We've reached the end of 2016, and that means it's time to look back on the best games from the past year. There have been plenty of fantastic new titles from established developers, but 2016 also gave us some incredible fan-made projects. Dedicated players created impressive labors of love like Brutal Doom 64 and Pokémon Uranium, but one fan game stands out above the rest.
It took eight years to develop and Nintendo quickly shut it down, but during the brief window of its availability, AM2R: Return of Samus gave Metroid fans like myself something they have desperately been craving. Nintendo hasn't released a new 2D entry in the Metroid franchise since Zero Mission in 2004, and, unofficial as it may have been, AM2R did an outstanding job of filling that void.
AM2R is a completely overhauled remake of Metroid II: Return of Samus with visuals and gameplay that should feel right at home for fans of Zero Mission. This is a huge plus for me, as nearly every 2D Metroid ranks among my favorite games of all time, but I never completed Metroid II. Clunky controls, cramped environments, monochrome visuals, and the complete lack of an in-game map always made exploring SR388 a frustrating chore on Game Boy, but AM2R finally allowed me the satisfaction of completing Samus' mission to the Metroid home planet.
Setting aside what AM2R means to the Metroid community, it's an amazing game all by itself. An eerie and compelling soundtrack, detailed and immersive backgrounds, and varied environments utilizing clever level design make it a joy to play from start to finish. It stays true to the core of the game it's paying homage to while adding in new areas to explore, new weapons to collect, and interesting new features. The pacing is nearly perfect, the difficulty level keeps you on your toes without ever feeling unfair or overly punishing, and there's just enough story to add some depth without interrupting the flow of the game.
There are numerous fan-made Metroid games and hacks available online (despite Nintendo's best efforts), but none of them come close to the level of polish that AM2R boasts. It's one of the few unofficial games you can truly call great without adding the caveat "for a fan game." AM2R: Return of Samus easily holds its own when compared to official games in the series, and I can say without hesitation that it is my favorite fan-made game of the year.