Reviews From The Backroom: Metroid Fusion
A.K.A. Metroid 4
Ah, Metroid. It's known as one of the longest running, most productive game series' to ever come out of Nintendo, and the industry in general. This isn't by accident, either. Metroid has, since the first installment, involved a very precise formula, with great story-telling, challenging game-play, and some of the most recognizable game-play mechanics known to players everywhere. Besides that, it also incorporates a very deep, involved back-story, with what is arguably one of the strongest characters ever to exist in gaming.
Despite a few screw-ups along the way, Metroid remains a strong series. But, in 2002, Nintendo decided to take the franchise in a slightly different direction. The games became much darker, and included more mature themes.
Would this change send Metroid into a tailspin and destroy the franchise?
The game in question is what is considered chronologically to be the fourth official installment in the Metroid universe, Metroid Fusion. The story starts off with our hero, Samus, doing some side work helping scientists collect different species from Planet SR388, the Metroid's homeworld featured in Metroid II. This leads to Samus contracting a deadly amoeba-like creature, simply referred to as "X", which promptly engulfs her nervous system and starts to decimate it. This causes her to pass out while piloting through an asteroid belt, crashing her ship and leaving her dying of infection in the Medical Bay of the scientists space-station. It's shown that she is saved by a serum created from a tissue sample of the last living Metroid, which was killed at the end of Super Metroid. This gives her the ability to absorb the "X", while also giving her the weaknesses and strengths of the Metroid creatures. The infected suit that Samus was wearing, along with the infected life-forms they collected on the planet, are all stored in the stations quarantine bay.
This first cut-scene ends with Samus heading back to the Research Space-Station after an explosion rocks the station, an emergency beacon on-board is activated, and the Galactic Federation is unable to make contact with the crew.
From the start, the premise for Fusion is well set up, and this remains air-tight throughout. The different areas that are sectioned off, certain abilities that are unavailable at the start, and the individual encounters throughout the game are all very closely set with the story, and provide a clear and well thought out feel from start to finish. There is never a feeling that you are being denied anything you need, and the overall progression flows nicely. This sits very closely with the traditional formula of a typical Metroid game, which involves gradual exploration, secret-hunting, and a consistent learning curve.
The world that Fusion is set up in is rather deceiving, but in a good way. At the surface, it appears to be standard "Space-Station" fare, but throughout the course of the game, the environment develops and evolves with the player. As different abilities are gained, more areas in previously explored areas become accessible, and never end up leaving the player empty handed or disappointed. Beyond that are the secret areas, which are usually just one screen or room. Each of these carries its own individual challenge or puzzle, and every one of them feels rewarding.
As far as the items and abilities in Fusion go, each one is given to the player just a sliver at a time, but the player is almost never asked to do something that they are ill-equipped for. Weaponry, suit abilities (such as the ability to morph into a ball), Energy tanks, all of them are weaned to the player, with things such as additional ammunition and energy capacity thrown into small secret areas for the player to hunt down. The reason this is done is to help make the Station feel much bigger, and to allow for a longer game. Different abilities allow the player into more areas, and one of the main driving functions of this is to cut the player off from areas that the developers don't want them wandering into unexpectedly and ahead of the intended time. This is often done by making enemies with differing weaknesses block a certain path, having areas blocked by obstructions that can only be cleared a certain way, or by having the environment change after a certain objective (often a boss-battle) completed. For the most part, this design works well, and it's pretty much unbreakable. Though, at times, it can feel like the game is being padded for length.
So, overall, the world and mechanics behind Fusion are well done, but one of the strongest parts of this game is the sheer magnitude of the puzzles. All of the puzzles, while they can at times be confusing and frustrating, are all done in a way that they are challenging, but not impossible or broken. Though the player can easily lose track or feel stuck, there is never a moment in the game where they must back-track or re-load due to their error. It's a very good touch, but it can sometimes leave the player feeling like they are constricted or that they are having their hand held through the whole game. Besides that, the feeling of comfort this brings also cuts down on the feelings of danger and tension, both of which are key to the atmosphere that Fusion is trying to put forth: being alone and cut-off next to a relentless enemy force.
As for the enemies and creatures used throughout the entire game, this is where Fusion shines the brightest. The main mechanic of the environment is that the research station was used for studying different life-forms throughout the galaxy, and the developers damn well used this fact to their advantage. While there are many creatures included that have been used in other games in the series, the enemy is in a constantly changing state. The station is split up among 6 different zones: Standard SR388 (plain, rocky areas), Tropical, Pyro, Arctic, Water, and Nocturnal. Among these, each area has its standard enemies: ones that crawl along the walls, ones that hop everywhere, ones that fly at you, etc. But, each also has its own unique creatures, with unique sets of attacks, weaknesses, and even individualistic tenacity. When each creature is killed, the "X" parasite that was synthesizing the creature is loosed. These parasites are the health and ammo power-ups that are dropped when an enemy is killed, and are used very fluidly. If they're not immediately picked up, they start to fly around aimlessly, sometimes running from the player, re-forming into another creature somewhere else, or openly attacking you when Samus is weak to that certain strain of "X".
By far the greatest examples of the enemy force are the numerous boss battles spread throughout. Each one of these battles involves a fight with a creature synthesized by a large "X" virus. In order to regain the abilities that Samus must use to progress, each boss must be defeated, the shell around the virus destroyed, and the "X" absorbed to take the ability the boss was using during the fight. Each boss includes one of the many typical abilities that have been used throughout the Metroid franchise, such as high-jumping, morphing into a ball, and even hyper-running. As such, each boss is given an advantage over the player, and while they are difficult (with each boss becoming more difficult as you go), they are not impossible. The best parts of the boss fights involve discovering each boss' weakness (all of which are unique), and even just fighting them is a sight to behold.
Yes, this is a beautiful game, and is one of the brightest, most detailed, and most colorful to be released on the GBA. Unfortunately, this can, more often than not, lead to problems. These can range from confusing parts of the scenery with something either useful or in the way, to having so many things going on on-screen that it becomes confusing what's doing what to who. Other than that, it is a delight, and the issues with confusion are minor at best.
Metroid Fusion is a fantastic game, both for people who have played the series loyally for years, and for the newcomers too. While it does have some issues with feel, a relatively steep difficulty, and some eye-busting graphics, the overall feel is just what it should be, and remains so consistently. This is one game I can't recommend nearly enough.
If you enjoyed this review, please tell me! And if you have any suggestions for future games to get for my back-room, let me know!