|Nov 17, 2002
|Game Boy Advance
|E for Everyone (ESRB)
When Metroid Fusion was released for the Game Boy Advance, it was a time of evolution for the series as the developers at Nintendo were about to reveal a very stark departure from its roots. Metroid Prime, while an action adventure game first and foremost, is also a first person shooter, taking Samus out of the traditional 2D side-scroller and placing her into a 3D world. And while it worked brilliantly for Nintendo and the Metroid series, the classic 2D style of gameplay was hardly forgotten. Rather, it received a few alterations of its own. Metroid Fusion is full of both trademark qualities and new features that produce a superior addition to the franchise.
Metroid Fusion takes place at the most present point in the series’ timeline. All metroids have been exterminated and as a direct result, its former prey called the X parasite has thrived on SR-388. These shapeless masses have the ability to mimic the appearance and abilities of their prey, usually killing said prey in the process. During a mission, our hero, Samus Aran, becomes infected with this parasite, but is saved by a vaccine derived from the DNA of the last metroid (the one that saves her in Super Metroid). Though cured, sections of her suit had to be surgically removed, altering her capabilities and chemistry. Those contaminated suit fragments were transported to a space station orbiting SR-388. Now the station is overrun by X parasites, as well as an armed and armored copy of Samus called the SA-X. Now it is up to Samus to use her new metroid-derived powers to exterminate the X parasites and the SA-X before their threat spreads any further.
In classic Metroid fashion, this game is all about exploration. Samus’s ability to explore the environment goes as far as her abilities can take her. Just like in previous Metroid games, progression is closely tied to the assortment of equipment and power-ups collected, which in-turn directly influences the accessibility of the map. One major change from previous games, is the addition of an assistant AI. Samus is usually a silent, solitary fighter who must discern everything herself, meaning that players are left to figure things out almost completely on their own. In Metroid Fusion, because of this AI, there’s dialogue between it and Samus, as well as instructions and suggestions given to players on how to proceed. There are pros and cons to this, the most notable benefit is knowing where to go next. Metroid Fusion’s predecessors required players to explore everything they could in the attempt to find the right path that progresses the game. This typically meant going in blind to new areas, stopping at a temporary dead end, and frequent backtracking, all the while remembering what was needed at those stops to progress on future visits. In Metroid Fusion, this has been alleviated somewhat and makes the game more linear. That’s not a bad thing though, there’s still plenty of discovering to do for those traditional fans of the series.
Another benefit to this AI interaction is story. Up until this game, story was relegated to one or two cutscenes and the information from the instruction manuals. In Metroid Fusion, we get our first real look into Samus’s way of thinking and glimmers of her personality. Sure, we all knew she was already a badass and a loner, but these conversations and inner thoughts help to develop her character further. I also felt they didn’t take away from her already established traits that extrude toughness and competence (unlike some Other game…). There were no sacrifices to her personality in order to force a dialogue or inner thought, rather the text only served to build the characters up. Plus, there was just enough material to color the characters and the story without breaking flow. It never feels like you stop dead in the action to read. Instead, the text comes in short, quick bursts that are enough to guide and add story without breaking play flow. It works nicely and I feel this style of storytelling is a welcomed new element to the series.
Along with exploration, combat is another defining characteristic of the series and Metroid Fusion doesn’t disappoint. The X parasites make for a fantastic overarching enemy, since they can mimic almost anything. Not only can they copy organic beasts, but they can merge with tech as well, opening up the range of enemies Samus must fight. While Samus starts off with her Power Beam, she quickly gains new armaments to take on the more deadly mimics. While familiar weapons such as Super Missiles and Power Bombs return, new weapons like the freezing Diffusion Missiles make their debut. Samus’s transformation from the metroid DNA also plays into combat, as she is able to absorb defeated X parasites for energy and ammo, but is now also susceptible to cold temperature attacks. As a result, players will need to decide on how to proceed, since colder environments are less accessible and the X parasites will knowingly take advantage of Samus’s new susceptibility. Fortunately, the new changes only add to the action and combat is never hindered because of it. Traditionalists that swear by Super Metroid need not worry about a compromised combat system; it works well and it’s fun.
One of the most memorable aspects of Metroid Fusion’s predecessors were the games’ visuals and, fortunately, the devs clearly borrowed the best aspects for this game. Metroid Fusion is a very detailed and colorful game, producing a world full of character. The different in-game maps represent different ecosystems, from tropical, to marine, to arctic zones. These were meant to house various species for research and breeding, but are now dens for the transformed X parasites. This fact, along with the inherent dangers, is brought to life through the game’s visuals, as the devs made sure to produce a landscape that both represents prior purpose, continued degradation, and impending doom. The devs push the GBA hardware to create visuals that tell a story of their own and allow players to experience the sheer destruction of life that once inhabited the station. And while the devs could have taken the easy way out by using muted colors and repetitive textures, they instead use a full color pallet that makes the backgrounds and sprites pop with detail and also serve to enhance the contrasts of lights and darks. I definitely appreciated the levels of color and detail achieved. The visuals convey the tones of how this place was once brimming with wildlife and how Samus must now face the creeping destitution.
The audio is less impressive, however. While I noticed some efforts of utilizing dynamics to pair with the events on screen, for example softer, slower tracks to pair with the eerie surroundings and faster, louder tracks for boss fights, none of the tracks made any impact at all to the overall experience. The soundtrack is underwhelming and quickly forgotten. This is unfortunate since most other Metroid games possess soundtracks that build on visuals and gameplay to the point that they are not only noticeable, but become integral to the gameplay experience. Here, though, the soundtrack is bland to the point of unnoticeable. At times, I even forgot there was music playing at all because my focus was on gameplay; I had to specifically focus on the audio to hear it, further demonstrating that the soundtrack doesn’t naturally match up with the other aspects of the game and simply adds nothing to the final product.
One last issue I had with Metroid Fusion is the length. Compared to other Metroid games, Metroid Fusion is quite short. While I understand this game was built for the GBA and not a console, I feel that more could have been added to extend the game without unnecessary tedium. I personally would have liked more battles with the SA-X, instead of running away most of the time. I think an appropriate balance was found whenever you fought Dark Samus in the Prime series, as each of those battles became more difficult, despite the upgrades found between bouts. Something similar done here would have been appreciated. I also found the zones to be rather small. While each area has hidden paths and rooms that don’t appear on the downloaded map, I still felt that there really wasn’t enough there (a problem that I think Other M addressed). I also would have appreciated more setup for the future. There is one secret plot that becomes unveiled during the game, I would have liked more conspiracies and maybe something regarding her suit as well (does Samus’s suit ever get restored back to its original form? Does she need to seek out a Chozo temple like in Zero Mission to do so? Did the word “Chozo” even appear in this game?). I also realize that players are rewarded for beating the game under 2 hours or between 2 and 5 with certain percentages of items found. With an expanded game, those limits could easily be altered to 3 and 6, or 4 and 7. I don’t believe that’s an argument to justify the length of game we received. Other than my complaint about this and the audio, though, I really can’t find too many faults with the game.
Metroid Fusion is an excellent example of old school Metroid merged with new innovation. The devs took chances by giving (text) voice to Samus and strapping her with a companion, yet her personality and solidarity common with Metroid games were not compromised. With a foundation built on the mechanics that define Super Metroid‘s superiority, Metroid Fusion is a fun, charming, and challenging addition to the Metroid storyline and certainly worth the time of any fan of the series or the action, exploration genre.