Last week saw the release of a four year one-man fan project to remake the classic sequel Metroid 2: The Return of Samus, titled AM2R (Another Metroid 2 Remake). Gamers rejoiced as the game was made available for free on the internet looking and playing better than ever. It was then almost immediately taken down as Nintendo served up a piping hot plate of takedown notices amidst charges of copyright infringement. Just prior to that, they had shut down the fan-made Pokemon Uranium, and a month before that Lucasarts shut down a group of fans working to finish the canceled Star Wars: Battlefront 3.
Needless to say, fans were not super pleased at the corporate giant bringing the hammer down on the little guy just because they could yet again. After all, popular opinion has it that Nintendo has abused and neglected Metroid and its fans in recent years. But the love for the franchise remains, making the situation perfect for this kind of culture clash. Fans want something, the company ignores them, fans make what they want for themselves, the company litigates. Tale as old as time (or money, at least).
This brings us to the infamous fair use debate, in which a copyrighted work can be used for educational, non profit, or commentary purposes. While the developer who made AM2R wasn’t charging for it and was arguable preserving and restoring a classic work of art, he loses a lot of leverage to the fact that 3DS owners can purchase the original Metroid 2 digitally. One could see how creating a free and arguably superior alternative to Nintendo’s own product and potentially disrupting their business, even if just a little, could cause this reaction.
Legally, AM2R probably doesn’t have a leg to stand on since you can technically buy the original game. But fans reeeeaaaalllllyyyy want to play this remake on their PCs. Personally, I owned the game when it was originally released on Game Boy and as memory serves it was an absolute masterpiece that was hampered by the portable format. I would love to play an upgraded version of that game on a real console or PC. But the law isn’t written for fans, it’s written to make sure the wealthy get as wealthy as possible. Stop hating ‘Murica, you.
The developer himself is actually on Nintendo’s side in this, taking the opportunity to show what a true fan he is. He took the project on in order to learn how to make a game by reproducing a classic step-by-step en route to a legit programming career and has actually gone so far as to encourage gamers to buy the original game to show that there is a market for it instead of harassing Nintendo for protecting their business interests. He even plans to continually tweak and update AM2R for the players who managed to download it before the hammer came down. Do people this nice actually exist?
But still, gamers want a Metroid 2 remake and not this Metroid Prime: Federation Force thing they’ve got going on. Classic Samus or gtfo. The struggle between companies’ business interest in their intellectual property and fans’ desire for artistic expression, preservation, and improvement of the things they love is not a new thing. It wasn’t so long ago that Hasbro put the kabosh on the fanmade My Little Pony: Fighting is Magic game, leading to series creator Lauren Faust collaborating with the devs to create original characters for them to use for the game instead. The Battlefront 3 remake is also continuing without the Star Wars theme.
Game development fan projects aside, countless displays of fan art, fiction, cosplay and other such things cover the web. Any of these could technically be seen as copyright infringement, but for the most part they are left alone. And games like Abobo’s Big Adventure have blatantly used Nintendo assets as well with no retribution.
Remaking an entire game is obviously a different level and, as I stated before, one that may in some small way affect the company’s bottom line, which is a surefire way to get them to release the hounds. And yet, fans keep on pouring their blood, sweat, and tears into these projects, likely knowing that it will possibly all come to naught.
But I feel there’s a better way to go about this where everybody can be happy. For instance, what if gaming companies bought the games and made them official? Clearly there is a market for upgraded versions of old school classics. If Nintendo were to purchase the Metroid 2 remake and release it, all problems would be solved. Fans would get their game, the dev’s hard work would have paid off, and the corporation would make money from their IP having had somebody else do all of the work for them. Win. Win. Win.
And let’s be honest: the majority of business that Nintendo has done in the past two decades has been largely based around slapping their classic gameplay with fresh coats of paint and games such as Prince of Persia, Goldeneye, various Final Fantasys, Resident Evil, and Leisure Suit Larry have all been officially remade for new generations to enjoy as well. Plus, the internet doth provide a bounty of other less legitimate remakes, emulations, and ports as well, AM2R only being the most recent.
When a company stops delivering the goods, it’s normal for fans to want to pick up that slack and keep their favorite franchises alive, even if it means rolling up their sleeves and doing it themselves, consequences be damned. To us games are art and passion; not just a quarterly budget/profit chart or a property to be policed. Hopefully in the future, companies like Nintendo will give some thought to these situations and potentially find a way to allow fans their creative endeavors and see these contributions as an opportunity instead of something to be crushed at a moment’s notice.