As you move to hunt and destroy the final metroid and complete your dark plan of galactic genocide, the nature of the game changes. You enter a series of caverns devoid of all life, filled with rocky pools of a viscous liquid that does a bang-up job of giving the impression of alien slime with its dull, flat appearance. You’ll pass through several caverns of these tiered pools, which almost certainly are meant to be birthing chambers for the monsters you’ve been eradicating over the past few hours. Clearly, you’ve reached the heart of the swarm, such as it is.
Despite this being the final stretch of the game, it’s eerily silent. There are no more minor creatures here at all — the metroids’ voracious appetites clearly having wiped the area clean of other life. It’s just you and the silence and the pools of goop, and it stretches on for a surprisingly lengthy time. This is prime-grade atmosphere-building, the sort of thing games aspire to create but usually fail to accomplish. At any moment, you expect to trigger some trap or stumble across the final metroid, but no. This area is dead.
The only sign of life comes in the form of these platform creatures that hover below the ceiling of the final cavern, offering a slippery foothold beneath a few outlets in the roof.
One outlet offers a bounty of energy refills, placed conveniently adjacent to one another for the first time since near the beginning of the game. Whatever lies ahead, the designers clearly felt that dragging out the process of bringing Samus up to full power would be a pointless distraction.
Not far from the refill station is one final weapon-bearing Chozo statue offering an Ice Beam. While the Ice Beam is intact, the statue itself has been shattered, its head on the opposite side of the room from its body and the hand propping up the weapon cracked off and “hidden” behind the statue itself. It’s almost as though some intelligent being recognized the danger inherent in this device and did its best to destroy it and remove the peril to itself.
The westernmost aperture in the cavern ceiling leads to a narrow duct that Samus has to Spider Ball her way into. This leads to a passage in the floor of another room which contains… hmm. Isn’t that the poster for Alien? This doesn’t bode well for your plans to scream in space.
As you pass through this area, something finally happens: The metroid counter suddenly changes. In the blink of an eye (and with a jarring musical sting) it leaps from 01 to 09. Either Samus’ gear was malfunctioning or a whole bunch of babies just hatched.
Of course, the answer is the latter. Finally, you face off against classic — that is, not yet evolved to alpha form — metroids. Obviously, this is why you needed the Ice Beam (you did collect it, right?). These metroids behave exactly like their counterparts from the previous game, making a beeline for Samus and latching on to begin draining her life energy. Freeze them and hit them with five missiles to destroy them. Bomb them to shake them loose if you happen to get caught.
For Metroid veterans, this shouldn’t be too taxing, but for a first-timer I could see this being a real panic-inducing situation. None of the “evolved” metroids required the use of Ice Beams to render them vulnerable, so the change in rules here could be a real shock. While anyone should be able to make the connection between these guys and the other metroid forms based on visual information alone — several times in the course of the adventure you see a standard metroid evolve into an alpha — they behave very differently from their grown-up peers.
Even someone who has faced metroids like this before may find these guys a little trickier than they expect. Their movement is a bit looser than it was in Metroid, meaning that when they round corners and swoop in on Samus they often make wider turns, frequently taking them up and out of Samus’ range of fire. Since Samus can fire at two different heights now thanks to her newfound ability to duck, you have to aim and respond a little more quickly, too. The narrow field of vision doesn’t help, of course; you have much less time to react to an approaching metroid than in the previous game.
In short, hi! Welcome to the deadly final gauntlet. The one grace here is that if you screw up super badly you can backtrack to the nearby cavern and hit the charging depot to refill. Once these guys are gone, they’re gone for good. There’s no respawning for metroids; they’re unique enemies.
For extra fun, you face off against these metroids in trickier situations than you faced in the previous game. Sure, you can defeat a metroid… but can you defeat two, over a bed of spikes?
Once you’ve cleared the metroid counter back down to 01, you need simply find the final room — an entire chamber lined with spikes — and drop into the illusory floor at the very end. It’s one of the few pieces of floor that isn’t covered with spikes, so you shouldn’t find it too tricky to figure out the path forward.
And, finally, the last metroid, not yet in captivity. The queen metroid is like a massive, bloated omega that’s gone through a weird reverse evolution; as metroids metamorphosed, they increasingly took on a bipedal form. But the queen is more of a bestial quadruped. You can still tell she’s a metroid, though — there’s that “core” in her belly, the same multiple eye clusters, the same fleshy triple-bladed carapace on her back. It’s just that she’s huge and four-legged and has an expanding neck.
Since you don’t have a power loader and Samus isn’t tasked with protecting a helpless child quite yet, the Aliens parallels appear to have run their course.
The queen attacks by firing off a couple of projectiles that rebound from the wall and track Samus as they fly off-screen. Meanwhile, she steps forward to the front of the ledge she occupies and darts her head forward to smash into Samus. It’s possible to win this fight by playing fair — jumping carefully over each head-dart and launching a couple of missiles into her face every round — but that’s a slow and tedious process. The queen takes something like 100 missiles to the face before she dies, and once she’s taken a fair chunk of damage her attacks become faster and more aggressive.
No, the best thing to do is hit her in the gob when her head darts forward and she opens her mouth to take a chomp of Samus. If you hit her in the open mouth with a missile, she’ll be momentarily stunned. You can take this opportunity to roll into a ball and slide into her mouth. This isn’t terrible intuitive, but her mouth is just the right size for a morphed Samus. A moment later, she’ll retract her head, pulling Samus along with her.
Now, you can bomb her face for some up-close heavy damage… or you can roll down into her belly and drop a bomb there instead. Like the proverb says, a bomb in the belly is worth 20 missiles in the face. (That is how it goes, right?) Perform this action five times and you’ll destroy the queen from within… or just do the jump-and-evade thing over and over again. Your choice. It can be a tough fight or a total breeze, as you prefer. The gap in the floor to the lower left takes you to the refill chamber in case you need to juice up again — though of course if you drop through there you have to make your way back through the chambers formerly occupied by the old-school metroids.
With the queen defeated, the lower gap fills in as the game’s way of saying “only one way out.” So you pass through the space formerly occupied by the queen and reach that egg you saw earlier…
Which hatches into the cutest little baby metroid, which is very confused and assumes Samus is its mother.
This is just as well. No doubt Samus could make short work of the hatchling after taking down the queen of the species, but she can’t destroy the barriers leading from the queen’s chamber to the planet’s surface without help. So the baby (sorry, I know Other M ruined this name) follows you around and breaks through the partitions, leaving you free to return to the outside world.
Where your ship waits. The game is literally one big loop, meaning that the circle is complete. Incidentally, you can actually reach the entrance to the queen’s lair early by backtracking with the Space Jump to the starting point, but you can’t make it all the way to the final battle in reverse. Not only can you not break those barriers without the baby’s help, you have to climb into a toxic space that saps Samus’ energy… which for some reason doesn’t affect her on the way out.
The last-minute escape has been a Metroid tradition from the start, and Metroid II keeps the dream alive… but this is a different kind of escape. It’s totally stress-free, untimed, with no danger to worry about. Yet another difference between this and every other Metroid game.
So, in summary, Metroid II isn’t bad at all. It definitely hasn’t aged well thanks mainly to the limitations of its host technology and how the designers chafed at those constraints. But despite the move to humbler hardware, this game does a lot to advance the design of the series, giving Samus more versatile moves (ducking, more mobility in morph ball form, a wider array of weapon types) and expanding the mythos of the metroids themselves. Just in time to annihilate them. The baby metroid at the end leaves the door open for a sequel in a surprisingly graceful way. All in all, an important step on the road to Super Metroid. Not quite as imaginative as the original Metroid, not quite a total improvement, it’s still memorable in its own way and is pretty enjoyable… especially on Virtual Console, where you don’t have to trudge back to a save point when you want to take a break.
But does it bother anyone else that the metroid counter doesn’t increment back to 01 after the hatchling emerges?
Thanks as always to VGMuseum for letting me use their massive pile of screenshots for this.