Metroid II: Return of Samus

A game by Nintendo for GB, originally released in 1991.

The first two entries in the Metroid series are close cousins to the first two games in the Kid Icarus series. Both Metroid and Kid Icarus began their lives as NES games sharing the same game engine, and both were developed by Gunpei Yokoi and scored by Hip Tanaka. Their GameBoy sequels, Metroid II: Return of Samus and Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters, also shared the same game engine and were produced by Yokoi.

It was, and still is, odd to have a numbered sequel appear on a handheld system. Sometimes a handheld game will become popular enough to warrant its own console version, as was done with Gargoyle’s Quest, the Wario series, and the Kirby’s Adventure remake. However, handheld systems are generally reserved for downgraded ports, spinoffs, or side stories. Not only was Metroid II on a handheld, but it also directly continued where the original game left off, and told its own vital part of the Metroid story: Samus’ quest to infiltrate the Metroid home world and eradicate the species.

Metroid II also attempted a similar feat made by Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, which was to emphasize the name of the character, Samus, rather than the metroids. After all, if you want Samus to survive as a character and do anything besides fight metroids her entire life, you want people to be able to identify her outside of the Metroid name. Just as Nintendo likely wanted to free Link from having to constantly rescue Zelda again and again, or force developers to find some way to integrate her into the story. While both Link and Samus are well known on their own today, their respective series of games have generally remained within the Metroid and Zelda playground.

In addition to the vital story elements that Metroid II added to the series, it’s also historically significant because it introduced many of the staples of the Metroid series, which are outlined below. It explored the lifecycle of the metroid creatures and introduced the Metroid Queen, and served as the direct starting point for Super Metroid (a.k.a. Metroid 3).

From the instruction manual:

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 life-form 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 stasis capsule and dubbed the life form “Metroid”. On their way back to their home base, the research ship was attacked by pirates who stole the stasis capsule containing the life-form!

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. This highly dangerous creature will cling to any other creature and suck away its victim’s energy.

Samus, by order of the Galactic Federal Police [ed: guess they changed their name from the Galactic Federation 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 life form was, the Galactic Federation sent another research ship to SR388. This trip was to make sure there were no Metroids left on the planet.

After a short time the Federation received 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 form again.

A special combat group was assembled consisting of armed soldiers from the Federation Police and was immediately 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 Fedreation 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!

For those wondering, the first part of this story was taken almost word-for-word from the manual of the original NES Metroid.




Press SELECT to toggle between beam weapons and missiles

This is the first game in the series to feature Samus standing next to her ship as she prepares to set out on her mission. Samus begins her mission on planet SR388, with her ship hovering just above the surface of a flat, desolate section of the planet. Samus, alone on an alien world, is ready for battle. Inside her ship are health and missile restoratives. And while the game does feature save points, her ship is not one of them. This is the first game in the series to feature save points, at least for U.S. gamers; the original game was released in Japan on the Famicom Disk System, which allowed for game saves, rather than lengthy passwords.

Samus begins with some of her equipment from the original Metroid game. For instance, she has the Morph Ball ability from the outset, but does not yet have access to bombs. She also begins the game with a supply of 30 missiles and the Long Beam weapon that can shoot all the way across the screen, rather than the extremely short-range starting weapon from her original outing. Samus can shoot while running and can aim in 4 directions. Shooting downward while jumping was also introduced in this game. By pressing the SELECT button, Samus can switch between her beam and missiles, and the port on her arm opens to show the difference between the two modes. While Samus could switch between beams and missiles even in the original game, the graphical indicator was a first for the series.

Per usual, killed enemies may sometimes drop health or missile restoratives. Each enemy is assigned a certain type of drop, so some will only drop health, while others will only drop missiles. Drops remain onscreen for a few seconds, and begin to flash more rapidly as they are about to disappear. A small health pickup restores 5 units of energy, a large one restores 20, and a missile pickup restores 5 missiles.

Samus can also upgrade her maximum health by picking up Energy Tanks hidden throughout the environment. Each energy tank is equivalent to 99 units of health, which is Samus’ starting amount. Samus can hold a total of 5 Energy Tanks, although there are 6 to be found in the game. Collecting the sixth has no effect, other than fully restoring her health, just as all Energy Tanks do when collected.

Samus is physically larger in this game than she was in the original, taking up a larger percentage of the screen than in any other Metroid game. As such, her sprite is more detailed and more appropriately proportioned. Even the artwork in the instruction manual reflects a more serious and realistic design, rather than the chibi look of Samus throughout the manual of the original NES game.

This new design, and the graphical change for the Varia suit went on to become the official look for Samus. The larger sprite can make Metroid II feel somewhat more “cramped” than other games in the series, but this is rarely impactful to gameplay. If anything, it adds to the sense of claustrophobia as the player continues to descend deeper into the planet.

This brings us to the layout of the world of SR388. Progression in Metroid II is structured very differently than most other games in the Metroid series, and this has primarily to do with the design of the game world. New areas aren’t opened up by gaining new abilities, but rather by defeating a certain number of metroids, as shown by the Metroid Detector in the lower-right of the screen. The Metroid Detector shows how many metroids are left on the planet (the meter starts at 39), and entering the pause screen shows how many metroids are left in the “level”, which may sound like a strange term to use when describing a Metroid game.

When Samus first arrives on the planet, she is free to explore the immediate area. During her exploration, she will encounter a caustic substance that causes continuous damage when touched. She can jump into this acidic pool and descend, but she will be killed long before she reaches the bottom.

There is only one metroid in the starting area, and once she finds and destroys it, there is an earthquake. Returning to the pit of acid reveals that its level has lowered enough that she can descend to a lower part of the planet. Her Metroid Detector changes to L-04 to indicate that there are now 4 metroids to be killed within her accessible range. This is the basic structure of the entire game. Seek out the metroids, kill them, and return to the acid shaft to drop a level lower. There is also a musical theme that plays as you return to the shaft once you have cleared the sufficient number of metroids, which gives you some indicator as to your progress.

This amount of linearity may disappoint long-time Metroid fans, but it does not detract from the game experience. If nothing else, the lack of backtracking and Samus’ continued descent further and further into the planet only add to the sense of isolation, which was a key component of the early games in the Metroid series. At no point are you required or encouraged to make a return to your ship until you reach the the end of the game. You are on your own, and each step you take is one step further away from the safety and familiarity of your ship.

The tension also grows as the game begins playing with the formula for progression. In a couple of instances, an earthquake will only drain the acid most of the way out of the area, but will leave large sections of the floor still covered in the stuff, rather than just the small pools you encounter early on. In another, an earthquake actually causes the acid level to rise in a certain area, blocking your exit. And the Metroid Detector does its part to add to the tension as well in several locations. For instance, it’s hard not to get a little nervous when you get a good way into the game, fighting several metroids per section, only to encounter a section where the counter on your Metroid Detector starts at L-01.

The game further emphasizes the sense of isolation and lack of external assistance through the design of the world, and its sparse musical score. Save points, as well as full energy and missile refills, are infrequent, constantly forcing the player to decide whether to go just a bit further into unknown and dangerous territory, or to retreat to a distant safe area to save the game and resupply. Also, save points don’t restore your health, so even if you manage to hobble back to one with your low health alarm pulsing away, you’re still not safe until you can find some restoratives. While new abilities and weapon upgrades are constantly being uncovered, there is never a feeling that Samus is too overpowered, or that she is safe with only the abilities she has at any given time.

So, let’s talk abilities. Samus’ movement is still about as floaty as it was in the original game, but she is still fairly responsive overall. Her jump height is variable depending on how long the JUMP button is held, and her large onscreen size means that a full-height jump will take her all the way to the top of the screen (and higher once some upgrades have been added). She can jump straight up, or perform a spin jump while running to the left or right.

Tapping DOWN once will cause her to crouch, and pressing DOWN again will transform her into her Morph Ball form, which allows her to roll around the environment and access areas that her full-size form cannot. This is the first game in the series where Samus is able to crouch; previously, she could only stand or enter her Morph Ball form, meaning that she could only attack low enemies once she had acquired the bomb upgrade.

Pressing the SHOOT button fires your standard beam weapon across the screen. 3 projectiles can be onscreen at once, but they fire extremely quickly, so you’re really only limited by how quickly you can press the button. Holding the SHOOT button down will fire beam weapons or missiles continuously, though not at their maximum firing speed.

Pressing the SELECT button allows you to toggle between your beam weapon and missiles. Missiles are required for opening certain doors and for defeating metroids. They are significantly more powerful than your standard weapon, but are limited in the number you can carry. At the start of the game, Samus can hold 30 missiles, but her maximum stores can be increased by collecting Missile Pods throughout the game, which add 10 to her capacity, up to a maximum of 250. The instruction manual states that collecting a Missile Pod will restore Samus’ missile supply to its maximum (just as Energy Tanks increase her maximum health and fully restore it), but this is not the case; only the capacity will change.

Early on, it may feel like you’re getting way too many missile pickups. Most of the powerups you encounter throughout the game will be Missile Pods, and the metroids you fight in the first half of the game only require a handful of missiles to destroy. Outside of the occasional 5-missile door, you’ll not find much other use for them. But as you progress further into the game, and come up against metroids that might take 20-40 precise missile hits, you’ll find that 200 missiles doesn’t really seem like all that much, especially given how infrequently you encounter missile refills.

Throughout the game, Samus will encounter new abilities and weapon upgrades. As mentioned, acquiring new abilities is not the driving force behind accessing new areas; killing metroids is. However, you will need some of these abilities to navigate certain sections of the environment, especially later in the game. And exploiting your abilities to explore the planet’s various nooks is a great way to uncover more powerups.

One interesting point of note is that Samus cannot switch between her weapon types at will (nor combine them as she would later be able to do in Super Metroid). Once a weapon is collected, it takes the place of the previous weapon, regardless of its abilities. Generally speaking, you encounter more powerful weapons in ascending order, but each weapon has its own properties, and some less powerful weapons have advantages over the others. You have the ability at any point to retrace your steps and pick up any weapon of your choosing, and you will re-encounter each weapon type later in the game, so you can switch them out if you feel the need.

New weapons and abilities are collected via a Metroid-series staple, the Artifactor Statue (the statues were not named in the original game, and they would go on to be referred to as “Chozo Statues”). Artifactor Statues hold item spheres. Shoot the sphere to reveal the item, and touch the item to pick it up and equip it.

The bomb powerup allows you to drop up to 3 bombs at a time in your Morph Ball form. Due to Samus’ size relative to the environment in this game, you will find that bombing allows you to easily reach higher areas using the “bomb ladder” trick, though the fact that you get the Spider Ball so soon afterward greatly diminishes your need to use it.

This game marks the introduction of Metroid-series mainstay, the Spider Ball. The Spider Ball allows you to stick to and climb walls and ceilings, and it also adds one more layer of depth to your use of the D-pad. By pressing DOWN once, you will crouch. A second time changes you into your standard Morph Ball form, and a third press changes you into the Spider Ball form. The Spider Ball moves more slowly on solid ground than the standard Morph Ball, and the sprite changes to differentiate between the two forms (no spider legs, sorry)

If you press the JUMP button while in the Spider Ball form, you will return to the Morph Ball form, and disconnect from whichever surface you were connected to. It’s also well worth noting that you can drop bombs in the Spider Ball form, but getting hit by the blast from one will also revert you to Morph Ball form, meaning that you have to be extremely careful when bombing walls or enemies, lest you be removed from your perch.

Once in Spider Ball form, you can press toward a wall to move against it and start climbing. As long as you hold in the same direction as you started, you’ll keep climbing up the wall, around jutting formations, and even across the ceiling (assuming you don’t get knocked off by hitting an enemy or a patch of spikes). Once you let off the D-pad, however, you must press in the direction you want to travel in order to begin moving again.

Unfortunately, this can make maneuvering from a corner extremely difficult, since it may not be clear which direction you need to press to get over an obstacle that you’re resting against. This can lead to situations where you get “stuck” and have to keep trying to press the D-pad in different directions before you can start moving. This also means that you don’t want to stop in a corner, especially if you’re in an enemy’s patrol route, because it might take you a few seconds to get moving again.

The Spider Ball also has an advanced technique, which allows you to jump using the Spring Ball powerup (see below) from your standard Morph Ball form, transform into the Spider Ball in midair, and press against a solid surface to stick to it. This also works from a bomb jump / bomb ladder, allowing you to stick to areas that you might not be able to reach due to spikes or lack of direct access.


High Jump Boots let you jump higher. True story.

The Spring Ball powerup allows Samus to jump while in her Morph Ball form. There aren’t many areas that require this for this powerup, since you get it after you already have the Spider Ball. This game marks the Spring Ball’s first appearance in the Metroid series.

The Space Jump is essentially an infinite double-jump, which is initiated by performing a spinning jump, and then jumping again at the right moment. As with the other games in the Metroid series, getting the timing right is a bit difficult, but once you’ve got it, you can essentially fly through any open areas, dodge enemies and obstacles, and access just about any location in the game.

The Screw Attack is one of the most well-known powerups in the Metroid series. This attack allows Samus to cause heavy damage to whatever she hits while spin jumping. Combined with the Space Jump, this turns her into a hopping, spinning death machine, and she’s able to destroy most enemies with this attack, even those shielded against beam and missile attacks.

The Varia suit reduces the amount of damage Samus takes. Because of the black-and-white presentation of the original GameBoy, the developers were forced to create some visual differences in the design of the suit, to separate it from her standard Power Suit. This design was the basis for the look of the suit in all future iterations of the game.

                Power Suit                 Varia Suit

The Ice Beam is the first new beam type you encounter, and it is one of the most useful. While not incredibly powerful, it will freeze enemies in place for several seconds and allow you to deal additional damage to them. Also, frozen enemies and projectiles become platforms which Samus can use to access higher areas. Be careful, however, because they’ll unfreeze after a few seconds.

Picking up the Wave Beam causes you to lose your freezing ability, but also increases the amount of damage your weapon causes, as well as its ability to hit enemies. Since the beam moves in a wave formation, it is much easier to hit enemies above or below your standard firing trajectory, and it penetrates walls.

The Spazer Laser Beam (or just Spazer) is a triple shot, with bullets that travel straight forward at a high, medium, and low height. It causes more damage and it also penetrates walls. However, you’re limited to one set of shots on the screen at a time, so its firing rate is reduced.

The Plasma Beam is the most powerful beam available in the game. However, its narrow projectile moves in a straight line, with no spread effect like the Wave and Spazer beams, so you have to be much better at lining up your target. Like the Spazer, it penetrates enemies and walls, and it is limited to one projectile on the screen at a time. The pickup location for this weapon is right near the Spazer pickup, so if you don’t like it, you can always go back and grab the less powerful but more accurate Spazer instead.

You unlock new mechanics as the game progresses, but you’ll not encounter enemies that specifically require the use of these mechanics. Even the metroids are killed with missile blasts rather than the creative use of your substantial arsenal of weapons and moves. Sure, there is one Alpha Metroid battle that takes place underwater, and a situation where you need to use your Space Jump to take down a Gamma Metroid, but most of these encounters are pretty straightforward affairs. Outside of the metroid battles, you’ll only be dealing with basic enemies that tend to have fairly simple patrol routes and are readily dispatched with your chosen weapon. This places the focus of the game squarely on exploration and careful management of your health and missile reserves, at least until you encounter the tougher metroid battles in the final one-third of the game.

The environment changes as you progress, introducing new tiles and new music to help you feel as though you’re getting deeper into the planet, further into danger, and closer to your final confrontation. To further accentuate this fact, the shells of Metroid Hatchlings are lying about the environment, signaling the presence of a nearby metroid. Discovering a new shell casing means that you could be mere steps away from danger.

Early on, however, there are a lot of very similar-looking areas. In fact, there are some rooms that are tile-for-tile identical to others, which is a problem in an exploration-based game where you have no map. Even in the areas that aren’t exactly the same, you’ll still come across a number that are extremely similar in design. The vertical shafts in the Metroid games have always looked pretty similar, and this game is no exception. However the similarity of the areas is further punctuated by the fact that you frequently leave the generally cave-like environs in favor of large underground buildings, all of which designed with the same style of architecture (and the same graphical tiles). These areas are defined by a large Chozo-built central structure, usually with a save point, and a very high ceiling that stretches high above it. These similarities can make exploration somewhat more difficult than it would otherwise be.


Arachnus This enemy appears only once in the game, and it’s set up as surprise fight. You’ll encounter an Artifactor Statue holding an Item Sphere, just like the many you’ve encountered previously. However, rather than revealing a valuable powerup when you shoot it, you instead find Arachnus, who is rolled up into a ball.

The strength of this enemy puts it on par with the metroids, and it’s the only non-standard enemy besides the metroids that you will fight during the course of the game.

Arachnus rolls around on the ground, occasionally opening itself up to fire at you. It is immune to all of your weapons except for bombs, and will retract into its shell when you shoot anything at it. So, you’ll need to lure it toward you, drop some bombs, and get away. It doesn't take many hits to take him down, but he's very mobile and jumps around the room using the Spring Ball ability.

Destroying Arachnus grants you the Spring Ball powerup. It should be noted that this is an optional battle, and the powerup is not required to complete the game.


Senjoo This critter likes to hang out near vertical surfaces. So, while you’re spider-balling up the side of a wall (doing whatever a spider-ball can), Senjoo sees it as a great opportunity to give you an up-close look at its spikes, which will knock you off the wall.

His erratic movement pattern makes him difficult to avoid, so you’ll probably suffer a few slights against your person if you attempt to just steamroll past without waiting for him to move out of the way. He moves in roughly a diamond pattern, so that should at least help you figure out when to attempt your run. If you elect to stop and take some time to shoot him, you’ll find that he drops only missile refills and no health, so you’ll gain no restitution for your previous injuries.

Halzyn This guy apparently just earned his wings, because he’s a bit green when it comes to sustained flight. He has a wobbly flight path, and frequently speeds up and slows down, making him difficult to hit or to avoid.

He is shielded on the left and right sides, so he can only be destroyed by carefully lining up a shot from directly above or below. Good luck keeping him in your sights, however. Best to avoid this drunken flier until you have the Screw Attack, and you can happily blast him to oblivion.

You’ve fought metroids before, so you know what to expect, right? Well, you’ve never fought metroids like these. Sure, you get to fight a small handful of “standard” metroids (i.e. hatchlings) toward the end of the game, but most of the ones you encounter will be more evolved.

This is the first game where you get to learn about the metroid lifecycle. Up until Metroid II, the only metroids you’ve fought have been hatchlings. But now that you’re on the metroid homeworld, you’ll get to see them as they grow from hatchlings to Alpha, Gamma, Zeta, and finally Omega Metroid forms. There’s even a Metroid Queen who is capable of laying eggs to create new hatchlings.

Unlike the boss encounters in most games, you don’t just fight a particular type of metroid once and then move on to the next. As you descend deeper into the planet, you’ll encounter several metroids at various states in the lifecycle, beginning with the easier ones (Alpha Metroids), and moving up to the more difficult ones. Your Metroid Detector is set at 39 when you enter the game, but they’re not evenly distributed, so you’ll fight some types more frequently than others. Only missiles can harm them.

Alpha Metroid
This is the most common metroid you’ll find in the game. The first time you see one, you’ll actually get to watch it molt from the shell of a Metroid Hatchling and rise up. In most of your future encounters with Alpha Metroids, you’ll just encounter them sitting stationary in an environment until you get close (they’re impervious to damage until “activated” by your proximity), and then they’ll attack. When this happens, you'll hear a loud screech, and the music will kick up.

The Alpha Metroid only takes 5 missile hits to kill. Each time you hit it, it will bounce back and stop moving for a second, and then begin to advance again. One of the best methods for dealing with these creatures is to get under them and shoot upward as quickly as you can. This will keep bouncing them up and can allow you to get in several hits in a row.

Gamma Metroid
After you’ve run through several Alpha Metroids, you’ll encounter your first Gamma. These metroids start out in the standard Alpha form, but they morph right before your eyes and take on the Gamma form. This form is much more aggressive, and it takes 10 missile hits to destroy. The Gamma form also has a short-range lightning bolt attack.

Also, Gamma Metroids can only be harmed by shooting them in the head or shooting them from underneath. Straight shots to their body will do nothing. So, you have to be more careful when lining up your shots, and it’s easier for them to get in close and start causing damage. Like the Alphas, they are repulsed by missile fire, so getting underneath them is an acceptable strategy, but you’ll need to act more quickly due to the Gamma’s increased speed.

Zeta Metroid
The Zeta morphs from the Gamma form, and on one occasion you’ll even get to see it cast off the old Gamma shell and drop it off the bottom of the screen. Zeta Metroids are extremely tough, and you won’t encounter your first one until the final one-third of the game.

The Zeta form has a more humanoid appearance, with a full upright body, tail, and huge alien head. The Zeta form moves extremely quickly and can even fire projectiles at you, launching fireballs straight across the screen or down at an angle.

Its head, stomach, and back are its only weak points, so you can't just shoot up at it from below, and it takes 20 missiles to destroy. Not only that, you can’t just run off the side of the screen to catch your breath like you can with the Alpha and Gamma Metroids; the Zeta will pursue you wherever you go, hounding you until one of you is dead. Fortunately, there are only 3 of these things in the entire game, and they’re all in the same vicinity.

Omega Metroid
Your first encounter with an Omega Metroid is exceedingly well-staged. First, you encounter an Alpha, freshly hatched and alone in an area where your Metroid Detector is at L-01. There is a second empty shell nearby, but no other metroids to be found. You might have been psyching yourself up for some huge encounter this late in the game, only to find yourself facing off against what are – at this point – laughably easy enemies. Then, you get your standard earthquake and head back the way you came.

But wait, the path is blocked! The earthquake caused the acid level to rise, and now you’re trapped. You head back to where you fought the Alpha Metroid and discover your first Omega.

The Omega Metroid morphs from the Zeta form. It is very similar in appearance to the Zeta Metroid, only much larger. It takes a lot more hits to kill, and shooting it from below no longer works. You can either hit it straight on (which takes 40 missiles), or cause a bit of extra damage by shooting it from behind when you can manage it.

Like the Zeta, it can track you wherever you go, and it can also shoot fireballs in any direction. The Omega Metroid’s aim isn’t as tight, but its fireballs have some splash damage, so you can be hurt even if you aren’t hit directly.

The Omega Metroid doesn’t dive bomb you as frequently, and its larger than Samus, so it has a harder time navigating tight spaces. As such, you can back into a corner and get in a number of shots while it fights to reach you, making these fights somewhat easier than your encounters with the Zeta form.

Metroid Hatchling
You won’t encounter your first hatchling until the final stretch of the game, on your way to the Metroid Queen. You’ll have to space jump through much of the area because there are pools of water all around, some of which will cause you to sink down through them and back to an earlier part of the level.

When you get close to the area housing the Metroid Hatchlings, you'll roll past a metroid egg. At this point, your Metroid Detector begins acting up because new metroids are hatching in the area, and the counter increases from L-01 to L-09. The music during this section also gets progressively louder and more discordant, making it clear that this is your final run.

Once you encounter your first hatchling, you’ll need to use the usual metroid destruction method. Freeze it and hit it with 5 missiles. Hopefully you brought your ice beam, but if not, there’s one tucked away at an early part of the level, so you don’t have to go backtracking to get one.

If the hatchling unfreezes before you can kill it, you’ll have to re-freeze it, and use another 5 missiles. Fortunately, you can switch between the ice beam and missiles at any time, and hitting it again with the ice beam re-freezes it, even if it was already frozen.

If a hatchling happens to get the drop on you before you can freeze it, it will start to suck your life away. You can screw attack to keep it from draining your energy, but this will not kick it off. It will, however, allow you to leave the area and come back, since the Metroid Hatchling will not follow you through a doorway. To shake off an attacking metroid, you can roll into a ball and drop a few bombs. However, this move isn’t incredibly precise, so you may need to attempt it more than once before it finally breaks away.

When your Metroid Detector gets down to 1, it’s time to go back, refill your health and missiles, and save your game, because the final battle is just ahead.

Metroid Queen Now it’s time to face off against the Metroid Queen, and just like the alien queen in Aliens, she is a bitch, especially given that she can eat somewhere close to 200 missiles before becoming one with SR388. There’s a small “escape hatch” at the bottom of the screen if you need to get back out to resupply, which can be accessed by using the Morph Ball.

The Metroid Queen will shoot a trio of fireballs that are very fast and track your position, and you’ll need to use the Screw Attack, which will allow you to absorb them without taking damage or avoid them altogether. Oh, and if the battle’s getting too hectic for you, and you want to pause and take a break… too bad. Nintendo has seen fit to disable the pause feature during this fight. Sneaky.

Her weak point is her mouth. If you can shoot her while her mouth is open, it will prevent her from attacking, and you can just start pouring missiles down her gullet for a few seconds. Depending on your missile capacity at this point, you may need to be extremely careful about how many of your missiles go astray.

As an alternate method, you can also stun the Metroid Queen with a single missile, enter the Morph Ball form, and roll into her mouth. The Metroid Queen will swallow Samus, causing continuous damage while she’s in her stomach. Drop as many bombs as you can, and eventually you’ll get vomited back out to resume the fight.

Once you do finally take her down, the Metroid Queen will disintegrate. You walk past the place where she was standing, and into the tunnel behind to find just one more hatchling just emerging from its egg… the last one on the planet. You may remember this sequence from the intro scene in Super Metroid.

While you may feel like blasting it into oblivion Ripley-style, you do not. The hatchling has imprinted Samus as its mother, and it follows her out of the cave and back to her ship, helping Samus along the way by consuming the diamonds that block her path.

Metroid II Ending                                       Super Metroid Intro

There is no countown, no huge explosion, and no enemies for that matter… just a trip back to Samus' ship and the end of the game. The standard ending reveal applies, showing Samus in various states of undress, depending on your completion time.


Why this game should be part of your 2D heritage:
  • Lots of gameplay altering powerups and weapons
  • Tells a pivotal part of the metroid story, with the metroid genocide on SR388, the metroid lifecycle, and the final surviving metroid
  • Several Metroid-series mainstays are introduced in this game

The downside:
  • The frequently-used Spider Ball is easy to get stuck in corners, and it’s 3 levels down on the D-pad
  • Many areas look far too similar to one another, including some that are 1:1 duplications of previously visited areas
  • Infrequent save points and restoratives mean paying strict attention to the locations of supply stores and returning to them

The story of Samus’ journey to 3D is well-known to most fans of the series. The development of Metroid Prime on GameCube – which was released a nearly 8 years after Super Metroid – marked the first time an American developer took the reins of the series. Fans worried over the fate of a western-developed entry in the series, especially once it was revealed that the game would not only be in 3D, but would take place largely from a first person point of view.

Through internal trials and tribulations, cancelled games, and numerous layoffs, Retro Studios finally prevailed, releasing a game that saw widespread critical acclaim and commercial success. Its success was the basis for the revitalization of the series, which has since seen numerous releases, both within the Prime continuity and otherwise.

Retro managed to stay true to the Metroid universe, reintroducing the world to Space Pirates, the Chozo, and of course, metroids. Metroid Prime takes place 3 years after the events of Metroid (NES) and prior to Metroid II: Return of Samus. While Samus is traveling in her ship, she receives a distress call from a space station orbiting a planet called Talon IV, where she encounters Space Pirates and a new creature called the Parasite Queen. Similar to the introductory scene of Super Metroid, Samus has to go through an escape sequence at the beginning of the game, as the space station is destroyed after her battle. In the ensuing explosions, she finds her suit damaged, and she loses most of her abilities.

Samus regains her abilities – and some new ones – as she explores Talon IV. There, she uncovers the latest Space Pirate plot, and explores the mysteries of the Chozo Ruins. Many of the series staples from the first 3 Metroid games return here, including the wave beam, ice beam, plasma beam, grapple beam, missiles, bombs, power bombs, spider ball, space jump (no screw attack this time, but would return to the series later), the varia suit, and the gravity suit.

New to the series is the boost ball ability, which allows Samus to traverse large halfpipe-like formations; a Phazon suit, which gives her immunity to Phazon and allows her to use it as a weapon; and a Fusion suit, which can be unlocked by linking the GameCube to a GBA with Metroid Fusion (a.k.a. Metroid 4) in the cartridge slot.

Also, new gameplay is introduced via the visor system. While Samus did have an X-ray visor in Super Metroid, which allowed her to see hidden passages, etc., this game goes further by having an X-ray visor, a thermal visor, and a scan visor. The scan visor greatly reinforces the explorative nature of the game, unveiling story elements and details about various creatures. Further emphasizing exploration are the controls which utilize a lock-on system rather than the free aim modes offered in almost all other first person games. This means that navigation through the environment, discovery of new areas, and use of the scan visor are the primary objectives of the game, boss battles notwithstanding.

Metroid Prime also has some throwback 2.5D gameplay, which is presented whenever Samus enters a restricted access area in her morph ball form. Here the camera is moved to the side, and Samus is able to move to the left or right, and is even able to utilize the “bomb ladder” trick to reach higher areas.

The Prime series went on to spawn several more iterations, and stands as one of the better examples of a franchise’s transition from 2D to 3D. Notably, Nintendo has 2 other major franchises that share this distinction, with Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time often being cited as the best examples of a 2D to 3D transition. Each of these series retained core enemies, items, weapons, and music from their original 2D releases, and added gameplay which took advantage of the new perspective. Each of these 3 series also shared a second 3D outing which departed substantially from the previous games: Metroid Prime: Hunters, Super Mario Sunshine, and The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask.


Son of Bryce said...

Metroid 2 was my 3rd game for Game Boy, after Tetris and Super Mario Land. I got it when I was like 7. As much as I loved the game though, I could never make it any further than the 2nd metroid. I couldn't figure out the hell what to do after that!

I tried everything I could imagine, I thought I needed to find some pathway under the acid or something. Reading this gave me perspective on the overall design of the game, including the relevance of the acid. I was disappointed that I could never progress and stopped using my Game Boy until Kirby and Zelda came out. I still want to figure out what I was missing because it still bothers me that I never figured it out.

I remember the 2nd metroid scaring the shit out of me. Because of how the screen is so cramped, and I think they let out some kind of shriek as well. This was the first game that scared me like that.

Even on a grayscale handheld system, the game had atmosphere. I felt drawn into it while playing.

AJ Johnson said...

Navigating through the world of Metroid 2 is definitely challenging, particularly given the similarity of the environments. It's easy to get turned around, and it's easy to think you're in a previously-explored area, when you're actually in a new one.

Of course, in the post-Super Metroid world, we have the auto-map, which would have made navigation much easier here. That said, the exploration and helplessness of being deep down within an alien environment are part of the appeal of this game.

There probably aren't many folks weaned on modern games who would be willing to put up with this sort of design, since it involves so much time "wasted" not knowing where to go. But that's how things were often done in exploration-based games. It gave you a reason to keep coming back, and made the world feel bigger than it actually was. Stumbling around trying to discover where you were supposed to go next could actually have been considered a feature rather than a drawback.

Many popular games back in the day made it nearly impossible to figure out how to proceed without trial and error, or calling the Tip Line (in the pre-internet days). The Legend of Zelda did this with its hidden dungeon, Castlevania 2 blocked off part of the game unless you knew when to use a crystal, and progression through the worlds of Metroid, Blaster Master, and many others could only be done through aimless wander, with nothing to point you in the right direction.

But this sort of thing is part of the evolution of game design. In prior generations, with point-and-click adventure games, you might not only be lost, but could potentially miss a vital object that would prevent you from progessing altogether, forcing you to start the game from scratch. In our current evolution, game designers typically want to be very clear about what the player needs to do and where he needs to go. This is a better choice insofar as it reduces frustration and confusion, but you can't make that sort of design change without losing something. And in the case of Metroid 2, having a map or a floating arrow constantly pointing you to your next encounter would have yielded an entirely different experience, for better or worse.

Son of Bryce said...

Ok, Nintendo offered Metroid II as a reward on their 3DS eShop. I snatched it up and had another go at it. I finally finished it! 5 hours and 8 minutes, haha.

Like I hour in, I managed to find the pathway that I could never make it through when I was a kid! It was super obvious having played through several later Metroids (and another 20 years of life experience, haha!).

This is such a great game. I remember feeling like "Finally an epic Gameboy game!" when first playing Link's Awakening. But this game was just as epic.

The design is fantastic for the limitations they had to work with. The main flaws against it are probably the map design looking so similar and I feel like the save points could be in better places most of the time. It'd be annoying being stuck with a low battery and not being able to find a save point because of the seemingly inconsistent placement.

I liked the thought put into the game. How each level you dropped down in the 'acid chamber' introduces new 'planet life' the deeper down you go. It made me realize that you don't need a ton of weapon upgrades, equipment menus and whatnot to make the game interesting.

AJ Johnson said...

Thank you for sharing. It's always interesting coming back to a game you played when you were younger. Sometimes you discover that you're terrible at the game compared to your younger self, and other times you find that your new knowledge and skills actually let you breeze through areas you couldn't get past before.

If there's one thing the Metroid series has consistently gotten right, it's atmosphere. In the older games, the atmosphere was strongly accentuated by isolation and a degree of helplessness. This was certainly the case with the first 2 games where you were essentially left on your own to make your way through the world.

The acid chamber was a great device to direct the player while still allowing for exploration. Slowly descending, making your way into new areas and finding new enemies, all the while getting further from your ship added greatly to the tension.