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Looking back at Metroid: Legacy of a baby Metroid

Thursday, August 26, 2010

After the original Metroid, the series did not see a new release until 5 years later when Metroid II: Return of Samus was launched for the original Game Boy. Following a more linear game design than either its predecessor or sequel, Metroid II was considered to be a weaker entry into the series and is arguably the least popular core Metroid title.


And yet, Metroid II remains the most influential game in the series, contributing not only new elements destined to reappear in later releases, but laying the foundation for Metroid's longest running meta-plot. Metroid II is the least popular Metroid, but its legacy is the farthest reaching.

Sometime after Samus blew the bajeezus out of the Space Pirate base on Zebes, it was decided by the Galactic Federation that the Metroid species was simply too dangerous to be left alone. In a moment of extreme anti-environmentalism, they contracted Samus to head to the Metroid homeworld, SR388, and exterminate them. Once Samus arrived planetside, she set out to accomplish exactly that by traversing a mostly linear series of bland, nearly identical looking tunnels. I suppose there was only so much that could be done with a black and white palette. However, while the limitations of the Game Boy's graphical capabilities resulted in a dull looking environment, those very same limitations inspired a design choice that has become iconic to the series and the character of Samus Aran. I speak of course, of the Varia Suit.

Varia Suit


Samus Aran has worn many different armors over the years, but it is the Varia Suit that I and most people picture when thinking of the character Samus or the Metroid series itself. With such a unique armor design, she will never be mistaken for a dime-a-dozen space marine.

The Varia Suit is a simply marvelous design. It comes from the 1990's but doesn't feel retro. Timeless is the word I use to describe it. Modern and sleek without going full ipod slick. Powerful and functional without diving into gritty realism. One of the most iconic and recognizable visual designs in the industry, it maintains its character whether rendered as a 2-D sprite or a 3-D model.

The Varia Suit as we know it was born of necessity. Color had been used in the original Metroid to depict Samus acquiring an armor upgrade, but on a black and white screen, this wasn't an option. The new armor needed to have a distinct shape to differentiate it from the old and thus, those huge shoulder guards were added. They say necessity is the mother of invention. In the art world, limitation can be the mother of inspiration.

Along with a new look, Samus gained some new moves which have popped up again and again throughout the series.

Space Jump

Any good game that gives the player the ability to fly instantly becomes better. I love to fly, whether it be by winged cap, transformation into a bat, or hitching a ride on a Blue Dino, leaving the confines of solid ground is always a joyous feeling. Metroid's take on flight is the Space Jump, an ability that allows the player to spin jump endlessly higher into the air. Bonus, combine this with the Screw Attack, and Samus transforms into an invulnerable flying circular saw of doom. The Space Jump reappeared in Super Metroid, Metroid Fusion, and a limited jump version was combined with the Screw Attack in Metroid Prime 2 and 3.

Spring Ball

The Morph Ball, another of Samus' iconic abilities, has been in the series from the start. This power, based on some quantum physics principal unknown to human-kind, allows Samus to shift her physical body into pure energy and reform herself into a small metal sphere. Very useful for rolling through small holes.

Balls, however, cannot roll up stairs and so Samus was reduced to using small explosives to propel herself upwards. The Spring Ball saved her the trouble by adding the ability to jump to the Morph Ball's repertoire. A minor ability, sure, but it speeds travel in ball form up quite a bit and has been seen in almost every Metroid since. It was not originally included in Metroid Prime 1 or 2, but when the Trilogy box set saw release, it was made available for all three games as part of the New Play Control added to the special edition.

Spider Ball

This is my favorite Morph Ball power. While it was useful for scaling walls and ceilings in Metroid II, it did not see a return in Super Metroid, nor is it used in Zero Mission or Fusion. However, it became a darling of the Prime Trilogy. The Spider Ball in those games was a bit more limited, only able to cling to magnetic rails, but it made possible some incredibly fun obstacle courses.



Combined with other powers such as bomb jumping and boosting, the Spider Ball knew no limits, so long as there was something for it to stick to. For such a fun and versatile ability, its origins in Metroid II seem downright quaint.

Metroid II made many contributions to the Metroid series, from establishing Samus' timeless look to introducing new abilities that became series staples. However, if only one contribution could be picked out, it would have to be the impact the story ending of this game had on Metroid's meta-plot.

Hatchling

After Samus destroyed the Queen Metroid, she witnessed a baby Metroid hatch from an egg. Rather than threaten her, the baby imprinted upon her like a duckling and the hunter had mercy upon her quarry. Hatchling in tow, Samus returned to her ship and left the planet. The next game in the series, Super Metroid, picked up immediately where Metroid II left off, with the baby Metroid playing a vital role both in establishing a motive for Samus' return to Zebes, and the ending where it sacrifices itself to protect its surrogate parent from death.

Even after its destruction, the hatchling continued to be an central figure in Metroid Fusion, chronologically the last game in the series. Here, the baby Metroid's cells save Samus from a deadly parasitic infection. Finally, the newest Metroid game, to be released in less than a week, features the little space jellyfish as a key entity in Samus' past.



Like the original Metroid, Metroid II is a difficult game to get into for much the same reasons. Unlike the original, Metroid II has not seen a remake that updates and makes more accessible this classic and all important chapter in the series. If I could request a single game for Nintendo to create, it would be a Metroid II remake and I'd ask them to put it on the upcoming 3DS.

There you have it, Metroid II, the little game with the big legacy. Be sure to join us Monday as I gush in shameless fangirl fashion over Super Metroid, my number one favorite.