This is a very special episode of March of Metroid. We’re taking a look at the fourth game in the series, which, along with Metroid Prime, were the very first Metroid games I ever played. I had got them both together one fateful Christmas. They weren’t even on my Christmas list, but somehow, my parents must have known that these were a pair of games that would become very important to me. It is thanks to Metroid Prime, and this game, Metroid Fusion, that we’re even having this March of Metroid.
Released in 2002 for the Game Boy Advance (why yes, that is quite a gap between games!), Fusion takes place after the events of Super and… another game that we’ll be talking about very soon, unfortunately. Anyway, Samus has returned to SR388 to aid the Galactic Federation in researching the lifeforms of the planet. While there, however, Samus is attacked by a mysterious new organism called X. Seemingly fine, Samus returns to her ship only to be struck with an extremely powerful seizure. The X has invaded and compromised her nervous system, causing her ship to drift into an asteroid field and be destroyed.
Samus herself is rescued and immediately operated on to remove the infection, but alas, though much of her suit was surgically removed, the X in her central nervous system couldn’t be removed safely. However, a cure is found in a vaccine created from the cells of the infant Metroid Samus brought to Ceres, which quickly eradicates the X parasite. Samus, now part-Metroid, must now investigate a mysterious explosion at the Biologic Space Laboratories, which just so happens to be the place where her X-infected Power Suit was shipped off to.
Under the command of an AI, Samus finds that the computer reminds her of her former CO, Adam Malkovich, and with some sentimentalism names the computer after him. It’s only a matter of time before Samus uncovers the cause of the explosion – the X have the ability to transform into a copy of whatever hosts they have had thanks to their ability to absorb DNA. The only reason they hadn’t been encountered before is thanks to their natural predator – the Metroid, which Samus had eradicated earlier, unaware of the threat they kept in check. Samus, who is now herself the last Metroid, is the only thing that stands between the X and galactic anarchy.
The irony of the hunter having become the very thing she hunted is completed when it turns out an X has copied her – the SA-X, a copy of Samus at her most powerful, is stalking the station for Samus. Equipped with the Ice Beam, Samus’ newfound weakness, a complex game of cat and mouse begins. Samus is the only thing that can stop the SA-X, and the SA-X is the only thing that can stop Samus.
Fusion is much more hands-on with story. It again starts with a monologue from Samus, explaining the details that leads up to her exploration of the B.S.L., but every so often during an elevator ride between areas, the game will cut to another monologue from her, generally musing over the course of things. The computer reminding her of Adam, what the SA-X is truly capable of, and so on. The computer itself also serves as guidance, telling Samus what to do and where to go. This is the most text-heavy a Metroid game has ever been, and is definitely a new direction for the series.
It works, however. Samus’ monologues serve simply as backing, never overstaying their welcome or over-explaining things. They genuinely provide a greater insight into the woman behind the visor and flesh out her character quite well. We see a slightly more vulnerable side to her – she fears the SA-X, in part because it is her antithesis and also because she knows exactly what it is capable of. She wonders if she can trust the computer as she did Adam, as even if it reminds her of him, it is distant in a way that isn’t like him.
Everything comes to a head near the end of the game where Samus has a breakdown due to a particularly intense moment. Essentially, Samus accidentally says something that results in an argument where her former CO is insulted and, out of respect for him, challenges the person who insulted him as “they couldn’t possibly understand.” She’s actually vulnerable for once – she’s the one who instigates the argument through a slip of the tongue, and her feelings are genuinely hurt when her trusted friend’s wisdom is called into question. But her sense of self does not revolve around her friend Adam – she’s simply defending him because she knows he would side with her on how things are going. Loyalty, not dependence.
It is miles above what happens in… that other game.
As a result of the increased focus on story, however, the game is quite a bit more linear, in line with Metroid II in some ways. After completing an objective, your next stop is generally a Navigation Room for the next objective (and the doors will lock you in so you have to get the next one right away). Once you’re in the area where the objective is, you’re generally give free reign to explore. Navigation Rooms also give you a map of each area, which isn’t a complete map, but now, hidden areas, when discovered, appear as green on the map, which is a nice touch. The game is clearly divided into the Main Deck and six numbered Sectors, which are all linked by a Main Elevator.
Also new is that powerups are denoted on the map as to whether or not you’ve collected them – if a room has a powerup, it’s got a circle. Once you get it, it becomes a dot. There’s a lot more expansions to find in this game than most of the other Metroids. Samus can find up to twenty Energy Tanks, not to mention a smorgasbord of Missile Expansions and Power Bomb Expansions. She’ll need them all too – her stripped down suit has her taking a good deal more damage than she usually does.
Samus is once again forced to start from scratch, with a spiffy new blue suit and her Power Beam. She can also grab ledges, climb ladders, and is generally more acrobatic than usual thanks to her streamlined design. Bizarrely, her physics are much weightier than normal. Gone is the floaty momentum and slow falling speed of Metroids past – it’ll take some getting used to if you’re a fan of the first three games. There’s also no run button like in Super, you’re just constantly moving at full speed, and using Missiles is as simple as holding the R Button now.
Enemies are now all X hosts, and when killed, transform into an X parasite which you can then absorb to recover health and ammunition. There’s yellow X which recover ten health, green X which recover two missiles, red X which recover a lot of both. And that’s about it. Blue, frozen X show up later that damage you until you have the Varia Suit, but they’re independent entities and don’t appear from fallen foes. Boss enemies appear frequently – it’s probably the largest number of them in the 2D games – and when defeated turn into a Core-X which provide your powerups. You’ll also occasionally get powerups from Data Rooms, described as the efforts of the Galactic Federation to get you fighting fit.
You’ve got your usuals – Morph Ball, Missiles, Varia Suit – with some twists. The Super Missile is now a direct upgrade to the regular Missile instead of its own entity, and gets further upgraded to become Ice Missiles, since Samus can’t use the Ice Beam, being part Metroid and all. The High Jump and Spring Ball are combined into one item, and Power Bombs now reveal destructible blocks of all types, letting you know how to get through them. Gone are the Grapple Beam and the Reserve Tanks. Bomb jumping is nerfed so you can’t climb infinitely. Sequence breaking in general is made much more difficult.
Speaking of difficult, this game can come across as a bit more challenging than the usual Metroid fare thanks to Samus’ lacklustre defences. Enemies generally do more damage, there’s a lot of boss encounters, and even after finishing a boss fight you’ve gotta deal with the Core-X, which as the game progresses get stronger and stronger to an almost ridiculous degree. X parasites, if left alone, can reform into enemies all over again or even combine with existing ones to create stronger mutations (which you actually have to allow to get through some areas). Recharge Stations are found at the entrance to every Sector, but not so much anywhere else, though Save Stations are generously placed.
But of course, there’s also the encounters with the SA-X. They’re rare, but you can always tell when it’s nearby. It’s the footsteps. It’s the fact that, wait, that door wasn’t blown up when I was here just a moment ago. It’s, wait, I just heard a door open all by itself that shouldn’t be happening. It’s been years and my heart rate still jumps up a bit whenever the SA-X appears. It isn’t helped by the fact that if you’re careless, you could be discovered and quickly eradicated. Granted, there’s plenty of videos online of exploiting its less-than-spectacular AI, but still, it’s genuinely terrifying.
The shortcomings are of course, the linearity. It takes many forms, some more natural than others. Sometimes doors just lock behind you, usually when you begin pursuing an objective in a particular Sector. You can freely explore the Sector you’re in, but not so much the other ones. In a really bad example, beginning the final mission of the game from the entrance to a Sector actually locks you out of exploring the rest of the station for goodies. Other forms are more organic – the aforementioned exploding of doors that mere moments ago worked fine, serving as an elegant reminder that you are not alone.
Normally that fact would be considered damning for a Metroid title, since the whole point of the series is isolation in an alien world, but this is a very different thing from having other people to interact with. This is being hunted by something stronger than you. And if you’ve actually played other Metroid games, you know exactly how strong that thing is. It’s positively ingenious.
The visuals aren’t that much of a step-up from Super, though since Super was a good-looking game to begin with, hey, no harm, no foul. Things are generally more vibrant, however, and outlines much more defined, probably to help with the whole “Game Boy Advance screen kinda sucked” thing. Samus’ new design is fresh, and pretty cool-looking, and the soundtrack is one of the best the series has had, with each Sector having a distinct theme that fits the area well, and boss themes are extremely good.
Metroid Fusion is a game that, I think undeservedly, gets a bad rap. It is somewhat responsible for ushering in a greater emphasis on story, but its intentions were noble, and at least in its own case, well-executed. It may have lead to the inexcusable horror that is next week’s subject, but that doesn’t mean the game itself deserves scorn.
No, the biggest problem with Fusion’s story is that it was never continued. It’s a massive change in the series’ status quo. Samus is now, through a bizarre loophole, the last Metroid, a grand irony. Her standing with the Galactic Federation is in question. The threat of both the Metroids and the X are seemingly gone, so what threat will rise to take their place? Where do we go from here?
It’s a question I’ve had several ideas about. I’ve wanted to make a fangame about “what happens after Fusion” for some time, I’ve just never had the patience or talent for it.
As it stands, it’s a lot of untapped potential that is just waiting to be explored.
Instead we got… Other M.