AM2R--Another Metroid 2 Remake--made the news a few months ago when its long-anticipated release was immediately followed by a DMCA takedown demand from Nintendo. But is AM2R really just a copy of Metroid II, or is it a transformation? And what does a Jorge Luis Borges story have to do with contemporary fan games?
It's no secret that I REALLY like AM2R, the fan game remake of 1991's Metroid II: The Return of Samus. I liked it so much that I launched an entire series to cover fan games like it!
So it shouldn't be surprising that I'm not thrilled with the game's development being squashed by Nintendo immediately upon its release. Look, I'm a big proponent of fan projects of all sorts, and I, like the Organization for Transformative Works and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, think copyright is only worthwhile insofar as it can make fan works viable (and, importantly, legal). But for me, AM2R means more than just an abstract battle over the legal handling of copyright claims. AM2R is doing some incredibly special things that deserve to be acknowledged and defended! Previously I discussed the fact that we might understand the game as telling a story about environment. Today, though, I want to go broader and look at what the game represents in terms of transformation.
See, part of what defines Fair Use in the US--what makes fanfic legal regardless of what a lot of authors still believe--is the idea of a work being transformative. Transformative works take source material and copy it, but the copying is justified by the addition of new value, new ideas, and new perspectives.
All this might be a hard sell if you look at AM2R as just copying Metroid II. But AM2R does far more than that. Here's five ways that AM2R is a transformative work.
AM2R transforms through accessibility
Writing for the majority, Judge Pierre Leval, a well-respected authority on copyright and fair use, used this case as an opportunity to revisit his seminal work on “transformative use” – meaning, a use that has a new and different purpose from the original. If it does, the use is more likely to be fair.
Today’s opinion stresses that the reason “transformativeness” matters is that it helps justify the copying: “the would-be fair user of another’s work must have justification for the taking.” Google’s justification is plain: to provide otherwise unavailable information to the public. Relying on the court’s earlier ruling in the Hathitrust case, the opinion finds that Google’s use is highly transformative.
AM2R transforms by elaborating on existing aesthetics
Last time I dug into the ways the environment of AM2R creates a narrative through play. As we make our way through early levels, we conquer the terrain and gain mastery over it. Then, we're abruptly pushed into a set of regions where the terrain is much more strange, winding, difficult to navigate even with our new powers, and generally frustrating. This creates a narrative where we first see the environment as merely a resource to be exploited, and then we're forced to see it as something that exists in its own right, predates us, and can't be assessed in its totality.
AM2R transforms by reassessing mechanics
[This version of the Ice Beam] instead of freezing enemies in place to be used as a suspended platform like in other 2d games, almost all frozen enemies would fall to the ground and shatter or if frozen on the ground they would simply shatter after a few seconds. This change was made as there was no situation where the platforming feature could be used, and was quickly rendered irrelevant with the Spider Ball and Space Jump being acquired shortly after. As the most powerful weapon in the game, the Ice Beam was moved from the first area in Metroid II to just before the penultimate area as the final suit upgrade.