The best ‘Metroid’ game wasn't made by Nintendo

Or, at least, not entirely. Get ahead of the dread with AM2R.

If you're anything like us, you're counting down the days until Friday, October 8, when Metroid Dread finally emerges from its space coffin. But since we have a few days until we get our hands on the first Metroid game in almost 20 years, you can while away a few evenings with one of the best entries in the series for free. There's just one little hitch — this one isn't an official Nintendo production.

Series fans have almost certainly heard of AM2R (Another Metroid 2 Remake), a fan game created by Argentinian developer Milton Guasti over a period of many years. Imagined as a Zero Mission-esque total reimagining of the second game in the series, AM2R was released in 2016. Though a DMCA request from Nintendo ended ongoing development of the game shortly afterward, it's easy to find online with a cursory search, and it's really worth a look if you're interested in the series. In fact, it might be the best way to introduce yourself to Metroid if you aren't interested in mucking about with emulators and the like.

By fans, for fans — Though Nintendo released an official Metroid 2 remake the next year, Metroid: Samus Returns, the two remakes are so distinct that they're completely different games. Like Zero Mission before it, AM2R takes the close-quarters combat and oppressive atmosphere of the Game Boy original and dresses it in the mechanics and format of Super Metroid.

Cleanup crew — The essential facts of Samus's mission remain unchanged, but the particulars are entirely different. Sent to the remote planet of SR388 to eradicate the Metroid threat, Samus must eliminate every remaining example of the parasitic species in order to ensure galactic peace. Once she arrives, however, Samus realizes that there are more threats on the planet than her paymasters realized, and she sets out to learn more about it and figure out what exactly happened there before the Metroids take her out.

At once a love letter to the cult series and a demonstration of its greatest strengths, AM2R does not have the ramshackle qualities you would expect from a typical fan production. The green skies and rocky caverns of SR388 are striking, and even beautiful at times; the thumping electro soundtrack effectively communicates the quiet solitude of exploration and the sudden outbreaks of violence, especially in the game's many memorable boss encounters.

Out of the three adaptations, the most beloved wasn’t made by Nintendo.Nintendo, Milton Guasti

A delicate dance — The essential struggle of a fan game is striking a balance between the desire to worship and the urge to radically transform. Most fan games are notorious for swerving in the latter direction, layering on levels of complexity and nuance on top of the cherished game's fundamental latticework until it cracks under the strain. Though not everyone will agree with its every decision, AM2R manages to avoid this pitfall with grace.

Though it mostly stays true to its Metroid 2 origins — even down to the part where you fight the same Metroid mini-bosses a dozen times — Guasti isn't reverent enough to keep all of the series' more divisive design decisions intact. The "floaty" jumping and fiddly aiming of Super Metroid have been smoothed out for a more modern feel that I prefer more than any official entry in the series, and the many hidden passages and power-ups are thoughtfully telegraphed rather than simply tossing them behind nondescript walls. And while there are a few big fights that feel like ornate elaborations of what came before — in particular, the final boss encounter, which just drags on and on forever — it captures the lonely pith of the Game Boy original arguably more than the official remake. But perhaps that's the underdog spirit swaying me.

Not dreading this one — There are a lot of video game fans who weren't even living humans when the last official Metroid game came out. If you want to see why this series is so beloved by a devoted group of old-school fans, AM2R is as good a place to start as any.