When I first saw the commercials for Metroid II: Return of Samus on television, I asked myself, return from where? Had Samus died, retired, or got exiled? Was she a zombie now? Otherwise, I thought the sequel didn’t look half bad considering its inferior platform, which got me annoyed that I didn’t own a Gameboy. After much negotiation, I was able to temporarily swap my copy of The Legend of Zelda for both the game and its required hardware. As it turned out, Samus was merely returning for a second adventure, which is kind of breaking the fourth wall.
The title would’ve made more sense if Samus returned to Zebes to kick space pirate ass, but the action takes place on a different planet entirely: SR388, where the Galactic Federation sends her to exterminate every last metroid, fearing the creatures’ potential as weapons. Genocide seems like a rather extreme solution to me, given how easily they were defeated in the previous game. By the same token, I would have expected the Federation to send more than one person to do the job, but then there turns out to be only forty-eight metroids on SR388, which is about twice as much as were brought to Zebes. Lucky Samus: one would’ve thought the home planet of a species to be teeming with it.
The gameplay is similar to that of Metroid: explore a maze, find upgrades, and kill enemies. The main difference is that you can only progress past certain points if you destroy enough metroids, making the game more linear. To increase the difficulty as you move forward, new metroid types have been added, justified by the revelation that the ones you fought on Zebes were at the larval stage. Eventually, they evolve into flying lizard creatures. Metroid II: Return of Samus remains the only entry in the franchise to show the metroids’ growth cycle.
On the subject of growth, Samus must have eaten all her veggies because she now takes up about a third of the screen in height. The developers probably made her this big to show off the details of her armor, but the character’s newfound girth has the unfortunate effect of making Metroid II: Return of Samus feel cramped, like you’re fighting through tunnels instead of large rooms. Playing the game on a small spinach-coloured screen does not help the issue.
What Metroid II: Return of Samus lacks in graphical scope, it more than makes up for in sound quality. Owing to my experiences playing popular releases like Tetris and Super Mario Land on a friend’s Gameboy, I didn’t have high hopes for the music. However, I was pleasantly surprised at the soundtrack here. To make a 1989 handheld device spout a fully realised score as unnerving as the original strikes me as nothing short of a miracle. It’s a good thing when a developer understands what makes a game great and includes it in the sequel (no biscuit for Diablo III).
It’s even better when they take the opportunity to improve on the original. The final fight was one of the weakest points in Metroid, but that’s not the case here. Instead of fighting a boring, static brain in a jar, you get to battle the metroid queen, a giant turtle-like creature with an extendable neck. I’m not sure how a flying lizard could evolve into that, but whatever. The duel truly tests your reflexes, requiring you to constantly move around and make use of your varied arsenal. The cramped quarters makes this end boss doubly challenging, serving as the perfect cap-off to an already great game.
I mentioned at the beginning of the review my tribulations getting a hold of Metroid II: Return of Samus. If you’re worried about never getting a chance to play through it now that you’ve thrown your old Gameboy in the trash, fret not. Your missing out on an awesome sequel back in 1991 may actually be a blessing in disguise. Now you have an excuse to experience the game in colour, as Nintendo has just released a port for the 3DS.