Updated Thoughts on Metroid Fusion

Last weekend was not great. I had been dealing with the fallout of a certain incident which resulted in a less-than-stellar perception of myself, leaving me in an emotional rut. One nice silver lining, though, was the decision to play through all of Metroid Fusion in one sitting, something I had not done in several years.

After reading my prior review of the game, I’ve decided to update my thoughts on the title. Why? Because holy hell do I not agree with much of what I said before. Plus, I’m an obsessive self-reviser. Five years with no touch-ups on the topic is sure to drive me insane.

This updated post will also reference the prior review periodically throughout. While the opinions stated are generally outdated, much of what’s worth discussing were at least covered.

Personal History

First, a little history. From what I recall, Metroid Fusion was my second-ever Metroid game, just after Metroid Prime in, say, 2003? So my initial experience with what will eventually become my favorite game franchise actually came in the 3D space, not the 2D sidescroller origins it’s typically known for. Despite this, I found myself completely enamored with the look, feel, and control scheme of Fusion, which solidified the Metroid franchise as one I would love for years to come.

Down the elevator that is my gaming history.

At the time, I was completely unaware of the “formula” that many speak of in reference to the series. I only knew Samus as “That cool robot person from Super Smash Bros. who I refuse to believe is a girl.” Nothing about “atmosphere” or “sequence-breaking” or “linearity” was of any concern to me. If a game was good, a game was good. I had fun with it, while also drooling over the sci-fi implications of the X and the Metroid implementation late in the game.

Which ties into the point about some fans’ complaints about this game’s straightforwardness. Unlike most games in the series, this one has Samus taking orders/having objectives pointed out by a computer navigation system. Upon doing so, typically, the door leading to any access for backtracking was blocked off. Essentially, do the assigned mission or don’t play the game. After the enormous amount of freedom provided by Super Metroid, something like this certainly hurt, and I don’t personally blame fans for feeling that way.

My historical context is something that’s integral to my general thoughts on Fusion‘s insistence on keeping a straight line. That being: I don’t care. To me, Metroid isn’t necessarily about the liberty of seeing how far you can push the game’s coding to sequence-break and what-not. It’s not about having the game tell you nothing as you flail around in hostile environments, looking for the next way to get lost. You jump around, you shoot things, and you find some cool stuff to get stronger. That’s all I ask.

Ah, Charge Beam. The weapon most players never utilize.

Synopsis

Now that that’s established, Metroid Fusion is (until Metroid Dread) the latest installment in the Metroid timeline, with Samus currently kind of buddy-buddy with the Galactic Federation. While assigned to escort some scientists around the surface of planet SR388, she encounters something called an “X Parasite,” which infects her suit after she eradicates its host body. Later on, Samus is almost killed when the parasite renders her unconscious and her ship flies off into an asteroid belt.

Conveniently enough, the emergency eject function was triggered and Samus was recovered by Galactic Federation ships. Forced to surgically remove her suit to save her life, scientists also (conveniently) whipped up a potential antidote to the X infection, made of Metroid DNA. It paid off, leaving Samus with a completely new look and still within the realm of the living. Afterwards, she is tasked with going to a space station hovering above SR388 to investigate a mysterious explosion. This is where the player starts.

(I kind of wish that opening cutscene was skippable; to my knowledge, it isn’t. Still neat, nonetheless.)

More like the Poweren’t Suit.

Actual Review

Another thing that Metroid games typically do not consist of is dialogue. This is where Fusion ends up making up for past games’ negligence, because boy howdy is there a lot of dialogue. Not as much as, say, a standard JRPG, though still a pretty sizeable amount, thanks to Samus’s chatty computer. Even Samus speaks a little in this! I could certainly see this being another thing that veterans would complain about.

My prior review stated that I was not fond of the way Samus’s and her computer’s relationship progressed throughout the game, calling it “Japanese incorporating miracles through emotional bullshit.” While this statement feels a little too targeted for my current tastes, it’s also something I don’t really feel all that strongly about overall.

Samus and the computer’s bond is built up to be more than it actually seems, which is adequately done as the stakes get higher. And my prior comments were done with the assumption that the computer did not have any sort of higher intelligence for emotions and human understanding. After repeated playthroughs, I feel confident that it, in fact, does. Simply through term usage, one can identify that this computer does get stern, concerned, and occasionally haughty.

Definitely, dude.

Getting back on topic after some self-dunking, I do fear the game does go a tad overboard with the information dumps. This latest playthrough had me kind of skimming text quite a bit, even if I was invested in the story and enjoyed analyzing the contents. To some degree, the repeated playthroughs have dulled my senses to any surprises and scripted sequences.

I do, however, enjoy that most dialogue happens simply within the navigation rooms. There are no sudden cutscenes that occur out of nowhere, right in the middle of the adventure where X start monologuing about its woeful life. It ends up making it more of an expected foray into dialogue oblivion, where the story/character dynamics are explored further. I can focus on these specific moments within the confines of these rooms and situations.

Per the quality of the dialogue itself… it’s fine. Generally pretty straightforward and doesn’t go too outside the grid of what one would expect from a sci-fi story (or Nintendo for that matter). Some very haunting messages mixed in with a lot of “This is what the X is. This is what this area is like. Watch out for this thing.” Some appreciation can be given to the fact that the computer has just a smidge of personality, preventing the game from reading like an instruction manual.

Can’t see it too much from a still image, but the background sparkles.

Fusion‘s story, on the other hand, is a tad more interesting than the dialogue. Outside the big context dump I provided near the beginning, a lot of storytelling is done visually. This leads to a lot of very impactful moments. Seeing the remains of various creatures interspersed along environments. Destruction caused by X-host creatures, aided by Samus’s own actions to survive. Secret research facilities that allude to a growing threat beyond just the X. These individual moments and scenarios keep the plot interesting, even when not explicitly elaborated on.

Atmosphere is something that a lot of Metroid games strive for. This is one where I think it’s among the most effective. The franchise isn’t typically too “scary,” though a lot of creatures do appear very grotesque and massive. Fusion certainly goes for a more fearful approach, specifically through use of SA-X.

Technically a spoiler (not too big, I promise), remember how I said Samus’s suit was infected in the beginning? Well, the X ended up shape-shifting into another Samus, complete with her full-power arsenal. Dubbed SA-X by the computer, it will occasionally appear during Samus’s trek around the space station, forcing the player to hide/run whenever possible. If it manages to see/catch you, its weapons hurt substantially, forcing one to react quickly to avoid it.

Hello, darkness, my old friend.

SA-X alone makes this game really unique. A looming threat that is always hunting you down, instilling a sense of discomfort with every opened door. Metroid meets The Most Dangerous Game. This cat and mouse game adds a lot to the experience, especially for newcomers, that even subverts the traditionally all-powerful figure that Samus embodies. Veterans, however, know that SA-X sequences are mostly scripted, therefore making encounters less impactful. Regardless, the first time through is certainly an anxious one.

Another thing from the prior review I wanted to address was the time it takes to complete this game. Back then, I said completing Fusion took me “two hours and twenty-four minutes.” What I failed to specify was that this was in-game time, which does not account for various things like dialogue, loading/transition screens, and others. I know this because my latest playthrough took me two hours and seventeen minutes, but when I started at roughly 9:20 p.m. and stopped close to 1 a.m., the math doesn’t add up.

In actuality, the game takes anywhere from, what I would estimate, 4.5-6 hours for the average player. That’s a lot more excusable for the “$25-30” price tag I also assumed it retailed at in the former review. Though even with that, I find that the quality of the game itself and the adventure it provides makes little difference how long it is, outside of extreme circumstances (like twenty minutes). Good game is good and 60+ hour games are exhausting.

Ah, timed sections. My favorite.

It cannot be overstated just how smooth this title is. I love, love, love how Samus controls here—tight, fluid, and only occasionally overwhelming (Space Jump Boots can be finnicky). Flipping jumps, wall-jumps, ledge-grabbing, directional inputs; only thing I find slightly awkward is diagonal aiming, forcing one to hold “L” and aiming up or down. Otherwise, Samus is a well-oiled acrobatic machine that makes this game an evergreen joy to indulge in.

An aid to Fusion‘s horror-lite feel also lies in its sound design and soundtrack. The previous review simplified all of this to “music,” which doesn’t really give it enough credit, really. You think about the soundtrack, yes, but you also think about the sounds of creatures moving and attacking; how the atmosphere changes based on situation; the abrupt changes and occasional silence. You see the SA-X often, though it may be more important that you hear it—its footsteps are quite pronounced, even over the eerie shriek of its theme.

I previously stated that I love the music of this game… honestly, I don’t, really. In time, I’ve realized that I’m more fond of the role it plays within the game, rather than the soundtrack alone (which is what I meant before). There aren’t too many standout tracks in terms of “bops,” though they’re well communicated within the scenarios present in the game. In terms of overall enjoyment, Prime easily trumps this—even Zero Mission probably trumps it. But instilling atmosphere? Still very solid.

The track to this part of Sector 5 is barely anything, but nevertheless pretty spooky.

A 2D sidescroller on the GameBoy Advance? Probably has pixel graphics. Do I seem like someone who enjoys pixel art? If your answer is yes, you’re a special person who knows how to read people.

Fusion is something of a strange mission, full of odd colors and bizarre enemies. Samus is usually blue, the creatures are colorful, flying bulbs of DNA; the space station houses different regions that act as specific environments, from water to fire to ice. All of these contained biodomes in one place seems a little off, but I’m not complaining. Very striking imagery is ever present, including SA-X’s reveal, some endgame twists, and a smorgasbord of really creepy bosses. Enemy variety is also pretty strong, with very few recolors among the bunch.

Individual areas, however, have something of a repetitive look to them. A few notable distinctions apply (secret areas in Sectors 2 and 4), though in general, it’s a pretty “space station with different colors” look. Where creatures and bosses are generally original, many areas, specifically closer to their access point, are almost literally recolored rooms. Background art is distinctive and neat, though they tend to be blurred out from all the action.

Serris is a speedy buddy.

I didn’t state too much about the game’s difficulty last time. Honestly, I never felt the need to. I don’t find the game too difficult… but I’ve also played this several times. There is, however, a pretty notable difficulty spike around a point in the game where the power goes out. This specific section has some pretty brutal conditions to it, complete with enemies that are pretty agile and hurt greatly. Bosses can also be a little too cryptic with how to properly combat them.

Metroid Fusion is a game that certainly expects you to experiment. Players should be keen on keeping track of their abilities and items to avoid too many instances of blindly wondering what to do. All that would await you otherwise is the borderline unfair agility that some bosses exude, such as the Space Jump boss, Serris, or Nightmare. It’s not exactly “accessible” in terms of gameplay. Some experience with the franchise or genre would be recommended before taking this on.

Okay, in an effort to not make this go too much longer, I’ll (briefly) address that a lot of the items aren’t hidden as cleverly as maybe they could be. Especially early on, a lot of energy tanks and missile tanks are kind of right out in the open, almost as if to prepare you for the high-damage enemies to come. It’s not until you get to endgame where the really hidden paths become apparent, fully upgraded and power bomb spamming is prevalent.

Oh no.

Metroid Fusion doesn’t quite hit the same beats mechanically as before, though the atmosphere and control really sell it for me. The cat and mouse aspect, and a true “weak to strong” metroidvania-style process, are immensely executed here. This title wouldn’t really be what it is without the horror-lite vibes and the distinct atmosphere, somewhat unique for even its franchise.

While some nostalgia clearly persists, I have a similar feeling playing this as when I do Metroid Prime. A sterile comfort, a completely engrossing aspect of immersion that eradicates any and all outside thoughts. For that alone, the more negative aspects of wonky advanced controls, text quantity, same-looking areas, and less effective repeated playthroughs end up somewhat dulled. I adore this game, but I will also score accordingly with all this in mind.

Final Score: 8/10

(All screenshots taken from a playthrough by naswinger.)

For more reviews on this topic, be sure to check out the associated archive.

Thank you for your time. Have a great day.

One thought on “Updated Thoughts on Metroid Fusion

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