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Super Metroid: Subversion by TestRunner and AmoebaOfDoom [SM Exploration], rated by drb on Sep 14, 2022 (Star Star Star Star Star )
100% in 7:28
Don’t bother reading this; you’re wasting time that you could be using to play this masterpiece. But if you must…

- Aesthetics: Aside from the main areas, Subversion divides itself into more than two dozen diverse sub-areas, each with its own unique tileset and music. This creates an interesting mix of old and new aesthetics, and also ensures that none overstay their welcome. New music is subjective but always appreciated, and some of the tracks from other games in the Metroid series sound awesome on the SNES sound chip.

- Exploration: There is a bit of Prime-style backtracking throughout, but it’s not unmanageable once the player gets the lay of the land, and the diverse aesthetics help to lessen any potential tedium that may arise from having to backtrack. Even when you don’t know exactly where to go next, you’re never going to feel lost, and that’s a major accomplishment for such a huge game. The inventory and mission sections of the logbook do a surprisingly good job of keeping exploration goals organized and at front-of mind. In easy mode, the hint system reveals the locations of critical-path upgrades, but not how to get to them or which comes next – a good compromise that helps the player to set their own goals without feeling like they’re being hand-held.

- Immersion: Subversion does an excellent job of presenting the player with obstacles before they find the tools to overcome them, keeping the player immersed and anxious to find the next big upgrade. It also features one of the most well-developed plots ever seen in a romhack, bolstered by the inclusion of a logbook. This truly feels like a direct sequel to the original Super Metroid.

- Difficulty: More challenge than vanilla, but definitely not veteran-level, and rather consistent throughout. The only exception is the optional area, which has a sharp difficulty spike in its puzzles, and potentially its combat if the player heads there without certain upgrades (as I did, convinced by the logbook that I needed to find something there before facing a certain boss elsewhere).

- Gameplay Innovation: This is where Subversion truly shines. There is soooo much new stuff crammed into one hack: new gear, new mechanics, new implementations of classic SM tropes, and best of all new boss treatments. Bosses tend to feel stale when playing a lot of hacks, but not here – most have been tweaked in some innovative way, and not just graphically. There’s noticeable influence from other Metroid titles and some of the all-time great SM hacks sprinkled throughout Subversion’s gameplay, but everything comes together in a way that feels incredibly fresh. You won’t want to stop playing until you’ve done everything there is to do.

- Replay: Off the chart - easily the most replayable hack ever made that doesn’t have a randomizer. Tons of “what if I had done this?” considerations to re-explore, hard mode, a built-in challenge list, and something else that I dare not spoil, but I will say this: make it a point to come back and save the animals at least once (because you probably won’t on your first playthrough.)

- Overall: Five orbs on scope alone. TestRunner and Amoeba clearly had no shortage of ambition, and deliver on every bit of it with a near-studio level of polish and a reverence for the entire Metroid series not seen in any other hack to date. Subversion stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the best hacks from any era, and I won’t fault anyone for labeling it as the best ever.

(Stats are IGT for first/blind playthrough on easy mode)
Super Metroid Biohazard by Mentlegen, SMILEuser96 [SM Speedrun/Race], rated by drb on Feb 28, 2024 (Star Star Star Star Star )
66% in 0:34
I usually don't gravitate toward this style of hack, but I had a lot of fun with this one.

- I'm a sucker for symmetry so the map really speaks to me, especially the top half: incredibly dense but also almost maze-like in the way the rooms connect, though the sameness of the room aesthetics and foreground/background busyness can be a bit frustrating after a while. This could really benefit from a newer-style map screen, but it doesn't detract too much from the experience.

- All new music and it's all quite good and fitting, I especially enjoyed the tweaked boss themes.

- Speedkeep, and lots of places to use it. This one is built to play fast.

- A couple of minor PLM/item indexing issues, but nothing serious. The final item count isn't fixed, I believe max collection is 66%?

- Antigravity was a nice little contest flex, though it doesn't really come into play much save for one of the final area keys. This isn't a bad thing, as anti-grav physics can overstay their welcome VERY quickly.

Overall this is a fun/casual quickplay, and is a go-to for me when I'm itching for a hack but only have 60-90 minutes to spend. 4.5 out of 5; give it a shot if you haven't already. Stats are PB IGT, since this is categorized as a race hack and all.
Metroid: Expedition Z by DarkSamus [SM Unknown], rated by drb on Aug 04, 2023 (Star Star Star Star Star )
71% in 1:06
Nice little contest minihack that uses exploration and progression to make the map feel bigger than it actually is. Some critical path issues early on - it's way to easy to stumble into Crocomire unprepared given where the charge beam is hidden, and I had to resort to Youtube to figure out the first Super Missiles. Pretty good otherwise, especially if you like hacks that expect you to think about where you've already been to find uses for new pickups as they arrive. Some midair morphing required, but nothing too strenuous at all. Worth a playthrough, though mostly for experienced players as boss difficulty is definitely taken up a notch or two.
Super Ethical Metroid by dewhi100 [SM Exploration], rated by drb on Feb 09, 2023 (Star Star Star Star Star )
100% in 0:00
I’ve never really been sure how seriously this hack was meant to be taken… the release date, item/area names, and the language in the description and some previous reviews make me feel like it’s some kind of inside joke that I’m not in on. Nevertheless, this is one of the more… interesting… SM hack experiences in recent memory.

It starts off simple enough, some strong NESTroid vibes in the very beginning give way to a competent though somewhat generic vanilla-SM-style halfhack. The premise is simple - three areas connected by a mysterious warp area, and each area’s boss guards a passive collectible that makes the warp area a little more physically tolerable. It isn’t until about the halfway point that things start getting weird: room layouts begin to feel more and more familiar but still connect to each other in strange and uncomfortable ways, and certain progression items connect the three main areas to each other creating one contiguous “main” map and giving a bit of an overworld/underworld vibe. Meanwhile, being able to explore the warp area leads to a maddening semi-random and repeating “lost caverns” type section before the entire area reshapes itself and leads to a truly bizarre final encounter and escape sequence.

Game design sticklers probably won’t enjoy this. Item progression is bizarre and undermines itself (was I supposed to get Space Jump so early?), the warp area is novel but dull at best, the random section is rage-inducing, and the escape sequence makes no sense at all. Yet somehow, when all of this weirdness is taken as a whole, it kinda works. It ends up feeling less like a standalone mission and more like a post-SM PTSD fever dream that Samus can’t wake up from. And in that context it succeeds, even in spite of itself. If nothing else, it’s an enjoyable 100% speedrun with some interesting route considerations.

PS: I generally don’t like to self-promote in hack reviews, but given the nature of the semi-random section I’m including a link to my screenshot map – it may save your controller’s life. Spoiler warning: https://i.imgur.com/0CSrm2v.png
Phazon Hack by A_red_monk_called_Key [SM Exploration], rated by drb on Dec 28, 2022 (Star Star Star Star Star )
No completion stats.
Let's start at the beginning... Phazon 0.3 is in my all-time top tier; a five-orb classic from the golden age of SM hacking. Deep exploration, unique progression, and some of the most original, immersive world design this side of DMan – though game flow and difficulty leans more towards Eris than Vitality. A bit dated but definitely still relevant on its own. So, does 0.4 smooth off the rough edges of an aging hack and bring it into the modern era? Well… not exactly.

The main game is in first save file and does offer some welcome additions – new intro text fleshes out the experience and fits well with the game itself, Phazon Particle tracking boards have been placed adjacent to navigation booths for easier access and tracking, and updated tilesets give the feel of playing an HD remaster at times. But beyond these changes, experienced players will likely find it very samey compared to 0.3. The new door frequency system generally aligns with key progression items from the previous version and doesn’t change much in terms of access, aside from the reworked warp area. Worse, it adds another (and potentially confusing) layer to the door mechanics – we now have doors that require the usual consumable ammo, light/dark beam equips, and frequency additions – and many of these have overlapping colors. In the end it causes more problems than it solves. Some minor audio & visual bugs are present as well, nothing game-breaking but enough to be an annoyance at times. In total, 0.4 File 1 is probably more accessible to newcomers to the series than 0.3, but veterans of the older version may not see much of a reason to migrate.

Universe B is, sadly, not beatable. Even if you manage to find all of the keys – without the luxury of an accurate hint system, and some are placed rather randomly – and gather enough expansions for the 120+ missile ammo check door, the final area is incomplete with garbled tiles in both layers and a dead-end softlock right before the final bosses. It’s a shame too, as the main part of the game is quite enjoyable: The light world/dark world mechanic does an excellent job of evoking Echoes (right down to needing safe spots from the persistent environment damage), and the frequency system is much better-suited for this file as it keeps the explorable world from getting too big in light of the altered progression. Veteran 0.3 players and/or fans of deep exploration may still get some mileage out of it, with the realization that there won’t be a credit roll.

The verdict? Five orbs for 0.3, and I'm extremely glad that it's still available for download after the update. Three for 0.4 due to bugs, an incomplete second quest, and the fact that the beatable file really doesn’t do much to modernize the game as a whole. Hopefully this isn’t the end of Episode Phazon – it would be a shame if this amazing series goes out on a sour note.
Super Metroid: Recovery by MetroidNerd#9001 [SM Exploration], rated by drb on Oct 05, 2022 (Star Star Star Star Star )
88% in 3:20
This one takes me back to the early days of SM hacking - when building on top of the vanilla map was a common approach - but definitely takes it up a notch or two. It's not perfect; a little too reliant on tanky space pirates and the first hour or so is kind of an underpowered slog, but it opens up nicely after Grapple. By the end I found myself quite impressed with how the vanilla map was being reinterpreted - at certain points I almost forgot I was playing a halfhack, and Tourain and the escape sequence were nice surprises. Give this a go if you're an old-schooler, or if you like a double shot of vanilla in your hacks.
Unhundred % by ClockwiseUK [SM Unknown], rated by drb on Sep 13, 2021 (Star Star Star Star Star )
0% in 0:48
Fun gimmick hack with a unique concept that allows players to experience the original game in a new way. Mostly (reverse) vanilla routing will result in mostly vanilla difficulty, though there are a couple of rooms that become tedious due to certain required item drop-offs. A long IBJ will often be required towards the end of the game but no other tricks are strictly needed. As the map and combat are unchanged, both the fun and the challenge stem entirely from routing – this is a plus for me. Starting with 100% and working your way down allows for a lot of different and unique playthroughs:
Want to keep Plasma/XRay and microwave all of the bosses? Go for it.
Want to challenge yourself to Maridia or Norfair suitless? Right here.
Want to find the most efficient route possible and speedrun? Sure, but plan ahead or you may find yourself unexpectedly softlocked... which brings me to my one complaint, and I’m going to belabor it a bit:
“If you are in Retro Brinstar when you deposit your last item (apart from morph) you will have to travel up the elevator and back down again to make morph appear.” I’m hardly a pro speedrunner but I like optimize routing and go as fast as I can, those extra elevator rides really break up the flow of the endgame and really rub me the wrong way, for three reasons:
1. The game has no concern with letting the player softlock themselves anywhere else (and there are lots of possibilities to do so). Nor should it; there’s a disclaimer on the hack’s page and avoiding softlocks a big part of the challenge for this game. So why the need to prevent the most obvious softlock there is by dropping off morph early?
2. I’ve played through about a half-dozen times and I have yet to come up with a sane route where the last dropoff before morph ISN’T missiles or PBs in Retro Brinstar. So unless I’m missing something obvious this situation is more of a “when” than an “if”.
3. (Possible spoiler) I do appreciate the change that riding the elevator causes, but you’ll still get it after the ride back up to Retro Crateria no matter what. So is it really worth it?
Beyond that admittedly small pet peeve, this is a solid four-orb take on the vanilla game that’s a lot of fun, with high replay value to explore a ton of wacky equipment possibilities. Save often and be careful of softlocks, especially in the last few drop-offs.

(Time listed is PB IGT, against a 0:55 Vanilla 100% PB IGT for reference)
Lost World by TROM [SM Exploration], rated by drb on Mar 22, 2024 (Star Star Star Star Star )
119% in 0:00
It’s obvious that a lot of time and effort went into this hack: a massive map and custom tilesets and sprites that really capture the “abandoned world” vibe. It plays well enough for a while too: the first half of the critical path is slow but doors and other obstacles keep you mostly locked into the right path and allow you to trust your gut. But somewhere around Grapple the wheels fall off, and the game opens up into a massive sprawl of aimless punishing exploration, obnoxious mechanics, convoluted secrets, disappearing pickups, and all the wrong kinds of challenge. When I finally found the intended first Super Missile there was no sense of accomplishment, I just wanted a nap. And there’s still essentially two separate fetch quests wrapped around a ridiculously spongy boss left to deal with before the final area. I don’t think this was intended as a troll hack, but that’s what it ends up feeling like.

All that said, there is a bit of an acquired taste factor as subsequent playthroughs go much more smoothly once you have the lay of the land and (hopefully) find a couple of clutch sequence breaks that really dull the agony of the endgame, but it’s hard to give much credit for that since the first playthrough is so off-putting. 5/10 overall, only recommended for fans of slow, deep exploration (think original Redesign and early versions of Phazon Hack), and even then prepare to have your patience tested. Maps are available from Maptroid.unrest.io and my map repo on the forums – don’t be a hero.

PS: I *think* 119% is max but can’t really be sure, and that’s 230 full-fanfare pickups.
Super Metroid: Hotlands by MetroidNerd#9001 [SM Exploration], rated by drb on Oct 24, 2022 (Star Star Star Star Star )
No completion stats.
Hotlands is a strange one for me, and not in a good way:

- Boss encounters are almost entirely eschewed in favor of cramped rooms with awkwardly placed targets to hit. This deprives the player of the catharsis that comes with overcoming the big bad guys, and replaces it with frustration at being locked into these rooms, forced to grind for ammo if/when they run out from missing the targets, and hampered further by the difficulty in avoiding damage for any length of time, extending the grind. This mechanic is repeated multiple times throughout the game and can be only be somewhat mitigated by meticulously searching out the world's secret pickups, but these tend to feel samey and are overly reliant on mid-air morphing. Heck, there's an entire area (by far the best in the game in terms of aesthetics) hidden by an obscure mid-air morph. The idea that the spring ball would smooth out the experience a bit does have some merit.

- Speaking of pickups, after the very first few there is virtually no pickup-based progression; the pickups that are available are focused almost exclusively on surviving combat. At no point beyond the first few minutes does the player encounter an obstacle that they need to find a new pickup to overcome - the only barrier to progress is the ability to kill bad guys without dying. Granted this is a quick play and I'm not expecting a full loadout, but eliminating pickup-based progression to the extent done here strikes at the core of the franchise's gameplay.

- Music is subjective and I won't deduct orbs for original music that doesn't resonate with me - this would be a two-orb review otherwise - but the original music here feels way out of place. Upbeat, up-tempo compositions and piano-heavy instrumentation actually undermine the atmosphere that the hack's narrative and world design attempt to build... honestly, the melodies would feel more at home in a Sega Genesis space shooter. That's not a bad thing, I love me some space shooters, it just doesn't fit here.

To be fair, it's certainly not all bad. Level design is well done, game scope is good for a quick-play contest hack, and difficulty is fair and consistent aside from the likelihood of forced grinding mentioned above. But ultimately, the nature of the included pickups and the music choices make Hotlands function better as a nonlinear action platformer than an exploration-based Metroid-style game. Maybe that's what the creator was going for, and maybe you'll enjoy it, but I just didn't.