According to WordPress, today is my WordPress birthday! So, happy birthday to me! Not like I’d know it, because I’ve been inactive on this site since September 2018. However, due to the Coronavirus crisis, I am out of a job…and have plenty of free time on my hands! Now, I don’t want to dwell on the current global pandemic, or my own circumstances. A blog of this type is meant for light entertainment, a diversion from the world crashing around us. Media is also a diversion from the outside world (unless you watch Contagion…which I did last night, for some reason!). Now that I’ve had more time on my hands, I finally got around to playing Metroid: Samus Returns, the 3DS remake of the Game Boy game Metroid II: Return of Samus. And it got me to thinking about something less serious than a global pandemic…(so much so that this blog will be split into three parts!!!).
PART I: THREE (AND A HALF) REVIEWS OF METROID II: RETURN OF SAMUS (GAME BOY)
a) Review 1
Before picking up my 3DS and playing Metroid: Samus Returns, I sat and thought about Metroid II. In my mind, to judge a remake as a remake, and not just a floating entity up in the ether, I believe one must first experience the original. I’ve experienced the original more than a few times. In this case, the original is Metroid II: Return of Samus, a Game Boy game, released in 1991 (that itself is a sequel to Metroid, a NES classic…which you can find on the NES Classic!). It’s a sequel to the NES classic, Metroid. I remember playing Metroid II around the time I left primary school, so maybe at the age of 10/11. And I thought it was literally epic. It was my first interaction with the Metroid franchise (I certainly knew of Super Metroid, the third instalment of the series, at the time, but never got my hands on it), but I can’t be sure. I spent hours and hours navigating the planet SR388, the planet of Metroid II, delving deeper and deeper and committing genocide (and getting lost a hell of a lot! Everything looked the same!). The planet seemed massive, bigger than any video game world I’d experienced.
Of course, at the age of 10/11, I never thought that my avatar, Samus Aran, was committing genocide. I never wondered “if” or “why” I should exterminate the Metroids. They were filthy aliens, and I needed to kill them! But I remember defeating the Metroid Queen, and coming across an egg. The egg hatched and a baby Metroid appeared. I couldn’t shoot it. It circled around me and followed me on my journey back to my ship (and the end of the game).
My mission to destroy the Metroids hadn’t technically been completed, as this baby Metroid still survived. Was I supposed to save it? Had something gone wrong with the game? Why couldn’t I shoot the bloody baby Metroid?!? My immature mind gave pause for some serious introspective thought. Did this anti-climax nullify the hours I’d spent on the game? Or was the baby Metroid a reward of sorts? You know, you get to the end of a Mario game and save the Princess. Same for a Zelda game. But here, the very thing I was sent to destroy ended up as my reward.
Damn. I hate it when video games make you think! They’re mindless time sinks that rot your brain!
b) Review 2
I played Metroid II again during my high school years, after playing through the superb Super Metroid for the first time. I’m one of those people who has to play through/experience a whole franchise after being exposed to one part of it! Thanks to Super Metroid and my greater maturity, I understood that the baby Metroid believed Samus Aran was its mother. Samus Aran was tired of killing. Perhaps her maternal instincts had kicked in. And whereas I found that slow, empty trek back to Samus’ ship boring the first time around, I suddenly appreciated it as a time to reflect on what I, as Samus, had actually done in the course of the game.
I’d (almost) wiped out an entire species because they had the potential to wipe out all other life forms in the galaxy. Was that the right thing to do? Bear in mind, I’d just begun an interest in philosophy. In the first Metroid game, the evil Space Pirates stole some Metroids in order to replicate the species and use them as biological weapons. So, shouldn’t Samus be hunting down the remaining Space Pirates instead, rather than wiping out an entire alien species?
Of course, after playing Super Metroid, Metroid II sometimes felt hopelessly archaic. No maps, similar looking rooms, grainy, monochrome graphics, hand-cramping controls…but the themes and narrative chimed in with my philosophic pursuits.
c) Half a Review
After purchasing a GameCube and waiting for the 3D instalment of the Metroid franchise, Metroid Prime, to be released, I replayed both Metroid II and Super Metroid (I still hadn’t got around to playing the original Metroid!). Well, when I say replayed Metroid II, I played it for a few hours and gave up. The lack of a map system meant I kept getting lost in the similar looking areas of the game. My ears were irritated by the frequently tinny and grating music. My eyes were irritated by the monochrome graphics. And it’s no fun facing the same boss repeatedly (although you fight Metroids in various stages of evolution, each evolution involves the repetitive spamming of missiles to defeat it. There’s no other strategy!).
Like its predecessor (which I eventually played!), Metroid II hasn’t aged well. It was ripe for a remake. Its predecessor did get a remake, in the guise of Metroid: Zero Mission (one of the all-time great video game remakes). I hoped Metroid II would receive similar treatment. I got my wish a few years ago, but it was released on the 3DS. Last Christmas, my wife bought me a 3DS. So I had no choice but to buy Metroid: Samus Returns…(and with all the free time on my hands, I got around to playing it this past weekend).
d) Review 3
But before playing it, I replayed the original (again!). I couldn’t find my original copy, so bought Metroid II on the 3DS Virtual Console.While I was still annoyed by the flaws I’ve described above, I found plenty of enjoyment in it. As I sank further and further into the depths of the planet, the lack of a map made the descent even more unnerving. The sparse music gives a sinister feel to your exploration, as if something is waiting for you, in the dark grey of the Game Boy screen…Oh, and I rather enjoyed creating a map in my mind. Yes, it was still frustrating due to the similar looking rooms and areas, but this was a Game Boy game. They couldn’t make every room unique (something the designers fixed to perfection in Super Metroid. Every room is memorable and distinct in that game). But it was a creative exercise, memorising the labyrinths of SR-388. Limited save points and health/weapon refills all accentuated the feeling of desperation and isolation (especially towards the end, where non-Metroid enemies are few and far between, meaning that there are almost no health drops. Hold on, are there no other lifeforms in the end section because the Metroids have wiped all of them out?!?!?? Mind…blown!). Yes, the graphics still hurt my eyes, and the controls hurt my hands even more with the unwieldy 3DS console design (a problem I’ve found with EVERY 3DS game I’ve played).
All in all, like I said before, it hasn’t aged well, But I reflected on some of those aspects that I previously thought were flaws, and discovered that they actually added to the atmosphere of the game. It’s still more playable than the original Metroid. After a day of rest for my poor, twisted, arthritic fingers, it was time to play the remake, Metroid: Samus Returns…
But more on that next time!