Although there are a couple Items that are hidden on the ceiling, but sadly too few of them.
Typically exploring the roof and bombing it will simply lead you to Refill Stations; which is a bit disappointing, but hey it’s functional! Being able to refill your Energy or Missiles always comes in handy. But I would’ve liked to see more real use of the now open ceilings.
Speaking of Bombing, one area that greatly separates Metroid II is in the area of endlessly bombing walls, ceilings and floors for secrets. That has been removed in Metroid II, instead you will only bomb obstructions along obvious paths that block you from proceeding. There are precious few areas where Bombing leads to a secret (almost all on the roof), so don’t even waste your time endlessly Bombing walls, floors and ceilings, as you won’t find anything.
The other really cool new ability introduced in Metroid II essentially makes the Spider-Ball obsolete in some ways, and that is the debut of the Space Jump Power-Up!
Contrary to popular belief (vis-a-vis Super Metroid), the Screw Attack actually came FIRST, being introduced in the original Metroid. Whereas the Space Jump came second, being introduced here in Metroid II.
In Super Metroid you find the Space Jump first, and then the Screw Attack, causing many people who hadn’t played the previous games (or only played part of them; or didn’t remember correctly) to assume that the Space Jump preceeded the Screw Attack.
I’m I talking gibberish right now? Let me explain. The Screw Attack ability is a really awesome move, which allows you to destroy any enemy by simply jumping into them. This ability, as mentioned, made it’s debut in the original Metroid, but it was very easy to miss, hard to locate if you didn’t know where it was, and entirely possible to beat the game without ever finding it (as was common back in the 8-bit days, before the invention of youtube and rampant, easily available tips and strategies from multiple sources).
The Space Jump meanwhile, debuting in Metroid II, is an ability that lets you continuously flip through the air an unlimited number of times! You are basically jumping in the air, and once you have the Screw Attack and the Space Jump together, you become this nearly unstoppable killing machine that splatters enemies with one flip (no matter how tough they are!) and is completely unrestrained in terms of your mobility, being able to now easily go wherever the hell you want, even to the tops of rooms!
And these two abilities really help the developers make the levels more open, bringing into play huge vertical environments and sections of wall that you can only access using the Spider-Ball or the Space Jump.
Other Power-Ups featured in Metroid II include all-new Beam Weapons, such as the Spazer, a wide tri-beam shot, the Plasma Beam, a super-powerful single-shot, the Spring Ball, giving you the ability to hop/jump even in Morph Ball form, and the Ice Beam, which allows you to freeze enemies and use them as platforms. Note that the Ice Beam is REQUIRED to beat the game and you can only hold one Beam weapon at a time. So be sure you collect the Ice Beam again before heading towards the end of the game
This game also was the first Metroid title to introduce a completely new Power Suit design for Samus; upon finding the Varia Suit Power-Up. In the original Metroid, the Varia Suit could be found and it would exponentially increase your toughness, allowing you to take more hits from enemies without losing as much health. It toughened up your ability to absorb damage from environmental hazards like acid and lava, as well.
In Metroid II, the Varia Suit works exactly the same, however once you collect it, it PHYSICALLY changes the look of your Power Suit. Whereas in the original Metroid your Power-Suit turned pink upon collecting the Varia, in Metroid II Nintendo had to come up with a different way to show the effects of the Varia Suit Power-Up, since Metroid II was on the black-and-white Game Boy.
It was because of this hardware limitation and lack of color, that they came up with the idea of physically changing Samus’ Power Suit upon collecting the Varia, so the player could tell something big had happened. Since finding the Varia increases your armor, they came up with the idea of physically improving her armor suit!
Thus, collecting the Varia Suit in Metroid II completely changes the look of Samus Power-Suit, going from a smooth and skinny suit, to a football-style large shoulder-pads look where the armor makes her frame MUCH larger. She looks much tougher looking with the Varia, and this is the iconic look that is featured on the box art for Metroid II, and would carry on into every future game in the Metroid series.
Yup, once again Metroid II set the precedent for the rest of the series!
All in all, Metroid II is a fantastic entry in the Metroid saga and is a masterpiece of design on the underpowered Game Boy platform. The game can’t compete with other entries in the series, and is easily the weakest entry in the series…
However you could argue that its only because the other Metroid games have all been so great and of such a high-pedigree and quality; that Metroid II falling short in a few areas (music and graphics) ensures that it misses the mark when compared to the other games. And sadly a lot of it doesn’t have anything to do with the game design itself, but rather is a trait inherent in the weak technology limitations of the original Game Boy platform itself.
In that respect, Metroid II is actually quite an amazing game, considering how great the game is DESPITE its shortcomings.
Even though the graphics don’t wow, its easy to get lost, and environments often look too similar or exactly the same, making it repetitive and the levels redundant; Metroid II is still a fun and interesting game that is definitely worth checking out.
In particular, the end boss and the way you must hunt down the Metroids, causing the acid to lower allowing you to head into the bowels of the planet, just makes the game drip with a cool premise that is enough to carry the game to the finish line.
It helps that the game is relatively short, and can be beaten in only a couple of hours. My most recent playthrough, having not played the game in a decade, took me five hours. But it took longer than normal because I spent so much time Bombing every wall and floor (which is why I advised against doing that, above), it shouldn’t take most people very long to beat it.
And once you face off against that final boss and the credits roll, you’ll be hard pressed to not be pretty satisfied with what Nintendo and Metroid creator Gunpei Yokoi were able to pull off on the little portable that could. Gunpei Yokoi by the way was also the creator and designer of the Game Boy system itself, as well as the D-Pad found on nearly every game system controller (RIP, he died in a car accident in 2001).
And like all of the other Metroid games in the series, beating Metroid II in under 3 hours will net you the best ending… where you can check out some skin!
Also like the other titles, Metroid II is a really fun game to challenge yourself with a speed run, attempting to beat it as quick as possible; as well as try to see if you can earn 100% of the Items Collected.
There is a total of 22 Missile Packs (equalling 250 Missiles) hidden throughout Planet SR388, as well as a total of five energy tanks and 11 Power-Ups to find! Good luck!
Hopefully Metroid II is in Nintendo’s crosshairs as a game to be completely remade sometime soon, much like Nintendo remade the original Metroid with Metroid: Zero Mission for the Game Boy Advance.
Metroid II is a great game with a fantastic premise, cool power-ups and an amazing end boss; and is as deserving as any other Nintendo title of getting the remake treatment! A remake of Metroid II would be flat out AWESOME and I think it’s a prime suspect that Nintendo should really consider rebuilding from the ground up.
Doing so would also elminate the repetitive nature (since they’d rebuild the graphics and the look from scratch), while keeping the basic layout of SR388, and that would fix what is essentially this game’s biggest problems. And of course, not only would the graphics look fantastic, but the music would get an overhaul.
With all of that, I have no doubt that Metroid II would be a top-notch, AAA, must-play title. Hopefully they’ll remake it as a 3D Classic for the Nintendo 3DS eShop! :D
Pros: 8-bit Game Boy Masterpiece, Awesome Unique Premise, Origin of Iconic Power-Ups, Incredible End Boss
Cons: Seriously Outdated, Weak Graphics & Music, Repetitive Environments, Easy to Get Lost, No Map
The Bottom Line: One of the best Game Boy games EVER. Also weakest Metroid ever.
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