Who did Metroid 2 better: AM2R or Metroid: Samus Returns?

It’s a good time to be a Metroid fan.

Fans are lucky enough to have two high quality remakes of Metroid 2: the fan-made AM2R (which has technically been taken down but is still widely available online), and the recently released Metroid: Samus Returns by Nintendo and MercurySteam on the 3DS. When AM2R released last year, it was heralded as one of the best 2D Metroid games ever designed. Meanwhile, Samus Returns is being described as a triumphant new entry in the long dormant series. But which one is better? Which should you play if you are looking to re-live the story of Metroid 2?

Let’s compare the two games category by category to find out which comes out ahead. 

Basic Gameplay

Let’s start with one of the more difficult categories; the core gameplay. AM2R’s gameplay was more focused on exploration, while Metroid: Samus Returns is more based on combat. Still, I think I would have to judge this category in AM2R’s favor. AM2R controls nearly identically to games like Metroid: Fusion and Metroid: Zero Mission, while Metroid: Samus Returns is far more experimental. While the new style of gameplay is still quite compelling, it needs a little bit of refinement to compare to the perfection of older 2D Metroid titles.

Upgrades

As much as I enjoyed AM2R’s ability to activate all beams at once, Metroid: Samus Returns wins this category. There are simply more upgrades to fool around with, from the new Aeion abilities to the Grapple Beam. There are also more optional upgrades to pick up, and you find them at a faster clip than you do in AM2R. By the end of both games Samus felt powerful, but Samus Returns made me feel like an unstoppable space bounty hunter, which is what you should feel like at the end of a Metroid game.

Map Design

While both games take liberties with Metroid 2’s original map designs, AM2R has the better interpretation. You always knew where to go in AM2R, whereas Samus Returns feels more like you are wandering aimlessly, waiting to stumble on the next Metroid or upgrade. Samus Returns also feels like it unnecessarily railroads you down a linear path. There are tons of slippery walls that disable your spider ball and wall jump, and air vents that prevent you from bomb jumping.

It’s as if the maps are designed specifically to prevent you from finding new and interesting ways to explore them, and that’s not great in a game about exploration.

Exploration

That’s also why I have to say that AM2R is the better game for exploration. While I absolutely love Samus Returns’ new Scan Pulse ability that lets you reveal sections of the map by spending a Aeion, a resource that would otherwise be used for combat, the maps are just too restrictive for their own good. In past Metroid titles, small road blocks could be conquered through smart use of a bomb jump or shine spark. But Samus Returns simply doesn’t let you venture off the beaten path. If it did, then I would have judged this category in its favor for the Scan Pulse alone.

Combat

Samus Returns has the better combat by far. The new melee counter ability makes even random enemy battles thrilling. Enemies have specific weaknesses that you need to exploit and patterns to memorize. Your Aeion abilities give the combat a nice depth. It’s fantastic.

AM2R’s combat boiled down to “fire super missiles at everything.” It was a far more shallow experience. This is a category easily in Samus Returns’ favor.

Difficulty

If you want a game that will kick your ass then Metroid: Samus Returns is the way to go. Health upgrades are rare, and even common enemies provide a credible threat. If you’re looking for a more casual experience, go with AM2R, where you can easily ignore most enemies and focus on exploration. AM2R also heals and restores ammo to full at every save point.

Replayability

This is another category that’s a little hard to judge. I played AM2R, loved every second of it, beat it, and then immediately played it again. However, I haven’t touched it since. Meanwhile I’m still working on Samus Returns. It’s definitely the longer game and it’s a pleasure to attempt multiple playthroughs on different difficulties. It’s less bingeable, but on the flip side that also means you’ll end up playing Samus Returns for far longer than AM2R.

Boss Fights

Samus Returns beats AM2R in every facet of combat, and boss fights are no exception. Not only are the bosses themselves more interesting in Samus Returns, but the way you fight them is more creative. Landing a cinematic melee counter on a boss in Samus Returns is so satisfying. You’ll also find yourself switching between weapons mid-combat to try to exploit weaknesses in each boss’s attack patterns. AM2R basically boils down to “spam super missiles.” While, yes, this is very traditional for the Metroid franchise, it is also far less engaging.

Pacing

It’s much easier to get stuck in Samus Returns, and that’s a detriment. Individual areas are huge, but that means you’ll spend more time wandering around them without a sense of direction. The enjoyable boss fights are spread far apart, and you have to actively search for many of them.

Meanwhile, AM2R naturally funnels you toward new upgrades, new boss fights, and new areas, taking advantage of your natural curiosity and desire to explore. It kept me playing for longer stretches, while Samus Returns had me putting down my 3DS in frustration more than once.

Story

Both games keep narration in the background, and let the environment do the storytelling. Both games create an excellent sense of atmosphere, and I wouldn’t say either game tells a better story. If anything, I’d give a slight edge to AM2R for ending on the same quote that Super Metroid starts with, “The last metroid is in captivity, the galaxy is at peace,” but other than that one cool scene, both games are equally competent from a narrative perspective.

Graphics

AM2R uses traditional sprite based artwork, while Samus Returns is fully polygonal. Personally, I’d give the edge to AM2R. Good sprite work is eternal, but the jagged edges of the 3DS’s polygons reveal the handheld’s age. Still, I’ll be the first to admit that this will largely come down to personal preference.

Music

AM2R beats Samus Returns handily in the music department. It’s not that Samus Returns doesn’t have good music, it’s just that most of its music is remixed from other Metroid games. We already know that the Norfair and Brinstar themes are awesome. AM2R’s music is all new, or remixed from the Gameboy original. It feels more unique and appropriate to the setting, while Samus Returns’ music is a bit too referential.

Faithfulness to the Original

Both games take massive liberties with the original material, but only AM2R triggered a sense of nostalgia. Many of AM2R’s maps are copied directly from the original Metroid 2’s layout, with extra areas and secrets added. Samus Returns, on the other hand, ditches most of the original Metroid 2 map aside from a few major landmarks. For all intents and purposes, it might as well have been a completely new Metroid title.

Overall

If you're a Metroid fan, you should probably play both games.

Samus Returns is a fantastic blueprint for Metroid’s future while AM2R is a nostalgic return to its past. With that said, if you made me choose, I’d have to say I enjoyed AM2R just a little bit more than Samus Returns. That’s not to say that Samus Returns is a bad game, far from it. It’s just that AM2R felt more like a Metroid 2 remake, as if Metroid 2 was given the Zero Mission treatment. Meanwhile Samus Returns felt like a new experimental Metroid. While I applaud its innovation, it’s this same innovation that makes it feel less like the Metroid I know and love.

If Samus Returns let the player be a bit more liberal in their exploration, I would have given it the win. Its complete aversion to sequence breaking and movement tricks was disappointing. These are long standing traditions in the Metroid franchise, and while Samus Returns was busy telling me where I can and cannot Spider-Ball, AM2R was letting me bomb jump to get upgrades I shouldn’t have been able to get until the end of the game.

In the end, I think AM2R is just the better Metroid 2 remake. But they’re both extraordinary experiences, and I feel fortunate we have the luxury of making that choice.