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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: 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)
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.