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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Criminally Overlooked Games: Metroid 2: The Return Of Samus

Among many people, the Metroid series is indisputably good. Super Metroid is rated as one of the best games of all time, Metroid Prime is one of the best games of the previous console generation, and even the original Metroid is still highly rated after oh so many years. However, in the series, one game gets frequently overlooked. You could almost say that it's Criminally Overlooked, but what kind of douchebag would write like that?

The game in question is Metroid 2: The Return Of Samus. The story goes like this: Several commando units have been dispatched to SR-388 in order to wipe out the Metroids once and for all, but none have returned. In desperation, the Galactic Federation sends bounty hunter Samus Aran in order to finish the job. She then begins the task of wiping out the Metroids one by one, along the way finding new and strange mutations of the Metroid species.

Insofar as a game can be spoiled when it has already been spoiled by its sequel, this could be viewed as a spoiler for those concerned about such things. Samus finally destroys the Metroid Queen, and on her way out she's confronted by a little egg. A tiny baby Metroid hatchling pops out of the egg and starts following Samus around. Instead of killing it, she goes back to her ship with the Metroid hatchling opening the way the entire time, and they fly off into the wild blue yonder.

So why does Metroid 2 get overlooked? It's for a couple of reasons. One, it's sandwiched between Metroid which launched the franchise and is still very much beloved, and Super Metroid, one of the greatest games of all time. Second, it was released on the Game Boy, a system not known for heavier fare. The only other real games on the system at this time were Tetris and the Super Mario Land games, and neither was a strategic masterpiece.

However, taking a closer look at Metroid 2 reveals some genuinely brilliant decisions that helped bridge the gap between the primitive Metroid and the superior Super Metroid. First, for being on a system that only had four colors, there's actually far more detail than the NES Metroid. Samus is more clearly drawn. The different Metroid mutations have more detail. Second, there are more secrets and puzzles, and you have a little more guidance through them. You always know how many Metroids you have to defeat so the next stage opens up. They limit you to a one area at a time to reduce confusion and cut down on endless wandering.

Third, you can actually save, which was a first for the Metroid series. Now, I'm sure that Super Metroid would have let you save whether or not this feature was added into Metroid 2, but isn't it just plain better than an archaic password system? Fourth, there's actually a semblance of a plot at the end of the game with a legitimately satisfying ending that leads into the next Metroid.

Now, is Metroid 2 a perfect game? Well, no. It's a little hard to play now, especially because there's no in-game map. The music is also a little weird. There are some tracks that are just repetitive bleeps, and it's annoying. Some of the Metroids are also a little too hard, and devolve into desperately trying to find a good hiding place while shooting missiles at it.

All that being said, I find it far superior to the original Metroid, and it's a shame that it frequently gets passed over in favor of its inferior sibling. It's one of those games that really deserves a remake a la Metroid: Zero Mission. Tomorrow we'll be talking about a very promising remake of this Criminally Overlooked game.