You can do a lot with 17 years. That’s three more than it took to build the Sydney Opera House, and it’s three less than Odysseus’ epic journey through the great civilizations of antiquity. A group of diehard Metroid fans known as Team SCU have spent this length of time doing something far less ostentatious—they’ve been remaking the celebrated 2002 first-person adventure Metroid Prime. Not as a shiny HD upgrade but a 2D side-scroller like early games in the beloved sci-fi series. You can try a demo for the remake here, but do so quickly. Nintendo, the owner of the IP, is likely cooking up a cease-and-desist as I type this post.
If you manage to bag the demo in time, you’ll encounter a clearly polished labor of love, one which deftly captures the eerie melancholy suffused within the early-noughties original. Samus is still the lonely protagonist landed on the alien planet of Tallon IV, but now she’s crunching through beautifully detailed pixel art rather than chunky 3D polygons. Her scanner, which reveals details about the world, is intact, and it’s as wondrous as ever, transforming a game of platforming, shooting, and puzzle-solving into something closer to archaeology. Alongside updated but no less evocative music and precise controls, you get a sense of why Prime 2D has been in development for so long.
Honestly, I usually bounce off such self-consciously retro titles, but in this instance, I’m captivated by the strange, nearly meta-level nostalgia. This remake, or perhaps demake, takes an already 19-year-old game and makes it look a further ten years older. Where most legacy titles get a shiny new lick of remaster paint, Prime 2D attempts to calcify the series in a crystalline 16-bit form—like an alternative history of gaming that ended in 1993.
In a way, it strikes me as a deeply weird project to work on for the best part of 20 years. In another, I get it. Prime 2D is a way of summoning an era of video games that Nintendo seems intent on making difficult for players to access; indeed, the company has gone out of its way to penalize individuals who make its back catalogue available through emulator sites. Really, the game—more fantasy than actual history—feels like a paradox, both subversive by virtue of its simple, copy-right-infringing existence, and conservative in its unabashed reverence for the source material. There’s no need to square that circle; just enjoy the demo while you can.