Dreadline Gaiden: Comparing Metroid II Remakes

Updated: Aug 23, 2021

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

When I played through Metroid II and Samus Returns for Dreadline, I debated whether or not I should play Another Metroid 2 Remake (AM2R). I ranked it at 79 in my Top 100 Games ever, and I was itching to get back at it after playing both the original and the official remake. At the same time, I was afraid of burning out on Metroid games before finishing my goal of replaying all 4 chapters. At that point I had already played 4 different games to get through 2 chapters of story, and I knew I had 2 games ahead of me. I decided to pace myself and I made this self-promise: if I finished Fusion and was still in the mood for more, I'd boot up AM2R.

Well, I finished Fusion, and I was still in the mood for more.

Samus Returns vs. AM2R

AM2R is a famous-now-infamous fan game that, as the name implies, is not the first attempt at remaking Metroid II with modern sensibilities, but it's widely regarded as the best. Developer Milton Guasti, AKA DoctorM64, used assets from Zero Mission as the baseline for this project that took ten years to complete, finally releasing in August of 2016. Controversy struck, though, when Nintendo issued DMCA notices to sites linking to the game and, eventually, to Guasti himself. The cat was out of the bag, though, and the game is still easily obtainable because, well, The Internet. Suspiciously but unsurprisingly, after the DMCA notices dropped, Nintendo announced and released their own official remake of Metroid II for 3DS, Samus Returns. This irked the fan game community and Metroid fans in general--"Oh, NOW you decide to care about 2D Metroid?" (Keep in mind, in 2016 it had already been over a decade since the release of Fusion. Metroid fans were not a happy bunch.)

Circumstances aside, Samus Returns ended up being great in its own right. I spent the end of my Metroid II write-up complaining a bit too much about Samus Returns--even while writing it I thought I was being a little unfair to a game I really do like. In an attempt to remedy that, I'd like to start out by starting with the positives--what games do well in their reimagining of Metroid II, and then what SR specifically does well. I'll finish with the positives of AM2R, the game I definitely prefer.

The first and most obvious thing that both SR and AM2R get so right is the environment. The Game Boy didn't allow for much art design to go into SR-388, made especially obvious by the completely black background for basically the entire game. They did their best to differentiate the areas, but there are only so many tile sets they could work with. Both remakes immediately understood how important it would be to add more character and distinction to SR-388 and its various areas. It's interesting that both games ended up having pretty similar ideas of how to do just that, even though the development cycles were completely unconnected. (Unless, as some people speculate, MercurySteam looked to AM2R for some of their ideas. I like to think otherwise, but the more skeptical among us might conclude as such.)

Interestingly, both games lean into the religious and the mechanical. Metroid II being as sparse as it is visually, the remake developers clearly looked to one of the only other references they could: the manual. Metroid II's manual makes references to an ancient civilization as well as a prevalence of mechanical enemies on the planet. Samus Returns gives us full-on Chozo shrines to the Metroid menace, while AM2R interprets some of the larger buildings and zones as large Chozo temples. Later areas of both games feature large, mechanical bosses in full-on factory and high-tech environments, perfect for a planet where most of the organic life would have been eradicated by its apex predator.

Original screen, for reference, just to get us back in the headspace
Area 3's industrial area
AM2R's Chozo Temple
AM2R's Industrial Complex
SR's Chozo Seal
SR's Industrial Complex exterior

Both games also recognize that the repeated encounters with Metroids would get stale and sought to spice things up. Metroid II only had one additional non-Metroid boss, Arachnus. SR and AM2R made a clearly conscious decision to add more bosses, in addition to beefing up the pre-existing Metroid encounters. Unfortunately, some of the structural weakness of Metroid II is unavoidable in a remake, so both games also suffer from the same issue of walking a long hallway, fighting a Metroid you've encountered four or five times already, and then walking back without feeling like you've accomplished much.

Samus Returns does some awesome stuff in its approach to remaking the ambitious-but-hamstrung Return of Samus. On just a quality of life level, SR's fast travel system is robust and extremely useful, which was much welcome in the linear map design of SR-388. Going back to the early areas is no longer a slog, so it's easy to farm for extra upgrades and go back to those "Oh yeah, I can access that now!" rooms. AM2R's fast travel is nice, but limited, and accessed quite late into the game.

No single encounter in AM2R matches the spectacle of Samus Returns' Diggernaut escape sequence and eventual battle. I mean, how could it? AM2R was made mostly by one guy and eventually his friends. SR had the benefit of a budget and assets that the AM2R team just didn't have. That's not a knock on either game, to be clear! In fact, I give props to SR for taking advantage of the budget they had access to and using it to its fullest. The game is one of the most visually and technically impressive on the 3DS, and the Diggernaut fight is the biggest showpiece.

In general, SR's combat encounters are a bit more refined. AM2R's alpha and beta metroids are similar in design to Metroid II--that is, you mostly just fire missiles and hope that some of them hit the underside. SR's alphas and betas take a bit more strategy and have more readable patterns--and as the Metroids grow bigger, so do the absolutely killer melee combat cutscenes they implemented. The melee counter might be a little over-centralizing in the combat, but that ends up being forgivable because of how cool these cutscenes are. Seriously, you've gotta watch some of these--my personal favorites are the Zeta counter (skip to 4:20) and the Proteus Ridley counter (jump to 19:10). If you're curious, the other timestamps: Alpha at 0:30, Gamma at 2:25, Omega at 7:05, and the Queen at 14:30.

Finally, Samus Returns plays around with the persistent Metroid tracker in the spirit of the original. In all 3 games, there is a number on-screen at all times that tells you how many Metroids you have left to eradicate. Samus Returns uses this a bit more to its advantage, having it glow yellow and red as you approach Metroid encounters. No such technology was possible on the Game Boy, but they still had fun with it in 1991; at the end of the game, when you get the counter all the way down to 1 and begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel, you enter the final area...and suddenly the counter, for the first time, jumps up to 9. You're then greeted by an onslaught of the terrifying Metroid Larvae. This same numbers game, absent from AM2R, is replicated in Samus Returns. Big point in its favor in my book.

In the end, though, I think that AM2R is the ideal Metroid II remake. Samus Returns has impressive visuals for the 3DS, but I love the art direction and pixel work of AM2R. It's also more mechanically satisfying, mainly due to it being built on the foundation of the GBA Metroid engine, which is itself immaculate. The long development cycle of AM2R also leads to a very complete and refined experience, whereas Samus Returns feels a bit rushed in parts--particularly in its haphazard enemy placement.

I'll reiterate from my last post: Samus Returns is caught in the middle ground of not being different enough from the original to rise above its faults, but not being faithful enough to the original to pay full homage. AM2R, on the other hand, is a pure love letter to Metroid II from front to back. The map is a great example of what I mean; while SR solved Metroid II's map issues by adding a bunch of elevators, AM2R's map is a more seamless interpretation of the original. Is that a bad thing either way? No, but it does represent a difference in philosophy, and I think the AM2R

map ends up being much more elegant. (Why does SR need 4 elevators in one zone?)

Metroid II Area 3
AM2R Area 3
Samus Returns Area 3

While both games did recognize the need for more bosses, I think AM2R delivers much more on that promise. SR has the amazing Diggernaut fight, but that's it. AM2R has at least 5 different bosses, organic and mechanical, and all of them bring something fun to the table. Even Arachnus, the only non-Metroid boss from the original, becomes a much more interesting fight in which you lay bombs to make him "bomb jump" into shock pads on the walls. Having just played every 2D Metroid in quick succession, I can confidently say that AM2R has, by far, the most interesting boss encounters, which is a huge step up from a source game that had the same 4 bosses 40 times.

In the end, I think DoctorM64 and the AM2R team just understood a bit better what made Metroid II so interesting in the first place. They nailed the solitude of this ancient, abandoned place. They remixed the music tastefully, even including some awesome 16bit Metroid Prime tracks. They didn't make the Baby Metroid just another power-up for item collection (possibly my least favorite part of SR), but maintained the beautiful anticlimax of the slow-paced escape to the SR-388 surface with this mysterious infant murder machine.

I do enjoy both remakes, and ultimately it's just good to recognize that they were going for different things. I prefer AM2R's direction, but that doesn't take away from SR's quality.

As I reach my own ending of this post, it's worth noting one final interesting difference is the way each game handles the Metroid II ending. Both games have a post-credits stinger, but they go in very different directions. Samus Returns shows what happens on SR-388, showing the rise of the X Parasite, the new apex predator filling the ecological power vacuum. This would lead us to Metroid Fusion. AM2R, on the other hand, wants to lead us right into Super Metroid, dovetailing the end of Chapter 2 with the beginning of Chapter 3 by leaving us with these familiar, iconic words. That's where I'll leave you today too, because we'll be heading to 16-bit Zebes next week.

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