Updated: Aug 23
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.
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 technica