dorchadas: (Awake in the Night)
[personal profile] dorchadas
Metroid II is the only Game Boy game I've played for longer than a few minutes. One of my sister's friends had a Game Boy, and for some reason that is still opaque to this day, her mother asked me to babysit for them. That mainly consisted of the friend watching TV while I played Metroid II, confusing myself with the changes between that and Metroid. Having to hunt metroids? Jumping morph ball? Trying to play a metroid game on a 160 x 144 pixel screen? I played for about half an hour, got nowhere, and then never played it again.

When I heard about Another Metroid 2 Remake, I figured it would end up vaporware like the various 3D Link's Awakening remakes or shut down before being released like Chrono Resurrection. To my utter astonishment, however, it was finished, released, and was out for almost a month before Nintendo DMCAed it. That was more than enough time for the internet to seize hold of it, and it's easy to find if you spend any time looking.

Threat detected

Another Metroid 2 Remake is basically Metroid II's Metroid: Zero Mission. The graphics are updated to Super Metroid levels, including a staggering increase to 320 x 240 resolution, a map, a discrete path of progression with areas blocked off until earthquakes open them up, a few new areas like the crashed galactic federation ship, and the story conveyed through logs. Fortunately, unlike Metroid Prime's tedious scanning mechanic, Samus automatically scans any new information when it becomes relevant and there are no endless space pirate logs about space pirate Doing Science at metroids and Chozo tech. Just important facts about the metroid evolutions that actually proved useful. When I found a new variant, I'd read Samus's scanner report and it'd tell me how to beat them, like that for alpha metroids I needed to shoot the membrane on the underside of their bellies or that for zeta metroids they breathed acid and I should stay away from them.

Crucially, I had to manually check the logs. I could have ignored all of them with no consequences if I had wanted to.

Other than that, the gameplay pretty much follows the model set out in Super Metroid and continued in the other 2D Metroids, which is unsurprising because this is a fan remake. The whole point is to recreate Metroid II in a style more suited to modern games and without the Game Boy limitations that make it so annoying to play now, and for the kind of person who sets out to make a Metroid fan game, that means Super Metroid. Fine by me. That's the best Metroid game.


AM2R is almost as good, though. The focus on metroid hunting means that it's not quite as open as Super Metroid is, since future areas are blocked off by actually impassible barriers of rock or water or lava before the metroids in earlier eras are destroyed, but it also means that it's harder to get lost and wander aimlessly with no idea where to go. Each subsection has a few metroids, usually between four and ten, and two or three capability-enhancing powerups like the spiderball or the plasma beam, plus a few missile upgrades and one or two energy tanks. It divides the gameplay into discrete sections that I found really helpful, since I could break exploration into chunks. Move into a new area, hunt down all the metroids there until the counter hit zero and another earthquake indicated that a new area was open, and then went back to get the powerups and missile expansions that I had missed. There were always one or two unavailable powerups that I didn't have the upgrades for, but everything else was available. And I don't care about 100%ing the game, so that missile expansion behind the screw attack wall can stay there forever.

That meant that unlike Super Metroid, I never got lost. This might be considered a downside, but I think it fits the nature of the game better. In Super Metroid, Samus goes back to Zebes to find the baby, but otherwise doesn't really have any objectives and isn't sure what to expect. In Metroid II, she's sent by the Galactic Federation to SR388 specifically to exterminate the metroids. The area divisions thus enforce a methodical search-and-destroy approach which an experienced bounty hunter like Samus would be likely to use anyway. It's gameplay and story integration--or at least, that's how I'm going to justify my desire not to wander aimlessly around Zebes.

Gotta go fast.

That more directed experience also creates a different mood. Both Metroid and Super Metroid involve more wandering, searching out secrets, and fighting bosses, but they don't have a consistent direction for the sense of danger. Super Metroid has a fantastic beginning, with Zebes totally silent and the eyes spotting Samus as soon as she picks up the first powerup before Zebes comes back to life, or the dead bounty hunter she finds. But by the end this mood is mostly lost in the blasting and the running and the finding of extra powerups.

AM2R does a much better job of maintaining and ramping up the sense of tension. There are more corpses, and Samus will occasionally stumbled on a slaughtered Federation team, reminding you that SR388 is a dangerous place. As if you needed a reminder while fighting the metroids--they start out with alpha metroids, which are fast, invulnerable except from the bottom, and spring on you suddenly as you enter their layers. Gamma metroids have lightning shields that deflect missiles, zeta metroids spew acid, knock away missiles, and charge, and omega metroids do all that and are armored everywhere except for a brief moment when they expose their undersides. Battles are frequently fought in confined spaces or on unstable footing. My favorites are probably the battle in a room fill of sand over spikes that gets destroyed as the battle continues, forcing Samus to stand on the damaging spikes if she doesn't win quickly, and the time that trying to destroy a wall blows up the entire floor and dumps Samus into a metroid nest.

Metroid shells, remnants of their metamorphoses, lie scattered throughout the tunnels of SR388, but that doesn't diffuse the tension. It heightens it, because when you see a metroid chrysalis, you know that there's a metroid nearby. Watching and waiting to leap on Samus out of the darkness.

There were other people here, once.

There are some specific changes to AM2R from Metroid II that help as well. Since the game isn't an exact copy of Metroid II, both because of the enhanced resolution and because Samus is more agile here than using Game Boy controls, the levels were redesigned. Early on they're brighter and more open, with plant life, warm colors, and vistas visible in the backgrounds. As Samus continues her hunt deeper into SR388, though, the areas get more and more constrained. Tunnels are narrower, often forcing her into morph ball form. The color palette becomes darker and cooler, using more purples and greys, and the background is often blank except for a few indications of solid rock. Even the light fails in some areas--there's one gamma metroid fight in a dark room that's particularly memorable. The design creates a feel of squeezing oneself into a tunnel in a cave, with the walls slowly inching closer, and not being sure how far it is or if you'll actually be able to get to the other side, even as Samus's personal power increases with upgrades.

I also really liked the crashed science ship, an entirely new area that was only mentioned in Metroid II's manual. In AM2R it's possible to go there, using an elevator that leads directly to the surface, and explore the ship. Of course, everyone onboard is dead, the power is off, and in the specimen room there are several tanks containing metroid evolutions...and one broken tank with shattered glass around it.

Fire and blood

That's space horror. Being alone, without even the possibility to call for help, knowing that you are the only person you have to rely on. That the environmental outside is utterly inimical to human life, and that there are creatures you do not understand who seek to kill you. It's something that's gotten lost in later Metroid games as they've gotten more text- and narrative-heavy, but it's on full display in Another Metroid 2 Remake.

DoctorM64 should be justifiably proud of himself. This game is amazing, and if he had done it with an original IP as a homage to Metroid II it'd stand up there as one of the great metroidvania games. That he worked on it for ten years and then released it for free is astonishing and shows the lengths that fans will go to for their favorite series when the corporations that own our popular culture let them down. This really is the Metroid: Zero Mission of Metroid 2--I don't think there's any reason to play the original anymore except as a historical curiosity. AM2R is simply the superior game.
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