Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Metroid Fusion Review

Nearly 8 years after Super Metroid, 2 Metroid games were released on the same day, November 17, 2002. One of them was Metroid Prime for GameCube and the other was Metroid Fusion for the GBA. Metroid Prime was an FPS, or as Nintendo called it, a First Person Adventure. Metroid Fusion; however, was a new 2D game, a direct sequel to Super Metroid, Metroid 4.

Metroid Fusion is a new starting point for the series. If the ending of Metroid II is the most important moment in the Metroid fiction, the events of Metroid Fusion must surely be second. In the game’s intro, we see Samus get infected with the X Parasite, lose her ship and Power Suit, we learn that the Galactic Federation has Metroid cells on hand, and Samus is injected with a Metroid vaccine. So, now we have Samus with a new suit, a new ship with a chatty AI, and she’s basically part Metroid. The Galactic Federation is looking very suspicious too. They basically turned the whole Metroid universe upside down before the game even started.

Back when the game came out, it got a lot of heat for 2 big things. One was the portrayal of Samus. Once again, she was stripped of her powers, but this time, they went even further and stripped her of her suit and gave her the vulnerabilities of a Metroid. The Fusion suit also made Samus look much smaller. It makes her look a little bit like Spider-Man 2099 with all the blue and the fins on the forearms. You really get to see how much smaller she is when you come across the SA-X. The SA-X (Samus Aran X) is basically fully powered Samus, as seen near the end of Super Metroid, under the control of the X Parasyte. The SA-X is big and bulky, walks slowly, and holds the arm cannon down with its hand, like it’s ready for the recoil. It’s almost like a T-800 in how it walks around. Samus is small, fast, agile, and holds her arm cannon up with her hand, as if it’s too heavy to hold with one hand.

The other thing Fusion got a lot of heat for was the structure of the game. It felt very linear when compared to Super Metroid. Samus’ ship AI, Adam, tells Samus where she can and can’t go, and the game loves to lock doors behind you or trap you in places until you can figure out how to progress. Super Metroid had some of this, but Fusion takes it to the extreme. It is constantly funneling you down a path. Some parts end up feeling like one way streets. You have to take the long way around, because you can't go back the way you came. The game does let you travel between the different areas, but there really isn't much to do in them outside the main story path, because you probably don’t have the items required to progress. A lot of these are blocked off by the Screw Attack, which is the last item you get in the game. What ends up happening is that nearly half of the items are more like rewards for post-game exploration, because the game doesn’t truly open up until right before the last boss.

Fusion’s setting was a big departure from the original trilogy. The first 3 games mostly take place in big, natural, underground caverns. There were only a few Chozo-made areas, like Tourian. Fusion takes place entirely on the BSL research station, where the Galactic Federation is studying the ecology of various planets. They have 6 areas simulating different environments, with real creatures native to them. They have a tropical area named TRO, an area with lava named PYR, and an icy area named ARC. They have very creative names, as you can see. They also have an area simulating the environment of SR388. Now, why would they have an area simulating the home planet of the X and the Metroids? All these simulated environments are built over the station’s metal floors and walls. This makes everything look bit like a zoo or a movie set.

This is the game where Samus learned how to climb. She still could not crawl, though. As part of her base abilities, Samus can climb ladders, climb monkey bars, and she can grab onto ledges and pull herself up. This game also made wall jumping much easier by making the timing much more forgiving. Most of the items in the game are from previous games. The game only has 3 new items. There’s a new beam called the Wide Beam, and then there’s the Ice Missiles and Diffusion Beam, which is not really a beam. The Diffusion Beam allows you to charge up your Ice Missiles to increase their damage and add an extra spinning explosion effect, which freezes any enemies in its path.

Besides Zero Mission on Hard Mode, this is the hardest 2D Metroid game. The puzzles aren’t any more difficult than in other Metroid games. It’s the boss patterns and the damage you take from enemies that make it harder. There are times in the game when you come across enemies that deal a whole energy tank’s worth of damage and many of the bosses have attacks that leave very little room to avoid them. I think a little extra challenge is a good thing. It keeps things interesting. The super tough enemies actually get easier after you get some specific upgrade and the bosses’ patterns are tough, but fair.

In Metroid (and Zero Mission) and Super Metroid, you were being watched by Mother Brain. As soon as you go down into Brinstar, surveillance systems activate and a spotlight is shined on you. It’s a small touch, but it gets the point across. Metroid Fusion is like this multiplied by a hundred. The game almost feels like Samus is on a TV show or movie. You’re constantly being watched, the environments look like movie sets, and the game funnels you down a path, like a lab rat. Samus is being lied to, manipulated, and tested. The Galactic Federation can no longer be trusted. When you go off the beaten path or break sequence, Adam will act surprised. When you find your way into another area, around the locked doors, it feels like you’re pulling back the curtain on the world around you. It’s like The Matrix or The Truman Show. The story perfectly fits the gameplay. I didn’t see this when I first played it, but it makes sense to me now.

Metroid Fusion feels like a celebration of the Metroid universe. Nearly every enemy from the series makes a cameo, a lot of the environments are reminiscent of areas from past games, and there’s little self referential things all over the game. The Mother Brain fight is recreated with a Chozo statue at one point, for example. I really enjoyed playing it again with a new perspective. I’m really interested in seeing where the story goes from here, if we get a Metroid 5 after Samus Returns. Is Samus an outlaw? Is she the Mother of Metroids? And most importantly, what is she wearing?