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.
13 thoughts on “The Anatomy of Metroid II : 6 : Killer queen”
Thanks for the write-up, Jeremy, I really enjoyed it.
As final bosses go, I think the Queen Metroid is pretty great. Despite being on a tiny screen, it manages to come across as huge and intimidating. Definitely a memorable fight for the series, despite being kind of easy.
I had NO IDEA you could kill the queen that way…
“But does it bother anyone else that the metroid counter doesn’t increment back to 01 after the hatchling emerges?”
I was asking myself the same thing. But on the other hand: the counter is for metroids you have to kill. Maybe the baby was just not big enough to pose a threat yet? Who knows how that futuristic alien-detector works anyway..
The ending was a big surprise to me back then: after eradicating almost a whole species, Samus gets a chance to redeem herself and metroids are given a fresh start (did not work out, but the possibility was there).
Generally this final act is full of great, memorable moments: the demolished chozo-statue, your metroid-counter going crazy, the first wave of basic metroids, the queen..
And I found out about the alternative way to defeat the queen just a few years ago. Believing, that I knew this game inside out, I stumbled across a video-motage, briefly showing a Maru Mari, bombing the queen from the inside and I freaked out: After all those years Samus’ return still had a delicious surprise left for me!
Thanks a lot, Jeremy! It was a pleasure reading this anatomy.
Actually, I’m pretty sure you can’t really go to the Queen Metroid from the beginning of the game; there’s an invisible ceiling as soon as you get to the harmful atmosphere. That would have been a neat touch, though!
And just so that my only feedback isn’t a complaint, I’ve really been enjoying this whole series! I don’t know how it never occurred to me that Metroid II was so devoid of backtracking… I guess because I spent enough time getting lost that I felt like I’d been around it 20 times by the time I reached the end…
Navigating in that game is a bizarre experience; you’re right that they do a good job distinguishing individual areas on a grayscale screen, but WITHIN each area, the number of reused screens always made me get utterly lost… I’ve got a bad sense of direction and mostly navigate by landmarks, so the same scraggly screenful of rock or brick appearing in so many rooms, when you’re unable to see what’s surrounding it, just made me completely unable to figure out how things fit together…. (and a friend of mine who navigates spatially was just as lost, because of the way they game folds rooms on top of each other depending on which door you take!)
Also, just to drag it back to nitpicking (why not) — I remember the place you mentioned, with a metroid shell followed by a metroid hatching from its shell… and I’m pretty sure that’s not an error, I think that there’s ANOTHER metroid PAST the hatching one, that you encounter already-hatched. As far as I’ve ever been able to tell, the tally of metroid shells to metroids always works out by the end of an area!
Anyway, great writeup :) You’ve got me itching to play through it again… and I’m looking forward to where the series goes next! (Whether that winds up being LttP or straight on to Super Metroid!)
Yes, I said the atmosphere would harm you if you tried.
Interesting that some of those Metroids hatched into full-size, yet the one at the end did not. I guess it was the runt of the litter?
Ah, that ice beam.
I feel it’s worth noting the power-up statues were inviolable at that point in the franchise. You could bomb the walls behind them, you could bomb the pipes under them, but the statues themselves exuded an aura of invincibility. Nothing could so much as scratch them.
Then you see one sheared in two, and the bubble door to it’s chamber torn asunder like so much wet paper. It was somewhat shocking at the time.
The thought process I recall when I first went in that room was something like this:
Phase 1: Something ripped a bubble door right out of the wall and then BROKE an item statue? Man, this fight is gonna hurt.
Phase 2: There’s an ice beam back here? Crap, that means jellyfish metroids.
Phase 3: Waitwaitwait… what did I just see? Something with the power to shatter an item statue just HAPPENED to use it smash the only thing that can render a larval metroid vulnerable, and leave everything else alone? That’s not random destruction, the queen can friggin’ THINK! This is bad. This is very bad.
And that’s only the SECOND scariest screen in the game.
I damn near had a heart attack when I staggered out of the queen’s chamber, energy depleted, missiles similarly critical, and the egg hatches and ANOTHER METROID COMES AT ME. I unloaded everything I had left, and then I RAN LIKE THE WIND. And then I hit a dead end… and it cleared the wall instead of eating me.
This final stretch was the part that sold me for life on the quality of the silent but incredibly effective storytelling and ever terrifying atmosphere of this game… You nailed exactly my feelings when I traversed the conspicuously empty caverns, and the jump scare that was the birth of the new batch of Metroids! And you are very correct in your assumption of the panic felt by someone who had never encountered the seemingly indestructible larva form before… I was that person, I never played or even read about the NES Metroid before venturing in this dark and creepy portable experience.
This was a short but very sweet anatomy you did here, Jeremy. It was a true pleasure to relive through your writing that memorable journey through the darkest virtual world a video game had presented to me 21 years ago. Thank you very much!
I actually think time has been generous to Metroid II in the form of better hardware to play it on. I remember playing it on the original Game Boy, and the green tint of the screen made the game seem harder than it is because most of the time you can’t follow the action properly. With the black and white screen of the Game Boy Pocket the entire experience improved, as textures and overall enemies were clearer. And with each iteration of Nintendo’s handhelds having better screens, navigating the claustrophobic corridors of Metroid II feel much better, in my opinion.
You can see what I’m talking about if you play it on a 3DS and switch to the original Game Boy screen (by pressing L + R and either X or Y, I believe).
Great wrap-up! Complements to Rey for the screenshots; they do a great job of communicating the game’s design and atmosphere.
@LBD “Nytetrayn” Let’s just invent an explanation for all the inconsistencies about the hatchling. OK, go:
Hatchlings don’t appear on the metroid-o-scope because they haven’t matured. The sudden jump in metroid numbers in the final stretch is because eight hatchling matured to larval metroids. Given the way so many metroids change form once Samus draws near, we can assume metroids have the ability to molt into a new form at will to deal with a threat. Hooray, I just explained something that really didn’t need explanation.
The bomb trick really was not a thing one could reasonably stumble onto. I’d never heard of it before people started griping about the callback in Other M.
It took significantly more missiles than 100 to do it the hard way if I recall, too. I distinctly recall counting my misses because it took pretty close to as many as I had. I don’t, however, recall my completion percentage. Quick sloppy research says 150, which I’d imagine means 160, keeping with the whole 5*2^x thing it has going. Not fun at all, that.
And you know, to this day the whole “life cycle” angle still bothers me. Particularly in light of how most sequels had the good sense to avoid ever acknowledging it again.
I figured it out just fine about 20 years ago.
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