Friday, August 26, 2016
A remake of a classic that retains some old-school frustrations
For those unfamiliar, AM2R is an unofficial fan-made PC remake of the 1991 Gameboy game Metroid II Return of Samus. This particular entry in the series is an especially dark chapter in the adventures of Samus Aran in which she is tasked with traveling to the home planet of the Metroids to slaughter every last one with the hope of rendering the parasitic species extinct.
While I haven't played the original version of Metroid II, I've spent enough time with Metroid and Super Metroid to have a pretty good feel for classic 2D Metroid gameplay. Based on gameplay footage I've seen of the original Gameboy version, this remake does a great job of updating the somewhat crude and clunky mechanics and presentation of the original to a Super Metroid-like level of quality. Not only are the graphics and music greatly improved, but there are other more significant upgrades such as the addition of an auto-map, improved UI, and a revised control scheme. The overall level of polish on this remake is so high that I had to repeatedly remind myself that I was playing a fan project rather than an official Nintendo-developed remake.
Quality of the package aside, my actual experience of playing the game was a somewhat mixed bag. For most of my play-through the basic cycle of exploring an area, eliminating the Metroids, getting a new ability, and unlocking the next area was a simple yet satisfying process. The remake's designers did a great job updating the design of each area such that what was once just a series of monochromatic hallways has become alien ruins, abandoned factories, mazes of vines, and other such varied settings. However, in each of these areas you will be doing pretty much the exact same thing. While there are over 50 Metroids to exterminate, there are only about 4 or so types of Metroid; so be prepared to fight the same handful of mini-bosses over and over again.Thankfully there are a few unique bosses spread throughout the game that do help to break up the monotony somewhat, but most of these bosses are bullet sponges so you'll be in for some long fights. Also, this game commits one of my biggest videogaming pet peeves: not having save points immediately before boss battles. Several of the late game bosses will require a 5+ minute hike from the last save point every time Samus gets killed in action. All this being said, most of these are structural issues from the original Metroid II that are preserved due to the faithfulness of the remake. While I certainly have my fair share of gripes, there was definitely some fun to be had here, so if you have fond memories of the Gameboy game, or have been craving classic 2D Metroid action, this well-made fan remake should more than fit the bill. In the event that you're not a Metroid hardliner and are just interested in this style of game in general, there are much more well-rounded "Metroidvania" games on PC that you could be playing. I would suggest giving Guacamelee or Shantae and the Pirate's Curse a look before you get around to AM2R.
Completion Time: 7 hours, 52 minutes (finished story w/ 72% of items found)
Playing AM2R got me thinking about the Metroid series overall and the fact that while I've generally enjoyed each game in the series that I've played (AM2R included), it's never quite grabbed me the way other Nintendo franchises have. I think what it comes down to is this: Without signigicant supporting characters, plot arcs, or changes in tone to keep things fresh, all that reamins is the core gameplay loop which inevitably gets repetive long before a given Metroid game is over. The world of Metroid has not really ever been fleshed out, so every game pretty much boils down to Samus alone on a desolate planet battling aliens. As cool of a character as Samus may be, the entire weight of keeping the series going rests soley upon her broad armor-plated shoulders, and for me, that's just not enough to keep me engaged anymore now that we have such a wealth of more colorful and varied Metroid-likes to choose from.