Monday, January 27, 2014

Metroid II: Return of Samus, on the other hand, has not aged well at all


I've had an appetite for Metroid recently ever since Guacamelee's rather unsubtle references and homages in design made me nostalgic for the series a month ago. My replay of Super Metroid a few days ago went swimmingly; the game's still brilliant. I was hoping to keep the ball rolling by revisiting Metroid II: Return of Samus - another one I haven't played in years and years - last night. This game is almost as old as me. I hope I haven't aged as poorly.

It's not dated in quite the same ways that the original NES Metroid now is. It plays well enough, there are no major hit detection quirks and the save system is actually usable, so that's all good. I think my problem is that while Metroid II does well in encouraging exploration, the game just feels... un-navigable to me. The lack of an in-game map combined with the camera being pulled in way too close means you'll constantly lose track of where you are unless you have a superhuman sense of direction. It isn't linear, either; your mission is to track down and kill 39 different Metroids, and making it so easy to get lost in this game really doesn't do that fetch quest of an objective any favors.

Also not doing the game any favors: being released on Game Boy, and thus with no color. All of these dull grey corridors start to run together very quickly, which is poison in a game that forces you to differentiate one room from another and have a constant sense of where one thing is in relation to another thing. I'm led to believe that playing it on Super Game Boy helped, but I never owned one of those, and the version being sold on the 3DS Virtual Console runs in regular old black-and-white.

One thing I do still love about Metroid II is the Spider Ball. This is, as far as I can recall, the only 2D game in the series to use it, and also the only time it can be used to scale literally any wall (compared to the version of the item used in the Prime trilogy, wherein players were limited to Spider Ball-specific tracks). I also love how quickly it's given to you here. Most designers would save something like this for the endgame. Not here. 20 minutes in and you can scale any wall. I think it'd have been better suited for a more easily navigable Metroid, though. It's already a confusing game; having to climb walls and hang from ceilings kinda exacerbates that.

On the positive side, the music that plays during the opening level is absolutely boss for an 8-bit game.

I think Metroid II would be a good fit for a Zero Mission-style remake that makes it more accessible, but we'll never get that, because there's really no widespread love for this game. It lacks the signification of its predecessor and the refinement of its sequel. In terms of lore, the only particularly important development to come out of Metroid II is a decision Samus makes at the very end that would eventually become the driving point for Super Metroid, and she recounts it during the opening narration of that game, anyway. Pretty skippable game in the grand scheme of things, sadly.

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