Reviewing "Metroid II: Return of Samus" Enemy Artwork!
By Jonathan Wojcik
If you've read my review of the first installment's menagerie, then you can only imagine how exciting it was for this game to get a sequel...except that, unfortunately, Metroid II: Return of Samus was originally released only for the Game Boy, something I didn't own at the time and would never own until Pokemon came out many years later. I'd completely miss out on this one, but that doesn't mean my opinions on its creature design aren't just as strong as the first game.
What sets this one apart from Metroid is also the fact that, this time, Samus tracks the titular creatures straight back to their homeworld, a planet only designated "SR388." This is also the homeworld of the Chozo, birdlike armor-plated humanoids who happened to design Samus Aran's battlesuit and ship!
We're going in "Instruction Manual Order" again, and right off the bat I appreciate that the creature names still have that lighthearted tone to them. The Yumbo is a simple, erratic flying enemy, but what a fascinating anatomy! It consists largely of a round, green beetle-like insect dominated by immense red eyes, head and body virtually the same segment like we saw throughout that last planet, and it's got a pair of somewhat stunted looking "wings," but I'm pretty sure those aren't the ones it flies with. Instead, I'm sure it flies with those six feather-like appendages lining its giant, spear-like proboscis. I love the idea of something with wings on exactly the part is presumably uses to impale its prey!
This game's equivalent to the first game's "Zoomers" are no longer spiky-shelled bugs, but spiky-shelled slugs! They otherwise function exactly the same, crawling along walls, floors and ceilings, and they look pretty cute. Like many of the creatures of Zebes, they feel believably similar, but dissimilar to a recognizable animal; "snail-like" until you really stop and think about their anatomy. Snails don't have shells for heads! I also like the little nose-horn or proboscis, whatever it is, that almost looks like the end of a skeletal finger.
Love this name, and that this is just some sort of warty, chitinous bat-bug face with a pair of giant claws or blades for "wings" and a dangling, droplet-like red tongue. Can you guess from the design and the name that this creature spits? Of course it spits! It spits acid!
I strongly admire that the creatures in this one really feel like they come from a different alien planet in the same series. They've got that "buggy" feel of Zebesian creatures, but they already lean and will continue to lean a little more into vertebrate and mollusk-like forms than the uniformly insectoid fauna of the first game.
The Skreek in particular is our first bird-beaked enemy, which makes me feel like it shares a phylum with the Chozo people themselves. I love the unpleasant, fleshy veininess of the Skreek's head-body, too, very "buzzardy!" It's just a big ol' ball of buzzard! Bizarrely, they live exclusively in pools of slime in a single subterranean tunnel, leaping out to spit at passing prey.
Similarly, this frog-like creature wouldn't quite fit in on Zebes, but won't feel too unusual for SR388 as we continue. I love this simple design, its pleasant color scheme and its contrasting textures, with the warty underbelly and prickly back. They were thinking "amphibian," but it almost gives me more of a "plant pod" vibe.
This is obligatorily one of my favorites, a broad pancake-looking worm with a froglike face at each end of its body, and tiny fangs in each smiling mouth! The name implies that it sucks blood, and it has the interesting hunting strategy of leaping up into the air, then drifting gently back down, like a feather, presumably in the hopes of latching on to a viable food source.
These are tiny fly-like enemies and wouldn't otherwise be all that interesting, except that their design and color scheme in the original concept art looks strikingly similar to Samus's own helmet. Could the Chozo have modeled it after these little critters? Did they have some cultural significance we'll never know??
Wild! This is a really alien one. We've got a ball shaped body, warty toad eyes, little clawed hands and a mouth that looks more like some sort of biomechanical mask, with a ring of peg-like teeth that stick out straight forward. It's too bad all this enemy does is repeatedly float up out of holes, like multiple enemies in the first game. I was expecting something stranger.
Love this one! It has such a mournful, innocent looking bug face with huge fly-eyes and maggot-like tusks, dangling down from a goofy big butt with fly wings on it. This is actually a helpful creature, since Samus can stand on the rump and use the Septogg as a flying platform.
Another of my favorites, the Gullugg is a simplistic flying enemy, but its design has a great deal of personality to it; it's another creature that's mostly a round head, huge eyes, one pair of wings and a formidable mouth, in this case a dagger-like proboscis. I like the fuzzy base of the proboscis and surrounding fleshy, veiny orifice, all marvelously grotesque, and I especially love how it's portrayed with one eye more bulging than the other, which even translates to its simplified game sprite:
God, that's adorable. Clearly these are the "mosquitoes" or "vampire bats" of this planet, right?
I'll also take this opportunity to momentarily bring up the official Nintendo-licensed remake of this game, but not in all that positive a context...
These "updated" Gulluggs are good, competent, cool designs, but they are also, regrettably, a lot more conventional than the original creature. They lean fully into looking like messed-up bats, just as we define a bat, and would have been much more at home in a Castlevania game if you ask me. This version of Metroid II was received well enough, but besides the extreme enemy redesigns and 3-d graphics that I'm just not as big on, it left out a great deal of the other creatures on this page, and none of their other redesigns feel all that noteworthy to me. Sorry, Gulluggs, but you will always be freaky mosquito-heads to me.
A very cool-looking plant-like enemy! Zebes had pretty much nothing resembling plant life in the first game. This thing bursts up out of the ground unfolds its meaty petals and scatters "blobs" in all directions! What are those?! A "blob" appears to be some gooey little blue ball with one big eye and two little fangs or claws, and that's it. Parasites? Mutualists? Specialized offspring? Part of the plant's life cycle? So many possibilities! Despite keeping the name "blob thrower," the aforementioned remake decided to replace the blobs themselves with bee-like swarming insects, which is highly uninspired in comparison.
Another one that's sort of just a ball with a big beak, but it's also got a big, shiny red eye and an array of stalactite-like horns. I'm not sure if I said this already, but I really enjoy how many Metroid enemies - and a lot of other classic video game enemies - can just look like the floating, bodiless head of some other creature. If this thing was used as the head or face of a bigger design, it probably wouldn't feel nearly as interesting or alien. Next time you're stumped to make a really weird monster, you may as well just design a really weird face and no more body at all!
This is another thing that just crawls along the ground, but another with an anatomy that feels wholly unlike any familiar animal. Let's see...it's kind of dome shaped, like a mushroom cap, with devil horns, one large green eye, a fleshy maw of fangs that it walks around on, and then whatever those appendages are on its sides. A pair of big bony paddles with multiple feather-like blades? I truly wish I could come up with creature anatomy this unconventional, while still feeling so natural.
A fish!? Just a cute fishy in the Metroid universe!? Well, creatures shaped like what we call "fish" have evolved multiple times on our own planet with no relation to one another, so this is actually pretty plausible. Of course the top of this fish looks more like a sea anemone, and I'll assume that's even its feeding orifice. The manual says this is a "tame" creature, but just touching it causes damage to Samus, I'm guessing through something similar to the stinging cells of Earthly Cnidarians.
The fact that it is supposedly unaggressive, but will still hurt you as it goes about its business, doesn't actually set it apart from other Metroid creatures. A lot of them are just sort of out for a stroll when a spacewoman trips over them and sometimes, somehow, dies through her power armor. Either Chozo defensive technology is actually hot garbage, Samus herself is an incompetent clown, or most life in this universe - even pudgy fishies with funny hair - is more volatile to the touch than the core of a supernova.
Something kind of like a scorpion, but not really. The Skorp is eyeless and six-legged, with a short little nub of a tail that may or may not be venomous, and doesn't really need to be, since instead of pincers it has a pair of rotating organic saws. Neat!
Another wall-crawler, but this one's just a fleshy ball with spines all over it, like a faster moving sea urchin. It's not Aesthetically exciting, but it's conceptually cool. I like the idea of any creature that's just a faceless, organic orb.
Alien fireflies! They cling to walls, glowing their little butts, then drop off and roll up into balls to attack! Not much to say here, kind of too "Earthlike," but not bad.
Much weirder! This hopping creature is so simple, but so unique. It's not so much that it "only has one leg" as the entire thing looks like just one leg. One chunky, beautifully armored beetle-like claw with an eerie red eye where it could have been "severed" from a large body. That's a pretty fun way to go about an alien design, really, and then it has that single horn above the eye, which the manual tells us is a stinger!
This is a giant, single-celled jelly that can actually be used as a platform and can never harm Samus, except for the fact that it can phase in and out of reality to accidentally drop her in pits of boiling acid. Anyway, it's nice to see a protoplasmic critter from the birthplace of the Metroids, and its teleporting ability, or whatever it's doing, makes it suitably mysterious for a possible precursor to the creatures.
Speaking of which, there's also these big, floating cells that do cause damage. There's nothing more to them than that, but I'm still liking my "prototypical Metroid cousins" hypothesis.
Lovely! The Octroll is a squat cephalopod-like animal with a circular, sucking mouth on its underside and two HUGE eyeballs on top that put me more in the mind of a Mudskipper. Two of its nubby tentacles also have feathery "wings" on the ends, which they flutter rapidly in order to glide gently to the ground. This is after they spring themselves into the air exactly like a much larger relative of the Chute Leech! Their anatomy is just different enough that I wouldn't expect them to be directly related, but occupying a similar ecological niche, sure.
Not really Arachnid-like as the name would imply, this huge beast is more like a Gigersque, alien turtle. Love the grotesque worm-like head and face, the three long fangs encircling that sucking tube of a maw and the sickle-like claws!
The Arachnus is fought like a miniboss encounter, which initially disguises itself as an item sphere in the grasp of a Chozo statue. It is capable of rolling back into a small, invulnerable ball which may have been the inspiration for the Chozo's own "morphing ball" technology, and it is implied to be the apex predator of the planet's food chain...or at least, it was.
Another little "gnat"-type enemy, but how cute! It's pretty much just a big round fly-eye with claws!
So this is the start of a rather interesting set of enemies. It has a domed, rocky-looking shell protecting a single eyeball and four opposing claws, which doesn't seem all that remarkable at first glance, but isn't that dome almost shaped like the bell of a Metroid? And didn't Metroids also have four "fangs" or "claws" slung underneath that bell?
This next creature is clearly related to the Gravitt, except its shell is in two invulnerable lobes and it is capable of floating, defying gravity completely.
Next we have another beast with that trademark shell, this time like a face shield with two little eye holes, the rest of the creature a bulky, armored lump with two powerful, clawed legs. A very unique and memorable design that immediately communicates its habit of charging and ramming!
The most aggressive of the rock-shelled family, the Ramulken is another with a single eye, domed shell, and four appendages. I'm still seeing a sort of "knockoff Metroid" here, and I could imagine this peculiar Phylum of life being hybridized with creatures like the Meboid and Flitt. For that matter, I could see the final Metroid having a lot of this planet's fauna coursing through its veins. It's really cool how many of these creatures have reflected bits and pieces of the Metroids, the Chozo, and even Samus herself, all leading up to...
METROID LIFE CYCLE STAGES
Wait...what?! I thought metroids were cute little jellyfish-balls with spider fangs!?
Well, it turns out that here on SR388, and supposedly nowhere else under natural circumstances, the metroids we're familiar with will actually just keep growing, mutating, and eventually molting into totally new forms that the Chozo never intended. That's a pretty fascinating and cool twist!
As a design, I'm a bit torn though. I love the concept of what's going on, and it's interesting how this form is developing more of a body to it, more of a bird-bug form reflecting its possible genetic heritage, but it's QUITE a change.
The next stage wholly loses the eerie innocence of the base Metroid, with a segmented "beak" and upturned "tusks" that always put me in mind of a grouchy boar or mastodon, even if it's also somehow a bird and a bug and a soul-eating jellyfish.
The Zeta stage is where things take what I honestly consider a somewhat disappointing turn. Now, the original "jellyfish" part of the Metroid is only the belly of a bipedal dinosaur-bug reminiscent of countless Alien ripoffs throughout science fiction. It's "cool," but, it is derivatively so.
The Omega stage is more of the same, albeit in overdrive. I will say however that the fangly mouth and bubbly eyes still look awesome, and that I feel I can clearly see some relation to the Arachnus. The Metroid by now is very visibly a chimera of this planet's deadliest creatures, the Chozo's ultimate weapon and precisely the kind of ultimate weapon that dooms its own creators.
Last but not least is the Metroid Queen, basically the same design as the Omega but much, much bigger, quadrupedal, and with a neck that can extend in a manner even more like the turtley Arachnus.
Discovering that the metroids have further forms and even a queen is all a very fun twist, and their designs evoke other species we've witnessed in a cool way, but again, I'm still torn on turning the Metroids into something so much more typical of a sci-fi setting. You win some, you lose some.
All in all, Metroid II was still a phenomenal followup in terms of world building and creature design. So much so, that it's kind of too bad that the series didn't continue to branch out a little further. Later Metroid titles add a plethora of superb new aliens, but most of them continue to resemble the flora and fauna of Zebes and SR388 to at least some degree. I feel these first two games were establishing a bit of a pattern in which the enemies and bosses of different planets would be following different design principles, but if so, the idea would soon be forgotten.
I've reviewed the enemies of Super Metroid once before, and full artwork does not exist for most of them, but I'm sure I'll be revisiting it and covering further Metroid games sooner or later.