How 'Metroid' Fans Made a Better Game Than Nintendo

Metroid: Samus Returns isn’t the first remake of Metroid II: Return of Samus. It’s just the first released by Nintendo.

A bit of background may be in order. In 2003, Nintendo released a game called Metroid: Zero Mission, which essentially updated the graphics and play of the original 1987 NES Metroid in order to bring it more in line with the later titles of the franchise. It was a fantastic title, and fans assumed that the logical next step for Nintendo would be a similar revamp of Metroid II: Return of Samus, the 1991 sequel. After all, that game had always felt like an odd fit for the series; it was made only for the first-generation Game Boy, which could only produce basic sprites with black lines and a sickly green sheen.

But that game never materialized. So fans got antsy—then they got to building.

Metroid: Samus Returns

Nintendo

Over the next 13 years, a number of Metroid II fan remake projects emerged. Most petered out before reaching completion, as fan projects are wont to do. However, there was one exception: Milton Guasti’s cheekily named Another Metroid 2 Remake, which came out last year to a surprising amount of attention and acclaim. Many game publications reviewed it like an official release, and loved it; Guasti himself was offered a level design job. It was, at the time, the first substantial Metroid game to be released by anyone since the dismal 2010 Wii title, Metroid: Other M. The gaming world was clearly hungry for more of this series, and Guasti delivered. AM2R feels every bit a classic Metroid: claustrophobic, vibrant, tense.

Unfortunately for Guasti, his ten-year development cycle was only a little faster than Nintendo’s. When AM2R began getting acclaim, Nintendo brought legal threats and DMCA takedowns against it, and only a month after the game was released Guasti announced that all his post-release development on the title—bug patches, updates, everything—would cease. Nintendo is normally litigious, but this response felt extreme, even for them. But when they announced their own Metroid II remake this past July, it suddenly made a whole lot more sense. Now, this month, in collaboration with developer MercuryStream, Nintendo has released Metroid: Samus Returns for the Nintendo 3DS. The first official Metroid game in seven years, and the first 2D one in 13. It has a lot to live up to.

The two games stand in interesting opposition to each other. Both attempt to revitalize the same source material—but they’re made in two radically divergent ways, with two radically divergent approaches to what makes Metroid tick.

Just comparing the beginnings of the two titles is illuminating. Both open in basically the same way, following the same premise: Samus Aran, the space-faring bounty hunter, has to journey to planet SR-388, the ancestral home of the parasitic and incredibly deadly metroids. Her goal is to exterminate the aliens, descending deep into the subterranean caves under the planet’s surface to destroy them before they can threaten the galaxy. The two even share an opening image—of Samus, stepping out of her ship on the surface of the planet, and walking to the right side of the screen, down a darkened hole into the death trap of a cave system below. But that’s about where the similarities end.

AM2R quickly provides the player with two paths from which to choose, both bottomed out by damaging lava. Only one path is passable at the start, and moving forward requires a basic understanding of a handful of core Metroid skills. How to jump accurately; how to collapse into the “morph ball” mode to move through narrow passageways; how to use missiles to open locked doors. The game explains none of this to you, assuming only a fan would be playing a fan-made game. The short opening journey takes Samus to a room empty save for the molted shell of a metroid, cracked and brown—at which point a new breed of metroid, evolved from the old, swoops in, bringing with it a brief but intense test in the game’s core combat. If you succeed, you keep going, descending deeper, and the adventure really begins.

Metroid: Samus Returns

Nintendo

Samus Returns, meanwhile, is … busier. Eschewing the 16-bit pixel style of the older games, which AM2R mimics, Samus Returns instead embraces a slightly cartoonish detail-rich graphical approach. Dead space marines, the remnants of a prior failed expedition, litter the earliest caverns. Ruins of an ancient alien race can be seen, vast and foreboding, in the background. The level design, too, is busier, while simultaneously being more linear. There’s no branching core path, but there are a number of side paths that loop back into the main one, offering the illusion of complex exploration while keeping the player going where the designers want.

By the time she encounters the first metroid, which takes about ten minutes longer in this version, Samus has earned several new abilities, and the player has received an in-depth tutorial on a new melee combat system. There are several cutscenes. The whole thing buzzes with modern gaming excess: ostensibly convenient but tonally uneven.

Samus Aran works alone. That’s one of the foundational principles of Metroid. She’s the quiet hero you send in when things get really bad. She goes places no one else can, and her journeys are methodical and haunted. The best of the Metroid series is lonely, claustrophobic, tinged with curiosity and a driving sense of danger. And what’s most interesting about the quiet competition between Nintendo and their most loyal and creative fans is that the fans, or at least Milton Guasti, seem to understand this about the series more than Nintendo does. In its early moments, Samus Returns feels stuffed with the presence of its developers. It’s a guided, elaborate journey into Samus’s past.

But AM2R is quiet. It’s solitary. It remembers the sense of mystery and fear that makes Metroid hum with energy. And when I want to revisit Metroid II, I know which version is going to call me back.

Tech

Nintendo shares slump before Tokyo regulators step in to stop decline

Pokemon GO 2Nintendo has released a statement in which the company outlined the limited impact Pokémon Go will have on its annual revenues. Following the news, around $ 6.7 billion was wiped from the company’s market capitalization.

While Pokémon Go has proved to be one of the most successful product launches in recent years, as its release broke numerous records in markets around the world. EE stated it saw 350,000 downloads in the UK even before the app was officially released as users found another means to download it, such as accessing the US app store via a VPN. The success of the app is not under question, though Nintendo has not altered its annual revenue forecasts due to the limited role it has in the app itself.

“Taking the current situation into consideration, the Company is not modifying the consolidated financial forecast for now,” the statement read. “The Company will make a timely disclosure when the Company needs to modify its financial forecasts.”

Niantic Labs is an American company spun out of Google, who license the rights to the game from The Pokémon Company, who in fact own the Pokémon franchise. Nintendo itself owns roughly 32% of the voting rights to The Pokémon Company and therefore only entitled to a modest slice of the revenues from the game itself. Analysts at investment firm Macquarie Group estimate Nintendo will only be entitled to roughly 13% of the revenue generated by the Pokémon Go app.

Although many organizations would have done due diligence surrounding the game, the relationship between Niantic Labs, The Pokémon Company and Nintendo, as well as the potential for profit, it would appear the news caught certain individuals off-guard, as a substantial proportion was wiped off Nintendo’s market capitalization.

The announcement was made following the close of the markets on Friday, though this has led to a busy morning following the weekend. 18%, or $ 6.7 billion, was wiped off the market capitalization of Nintendo, though this could have potentially been worse, as regulations in the Tokyo market prevented a larger drop, as the maximum single day move allowed by the market is 18%. How much the shares would have shrunk if trading had continued will remain unknown, though Nintendo is still showing a net gain of 15% since the launch of Pokémon Go two weeks ago.

“The Pokémon Company is the Company’s affiliated company, accounted for by using the equity method. Because of this accounting scheme, the income reflected on the Company’s consolidated business results is limited.”

While this would appear to have come as a shock to certain investors in the Nintendo business, there is still potential for growth and long-term wins. In-app purchasing in the Japanese market will likely grow over future weeks, and the game has not been launched in two of the worlds other prominent app markets, Korea and China. There could be some big wins in these two markets, though it would be worth noting both have restrictions on the Google Maps product, potentially offering challenges for the way the app operates, and its overall success.

Should the app launch in China and/or Korea, the story is likely to roll on for some time, though how large the ripples will be following Nintendo’s revelation will likely be seen sooner. The success of the Pokémon Go is not under question, though Nintendo’s brief taste of fame following the surge in share price over the last two weeks would appear to be coming to an end.

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Could This Be The Nintendo NX Controller?

We’re still a few months out from hearing about Nintendo’s new console, codenamed NX, but the patent system may have some clues about what it’s going to look like. NeoGaf recently spotted a patent filed back in February for something called an “operation apparatus,” better known as a controller. It comes with two face buttons, two joysticks, scrolling shoulder wheels and d-pad, as well as a big second screen right in the center. Check it out below.

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