Rewind Review - Metroid Fusion
Day 4 of the Metroid Rewind Review Series has arrived, and it is at this point where we wound up in strange new territory for the series. After Samus destroyed Mother Brain and escaped Zebes in the fan-favorite Super Metroid, the cybernetically enhanced action heroine disappeared from memory. Having not received a single mention for the entirety of the Gameboy Color and Nintendo 64 era, it would be 8 years before the famed bounty space hunter returned to the forefront of gaming, landing in the year 2002 with not one but two new games released on November 17th, 2002. These games were Metroid Fusion on the Gameboy Advance, and Metroid Prime on the Nintendo Gamecube.
Since we just finished reviewing a 2D Metroid in the last Rewind Review, I think it would only make sense to see where 2D Metroid games have gone since then. As such we will first take a look at Metroid Fusion, the 92/100 Metacritic scored game that sits in the shadow of Super Metroid. As with all Rewind Reviews, Metroid Fusion will undergo a review process through the eyes of a 2015 critic. No nostalgia glasses, no excuses, no rationalizing hardware limitations, and no sparing myself from angering fans and readers. Nothing will spare this game from anything that we - as modern gamers - would expect from the genre today. Now that I've got my Fusion Suit on and cleared the air of X-Parasites, let's take a look at Metroid Fusion on the Gameboy Advance.
Aside: did anyone else always call it the Gameboy Advanced? I just realized that it's Advance, not Advanced...
Metroid Fusion marks the very first time that a Metroid game has a solid plot, and it is also the first time that Samus Aran is given a (textual) voice. Through Samus's internal monologues, and her conversations with the Galactic Federation gunship's on-board computer we learn what our immediate objectives throughout the game are, as well as several peeks into Samus's troubled past.
In this intro cinematic we begin Metroid Fusion on board Samus's original gunship. After acting as bodyguard for the Biologic Space Laboratories organization's research team, Samus comes into contact with a strange parasite known as the X. The parasite shows no symptoms until the group has already left SR388, but upon approaching an asteroid belt our heroine loses consciousness, crashing her gunship and having to be saved by the crew of the BSL company.
Unable to deactivate her power suit while unconscious, Samus is taken into surgery where many parts of her armor are taken off, "dramatically altering [her] appearance". However, since the X parasite was already attacking her central nervous system a vaccine had to be created. Using remnants of the baby metroid, Samus's vaccine effectively turns her into a human/chozo/metroid hybrid.
After her recovery, Samus receives orders to investigate an explosion on the BSL research station where they were holding specimens from their SR388 mission, as well as the infected pieces of her suit. Since her own ship was damaged, Samus is paired up with a new gunship by the Galactic Federation, as well as its onboard computer that she names "Adam" after her old commanding officer.
Start of Spoilers
As players progress through Fusion's storyline they learn that the research station has been overrun by the X, turning humans into zombies and the creatures into biological weapons. Worse still, Samus's old power suit has transformed into a creature known as SA-X (or Samus Aran-X), a clone whose sole mission is to protect the X parasites on board from their only natural predator - the metroid. Conveniently, that means killing Samus.
As players progress through the story they learn about the very extent of the X's capabilities. We learn that the parasite is able to infest not only organisms, but computers and robots as well. We also learn that the Galactic Federation has been cloning metroids, growing them into the dangerous alpha, gamma, and even an omega metroid stages that we fought against in Metroid II: Return of Samus. The news visibly upsets Samus and begins arguing with the computer who insists that the X and the metroids are to be used for the betterment of Galactic Federation society.
When Samus decides to crash the station into SR388 to kill all the metroids and X once and for all, we get the following scene:
Samus then heads out to launch the station into SR388, as well as defeating SA-X and the Omega Metroid. Without a ship to escape with (presumed at this point to be destroyed by the aforementioned Omega Metroid) Samus accepts her fate. It is then that Samus is saved by the Etecoons and Dachora that she had released from the habitation deck earlier in the game who took command of the gunship.
End of Spoilers
Metroid Fusion does a superb job of telling a story without telling us too much. With quick in-game and splash art cutscenes, as well as the Samus monologues and dialogues with the "Adam" computer, we get some true insight into not only the Metroid universe, but also into the character of Samus.
I can't help but feel as though everybody forgot about monologues like this one here while they ranted about Metroid: Other M...
We learn that Samus does have her insecurities about her. Samus has a "nameless fear in [her] heart" as she approaches the BSL station, she dislikes taking orders from her "blunt, computerized CO", and despite disliking the computer at first she respects it, ironically naming it after her old friend Adam Malkovich. While this game is ultimately a 2D platformer just like every Metroid title before it, Metroid Fusion makes Samus Aran jump out of her skin as a flat character and into a three-dimensional character for the first time. It is for this reason alone that Metroid Fusion dominates all preceding Metroid titles in terms of plot, something that even Super Metroid had failed to do.
Only Super Metroid had received a "beautiful" section prior to this article, and there is good reason for this game receiving one as well. In fact, the reason is that Metroid Fusion deserves a "beautiful" section more so than Super Metroid is *engages speed booster* Metroid Fusion is the ultimate 2D Metroid experience.
Now that the fanboys have calmed down, here are the reasons why...
While it is enough that Metroid Fusion restores the tight controls and momentum of jumping that Super Metroid - for reasons unknown managed to ruin, the game also brings back just about every single weapon from Super Metroid without the terrible button mapping. Readers who have followed my series of Metroid reviews will recall that Super Metroid suffered from a case of "too many buttons for no rational reason". For those who do not know, the Gameboy Advance lacks two of said buttons - both physically and control-wise. I am speaking - of course - about the ridiculous "item cancel" and "run" buttons.
In Metroid Fusion both of those buttons have been removed due to the limitations of the handheld device, and they are not sorely missed at all. In fact, just like how Metroid II: Return of Samus had graphical limitations that forced the developers to work around it (and ultimately make a better product), so too has the removal of the X and Y buttons for Fusion forced the developers to make the speed booster and other devices work.
Shinesparking is much easier (and more fun) when you only need to use one hand to activate the speed booster upgrade
Since shinesparking is a necessary part of Fusion's level design, the speed booster is required in just about every area after its acquisition. Without a run button, Fusion instead relies on a momentum based control scheme. As a result Samus does not actually begin "running" until about 0.8 seconds after the player hits left or right. The best part? This does not force the level design in Fusion to become flatter or wider than in Super Metroid, and actually makes platforming more accurate than ever.
The other improvement is the missile system. Instead of pressing select and running through our options with the missiles, super missiles, power bombs, grapple beams, and so on, we are instead presented with a single clean missile function that upgrades in the same way the power beam does. As such the ice missile, diffusion missile, and super missile stack up on one another to create a super-ice-diffusion payload of pure awesomeness by the end of the game.
Readers will recall that I made a complaint in Super Metroid that the stacking beams caused Samus to feel 'over-powered' and ruin the later part of the game. However, in Metroid Fusion this is not the case. A semi-casual rush through Fusion left me with a 78% completion rate, the very same that I had in Super Metroid give or take 1-2%.
The results in late-game gameplay were dramatically different. The first reason for this is that the armor upgrades in Fusion do not enhance Samus's defences as much as they do in Super Metroid. In fact, other than Metroid Prime and Zero Mission, Fusion actually has the lowest increase in defense from the Varia suit as it only provides 40% damage reduction in Fusion as opposed to 50% in Super. Furthermore, the Gravity Suit only decreases damage by 70% as opposed to (50+25%) when Gravity and Varia are both activated in Super Metroid.
Diffusion Missiles and Super Missiles are toggled with the R button, making them more accessible than cycling using the select button
The beams and missiles themselves are not nearly as "over powered" either. By moving the Ice Beam to the new Ice Missile, Samus's ability to freeze enemies is drastically hindered. Also, diffusion missiles require the missiles to be charged, similar to the beam weapons, in order to have their full effect. All of these changes, plus stronger and harder to kill enemies, provide perhaps one of the most well-balanced Metroid titles to date.
On the topic of enemies, in Fusion most bosses will take a heavy beating before they begin turning red (meaning their health is low), and during this time each and every energy tank you acquire will be spent. Not only that, but the Core-X that appears after the boss is defeated will still try to kill you.
Wait... didn't I just kill you?!
The spider-like Yakuza boss, for example, took off at least four of my energy tanks with ease due to a chain-grab mechanic that took me several deaths to work my way out of strategy wise. Meanwhile, bosses like SA-X will take off almost two entire energy tanks with every hit during your encounters. All this damage typically left me with one or two energy tanks left on the later bosses (having started each fight with about 6-10 based on how far I was in the game) making me wish I still had the original Power Suit instead of the much more fragile Fusion Suit.
I'm pretty sure that I've seen this death sequence more than I have seen them in other Metroid titles...
This desire to be stronger is another thing that this game does better. Metroid Fusion makes you feel like a recovering patient. If Super Metroid told a story through its gameplay, Metroid Fusion told it even better while still using text narration on top of it. During your first few moments (in fact, likely until you find at least 3 energy tanks) you feel like you are weak. Samus dies to nearly every single enemy that you come across, whether it be the slow and weak zombie researchers or the hoping hornoads from Sector 1 you feel like you have zero chance of survival, just like the computer tells you.
The sense of isolation that Metroid is known for is not broken by the computer's presence either. While traveling through the BSL station you constantly feel hunted by the SA-X, even when it is not there. After its first appearance in the elevator cutscene I found myself worrying that Samus's clone would come after me, and every time it did show up the very atmosphere changed with the lights growing dark and the sound becoming nothing more than heartbeats and footsteps.
While hanging off walls seems like a simple concept it opens a bunch of new possibilities for stage design, and boss battles.
The game also provides some new mechanisms to the Metroid franchise. The addition of ladders, ledge-grabbing, and monkey-bar-esque climbing bring about new methods of fighting bosses and exploring. The game's objective system also creates new puzzles that Super Metroid could not have without a story attached to the game. Add on to this the fact that Fusion brings back almost every single suit upgrade from the previous games, while also adding a couple more original weapons, and I have nothing more to prove to the Super Metroid fanboys that it is in fact Fusion that deserves the title of being the ultimate Metroid experience.
I appreciate the sentiment, computer, but I'd appreciate being able to get back into Sector 1 again a lot more...
However, I cannot for the sake of integrity say that Metroid Fusion does not have its own flaws. As mentioned before, the game does follow a linear narrative. As such we have slightly less leeway in terms of exploration than we did in Super Metroid. While this is not a terrible thing per se, it is "bad" for a game in the exploration genre since every game in the series up until this point has allowed players to reach any area that they want so long as they have the items required. Another small issue is the lack of sequence breaks since the game has gone out of the way to prevent these from occurring. However, I should note that there is a secret easter egg for dedicated sequence breakers in the form of an otherwise inaccessible cutscene that the computer breaks the fourth wall stating "I wonder how many players will actually see this message...?"
While I would argue this affects gameplay in a good way as certain items can only be acquired at certain times in the game, forcing players to explore more carefully before proceeding, it is ultimately an objective failure to follow the franchise's main selling feature. That said, there's nothing really else to complain about. I'm serious. I'm at a loss.
Similar to Super Metroid, Fusion has not aged at all in terms of graphics. The sprite images used for this Gameboy Advance title are highly detailed, even more detailed than its predecessor thanks to 32-bit graphics. The art style is also very fitting for a Metroid title as smaller creatures look disgusting or creepy, while larger bosses affected by the X parasite range from terrifying to nightmare fuel. As such the game makes the most use of the Gameboy Advance's processing power, and to this day looks amazing. Considering the Wii U port's 1080p output, and its pixel smoothing and you have a game that has truly survived the tests of time.
Samus is visibly weaker than she was in Super Metroid
There are also many little details in the art that make me cringe from how great they are. Samus's pose is an excellent example of this. In the image on the left you can clearly see that Samus in Metroid Fusion is holding her arm-cannon from underneath. Compare this to the image on the right of Samus's hand being on top during the opening cutscene (where she was healthy) as well as it being the same sprite that SA-X uses while she is hunting you. The artwork beautifully encapsulates what Samus is feeling. She is weaker, she is on the run, and she is trying to survive. Samus is no longer the overly powerful character she was in Super Metroid, and her only concern is completing her mission while simultaneously making it out alive.
Metroid Fusion's soundtrack fills the air with dread unlike the previous handheld title: Metroid II: Return of Samus
Sound design on the other hand is nothing short of what we expect from a Nintendo title. Unlike its handheld ancestor on the Gameboy, Fusion's music actually makes you feel immersed in the situation. Take for example Sector 2 (TRO)'s jungle-inspired beat, or Sector 4 (AQA)'s underwater tip-toe-like notes. The game truly understands how to immerse a player using music just as well as its predecessor on the SNES. A personal favorite track of mine is the melody that plays when you are spotted by SA-X as it legitimately made me panic as I tried to escape the bloodthirsty clone. The soundtrack alone does not do the game justice as it is in fact the sound effects paired with the music that brings about an environment that just cannot be recreated with any of the sounds on their lonesome.
I cannot for the life of me say something bad about Metroid Fusion. Aside from its hardware limitations (which I always force myself to ignore with each review) there is nothing to complain about. In fact, I would say that if this game were given an HD remake with 3D models or even if it simply received a higher quality art I feel as though the game would actually do worse. The game is completely sound both gameplay and presentation-wise with a story that actually works to boot. Every single gameplay issue that was present in all previous titles are gone, and while the game may feel a little more restricted in terms of exploration, the improvements made to the game far outweigh the minor flaw.
With all of that finally put to paper, I have to give the game a 9/10 and a must-play recommendation. The game does not reinvent the genre by any means, but it executes what works in the best possible way.
That said, I do not recommend it as a starting place simply due to the difficulty. Players who have not experienced a Metroid game before will die... a lot. I'm serious. Play Super Metroid or any other 2D Metroid game before this one. I can only imagine what the Japanese-exclusive Hard-Mode is like.
What are your opinions on Metroid Fusion? Does the game trump Super Metroid as I claim, or does the poster child of the series make Fusion seem as sick as Samus feels in this game? Voice your opinions in the comment section below! Also, be sure to check back on this article, or the GameSkinny front page for future reviews as we make our way from the original 1986 Metroid on the NES to the 2010 release of Metroid: Other M. I will be taking a temporary hiatus over the weekend to catch up since I seem to be lost in Metroid Prime 2: Echoes... Until then, see you next mission!
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