Thoughts on AM2R: Another Metroid 2 Remake (v. 1.5)

This could arguably be an “Updated Thoughts” post, given I looked at AM2R already around the time of its release. Though as a technicality, this is version 1.5; back then was version 1.0. It’s different… technically.

Nevertheless, as a quick catch-up, AM2RAnother Metroid 2 Remake—is a fan-made remake of Nintendo’s Metroid II: Return of Samus. It was in development for a billion years and finally released in 2016, then was given a cease and desist notice by Nintendo shortly afterwards. However, as evidenced by its subreddit, development is steadily continuing. Updates to the current package will feature even more content than before and, apparently, will feature a complete graphical overhaul.

It’s been five years since I played this for the first time, and while my impressions were good, I had some reservations. In time, I would come to prefer Nintendo’s official remake in Metroid: Samus Returns. Now, I’m five years older, five years wiser, and five years removed from a fan game that has apparently received some added polish. My Metroid marathon this year wouldn’t be complete without going back to one of the best Metroid fan games ever produced.

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AM2R: Another Metroid 2 Remake (v. 1.0) Review

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Ambition can be a wonderful thing. It has led man to explore the reaches of the universe, to create inventions to make living life easier, and defined the very foundation of everything that is little more than common knowledge today. One has to realize, in this day and age, that everything within the world around them has a name and some purpose, all because someone had the ambition to give them a name, and to create, or simply identify, their purpose. This leads into the revival of a game not many have played. In fact, I’m not sure many Metroid fans have even beaten this game, let alone know its place in the Metroid lore. It was the ambition of a small team of developers that brought this project to light, and what a bright light it shines.

I, as I’m sure along with many others, wasn’t alive when the original Metroid II was released. I have yet to even play the game for myself. My only knowledge comes from a video demonstration done by Cinemassacre, along with knowing its place in the Metroid timeline. That being said, it’s hard to review this game without having that proper knowledge of knowing the original, in an effort to judge it as a remake instead of only seeing it for the game itself. Unfortunately, my hands are tied, so all I can do is critique the game based on how it measures up to other Metroid games, along with analyzing the finer details of the game’s structure.

AM2R features Samus Aran, intergalactic bounty hunter extraordinaire, being sent on a mission to the surface of SR388 to eradicate the Metroid scourge inhabiting the planet. That was the only purpose of the mission in the original game, and the remake doesn’t add much more to it. The opening cutscene doesn’t take more than a couple minutes or so, and the player already finds themselves controlling Samus on the surface of SR388.

What becomes immediately apparent with the game upon playing is the level of attention to detail, as well as some familiar imagery. AM2R looks lovely and vivid, with its own unique touch of bold, large numbers and interface options. It produces a glare of intensity with its atmosphere, most notably in Samus’s gunshots and Morph Ball feature. This game is very bright, and I use that term literally. Everything has that sort of glowing aroma of a blockbuster film or enthusiastic light show. It only accentuates the level of efficiency produced by Samus’s suit of armor and her overwhelming strength. Apart from that, a lot of the art style is piggybacked off of Metroid: Zero Mission. Samus’s suit, run and jump animation, idle poses (to an extent), and the sounds she produces all ring familiar to that of the game noted. Many of the enemy types and styles were also borrowed from various Metroid games, almost as if attempting to steer the player’s attention back to those games rather than this one. Then again, it’s entirely possible that the original Metroid II had all of these creature types and I’m simply unaware of it. Even so, it’s amusing to see creatures I’m used to seeing in certain color schemes pop up in various other forms.

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On the topic of enemies, I mentioned briefly in my Metroid: Zero Mission Review that enemies too often relied on simply hammering down one button in order to be taken down efficiently. Such is the case here, only the first half of the game relies more on the beam weapon, whereas the second half relies too solely on the Screw Attack upgrade. It makes the gameplay repetitive quickly, and bypassing the area by simply ignoring the flying obstacles becomes a much more pressing argument. That isn’t to say every enemy within the game can be easily defeated with beam ammo, but many of them fall under that category. Another noteworthy aspect of the game is the enemy placement, one which I both enjoy and don’t enjoy. Within the region of SR388, there are a number of different tunnels and underground habitats for a number of different creatures. I really enjoyed seeing the enemies coated in material or balanced in a fashion that suited their environment. I also really enjoyed that as the environment became harsher, the enemies became sturdier (for the most part). It gives this wildlife fascination that creates the planet of SR388 into a genuine location. However, there are also times when enemy types are recycled for convenience, whether from previous locations or from other Metroid titles. The purpose of these enemies don’t really seem to be geared towards survival, either. Many enemies simply serve as obstacles, literally swaying from left and right to obstruct the player’s path. I can understand security drones wanting to do that, but living creatures? It feels too poorly implemented.

What’s exclusive to this game is the countdown of Metroids among the planet’s system. The game’s objective is to destroy all the Metroids on the planet, and this game has a total of 55 Metroids the player has to kill throughout the course of the game. The battles against the Metroids range from annoying, but easy, to obnoxiously one-sided. The bizarre part is that the harder versions of the Metroids come not from the final form, but the middle forms. A Metroid’s lifespan cycles as so: Infant, Mature, Alpha, Gamma, Zeta, then Omega; along with the Queen Metroid, which is an outlier within the Metroid cycle. Within the game, the player will be tasked with facing each form of these Metroids, the majority being Alpha and Gamma forms. These forms are within the “Annoying, but easy” levels of difficulty. Once it hits the Zeta form, however, this game suddenly becomes nearly insufferable. The Zeta form is by far the hardest form to conquer, whether it be because of its size, which takes up a lot of Samus’s jumping space, or its speed, which is barely slower than Samus’s full run speed. I died three times to the same Zeta Metroid during my playthrough before being able to adjust to its moveset. But it’s not just about the moveset as much as it is pure precision. The player’s jumps and missile fire need to be almost pixel perfect to take down a Zeta effectively. And when it comes time to face the Omega Metroids, the player has a distinct advantage because their moveset and strategy are nearly identical to the Zeta, giving the player the assumption that Omegas are simply powered up versions of Zetas. That by no means makes them a cakewalk, however. They’re noticeably easier, but still a pain to take down. I had more fun taking down these guys, though. Combating nearly forty Alpha and Gamma Metroids in a row grows tiring very quickly.

But what of SR388 as a whole? The area that Samus runs around in is somewhat of an achievement compared to most 2D Metroid games. AM2R, and the game it was inspired by, features one large map of the planet’s surface and underground, whereas most other games have one central area that splits off into various “zones” or regions. This was notably frustrating for fans of the original game, as it didn’t even offer a map. Thankfully, AM2R was smart enough to add a map, so players wouldn’t be running around hundreds of rooms trying to remember where they have and haven’t been. Maybe not hundreds, but somewhere close. This is a pretty big game. For its size and even the lighting, most notably, this game serves as an impressive 2D feat. It’d be considered groundbreaking if it wasn’t 2016. Unfortunately, that’s where the praise concludes, as the areas are notably lackluster in almost every regard, though only after visiting the first few areas. According to AM2R, the infrastructure of SR388 comprises of mechanical facilities, ruins, and temples. The general area around these places are all relatively similar: a large, cavern-like space with a lot of jumping space above the structures and some secret tunnel(s) either to the left, right, or below the structure. There’s the sacred temple area with some Chozo machinery. The tower area with more robots inside. An underwater fortress with even more robots inside. Then there are areas that have little importance aside from advancing progress, such as the Search Team and Research Team camps among the tunnels below the surface. They’re joined by various breeding grounds for Metroids, which only serve as a mini-boss rush of many Metroids to kill before progressing. Finally, the area after The Hive, where the strongest and most concentrated area of Metroids reside. This area is probably the most blatant use of the “I’m almost done with the game, may as well make looping tunnels for no reason,” fix I’ve ever seen. It’s visually impressive, what with the glowing caverns and the waterfalls running down flawlessly, but it serves no point. No enemies, no obstacles. It’s simply there.

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That is the major problem in regards to the environment of this game. It seems to recycle itself more as the game goes on. The first dark breeding ground was pretty cool. The second one was annoying. The first abandoned temple with robots was pretty cool. The next three were annoying. There isn’t a whole lot of variety to this game in terms of integral differences. There’s a “water” section and something one could argue as the “lava” section, but there isn’t much more to it than that, and it tends to come across as less creative than even the more cliché choices Nintendo makes with its areas.

What kind of remake would this game be without a little author input? I’d hazard a guess and say the original Metroid II didn’t allow players to take control of jumping robots carrying super missiles or carry energy spheres into strange circuits in order to power various locked doors. These little nuances make the game a little more interactive, but these activities end up becoming very situational. There are a few instances of backtracking to uncover hidden secrets, but most are only dependent on progressing and are never incorporated again. In fact, there isn’t a whole lot of backtracking to this game in general. The game gives you the opportunity to, but only to collect some 20% of items you may have missed without thorough exploration of areas the player’s already discovered. For a Metroid game, this rendition of Metroid II doesn’t require the player to backtrack all too often. This, in turn, can lead to cries of “Linear!” among hardcore fans, but that’s just how it goes. I don’t know how much of this game is taken directly from Metroid II, but I’m fairly certain Metroid II didn’t have a scan system. AM2R features a scanning system that inputs data for Samus to read before going into a certain area or fighting a certain mini-boss/boss. However, these scanning situations aren’t player-inputted. They happen at certain points in the game and only serve as world-building and giving subtle hints as to what to expect from an area or how to combat a boss. It’s a nice touch, but I can’t help but wish they fleshed it out a little more. It ends up becoming rather pointless the way it is and does little to make the player feel immersed. I would’ve preferred if it was something a player could control themselves, similar to the Prime series.

A small nitpick on my part, but I find it a wee easy to get lost within the goal of this game. Twice I found myself exploring and backtracking trying to find out what to do next, only to find out I missed a subtle cue within a room of the most recent area of focus. This accumulated into roughly an hour of my total playtime, and I can’t describe how frustrating it was to check every non-highlighted room for some sort of answer. This is an instance when the area of the map seemed far too big, but I realize it works better with that size. This also ties into the lack of backtracking in this game. Earthquakes will occur every so often that will indicate a progression of story. Once those earthquakes occur, the area the player was just exploring becomes pointless aside from a few item expansions. Progression comes from continuing a path underground that will lead into loooooong tunnels that stretch out to the far left portion of the map. Knowing that, the player will understand that if they can’t progress, it’s because they didn’t discover everything in the last area they had to go through. I only wish I knew that before playing this, because it had me waste quite a bit of time in prior areas.

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Something I feel isn’t brought up much in determining the quality of Metroid games is the soundtrack. AM2R has a good combination of both catchy and ambiatic tracks that serve the game well throughout. Overall, the quality of music is above average. I notice that tracks for various areas tend to blend in with one another after a while, while tracks of ambiance tend to be quiet and foreboding. Despite this, it’s a good remix of other Metroid tracks, while serving as its own sort of rhythmic beeps and boops that remind me of Sanctuary Fortress from Prime 2. The foreboding tracks work very well with the dark breeding grounds, as I felt genuinely concerned about what was to come next. The abandoned campsites, however, not so much. I really enjoy the tune that plays during the title screen, along with the music that plays whenever battling a Metroid.

Over the course of the game, efficiency was never an issue. It worked smoothly from beginning to end. No complaints there. For a fan game, that is a very imperative step, and I applaud the team for the amount of work they had to have went through to make that happen. The only glitch that occurred to me was when I was facing a Mature Metroid near the end of the game. I had frozen it and wasn’t able to destroy it in time with five missiles. So, the Metroid vanished into the wall and never came back out. The doors remained locked and I was trapped inside. I had to restart the game from the last save point.

This game altogether is a beautiful tribute to the Metroid franchise and perhaps a reliable remake of an often forgotten game. This is probably the closest to a new Metroid game we’ll get in the near future, seeing as Nintendo seems hellbent on treating the franchise like a booty call. I only wish that AM2R would’ve added more to it to make it as vibrant as actual Metroid games. To be able to design the environment and improve upon what was already put in place to make it an altogether great game. The way it is now is a great first step, as I enjoyed playing a good majority of the game, but it could be better. Fortunately, this is titled as “v. 1.0,” so there seems to be more to come from this team. I’ll be waiting patiently to see what they’re capable of doing with more time and energy to pursue their overwhelming ambition.

Final Score: 7/10