The last time that Geeks Under Grace went on official record on the topic of emulation, we did so in the form of a community article published two years ago. After reading it again with new eyes, I am doubly-resolute concerning my stance on the topic, especially as I am now inconvenienced by having to mark “not interested” on poor ports of old 16-bit games in my Steam Discovery Queue. Gamers know the kind: the half-bootycheek’d (that is 1/4 a butt for those not doing the math…and now you have a visual) games that still have ancient 4:3 resolution and more bugs in the emulation software used to render those games on modern systems than the glitches found in the originals. SNK is arguably the guiltiest culprit.
For my position, I pose the following questions:
1. How does one play a game that is, by all intents and purposes, impossible to purchase or acquire?
2. What does one do to revitalize a favorite franchise when it appears that a company has all but abandoned their IP?
3. How many times does one have to purchase the same game to maintain a sense of legitimacy?
I concluded my section of “Is Emulating Video Games Wrong” by expressing my interest in AM2R, also known as Another Metriod Remake. To this day, I have never had an opportunity to play the original Metroid II: Return of Samus, a game so old that Nintendo was still using Roman numerals to denote its sequels, such as with Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. Full disclosure: because I never owned an SNES, my first experience with the Metroid franchise came from emulating Super Metroid during my college years. This created within me in a renewed interest in Nintendo, having defected to the Sony Playstation(s) in the mid 90’s and early 2000s.
I would then purchase a platinum-colored GameCube that came bundled with Metroid Prime for the best $100 I ever spent . By the time I had purchased this console, Metroid Prime 2: Echoes had been out for at least a year, because I remember purchasing it used from EBGames. I would eventually end up double-dipping with the Prime saga; I purchased Metroid Prime 3: Corruption as an individual release for full price on the Wii, and procured those three games again in the Metroid Prime Trilogy, also on the Wii (and I would do it again if Nintendo released an HD version for the Switch). After spending money on and actually enjoying Metroid Other M, I would “back-peddle” and emulate Metroid Fusion and Metroid Zero Mission. Out of the three emulated games I played, I would buy Super Metroid on the Wii Virtual Console. I had no idea that it was even possible to purchase Fusion (2014) or Zero Mission (2016) on the Wii U VC until I referenced them while writing this (also new discovery: the Wii U has a VC). If I were to answer questions 1.5 or 4.5 with a question, it would be, “What does one do if a company employs obtuse methodologies to make a game accessible?” After all, Fusion and Zero Mission were released for the Game Boy Advance in 2002 and 2004, respectively. Why did it take Nintendo ten years-plus to port them over to the console VC? In contrast with Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony make backwards compatibility a top priority.
If anything, the previous paragraph should establish that when Nintendo—and by extension other companies—make games accessible, I will buy them. Attentive readers may have noticed that I omitted to mention a mainline, canonical, Metroid game, a writing strategy to re-orient this piece from the prior digression to the focal point: Metroid II: Return of Samus, or AM2R. If Nintendo could not get it together enough for a fan like myself to find and pay for Fusion and Zero Mission, the likelihood that they would get my attention for a greyscale game from 1991 would be nominal. This is where our hero from Argentina, Milton Guasti, AKA DoctorM64 enters the narrative.
Guasti, like perhaps 100% of the people reading this, was just “another” Metroid fan. But his fandom was transcendent. Dude loved the franchise so much that, after recognizing the lack of attention toward Metroid II, he sought to provide it with a modern look. Two years after beginning this project on the side while maintaining his actual job as a sound technician in his own recording studio, Guasti would announce his ambitions to the world in 2008. This man did not know a gosh-darn thing about programming when he began, and reverse-engineered Martin Piecyk’s Platform Game from the Game Maker 6 engine as a starting point. Homey was not fooling around, and evolved in real life alongside his project, including:
- Early build with side-by-side comparisons
- Learned aspects of game design philosophy
- Wrote a FAQ for the curious
- Hires an artist to create sprites
- Project almost dies because life happens. And happens. And happens
- Makes a soundtrack
- Creates a logbook
- Balances and bug tests
He did not merely copy Metroid II; he rebuilt the game as an original creation. For all that he had accomplished, he should have been given mad stacks of cash and a Nobel Peace Prize for grit and ingenuity. Instead, he was first sent a DMCA notice August 2016, then a takedown request September 2016, effectively terminating all future development of AM2R. To Guasti’s credit, he plead with his then-substantial fanbase to not be angry at Nintendo for protecting its IP. He would further endorse that those who enjoyed AM2R after its official launch in July 2016 should purchase Metroid: Samus Returns—that is, if fans want Nintendo to make more Metroid games. Like me, he also had never owned a portable system before, and purchased a 3DS just to enjoy it himself. However, unlike Guasti, am not ambitious enough to teach myself game design, let alone creating a remake of a game that many fans consider as legitimate as a mainline Metroid. He is proud of his accomplishment, having taught himself C# and landing a job at Moon Studios to work on the sequel to popular metroidvania, Ori and the Blind Forest.
I will say it again in a different way: Metroid fans believe that AM2R can and should coexist with Samus Returns. Of course I, too, believe this. The existence of games such as AM2R‘—in this case, far exceeding mere emulation—is necessary for sustaining interest for “dead” video games despite any combination of the lethargy, incompetence, or myopia of the IP’s owner. According to Kotaku, Nintendo was aware that the AM2R project existed even as they were developing Samus Returns, but the blog does not mention how long this knowledge was known; lethargy definitely applies here: “snooze and lose.”
Therefore, I will dedicate the remainder of this article to illustrating how good of a Metroid game it is. Hint: AM2R is so good that its very existence vindicates any company that wishes to send a cease-and-desist letter to those whose homages hit too close to home. To be more direct, the concern that AM2R could (have) pose(d) a threat to the potential success of Samus Returns is more than fair; it is valid—the parenthetical past tenses recognize that the DMCA for AM2R was issued a year prior to the announcement and release of Samus Returns as well as the fact that the latter did indeed enjoy financial success after all.