AM2R: RETURN OF SAMUS / Project AM2R / PC
 
 
 
Spanning nine years in total, this fan remake of Metroid 2 is one of the longest-running such projects ever ... might even be THE longest one, edging out the AGD Interactive Quest For Glory II remake by a year. It's up there near the records of commercial development hell too, though probably nothing will ever top Duke Nukem Forever's 15-year world record.

It started out as the work of just one guy with no budget whatsoever, however, gradually blossoming into a crew of about a dozen just before release. And the incredibly long gestation period in the end did produce the best overall 2D Metroidvania seen since Zero Mission came out way back in 2004. It would be a five-star effort if not for a seemingly rushed conclusion that wraps the game up on a disappointing and somewhat jarring note.
 

Metroid 2 was released on the original monochrome Game Boy back in 1991. At the time, the original Metroid had been fairly popular, but it was still much more of a cult fandom than a flagship property for Nintendo. Releasing the sequel on the most underpowered platform of the time didn't do the series any favors in this department; it wouldn't be until Super Metroid drew rave reviews from magazines in 1994 that the series would start to establish any sort of significant mainstream following. So it's understandable that a lot of the fandom who came in with that one completely missed this one; even NES owners who had really liked the original game probably missed it if they didn't have a Game Boy.
 

They didn't miss a whole lot. Metroid 2 wasn't bad, but it really suffered from the technological constraints of the Game Boy. It had little screen real estate to work with, a lot of the map was empty, and repetitive and simplistic battles with Metroids replaced the creative battles with large bosses the series would become known for. The end result was a game that aged as badly as the prequel did, if not worse.

So Project AM2R basically does for it what Zero Mission did for the original Metroid; takes the structural core of the original and expands it with new ideas, cobbles in more modern gameplay, and overlays all of this with much better graphics. It also shows that you can make a really competent, AAA-in-the-90s caliber 2D platformer with Game Maker, something I really didn't thnk was possible based on the caliber of the other stuff I've seen from the engine.
 

That doesn't mean that some of the breathless forum hyperbole you'll see about this game ("They could release this on the Wii Shop and no one would know it was fan-made!") isn't a little silly and over-the-top. There is still something of the stiff, inorganic "Game Maker look" here, mostly in the menus and cinematic introduction. The developers absolutely deserve kudos for nailing the in-game feel of the early 2000s Metroid games, however, and the graphical work gradually becomes more impressive and less fangame-y the farther in you get.
 

At first, I wasn't sold on the soundtrack, because in the early going it sounds like an OC Remix playlist of songs from previous Metroid games to fill in the gaps in the original soundtrack. Yeah, I know Metroid Prime used remixes from Super Metroid, that doesn't make it any better. Aside from feeling that these songs should really stay tied to their original "place", I felt one of the (few) really strong points about the original Metroid 2 was Koji Kondo's masterfully creepy minimalist soundwork, which I was kinda hoping would be built on conceptually here. Like the graphical work, though, the soundtrack finds its groove more and more as the game goes on, with more original pieces that suit the area ambience better.
 

The one major consistent problem area here is the boss battles. The Metroid battles were equally repetitive in the original game, but with so much changed and tuned up for the better, why did that have to continue to be the case here? The late-stage Metroid battles have actually taken a turn for the worse -- though the design is more significantly revamped, they're also much more poorly balanced, with seriously the most awful hitboxes I can think of in a 2D game.

This is all just a minor blemish on what is otherwise an excellent experience for most of the game, but the final stretch run of 10% or so is where it's at its worst and the game takes an inexplicable nosedive. The segment just prior to the final area is nothing but the game's worst boss type literally copy-pasted (right down to the same room) three times. The final area is so underwhelming you probably won't even realize it's the final area until you unexpectedly drop in on the final boss. And while the final boss is faithful to the design of the original game while adding a couple of new twists and isn't terrible, it dies with such an anticlimactic little "pop" that it's actually laughable.
 

I can't say why the final stretch run fared so badly when so much clear effort was put into everything else, but it has all the classic hallmarks of being rushed to meet a release date. Which is really strange for a free fan-made project that meandered along for almost a decade, but I wonder if a desire to release during Metroid's 30th anniversary and before Federation Forces came out didn't have something to do with this.

Though the conclusion is disappointing, the rest of the game is still easily worth experiencing, especially at the asking price of $0.00. Nintendo is currently in process of serving up hot C&Ds to anyone who hosts or links to the file, but they'll cool off on that over time, and they've taken no legal action against the developers allowing them to continue to tune the game up if they care to.
 
 
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