This is a game I not only beat in 2014, but I make it a point to play through start-to-finish several times when I stream it, since I’m working on 100% speedruns of it.
Released for the first time in 1991, Metroid II: Return of Samus is the long-awaited sequel to the first Metroid. Storyline-wise, it’s interesting for being one of the few games in the series where the Galactic Federation can be said to be on the offensive at the outset–in most games, Samus gets called in because something the Federation wants gets attacked, be it a space station, a research lab, or the ship carrying the Metroids (In the first game). In Metroid II, though, the Federation has decided that the Metroids are too dangerous to be allowed to continue to exist. After sending no less than 3 teams to SR-388, the Metroids’ home planet, and losing all three of them, the Federation decides to call in Samus Aran to exterminate the Metroids once and for all, confident that she’ll succeed due to her experience dealing with them.
On a “macro” level, Metroid II is one of the more linear games in the series. In each area, there are a certain number of Metroids to be defeated, and you have to defeat all of them before the lava lowers and you can move on to the next area (You can, if your life is high enough, “Sequence break” the game and simply go through the lava in certain places, which comes in handy in one place in speedruns. However, you’ll eventually have to go back and kill the Metroids you skipped with this method anyway). On a more “micro” level, however, there’s quite a bit of freedom–what order you choose to kill the Metroids/grab powerups/etc. is left up to you.
One thing to note is there’s still no in-game map. Further, while the sheer number of repeated rooms isn’t as big as in the first game (And the more linear structure of the game reduces the feeling of deja vu), the fact the game was originally released in monochrome aggravates the problem where it exists, rather than mitigating it. There is, however, a save feature for the first time in the US. This is incredibly convenient, especially since actually saving takes almost no time at all (Making this an ideal entry point for Metroid series speedrunning/racing).
Despite the game having some of the problems of the first, I feel it’s an important game in the series, both in terms of what it did for the series, as well as for the Game Boy as a whole. Metroid II introduced a number of powerups that would become series staples, including the Space Jump, Spring Ball, and Spazer and Plasma Beams. It also introduced the concept of Samus’s suit changing when she grabbed the Varia–because the game was monochrome, they couldn’t just change her color like they did for the first Metroid, so they gave the Varia a wider appearance, making Samus almost look like a cybernetic football player.
Game Boy games in terms of technical ability can effectively be broken down into “Before Metroid II” and “After Metroid II”. Metroid II was one of the first games to really show what the Game Boy could do when pushed. Compare Super Mario Land (One of the first Game Boy games) to Super Mario Land 2 (Released about a year after Metroid II) to see what I mean.
Metroid II was re-released on the 3DS Virtual Console. Like the first game, you’ll probably want an in-game map handy as you go through it for the first time (I used Nintendo Power’s maps way back in the day). I find it a more enjoyable experience than the first game nowadays, though, even if it’s not my favorite Metroid to just sit down and play. Gotta go fast, after all.