Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Metroid II: Return of Samus (GB, 3DS VC) Retro Review

Retro Review Month rolls on like Samus Aran in Morph Ball mode. Speaking of Samus Aran, the next game we are going to be taking a look at is a Game Boy classic. It is Metroid II: Return of Samus. The game is considered to be the sixth title in the Metroid chronology. All that really matters is that you, the player, get to blast away some Metroids off the face of planet SR388.

Is the Return of Samus a Return to Form?


One could make a case to say that the Metroid games before Super Metroid aren't as thought as lovingly of as the Super Nintendo classic and the games in the series afterward. One of the main reasons and complaints is the lack of an in-game map. Back in the olden days of 8-bit Metroid, players plotted out their own maps by drawing them on a piece of paper. Still, the inconvenience of constantly pausing the game to draw a new section of the game was a serious pain that Super Metroid and games in the series thereafter rectified. Metroid II: Return of Samus was the first handheld Metroid title. Even with having no in-game map to help players, is it still worth the adventure?

Metroid II takes place on the planet SR388. The Galactic Federation had previously sent multiple extermination forces to wipe out all remaining Metroids so the Space Pirates could never use them for their own sinister plans. When absolutely none of the forces designed to take out the Metroids survive, the Galactic Federation opts to send bounty hunter Samus Aran in to complete the job. If a player didn't know anything about the plot going into Metroid II, the game certainly wouldn't help enlighten them on anything. The game thrusts players in control of Samus as quickly as they press the start button on the title screen. What little narrative that actually occurs happens near the end of the game, and it is fully playable.

Samus embarks on her Metroid murder mission.
The planet of SR388 is habituated by dozens upon dozens of Metroids located in every inch of the cavernous world. Samus must take out all of the Metroids in a given area to be able to advance to the next. When this happens, an earthquake will sound, lowering the lava level down for Samus to advance deeper into the planet to take on a new batch of Metroids. The actual Metroids come in all shapes and sizes: alpha, omega, zeta, etc. Each form has its own attack strategies and patterns. The first Metroid form met just slowly hovers to Samus to attack her merely by touch. A barrage of five missiles will obliterate the pest. The later Metroids in the game take on lizard-like appearances, float around the screen, are fast, shoot out fireballs from their gaping mouths, and can stand up to twenty missiles before perishing. It can be difficult tracking down the last Metroid needed to move on to the next area of the game as they can be well hidden.

"Don't mind me. I'm just here to exterminate you."
Though as I stated already, the lack of a map is not only a consistent complaint regarding Metroid II, but it's a reason why Metroid hunting is so annoying. In the original Metroid, the game's rooms and corridors were different colors, so at least they could be distinguished from one another. This isn't so on the black and white Game Boy sequel. Lots of rooms resemble one another, and it can be challenging to assuage which blocks can be destroyed, passed through, and which can't. I had to eventually resort to using a color-coded map to complete the game, and even then it was taxing.

Like every Metroid game in existence, Return of Samus grants Ms. Aran with a bevy of new abilities to reach otherwise inaccessible areas. Returning abilities include Samus's famous and patented Morph Ball and Ice Beam moves. The Morph Ball allows her to curl up into a ball, rolling through narrow passageways as well as dropping bombs to blow up blocks and enemies. But that's not the limit of the Morph Ball's abilities this time around. Samus can learn the Spider Ball and Spring Ball powers. The Spider Ball allows her to stick, scale, and cling to walls whereas the Spring Ball gives her the chance to jump while in Morph Ball form. A series mainstay, the Space Jump, makes its debut to the franchise in this game. By timing Samus Aran's jumps carefully, she can leap infinitely, though practice makes perfect on that one.

These statues hold each of Samus Aran's new abilities.
There are also numerous missile expansions and health-increasing extra energy tanks strewn about SR388. Unlike most games in the series, there is no completion percentage achieved by nabbing a certain amount of expansions/energy tanks. Instead, the only facet of the game that is judged is a player's time to beat the game (the best ending is achieved by reaching the end of the game in less than three hours). That isn't to say that collecting these goodies is without a doubt useless. If one wishes to have a fair shake at survival, these become a necessity - unless that player is really firing on all proverbial cylinders, of course. With the scarce amount of save points in the game and the incredible amount of damage Samus can take from Metroid assaults, players will need all the help they can get. Though the save point issue fixes itself if the Virtual Console version (available on the Nintendo 3DS system's eShop) is played thanks to its save state functionality.

Some rooms are carbon copies of others.
This makes for some befuddling moments.
Metroid II suffers from being on the Game Boy. A significant portions of the rooms look alike, causing lots of confusion to the player. That said, the visuals are astounding. Samus herself takes up more real estate on the screen than in her original Metroid days, but this doesn't really affect the gameplay all that much. Regardless, it amazes me what was done on the simple and humble Game Boy. The sound, too, shines in some aspects, while it falters in others. The music starts off with the feeling of the beginning of a grand adventure, but in later areas it feels entirely atmospheric, driving home the point that Samus is indeed on a mission alone, isolated from humanity and fully immersed in danger. Not all is great on the sound side, though, as there is a sound effect that is heard every time Samus jumps. It gets grating after a while, especially in areas with subdued or no music playing.

Metroid II: Return of Samus is nowhere near my favorite entry in this science fiction action adventure series. I'd be amiss, however, if I said I did not enjoy my time with the game. Sure, I had to use a pre-made map to get my bearings throughout my journey through SR388 - finding and eliminating the Metroid menace far and wide, but Return of Samus is a game that I can see myself returning to - constantly trying to speed run through the game, scoring excellent times, and obtaining the best ending. If you are interested in seeing the Metroid series's roots on a portable gaming device, Metroid II: Return of Samus is the perfect game to do so.

[SuperPhillip Says: 8.0/10]

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