After finishing the original NES version of Metroid 1, I swiftly moved onto the Gameboy follow up: Metroid 2: Return of Samus. Why not the 3DS remake? Because that one is different enough from the original to warrant it’s own analysis.
Metroid 2 surprisingly does hold up when compared to Metroid 1. It’s still clunky when compared to later entries in the franchise, and the limitations of the Gameboy limited the game really severely, but it’s still very fun.
Let’s start with the plot, which follows up on the first game excellently. After the events of Metroid, the Galactic Federation sends our hero Samus to the home-planet of the Metroids: SR388. She has a simple mission: commit Metroid Genocide.
Sounds like a good time, right?
Much like the first game, this game’s plot is barely in the game at all. Actually, I don’t think it’s even in the game. I’m pretty sure it was just in the manual. But the point still stands: it’s a good plot that improves the experience.
Next is the map of the game and the atmosphere. Metroid 1 was well known for it’s isolated and chilling atmosphere, and Metroid 2 is no different. The tight underground corridors of SR388 give the game a sense of claustrophobia, and the slowly decreasing number of enemies as you descend further and further make the planet feel alive, or in this case: dying.
That’s not all good, though. The game is fairly linear, much more so than Metroid 1. But with how cramped the game is, and how closely the camera sticks to Samus (credit where it’s due though, Samus’ sprite looks great for a Gameboy game) doesn’t help the feeling of restraint.
Plus, the black-and-white color pallet makes it really hard to tell some areas apart. Combined with the lack of an in-game map (which we wouldn’t get until Super Metroid) and any sort of conveyance of information, it’s still easy to get lost and confused, despite how linear the map is compared to the previous game.
Then there’s the Metroids. This game introduced the concept that the little bastards could actually evolve, becoming bigger and stronger. Each Metroid evolution looks awesome, kicks your ass pretty hard, and gives an immense feeling of satisfaction to overcome. They also use the husks of the prior forms pretty well, using them to create dread by telling the player that a Metroid is nearby. And having a counter of how many Metroids are left in the game only furthers that sense of dread; as the number gets lower and lower, you know the enemies are only going to get deadlier.
And then there’s the ending. For a Gameboy game, this ending is pretty fucking powerful. After killing the Metroid Queen, Samus crawls upwards through the tunnels of SR388 back towards the surface. The music is gone, leaving you with ambient silence. Then, as you near the top, a Metroid egg hatches, and the baby imprints upon Samus, mistaking her for the child’s mother. In a moment of mercy after committing total genocide, Samus takes the child back to her ship.
This may not seem like much, but here’s the thing: this one moment, this one little stretch of gameplay, gives Samus’ character a level of depth that no other game protagonist really had during that era of video games. For example, Mario is a one-note character: he’s a jolly plumber who jumps. Link is the same: he’s a brave hero who saves the day. But this gives Samus layers; before, she was just a bad ass who did what it would take to save the day. Now we know much more about her: she’s still a bad ass, and now we know that she has a cold enough heart to commit an act as horrendous as genocide. But she’s still not a monster: when confronted with an innocent alien child, she shows both mercy and kindness.
Put simply: Samus isn’t just a sprite you use to kill things. She feels like a real person, which is pretty amazing considering that the only games she’s had up to this point were on the NES and the Gameboy. And this would only continue with Super Metroid and Metroid Fusion.
I love this game. It does a lot to evolve the franchise. From it’s plot to the new environments (as well as the introduction of new power-ups and the save-point system, which is a godsend) to the depth it gives Samus, this game is monumental to the history of Metroid.
Not nearly as much so as the next game, but we haven’t gotten to that yet.
That’s for next week.