February 2023: Metroid II: Return of Samus (1991)

It’s February! Are you all sticking to any resolutions? My initial resolution, to read more frequently, was interrupted by my attention span. However, I’ve actually been using my synthesizers a lot! I consider it an even trade. I’m going to try another resolution, a February resolution – I’m resolving to play this month’s game! I love Metroid and despite my considerate amount of Game Boy playing I’ve just never gotten around to playing Metroid II! That changes this month!

Peter is our contributor this month and it’s his second time! He’s got a whole lot to say so I’m just going to shut up now and go toast a bagel.
“Peter II: The Return of Metroid II: The Return of Samus

First, thanks to Rick for allowing me to choose this month’s game, my second selection since becoming a member of this fine community. Just as with my last selection (Motocross Maniacs), I wanted to choose a game with which I had actual experience as a child. Unlike Motocross Maniacs, I did not own Metroid II. I borrowed it from my friend Tim. Tim’s family (or maybe just his father) made somewhat frequent trips to Hong Kong and so he always had a bunch of cool stuff and was always kind enough to share.

Its funny the things that you can remember from your childhood and the varying levels of detail around those memories. Metroid II is one of those funny things for me. I first played it while at my friend Tim’s house for his birthday party. It stands out in my head despite being a relatively non-descript party. I remember that I was late, though I cannot remember why. I remember when I got there I had Domino’s Pizza for the first time (which I am still surprised about because I’m from Staten Island and you just don’t eat Domino’s here). Tim showed me his Gameboy 400 in 1 cart that he had gotten from Hong Kong. There was a little rubber button on the back you would push to switch games. It was cool, but something else had caught my eye – Metroid II: Return of Samus.

I loved Metroid for the NES. I had made my own maps and would explore that game for hours and hours looking for new hidden items or new pathways to make the game easier/more difficult to explore. I had to try Metroid II. I fired it up and was hooked. Tim was kind enough to let me borrow it. I remember struggling with the final boss until I beat it one morning on the car ride to church. I returned the game to Tim. Since then, I have only played it 1.5 other times.

Tim’s family used to live near the coastline. When Sandy hit in 2012, I went down to help with the cleanup efforts. I went to his block and started cleaning up around his house when Tim came up to also help by his old home. I hadn’t spoken to him in at least 10 years, but it was good to see my old friend. It made me think of this game (among others) and I played through it one more time, the only other time I had played through the game. I say I had played it 1.5 times because I did also play the (very good, IMO) 3DS remake.

Enough strolling down memory lane. Let’s talk about the game itself. Much like the first Metroid, you start off with no real direction; you just go places you can reach until you encounter your first Metroid… except it’s not like a regular Metroid. It comes out of a Metroid shell and is attacking you rather than trying to suck out your energy. A few missiles and boom, it’s gone and the little Metroid counter on your screen goes down by one. And just like that, you know what the goal of the game is: kill all of the Metroids. You reach certain parts where you cannot go lower because of lava until you kill a certain number of Metroids. Then there is an earthquake and the lava level lowers allowing you to progress. The Metroids themselves also become more difficult until you reach the final boss, which is one of my favorite boss fights in all of Metroid. You then encounter the last Metroid in one of the best storytelling moments of any game in the series, all without any words. Just an absolute masterpiece of a game, one of my favorites from the entire series.

Given the hardware constraints, it’s unsurprisingly the most linear of any entry in the Metroid series (but not too far behind Fusion), though you can still find yourself getting turned around a fair bit if you are not careful. The sound effects are good, though the music is a bit disappointing. Not only does it lack that true banger that most Metroid games have (sometimes more than one), there are long periods of silence and other periods of just noise. The graphics are among the best that the console has to offer. The sprites are a good size and well detailed, especially Samus, most notably with the Varia suit. The story and pacing are excellent. Controls are tight, though sometimes maintaining the Space Jump is difficult. The new weapons created new styles of puzzles that didn’t exist in the original and many of the items and innovations in this game were carried forward into future entries in the series.

The game has a special color palette built into the GBC hardware. I’ve never played it in color before so for my third full play through, I will be taking advantage of that color palette. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.”

It was cinnamon raisin with cream cheese and maple veggie sausage. –IF

Motocross Maniacs: Excitebike with Power-Ups –Pete P.

I was thrilled when asked to choose this month’s game. Being my first selection, I wanted it to be a game that was personal to me because it was something that I owned or borrowed as a kid. After comparing my list to the back issues of Yokoi Kids I was down to two choices, one of which was Motocross Maniacs. I played each game for a bit and then I heard something that made me choose Motocross Maniacs, which I’ll get to in a bit.

This was a very early title. It was the first of the Ultra Games for Game Boy and only the second post-launch title release overall in North America. It was also one of the games that my parents got my brother and I when we first got our Game Boys. The racing has lots of jumps and there are different power ups, including the hidden jet pack that can only be found by doing a flip in certain locations. There are also mini maniacs that can be found this way that follow you around but don’t actually do anything. You can play two players via link, race against the computer, or race alone. Ultimately, you’re just racing against the clock, as you will get a game over if time runs out and it doesn’t matter if you lose to the computer (something I did not realize as a kid). There are ten tracks that repeat across three difficulty settings (i.e., you start with less time to complete the race). Ultimately, management of your nitros and mapping out the course to make sure you get power-ups, especially time boosts, without losing too much time is the key to winning in the later stages.

Short, simple, repeatable, and very difficult as you start with less and less time. Good music and satisfying sound effects help round out the otherwise limited game. I give this game a B. If you normally play via emulator or 3DS shop because of cost, this is one that you can get physically. A loose copy of the physical cartridge itself can be had for less than $10.

Now, as I said earlier, I heard something in this game that made me select it. While racing on Motocross Maniacs track 4, I heard something that sounded extremely familiar.

Recently, I have been listening to a lot of NES OSTs while working. One series that is frequently in my rotation is the Mega Man series. To me, the stage 4 music sounds exactly like the intro to Gravity Man’s stage in Mega Man 5. I know Capcom is never shy about “borrowing” music, names, likenesses, etc., but to do it from their rivals at Konami!? As far as I can tell from my brief Google searching, I might be the first person to notice, or, more importantly, to care about this. Anyway, hope you enjoy. –Pete (@dmachetto on Twitter)

Fortified Zone: Hope You Like Backtracking–Pete P.

I admittedly had never heard of Fortified Zone prior to its selection as this month’s game. I was excited at first because I have played very few games from Jaleco, most of those being on Nintendo Switch Online. They were fine. So, I expected another game that was fine. And it was fine.

First, let me talk about some of the game mechanics that I enjoyed. I enjoyed the RPG elements to the game, such as powering up the soldiers and being able to switch between them and that they weren’t just palette swaps but had distinct characteristics. I liked that there was a map system and puzzles, though the puzzles tended to be on the simpler side, especially after you’ve done a few of them. I also like that the game is short. Game Boy was portable and if there isn’t a password or save system then the games need to be short. I also liked the secondary weapons, though I found it hard to find them as the game progressed into the later stages.

What I did not like about the game, sadly, was the gameplay itself. First, and most importantly, there’s so much backtracking. A lot of times you’ll find yourself in a room that can go two different directions. And you can go several more rooms before finding out that you actually had to go the other direction first to get a key before moving in the direction that you had chosen. So you schlep all the way back, go the other way, get the key, and go back to where you originally were, with enemies respawning in every room each time you enter it.

The combat itself, while run and gun, is actually more like gun and run. Too often you’ll find yourself shooting into an open space and then trying to get enemies to move into the path of your shot because you will get hit if you stand in front of them to shoot. It reminded me a lot of fighting the Goriyas in Link To the Past. You know, these guys:

Each time I popped this on (via emulator) I found myself turning it off after a few minutes to play something else. Overall, for the time, it was fine, but it is otherwise not too memorable of a game. I’m glad I played it but I don’t think I’ll ever be revisiting this one. C- –Pete (@dmachetto on Twitter)