Screenshots

About Metroid II

As a Game Boy game, Metroid II was designed under different considerations from its forebear (Metroid, 1987, NES) and later successors (Super Metroid, 1994, SNES; Metroid Fusion, 2002, GBA). Most significantly, it was designed for a portable system, which compared to its console-based sisters (yet similar to its most direct sequel, Metroid Fusion) changes the player's relationship with the game. To play Metroid II means... The game is smart, and deliberate. It knows all of this, and it speaks to the player accordingly.

Metroid II is claustrophobic

Samus' sprite is a little bigger than on the NES, and the screen is much smaller. There are technical and pragmatic reasons for this shift; the end effect is a much smaller, more disconcerting window on the world around you. Think of the bubble of light you'd carry with you into the bowels of the earth.

Combined with the repetitive and seemingly non-Euclidean geometry to be found beneath the surface and the less melodic, less heroic music that accompanies Samus into the deeper reaches of planet SR388, the game leads players to feel a rising sense of disorientation and dread.

Metroid II is expressive

The entire game is a hunt -- a misguided hunt, an ill-equipped hunt, through a treacherous, disorienting, and indifferent landscape.

More so than any other Metroid chapter, though in common spirit with Metroid Fusion, Return of Samus focuses on the horror in the game's premise. You should not be here, and though the world is not actively hostile it does you no favors. Rather, it turns your own hostility back on you.

As you hack your way into the living planet in search of your quarry, you are your own worst enemy. If you fail, it will because you panic. It will be because you lose track of your resources, lose track of your path. It will be because you push yourself further than you can handle.

The game knows this, and it plays to it. Rather than soothe your mind, it taunts you with atmospheric squawks. It shows you just enough of the world to let you move around; not enough to plan. It lures you down false paths. It spaces out save points just enough to make them touchstones. If you can just find your way back to the entrance, you tell yourself, you'll be okay.

The only time the game eases its tension is when the player stumbles back to the main lava corridor that links all of the game's areas and leads straight back to the surface.

There is horror, and there is wonder. Also to a greater extent than its sisters, Metroid II is about exploration and discovery. Samus' main skill here is her morph ball form, which the game expands greatly. Too greatly, perhaps, for any other Metroid, as the abilities here tend not to resurface in the same form.

Key to Metroid II is the Spider Ball, which lets Samus curl up and stick to any surface. In this form Samus rolls all throughout the caverns of SR388, teasing every secret out of its basalt and metamorphic strata. Much like the player she curls up into a fetal orb, almost defenseless against the dark yet in doing so creating all the more space for herself. It is in this position of relative innocence that Samus makes the bulk of her discoveries... including a certain other defenseless fetal orb, late in her adventure.

Metroid II is deliberate

What you mean to say never matters as much as what you do say. The only way to judge a work is by what it says to its audience, and what context suggests may be reasonably understood as the meaning behind that contact. In effect, some works may be far more brilliant than they were meant to be; some may lack major parts of the message they meant to carry, or may accidentally carry a different message entirely.

People accustomed to other Metroid games (e.g., Super Metroid, Zero Mission) often have trouble with Metroid II. It's offputting. It's slow. It's confusing. They can't power through it the way they would Super Metroid. It doesn't have the concessions of later games (e.g., an automap). In 2017, the common response to Metroid II is to treat it as the poor cousin of the series, inept by comparison to games with a very different goal.

On balance it is safe to say that Metroid II is intentional, that the very things that distress modern players are the things that make the game what it is. The best way to test this hypothesis is to ask why. The boring answer to questions like these, and the easiest one to reach for, is the cynical one. They were incompetent, or the hardware sucks, or they just somehow failed. Any of that could be true, but to reach for the cynical answer before all other options strikes me as a failure of imagination.

Also, I can answer the last one. Having pored through every tile of the game, I can report that there's a hell of a lot of duplication. There's way more duplication than there should be. There's way more duplication than I've seen in any Game Boy ROM that I've cracked open, and I've cracked open a fair few.

What do I mean by duplication? I'm not talking about the game's maps; I'm talking about the bank where it stores its graphics for use in its maps. There, the same visuals are stored, over and over. Which is a very curious thing, as it would seem like a terrible waste of space.

When you get to coloring them, however, you'll notice how they're used. Each copy of a tile has its place. One copy might be used in a sandy area; another in an area dotted with plants; another in the midst of a lava flue. And the game uses them this way, consistently. Each area has its own grip of tiles, many of which are repeated from other areas.

So this is very odd. There may well be a technical explanation, for instance in the way that pages of memory are used (and indeed flip over as one moves from area to the next), but this doesn't explain why the exact same tiles are so often duplicated. They don't need to be; each area could easily have its own unique visuals. There really are just two explanations: either someone got lazy and filled the precious space in the ROM by copying and pasting visuals, or the duplication served a purpose.

Let's be generous and presume good intent, given the meticulous detail in so many other aspects of the game (e.g., Samus' sprite and the thought that went into communicating her status without the need for color). So what purpose might there be for this repetition? Well, we've got either an objective or a subjective purpose. Either one is interesting.

The subjective reason would be for the sake of making everything look the same. Why would they want to do this? Because it's confusing. There are enough other design elements that point at the developers playing the hand they were dealt and deliberately making the game a disorienting experience. It would be in line with other decisions if they wanted to turn the player around in circles.

The objective reason would be that structuring the game's resources this way made it easy to come back to them later. For instance, if they wanted to return to the game and colorize it, they wouldn't have to rip it apart. Nearly everything would be isolated. The version of this block in the lava is stored differently from the version in water, which is stored differently from the dry block. You can color each one without affecting the others.

In principle, then, Metroid II is an astonishingly easy game to colorize. I've not seen another Game Boy game built quite like this, almost like it was built in anticipation for a later coat of paint. It can't have been structured this way by accident, and incompetence or laziness wouldn't account for the consistency and rigor with which the duplication is employed.

Though the developers' reasons may be obscure and subject only to our speculation, an informed view would suggest that whatever they were doing with the game, they meant to do it that way. And if Metroid II is such a deliberate work, it is due a modicum of patience and respect for what it has to say.

So why the colorization?

This is one of my favorite games. It always has been. It's inspired much of my understanding of game design, and in turn both the structure of my own designs and my reading of other games -- as well as my reading of works in other media. Yet, I seem to be among a stubborn few who appreciate the game at face value.

Metroid II has been the subject of some... less than generous, and to my mind rather unimaginative, remakes and improvement projects, all of which start from the notion that it is broken. To fix it, it must become more like the other games. Or, to be precise, it must be more like Super Metroid, a loud and brash game that takes very much an opposite perspective to design.

Prescriptive design is, to my mind, tiresome. I'm bored of the idea that every game is an imperfect echo of some ideal, and that design is an ongoing march to meet that unattainable perfection. Why can't a game just have its own ideas, that it communicates in its own way? It would be absurd to put these demands on any other medium, so why impose them on game design?

Metroid II is basically perfect as it is. Of all Metroid games, this easily is the most artistically significant. Through its intense simplicity it exhibits an eloquence of expression that none of its sisters has attempted. The slowly-draining lava is a weird way to limit progress, but otherwise I can't think of a thing I'd do differently with the original hardware. What I'd like to do through this project is to illustrate just how good the game is as designed, perhaps breathe new life into it for people who couldn't get their heads around it before.

To that end, I've tried to apply as sensitive a paint job as I can. I mean this as a more considered alternative to some other colorizations, that seem content to just... not have the game be in black-and-white, as if that were an innate flaw. It's not, and I try not to treat it as one. Rather, I've handled the color situationally: what does each area try to communicate, and how can I best bring that out?

A change of format

With all the considerations about design, and about how they fit with the isolated bubble in which the game is meant to be played -- the posture, the circumstances -- Metroid II carries a level of solitude to which it's hard to find an analog. In its original format, the game is meant to be transportational; to lock you into an individual downward spiral, body and mind.

This expectation may present a translation difficulty, explaining some of the issues that latter-day players have had with the game. The experience just wasn't meant for the same context as a console game. A console game is a heads-up experience, played on a shared monitor. It fills the room, invites others in. Metroid II is the opposite of inviting. It's meant to be.

This patch may help a bit to bridge that divide. Whereas it lessens the distress in play, and it expands the spectacle and familiarity of the game's environments, this color edition may serve to adapt the game's solitary experience into something that makes more sense on a large screen, set across the desk or the room. What it loses in intensity, I think it may gain in inclusivity. It's a worthy trade-off, if it works.

I hope with this patch I can bring out the game's inner beauty for players who may have overlooked it before, and lead a few more people to give the game the chance it deserves. Who knows; maybe a few will then ditch the patch, and just play it as intended. Then maybe a few more will be inspired as I was.

Please enjoy your time with Metroid II. If this patch has caused something to go click in your head, I can suggest a few other games that you may want to look at with fresh eyes.

Download .IPS Patch

Download .IPS patch here.

To patch your Metroid II ROM file (which you shall provide): Not all emulators support the patched ROM file. Emulators that do work include: It seems that the game runs well on a DS Lite with GameYob or a 3DS, via injector. I can't speak to this, but I've seen good reports.

Feel free to report any more success stories or tales of crushing woe.

Buglist & History

February 15, 2018: Release v1.2

Updates: September 2, 2017: Release v1.1

Known issues:

Further Reading

This patch and essay are just the beginning. When you've a moment, here are some further works that explore what makes Metroid II what it is and what sets it apart from its sisters as the most intense and artistically risky game in its series.