When Nintendo revised the original Metroid and released the upgrade as Metroid Zero Mission in 2004, the world at large assumed Metroid II: Return of Samus was up next for a Game Boy Advance facelift.
We waited patiently.
Well, we're all 13 years older, but the time has arrived: Our Metroid II remake is coming for the Nintendo 3DS under the name Metroid: Samus Returns. Samus is plunging back into SR388's hostile tunnels to incinerate the soul-sucking Metroid threat at its roots. For some of us, the Nintendo 3DS adventure will be a return. For many others, it'll be a maiden voyage. If that's the case for you, don't bring along any clothes you're particularly fond of. The sulphuric atmosphere will liquify them in no time.
Nintendo's brief trailer for Metroid Prime 4 caused quite a stir, but there's no small amount of excitement around Samus Returns. There is, however, some apprehension: The game's being developed by MercurySteam, whose re-invention of the Castlevania series is a mixed bag at best. Still, Metroid II: Return of Samus is a solid game hobbled by technical limitations of the time and a few easily-fixed design flaws. If Nintendo keeps a watchful eye on its work like it always does, I don't think Samus Returns will give fans a reason to raise their pitchforks and call for MercurySteam's staff to be fed to the Metroids.
Heck, we already have proof that Metroid II is a top-notch platforming / adventure game when you apply obvious fixes like a mapping system and offer more opportunities for hunting and exploration. Last year, the "Another Metroid 2 Remake" (AM2R) retooled the original Metroid II Zero Mission-style. It's a work of art, and you should play it – if you can find the executable file. Nintendo ordered a cease-and-desist on AM2R, but not until the game was released in the wild, so you should be able to find it if you're so-inclined. Like the truth, it's out there.
Metroid II: Return of Samus may be the last Metroid game in dire need of an overhaul (though Other M is up for debate), and there are several good reasons why fans are excited to frag the Metroid Queen in an airier setting:
Metroid II: Return of Samus is built on an interesting idea that encourages exploration, but it translates poorly to the Game Boy's monochrome screen
The original Metroid on NES has some repetitive areas and enemies, but Zebes is a veritable rainbow of biological diversity compared to SR388 on the Game Boy. Aside from Samus' large, detailed sprite and the cool designs for the evolved Metroids, Metroid II's graphics are flat and featureless, and areas lack defining characteristics.
Your goal in Metroid II is to go deeper and deeper into SR388 to destroy the Metroid queen seething in its core. I still like this idea: Metroid is traditionally a series that asks you to plunge into a planet's depths, but Metroid II's environment becomes noticeably more dangerous and oppressive as you do so. The small alpha Metroids that hatch near the planet's surface become a distant memory by the time you start tussling with zeta Metroids closer to the core.
Metroid: Samus Returns should be able to add more atmosphere and distinguishing markers to the places Samus visits, which will make exploring SR388 more interesting, but no less nerve-wracking.
The overarching story for Metroid involves Metroid II's hatchling, and now players can experience it first-hand
If the first Metroid game is brought to you buy Aliens, then Metroid II is brought to you by Ender's Game. After purging SR288 of Metroids, Samus keeps one hatchling who mistakes it for its mother. Samus takes her role as a surrogate mom to a space-parasite a little more seriously in some games versus others, but there's no denying the hatchling is very important to the Metroid series' storyline. The Space Pirates successfully wrench it away from the good guys in Super Metroid, it indirectly saves Samus' life in Metroid Fusion, and so on. Metroid: Samus Returns will give players a chance to see (or remember) how Samus first met her gelatinous bundle of joy.
Metroid II has an interesting setting, and it provides a good opportunity for Yoshio Sakamoto to tell a compelling story
Sakamoto kind of blew it with the story for Metroid: Other M, but not all of his attempts at giving Samus turned out badly. He seemingly has trouble trusting himself to do "more with less," leading to situations where Samus opens her mouth and her guts come pouring out while the player furiously mashes the "A" button to little avail.
Sakamoto's already confirmed the story for Samus Returns hovers in the background and helps set up the game's atmosphere. In other words, we can probably expect it to be less chatty than Metroid: Other M and more reliant on background visuals, like Metroid Zero Mission. And before you say "That's boring," consider the "sketch" we glimpse at the end of the game, clearly made by a very young Samus of herself and her Chozo guardians. Sometimes a single still frame is worth a thousand cutscenes.
Metroid II has an interesting soundtrack that will translate well to more sophisticated hardware
Whereas the first Metroid has classic tunes that are still well-loved and referenced by the gaming community, Metroid II: Return of Samus goes for a more minimalistic soundtrack. Outside of the excellent music that kicks off your adventure on the surface of SR388, most of Metroid II's soundtrack is comprised of ambient sounds. Problem is, though the Game Boy has a great little sound chip, it can only do so much. Most of that ambience drips forth in weird bleeps and boops.
Thankfully, the 3DS is well-equipped to weave those beeps into something more substantial. Again, the remastered soundtrack for AM2R retools Metroid II's vision material without stripping away its soul.
Unlike the original Metroid II, Samus Returns will almost certainly have an in-game map
Praise the Mother of all Chozos, whomever she may be. Apparently Chozo can't reproduce, but I'm still certain she's the one to thank for the fact I'll no longer have to stumble blindly around SR388.
Defenders for Metroid II's map-free state claim that getting around SR388 is easy because "all you need to do is keep heading downward," but it's not that simple. Instead of traditional road blocks, there's a lava-barrier that lowers whenever you defeat a Metroid, which opens more areas to explore. That's fine, except finding freshly-revealed areas is difficult without a map and without any environmental indicators to let you know where you are. "Head back to the red cavern filled with purple acid" is a more useful instruction than "head back to the place with the black background and grey stones. No, the other one."
Long story short, map = good. Don't make me stagger around SR388 like an old lady who got separated from her intergalactic tour group.
(Thanks to Crazy Boris for the always-relevant gif))