Metroid II: Return of Samus was released on the Game Boy in 1991 in North America, 5 years after the release of the original Metroid on the Famicom Disk System. In a weird move for the time, Metroid II came out a couple of months earlier in NA than it did in Japan. It was developed by R&D1, the same developers of the first Metroid and the Game Boy. However, one of the directors of the first Metroid, Yoshio Sakamoto, was not involved in the development of Metroid II.
Metroid II is a strange game. Like, Snake’s Revenge strange. Ok, maybe that’s going too far. Maybe more like Super Mario Bros. The Lost Levels strange. It feels like a Metroid game made by people who wanted to do something different with Metroid. It reminds me of sequels to NES games that went in weird new directions, like Zelda II and Castlevania II.
Metroid II has Samus hunting down 39 Metroids across 9 zones in SR388. Game progression is a bit different in this game. In Metroid II, new zones are blocked off by a harmful liquid until you kill all the Metroids in a zone. I’m guessing this liquid is lava, but it’s either grey, green, or blue, depending on what system you’re playing it on. Once you kill all the Metroids in a zone, there will be an earthquake and the lava will recede, opening the path to a new zone. This makes the game much more linear than the first, and cuts down on a lot of backtracking and exploration. Once you’ve killed all the Metroids in a zone, you’ve probably found all the items there too, so there’s not much reason to go back. It reminds me bit of Metroid Fusion.
There is still some exploration to be done with new abilities within each zone, but it feels like it’s much less than in other Metroid games. Missile upgrades and Energy Tanks are usually in plain view or hidden in places where you will easily see them while you play. Anything hidden within a wall is easily spotted, since you can see through large portions of the environment tiles. I guess this is a good thing, since you originally had to play this game on a little GB screen.
The layouts and designs of the zones are a big step up from the first game. The biggest difference is how the game doesn’t separate areas with doorways so much. You could probably count the doorways in the the game on one hand. Each zone is one big area with maybe one or two doorways leading to Chozo statues. The game ends up feeling more like a natural network of caverns and underground ruins. Sometimes they use the same section in 2 places in the same area, which can be confusing, though. Add in the fact that everything is the same color and there’s no in-game map, and you have a recipe for frustration. Thankfully, we live in the age of the Internet, and there are a few maps you can follow out there.
While other Metroid games have health and missile refill stations, Metroid II has refill batteries hidden around the zones like missile upgrades and energy tanks. They’re really out of the way, but grinding for health and missiles is out of the question a lot of times, because only some enemies drop missiles and most enemies only drop 5 point health pickups. Metroid II introduces save stations to the series, but they are also few and far between. Some of the smaller areas don’t even have one, so you might have to backtrack to another zone to save.
Usually Samus starts a game with no powers, but you start with the Morph Ball and Missiles in this one. We never find out why she doesn’t have the other suit upgrades from the first game, but that’s Ok, because all of them are in this game too. New to this game are the Spazer and Plasma Beams, Space Jump, Spring Ball, and Spider Ball, which is the coolest item that never came back in the 2D games. The Spider Ball lets Samus cling to walls in Morph Ball form, allowing her to climb up walls and on ceilings. This was also the first game we saw Samus’ ship and the first game she got those big shoulder pads with the Varia Suit.
I have to give this game credit for its enemy designs. Aside from the Metroid larvas, every enemy was unique to this game. And it would make sense that Zebes and SR388 have completely different creatures in them. None of these enemies showed up again until Metroid Fusion. This game also gets credit for introducing the evolved Metroid forms, Alpha, Gamma, Zeta, Omega, and the Queen. All the Metroid bosses have terrible AI and patterns, but you gotta love the designs.
The graphics are kind of a half step between Metroid and Super Metroid. Samus looks much better than on NES. Samus’ design looks closer to the Super Metroid version than the big-headed Samus from the first game. The environment sprites are more detailed than in the first game. You can tell they put some effort into trying to make each zone look different, but the color limitations of the original Game Boy really hold it back. Even with the Super Game Boy color palette, all the environments are the same color. There was supposedly a Metroid II DX coming to Game Boy Color at one point, but all we ever got was a special color palette pre-programmed into the Super GB, GBC, and GB Player.
The music in this game is pretty bad, even by Game Boy standards. There are a few good tunes in here, but some of it doesn’t even sound like music. I guess they were going for something a bit more ambient in some areas, but they failed miserably. Some of these tunes just sound like random beeps and boops. At one point, I thought maybe I was hearing nearby Metroids, but no, it’s just bad music. Some of the sound effects are pretty bad too. Samus sounds like she gets an electrical shock when she takes damage and they try to do like Zelda and play an annoying sound when your health drops below 50.
I played about halfway through this game when it came out, but I never beat it, because I just got lost. Now, with the help of a map, I have finally finished it. I don’t think it’s a terrible game, but it is the worst in the series. Yes, I think it's even worse than Other M. I can honestly say that nobody needs to play this game. Hardcore Metroid fans might get some sort of enjoyment from playing it, from a Metroid historian’s point of view, but everyone else should just go play the upcoming 3DS remake.