Metroid: Rogue Dawn (V. 1.10) Review

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Almost half a year after the rise and fall of AM2R, another Metroid fangame has made its way into the living world. Metroid: Rogue Dawn is a game that was in development, from what I can find, since 2014. It was released late last month, but I hadn’t found out about it until just a week ago. This delay allowed me to play an updated “1.10” version with fixed bugs and mishaps, which probably benefited my overall experience. The lead designer, Grimlock, is already whipping up plans for a “1.20” version with a little bit more content involved, so this is a currently evolving product that I happen to be reviewing this version of. The updates come with the enthusiasm of replaying to spot the differences and make the game all the more invigorating, though the product now needs little work in terms of pure gameplay.

The most impressive thing about this hack is that it pays homage to the original Metroid down to the ‘d.’ Everything you could possibly love (or loathe) about the original Metroid is on full display in Rogue Dawn, from the pixelated graphics to the controls. While glossier in its finish than most games within that timeframe, to the inexperienced eye, the game could genuinely be mistaken for an NES game made back in the ’80s. In recent years, the demand for retro and retro-styled games has risen exponentially, almost to the point where it’s become trendy. Rogue Dawn has enough of a backing to justify its design choice while also satisfying the desires of those who wish to be transported back to simpler days.

It’s set as a prequel to the original Metroid, with the player starring someone other than Samus Aran. It takes place on the traditional setting of planet Zebes with an unknown human worker under the command of Ridley. Her mission is to steal a Metroid from within the Federation’s base and bring it back to Space Pirate headquarters. The lone woman’s name is Dawn Aran. Herein lies one chief problem with the manner of the game’s execution combined with its plot: why make her name that? Throughout Rogue Dawn, very little is given in terms of who this woman is and how she may be related to Samus. In fact, she’s never given any dialogue or personality to speak of, reclaiming the role of Samus in games of old, silent protagonist to the stars. It isn’t until the end of the game that she makes any direct thought at all, which may come across as random to some. I feel the extra intrigue with making her directly tied to Samus leaves too much to be desired with as little story is told about her, specifically. The creator could’ve named her literally anything else and it wouldn’t matter to the story whatsoever.

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This isn’t to say there is no story in Rogue Dawn, as there is quite a bit, both told through dialogue and environment. I liked the simple aesthetic foretelling that Rogue Dawn incorporates to drive the feeling of isolation that Metroid is known for. Skeletons being littered throughout the planet, old Chozo statues being placed everywhere with empty item shells, etc. These little changes don’t seem like much, but it subconsciously paints a mood for the player as they travel throughout the lands of Zebes. Dialogue is painted on the screen in individual rooms, which seems silly at first glance, but is a nice throwback to the way video games used to be before advanced textboxes were created. It gets the job done and is able to convey enough emotional feedback from characters to set the mood further, but only that.

While Rogue Dawn does do a great justice in those looking for a true Metroid “sequel,” there’s a great injustice that I feel needs to be addressed with these homages. Gameplay-wise, the controls are solid and very rarely fidgety, and the sprite animation is fluid and nice to look at. However, perhaps because it is a direct hack of the original Metroid, it still contains many of the problems that plague the source material. Horrid knockback. Enemies phasing through doors as the screen loads the next room, hurting the player. Bosses being defeated by spamming one button. Lag with a large number of moving sprites onscreen. Limited enemy variation. These included are some objective faults of the game, but don’t assume more subjective complaints won’t follow suit.

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For as much as I love the Metroid franchise, I was never a huge fan of the original game. While excluding Metroid II, as I’ve never played it, my experiences with its games gives the impression that they perfected the formula with Super Metroid. Some of the issues I have with Metroid is that it’s too vague, too unfairly difficult, and too simplistic in its design to really leave a lasting impact. Rogue Dawn, as the point of an homage, incorporates all of these things, to varying degrees.

It is too vague. It took me a total of ten hours to fully complete this game. I’m not blaming the game for my lack of directional skills or intuition, but there are times when the environment holds too many different passageways to too many different areas, leaving the player to occasionally forget completely about one of what seems like ten different secret routes. There are subtle differences to tell these secret routes, usually, but there are also times when the player must experiment with newly-acquired items. Backtracking, while also trying to guide oneself in the right direction, can drag the experience out for far too long. Not to mention, there are no incoming updates, hint systems, or Chozo statues telling where one needs to go. One must explore, trial and error, over and over in various areas until they can conceivably find a lead. God help whoever happened to miss a key item along the way.

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On a narrative scale, the vagueness can also dull the impact of the story, as it becomes rather heavy later on. One is likely not to care about Dawn, as the only intriguing feature about her is her name and position. It almost seems, despite its best efforts, that the story is a rather safe route into the “Metroid lore.” By game’s end, nothing really changes, nothing really is set up for future updates. It feels like one of those one-off bonus specials for fans of a main source. Like an OVA to an anime series, or a mini-series to a hit film. While the presentation of a new character with an intriguing backstory is presented within Rogue Dawn, the hack does nothing with it. It could’ve attempted to give her an occasional interaction or two with others within the base or otherwise, but the decision to keep everything quiet backfires in this case.

It is too unfairly difficult. This one can be different for anyone, though I feel one can sense it within Rogue Dawn, especially within the last area. Certain enemies bounce around with absurd precision. Bosses have a ridiculous amount of health to them, or unbreakable patterns. Trap rooms give way to hurting the progression of the player. Not to mention, that glitch where enemies can phase through doors. To be fair, the difficulty with bosses only concerns one in the forest area (as I traveled there too early in the game) and the final boss. Speaking of the final boss, the entire final area is so frustratingly annoying and targeted to infuriate the player that one would likely throw their computer at the wall if not for save states. It certainly had its intended effect on me (My laptop is okay). But is that fun? Does that “sense of accomplishment” really come through upon beating it and overcoming a tough trial? It can, but in cases where the game isn’t throwing eight different projectiles at me and expecting me to fail the first twenty times. A more strategic approach is enough to quell my frustrations with a feeling of elation, somewhat like the final bosses in the Donkey Kong Country series. Having a hundred enemies onscreen at the same time trying to kill you isn’t strategic. It’s padding.

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It is too simplistic. Purists will likely harp on me for criticizing the game for being too similar to Metroid in simplicity, but the point doesn’t matter. The fact is that it’s still too simplistic. I can understand not wanting to be handheld and experiencing the thrill of adventure on your own. There are two extremes to one subject, and I feel the coddling of recent games is only balanced by the relative abandoning of games of old. Much like Rogue Dawn. Much like Metroid. It is without a lot of narrative intrigue. It is without a number of items to make the experience much different. It is without a lot of different enemies to combat. It is without a lot of everything that made future Metroid titles much better in comparison to the debut member. One could conceivably see the game as simply going from one place to another, collecting things and blowing up baddies, and that’s all. I’d argue there’s more to it, however the amount present on the surface is bare. The most interesting thing about Rogue Dawn is that it’s a fan project and the environments look spectacular.

Even with the flood of negative attributes, there’s a lot to adore with a fan project such as this. As I previously stated, the environments and design look spectacular, amazing even. One would likely play the game based on aesthetic embellishment alone. It sets the tone magnificently and the intrigue of what’s to come keeps the player going. The final area is a particular favorite of mine that embodies everything about the creepy atmosphere the Metroid series adores indulging in. Artistically, Rogue Dawn is the pinnacle of a true-to-form Metroid fan project. It also features a decent amount of changes to the environment to make it more visually exciting, as well as more foreboding than the occasionally silly sprites of Metroid. This is one area where the fan project exceeds the original. Then again, this was made thirty years after Metroid.

If one really, really loves Metroid, then they’ll feel right at home with Rogue Dawn. The amount of effort put forth (and still ongoing) is shown in the work, which alone could make the game worth playing. Unfortunately, one would also have to fight with all the outdated design flaws that come with the original game; not to mention a disappointing lack of entrepreneurship with a supposedly new and fresh storyline.

Final Score: 5/10

AM2R: Another Metroid 2 Remake (v. 1.0) Review

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Ambition can be a wonderful thing. It has led man to explore the reaches of the universe, to create inventions to make living life easier, and defined the very foundation of everything that is little more than common knowledge today. One has to realize, in this day and age, that everything within the world around them has a name and some purpose, all because someone had the ambition to give them a name, and to create, or simply identify, their purpose. This leads into the revival of a game not many have played. In fact, I’m not sure many Metroid fans have even beaten this game, let alone know its place in the Metroid lore. It was the ambition of a small team of developers that brought this project to light, and what a bright light it shines.

I, as I’m sure along with many others, wasn’t alive when the original Metroid II was released. I have yet to even play the game for myself. My only knowledge comes from a video demonstration done by Cinemassacre, along with knowing its place in the Metroid timeline. That being said, it’s hard to review this game without having that proper knowledge of knowing the original, in an effort to judge it as a remake instead of only seeing it for the game itself. Unfortunately, my hands are tied, so all I can do is critique the game based on how it measures up to other Metroid games, along with analyzing the finer details of the game’s structure.

AM2R features Samus Aran, intergalactic bounty hunter extraordinaire, being sent on a mission to the surface of SR388 to eradicate the Metroid scourge inhabiting the planet. That was the only purpose of the mission in the original game, and the remake doesn’t add much more to it. The opening cutscene doesn’t take more than a couple minutes or so, and the player already finds themselves controlling Samus on the surface of SR388.

What becomes immediately apparent with the game upon playing is the level of attention to detail, as well as some familiar imagery. AM2R looks lovely and vivid, with its own unique touch of bold, large numbers and interface options. It produces a glare of intensity with its atmosphere, most notably in Samus’s gunshots and Morph Ball feature. This game is very bright, and I use that term literally. Everything has that sort of glowing aroma of a blockbuster film or enthusiastic light show. It only accentuates the level of efficiency produced by Samus’s suit of armor and her overwhelming strength. Apart from that, a lot of the art style is piggybacked off of Metroid: Zero Mission. Samus’s suit, run and jump animation, idle poses (to an extent), and the sounds she produces all ring familiar to that of the game noted. Many of the enemy types and styles were also borrowed from various Metroid games, almost as if attempting to steer the player’s attention back to those games rather than this one. Then again, it’s entirely possible that the original Metroid II had all of these creature types and I’m simply unaware of it. Even so, it’s amusing to see creatures I’m used to seeing in certain color schemes pop up in various other forms.

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On the topic of enemies, I mentioned briefly in my Metroid: Zero Mission Review that enemies too often relied on simply hammering down one button in order to be taken down efficiently. Such is the case here, only the first half of the game relies more on the beam weapon, whereas the second half relies too solely on the Screw Attack upgrade. It makes the gameplay repetitive quickly, and bypassing the area by simply ignoring the flying obstacles becomes a much more pressing argument. That isn’t to say every enemy within the game can be easily defeated with beam ammo, but many of them fall under that category. Another noteworthy aspect of the game is the enemy placement, one which I both enjoy and don’t enjoy. Within the region of SR388, there are a number of different tunnels and underground habitats for a number of different creatures. I really enjoyed seeing the enemies coated in material or balanced in a fashion that suited their environment. I also really enjoyed that as the environment became harsher, the enemies became sturdier (for the most part). It gives this wildlife fascination that creates the planet of SR388 into a genuine location. However, there are also times when enemy types are recycled for convenience, whether from previous locations or from other Metroid titles. The purpose of these enemies don’t really seem to be geared towards survival, either. Many enemies simply serve as obstacles, literally swaying from left and right to obstruct the player’s path. I can understand security drones wanting to do that, but living creatures? It feels too poorly implemented.

What’s exclusive to this game is the countdown of Metroids among the planet’s system. The game’s objective is to destroy all the Metroids on the planet, and this game has a total of 55 Metroids the player has to kill throughout the course of the game. The battles against the Metroids range from annoying, but easy, to obnoxiously one-sided. The bizarre part is that the harder versions of the Metroids come not from the final form, but the middle forms. A Metroid’s lifespan cycles as so: Infant, Mature, Alpha, Gamma, Zeta, then Omega; along with the Queen Metroid, which is an outlier within the Metroid cycle. Within the game, the player will be tasked with facing each form of these Metroids, the majority being Alpha and Gamma forms. These forms are within the “Annoying, but easy” levels of difficulty. Once it hits the Zeta form, however, this game suddenly becomes nearly insufferable. The Zeta form is by far the hardest form to conquer, whether it be because of its size, which takes up a lot of Samus’s jumping space, or its speed, which is barely slower than Samus’s full run speed. I died three times to the same Zeta Metroid during my playthrough before being able to adjust to its moveset. But it’s not just about the moveset as much as it is pure precision. The player’s jumps and missile fire need to be almost pixel perfect to take down a Zeta effectively. And when it comes time to face the Omega Metroids, the player has a distinct advantage because their moveset and strategy are nearly identical to the Zeta, giving the player the assumption that Omegas are simply powered up versions of Zetas. That by no means makes them a cakewalk, however. They’re noticeably easier, but still a pain to take down. I had more fun taking down these guys, though. Combating nearly forty Alpha and Gamma Metroids in a row grows tiring very quickly.

But what of SR388 as a whole? The area that Samus runs around in is somewhat of an achievement compared to most 2D Metroid games. AM2R, and the game it was inspired by, features one large map of the planet’s surface and underground, whereas most other games have one central area that splits off into various “zones” or regions. This was notably frustrating for fans of the original game, as it didn’t even offer a map. Thankfully, AM2R was smart enough to add a map, so players wouldn’t be running around hundreds of rooms trying to remember where they have and haven’t been. Maybe not hundreds, but somewhere close. This is a pretty big game. For its size and even the lighting, most notably, this game serves as an impressive 2D feat. It’d be considered groundbreaking if it wasn’t 2016. Unfortunately, that’s where the praise concludes, as the areas are notably lackluster in almost every regard, though only after visiting the first few areas. According to AM2R, the infrastructure of SR388 comprises of mechanical facilities, ruins, and temples. The general area around these places are all relatively similar: a large, cavern-like space with a lot of jumping space above the structures and some secret tunnel(s) either to the left, right, or below the structure. There’s the sacred temple area with some Chozo machinery. The tower area with more robots inside. An underwater fortress with even more robots inside. Then there are areas that have little importance aside from advancing progress, such as the Search Team and Research Team camps among the tunnels below the surface. They’re joined by various breeding grounds for Metroids, which only serve as a mini-boss rush of many Metroids to kill before progressing. Finally, the area after The Hive, where the strongest and most concentrated area of Metroids reside. This area is probably the most blatant use of the “I’m almost done with the game, may as well make looping tunnels for no reason,” fix I’ve ever seen. It’s visually impressive, what with the glowing caverns and the waterfalls running down flawlessly, but it serves no point. No enemies, no obstacles. It’s simply there.

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That is the major problem in regards to the environment of this game. It seems to recycle itself more as the game goes on. The first dark breeding ground was pretty cool. The second one was annoying. The first abandoned temple with robots was pretty cool. The next three were annoying. There isn’t a whole lot of variety to this game in terms of integral differences. There’s a “water” section and something one could argue as the “lava” section, but there isn’t much more to it than that, and it tends to come across as less creative than even the more cliché choices Nintendo makes with its areas.

What kind of remake would this game be without a little author input? I’d hazard a guess and say the original Metroid II didn’t allow players to take control of jumping robots carrying super missiles or carry energy spheres into strange circuits in order to power various locked doors. These little nuances make the game a little more interactive, but these activities end up becoming very situational. There are a few instances of backtracking to uncover hidden secrets, but most are only dependent on progressing and are never incorporated again. In fact, there isn’t a whole lot of backtracking to this game in general. The game gives you the opportunity to, but only to collect some 20% of items you may have missed without thorough exploration of areas the player’s already discovered. For a Metroid game, this rendition of Metroid II doesn’t require the player to backtrack all too often. This, in turn, can lead to cries of “Linear!” among hardcore fans, but that’s just how it goes. I don’t know how much of this game is taken directly from Metroid II, but I’m fairly certain Metroid II didn’t have a scan system. AM2R features a scanning system that inputs data for Samus to read before going into a certain area or fighting a certain mini-boss/boss. However, these scanning situations aren’t player-inputted. They happen at certain points in the game and only serve as world-building and giving subtle hints as to what to expect from an area or how to combat a boss. It’s a nice touch, but I can’t help but wish they fleshed it out a little more. It ends up becoming rather pointless the way it is and does little to make the player feel immersed. I would’ve preferred if it was something a player could control themselves, similar to the Prime series.

A small nitpick on my part, but I find it a wee easy to get lost within the goal of this game. Twice I found myself exploring and backtracking trying to find out what to do next, only to find out I missed a subtle cue within a room of the most recent area of focus. This accumulated into roughly an hour of my total playtime, and I can’t describe how frustrating it was to check every non-highlighted room for some sort of answer. This is an instance when the area of the map seemed far too big, but I realize it works better with that size. This also ties into the lack of backtracking in this game. Earthquakes will occur every so often that will indicate a progression of story. Once those earthquakes occur, the area the player was just exploring becomes pointless aside from a few item expansions. Progression comes from continuing a path underground that will lead into loooooong tunnels that stretch out to the far left portion of the map. Knowing that, the player will understand that if they can’t progress, it’s because they didn’t discover everything in the last area they had to go through. I only wish I knew that before playing this, because it had me waste quite a bit of time in prior areas.

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Something I feel isn’t brought up much in determining the quality of Metroid games is the soundtrack. AM2R has a good combination of both catchy and ambiatic tracks that serve the game well throughout. Overall, the quality of music is above average. I notice that tracks for various areas tend to blend in with one another after a while, while tracks of ambiance tend to be quiet and foreboding. Despite this, it’s a good remix of other Metroid tracks, while serving as its own sort of rhythmic beeps and boops that remind me of Sanctuary Fortress from Prime 2. The foreboding tracks work very well with the dark breeding grounds, as I felt genuinely concerned about what was to come next. The abandoned campsites, however, not so much. I really enjoy the tune that plays during the title screen, along with the music that plays whenever battling a Metroid.

Over the course of the game, efficiency was never an issue. It worked smoothly from beginning to end. No complaints there. For a fan game, that is a very imperative step, and I applaud the team for the amount of work they had to have went through to make that happen. The only glitch that occurred to me was when I was facing a Mature Metroid near the end of the game. I had frozen it and wasn’t able to destroy it in time with five missiles. So, the Metroid vanished into the wall and never came back out. The doors remained locked and I was trapped inside. I had to restart the game from the last save point.

This game altogether is a beautiful tribute to the Metroid franchise and perhaps a reliable remake of an often forgotten game. This is probably the closest to a new Metroid game we’ll get in the near future, seeing as Nintendo seems hellbent on treating the franchise like a booty call. I only wish that AM2R would’ve added more to it to make it as vibrant as actual Metroid games. To be able to design the environment and improve upon what was already put in place to make it an altogether great game. The way it is now is a great first step, as I enjoyed playing a good majority of the game, but it could be better. Fortunately, this is titled as “v. 1.0,” so there seems to be more to come from this team. I’ll be waiting patiently to see what they’re capable of doing with more time and energy to pursue their overwhelming ambition.

Final Score: 7/10

Metroid Fusion Review

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There’s something about this game that divides the Metroid fanbase. A lot of people criticize this game for being linear, for being told to follow orders and being shown exactly where to go. To go from point A to point B. They complain that this isn’t what Metroid is supposed to be. This isn’t following the formula that made the immersive, atmospheric, and grim exploration games from previous Metroid games so great. While these criticisms have a validity to them, one has to wonder if it really matters? If a Metroid game doesn’t follow this exact formula, does it deserve the flak that it normally receives? In short, yes and no.

Some fans will cite this game as the most linear and basic of the Metroid games, especially within the earlier years of the series’ life. However, I would argue that Zero Mission is much more guilty of the “point A to point B” criticisms that Fusion is used to receiving; Zero Mission just doesn’t have any story to go along with it. I believe the difference with Fusion is that the linear style of the plot is excusable for the sake of context. Samus Aran is now working directly with The Galactic Federation. She is taking orders like one would take orders from a superior. This in of itself rubs some Metroid fans the wrong way because she’s supposed to be a bounty hunter, a lone wolf lookin’ for trouble. She shouldn’t be working under someone! She does whatever she cares to. She even says in-game that she despises taking orders. So… why even willingly choose to work under them? Plotholes from within the context aside, she is now working under superiors, so the “point A to point B” plotline makes sense. I don’t see it as that much of an issue with the game itself but more of an issue with the background of Samus as a character and the player’s interpretation of her background.

The game itself has some of the most dialogue in a Metroid game up until Metroid: Other M, which is an entity all on its own. It has its own backstory, its own cast of characters aside from Samus, and genuine story development. Some may shrug aside the story of Fusion due to their own dismay with how the story is set to begin with, but I found the story to be both objectively and subjectively engaging. I can even go as far as to say that I believe Fusion has the best attempt at an actual plot of any game in the series. However, that would insinuate that the Metroid series actually tries to develop a plot aside from “Bad guy is causing a ruckus. Good guy must stop them.” What this game lays on top of this is an air of mystery, suspense, and fear. If you’ve read my Zero Mission review, you’d know that my favorite part of the game is the end of it, when you’re left defenseless in a foreign territory, trying to avoid enemy detection. Fusion incorporates something similar, except the player isn’t entirely defenseless, but is hunted by a creature far more powerful than her starting state. It’s only a shame that all of these encounters with the “SA-X,” a creature with all of Samus’s latent abilities, are scripted and hardly a part of the game.

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I enjoyed the overall use of deception, ulterior motives, and mystery quirks the plot incorporates into the game. This kind of thing makes the story more impactful and more memorable in the long run. It makes it feel less stale, especially when considering other Metroid titles’ stories are either vague or outright basic. I thoroughly enjoyed the hoops I had to go through and the way the environment and this unknown, new threat that my “superiors” had little knowledge of acted as an accessory to the plot. However, if there is one thing about the story I didn’t care for is how it ended. It screams “Japanese incorporating miracles through emotional bullshit.” The way they painted Samus through inner monologues was okay for the most part, but when she starts making smart remarks about whether or not she can trust a computer and criticizing it for not being able to understand something from an empathetic viewpoint, it’s just dumb. Samus, it’s a computer. A computer does not have a personality. It does not have feelings. It does not have ulterior motives. It’s a computer. You’re being a little too judgmental. Except the computer takes on the personality of someone she once worked under named Adam Malkovich out of nowhere because why not and that entire theory suddenly makes sense… but feels incredibly forced and dumb. God damn.

Metroid Fusion, like Metroid: Zero Mission, is a very short game. It took me two hours and thirty-six minutes to complete Zero Mission with a 74% item collection rate. It took me two hours and twenty-four minutes to complete Fusion with a 68% item collection rate. Once again, this game was $25-30 retail cost, which is a horrible gameplay to cost ratio. This also makes the game feel too quick in a sense. The player can’t really fully enjoy the experience of playing the game due to how little content there really is, on top of the amount of dialogue present in this game. The game seems to end in a snap, with one or two sessions with the game being enough to go from beginning to end, depending on how good the player is at the game.

The difficulty of the game is just right for my tastes. A lot of the enemies are susceptible to normal weapon fire, but there’s a distinct addition of enemies that need to be defeated in specific ways, along with enemies that have different forms of attack and travel. I enjoyed the amount of obstacles that required different weapons to advance aside from item-specific blocks in the wall. The bosses are a tad too “wait for the weak spot” for my tastes, but are otherwise enjoyable to go up against. Some enemies hurt like hell upon touching, too, so the player can’t be too careless when demolishing through a certain room. It gives a sense of strategizing when it comes to certain enemies and obstacles, rather than just run, jump, and shoot. I feel like there was a lot more effort put into making this game competitively fun in comparison to Zero Mission.

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I forgot to mention, but the enemies in this game are parasites called “X” that take the host of whoever (or whatever) they absorb themselves into. These things can take form of virtually any living thing, including manifesting themselves into a giant figment of slimey, veiny goop. Due to story elements, Samus has the ability to absorb these parasites safely, which recover health and item quantities. Each enemy defeated will have at least one of these parasites float out of it, for Samus to absorb (so long as she can catch it). They are shown to be intelligent, too, so it gives more weight to killing and absorbing these creatures, as they’re trying just as hard to kill Samus. It’s not like on Tallon IV or Planet Zebes where the creatures were simply acting out of self-defense. These parasites are actively seeking to kill Samus. Add to the fear factor.

What may be another controversial statement in a series of controversial statements I’ve made throughout the review comes in the form of Fusion’s music. I love the music to this game, and would argue that it suits the game’s overall theme of fear and isolation better than any game in the series. It’s almost totally atmospheric, which hampers its overall memorability and/or quality, but makes the story and imagery present in the game more memorable instead. I really enjoy the way the music incorporates itself to make the plot, the mood, and the immersion all the better, but without all of that, it may be a tad uninspired overall. It’s not the kind of music one can hum to, one can turn on to have a rockin’ good time, but it’s all the better in addition to the environment its placed in. This is a standard for most Metroid games, but I feel Fusion does it masterfully.

Visually, Fusion is very similar to Zero Mission. I think the latter is more memorable by design and the areas it provides are brim with color and flare. Fusion, by default, is darker, more grim in overall tone, so the visuals give off a more serious, grayer tone. I also feel that some areas in the game (Sectors 2, 4 (underwater area), 5, and 6) are more interesting to look at than others (Sectors 1, 3, and the main station). I also both like and dislike the whole “areas are differentiated by natural elements.” Yeah, it’s cliché to have a grass area and a water area and a fire area, but I also like the way it all feels like one big world. I would have more of an issue with this if it were hard/slow to travel from place to place, but the areas in general are small enough to not feel overwhelming, and Samus is fast and functional enough to make traveling an afterthought (especially after acquiring Space Jump Boots). Samus’s new “Fusion Suit” looks fine altogether, but I don’t care for the visor. It looks like a frog’s foot. It’s weird.

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One more comparison to Zero Mission: I like how it varied up the objective. Zero Mission is literally just going from place to place collecting items and fighting bosses. That’s it. Fusion has you collecting items, fighting bosses, racing against the clock (twice), going rogue, using stealth to avoid the SA-X, and reacting to the snags that the X Parasites try to use against Samus to deter her advance. It just feels to me that the game has more of a point to its action, that Samus has more motivation to upgrade as much as she possibly can, knowing that there is something far more powerful than she hunting her at every turn. There’s more to do in this game than other Metroid titles, and while this may turn off some, it’s wholly welcome in my eyes, even if it doesn’t fit the Metroid narrative.

This game genuinely frightened me as a child. The first time seeing the SA-X revealed up close was something I would avoid seeing to secure myself a good night’s sleep. This game is still haunting today, even knowing how to maneuver through all of the scripted events and the motivation behind Samus’s superiors. The brooding atmosphere and the isolating effect of being hunted by something far more powerful is enough to make this game all the more enjoyable for me. The gameplay is fun, but standard, with the environment taking on the same description. The game is disappointingly short, which is probably the biggest issue this game has, if one can look past the context to Samus’s entire origin. But is that context enough to ruin the game? I wouldn’t say so. Metroid Fusion is too fun and too emotionally manipulative for me to shrug it aside because it may paint Samus and the Metroid franchise as a whole as too uniform or stereotypical. However, I do empathize with those of that mindset. Metroid Fusion marked the beginning of the end for Samus Aran, a character that becomes all the more dislikable with Nintendo’s every attempt at showing her more “human side.”

Final Score: 8/10

(All gameplay screenshots courtesy once again of SaikyoMog.)

Metroid: Zero Mission Review

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At one point, Metroid was my favorite game series of all time. However, upon revisiting the series and its games in the past few years, the overall glamour and appeal to the series started to dwindle in my mind. That’s not to say that I feel the games are lacking in quality, but rather they aren’t nearly as enjoyable as I once felt in the past. One such example is Metroid: Zero Mission, a remake of the first game in the Metroid series, for the Game Boy Advance. The game is essentially an updated upgrade with some added features here and there, including spectacular graphics, added items and platforming mechanics, and a brand new ending sequence. To its credit, the game is very well made and has a lot to offer in its time-span, but that effort can only be appreciated by those willing to overlook the key flaws.

Right from the get-go, I’ll admit that I really don’t care for the original Metroid. Its lack of a map, lack of any coherent purpose, lack of rewardable upgrades, and lack of health replenishments makes the game exceedingly dull, confusing, and needlessly difficult. Almost by default, this makes Zero Mission, which has more of all of these lacking aspects, better in comparison. However, I feel the game doesn’t entirely do a good job of balancing out all of these factors.

Zero Mission is almost laughably short. People complain that indie games like Undertale and Shantae aren’t worth the price tag that the amount of actual gameplay provides the player. But putting this into perspective; the last time I finished Zero Mission, I finished it in two and a half hours, on the normal difficulty, with 74% item completion. Retail cost for this game back when it was released was $25-30, from what I recall. That’s ripe for some complaints. In a sense, this short time-span can make the game feel like nothing really happened, or that everything happened too quickly to fully be immersed in the gameplay. I think both things apply in this case, but I’d probably be more disappointed if I felt the gameplay was easy to be immersed in.

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One issue with Zero Mission that I never seemed to notice as a child is that the gameplay isn’t entirely varied. Most of the time the player will be tasked with jumping on platforms and shooting enemies in a rotation-like fashion, along with running down a straight corridor blasting anything in your path. That’s the issue: shoot. Press B. B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B. That is, for the most part, all you really need to do to progress, to defeat the enemy, to achieve your goal. B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B. Or. (Hold R) B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B. This, in the long run, gets far too tedious for me to really enjoy past the first few areas. What makes this worse is that it is the most effective way of eliminating all threats. You can experiment with missiles, Morph Ball bombs, or other gadgets, but the quickest and most effective way of taking down a majority of enemies is the normal blaster (until the Screw Attack, which you get very late in the game). It works for Mega Man because his level design compliments what he is capable of doing, while with Metroid, it becomes more dull the more powerful you become.

Boss battles aren’t immune to this, either. Kraid is entertaining simply because it requires a condition in order to actually hurt him, along with the platforms in which you stand on eventually breaking the more damage Kraid takes. It takes a little skill to defeat him as quickly as possible. Ridley is a complete pushover, as all you need to do is aim at him and fire missiles. Mother Brain’s difficulty skyrockets due to a bunch of shit flying right at you as you tiptoe along a narrow block suspended over a lava pit. Otherwise, wait for Mother Brain’s eye to be exposed, then shoot missiles. Simple. Mecha Ridley, the last boss in the series, is essentially Mother Brain but with a different weak spot. Wait for it to be exposed, then shoot it with a missile. Simple. There are a number of mini-bosses scattered throughout the game, too, but they’re hardly worth mentioning. Most fall prey to the same “wait for weak spot to be exposed -> fire” method.

This issue, like the first, never bothered me much in the past, but does incredibly now. The game is far too easy. Not only is it easy, but it is intentionally made easy and player-friendly. Most common enemies can be taken out with a few shots or one or two missiles. Boss battles are little trouble at all. Missile and energy expansions are marked on the map. Chozo statues show you exactly where you need to go and heal you completely of energy and weapons. Dangerous and hidden areas are marked differently on the map. There are save stations fucking everywhere. And I was playing all of this on Normal difficulty. I’d hate to see how easy it was on Easy mode. I died once during my last run, and that was because of the bullshit that was Mother Brain’s boss fight. Otherwise, it was a breeze most of the way through. This easiness factor only heightens the repetitive and overall gray feeling that overtakes me when I play the game.

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Just to rub salt in the wound, Ice Beam also makes the game about a hundred times easier. Depending on the strength of the enemy being fired at, the enemy will freeze over for about eight seconds after one to four shots. What easier way to defeat an enemy than to freeze it and continue to fire without any feedback? Ice Beam is also one of the first beam upgrades available in the game. B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B.

What I said above about balancing out this game in comparison to the original Metroid is most of the issues I have with Zero Mission. While the original game made it far too hard and vague, this game makes it far too easy and clear. It doesn’t have that sort of balance that makes traditional games in the Metroid series so fun to play. There’s little variety, little challenge, and little experimentation, only a watered down shoot ’em up with pretty visuals and designs. Thankfully, the game does try to some extent to make this game a little more juicy.

Some of the more memorable and fun aspects to Zero Mission are when the player is challenged to platform or complete specific tasks to progress further. Most of these challenges are done through breaking blocks in the structure of the area with various weapons or suit upgrades like the Speed Boost. Other times, it’s just trying to take advantage of timing the Morph Ball bombs correctly to boost the player to new heights. I will give the game credit for giving the player the ability to sequence-break, without having to resort to glitching. In a way, this may feel too “Mario-esque” in nature, but I rather like the platforming bits in this game. After all, Nintendo knows how to make a platformer. The Power Grip item, while making the platforming easier, also makes jumping from place to place feel more fluid.

There is actually one thing about Zero Mission I genuinely love, and that is infiltrating the Space Pirate frigate at the end of the game. Ironically enough, I hated this part in the past, only to rediscover how fun the entire section really is. Through means of story I don’t entirely wish to spoil, Samus ends up infiltrating a Space Pirate frigate without the aid of her Power Suit, showing the debut of her Zero Suit in-game. She has a single pistol that can do nothing but stun enemies once charged up. The only thing from her Power Suit she retains is the Power Grip, leaving her almost entirely defenseless. This part of the game is awesome. Everything that I complained about up to this point is now nil. Suddenly, the game is challenging, the game has some sense of fear. The game has you hide from the Space Pirates, requiring you to be stealthy and to be quick when the Pirates (inevitably) discover you. And you can’t fight back. The player’s only choice is to run; run and hide. It seems almost uncanny to praise a Metroid game for being anything like a Metroid game, but it works wonders here, and part of me wishes they’d flesh this concept into an entire game. Alas, it isn’t until <insert story plot here> that you’re able to regain your (now more powerful) Power Suit… and the game goes back to being rather easy and bland.

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As much as I complain about the context, the game has a lot of effort put into it. The visual interpretation of the game, its environments, and its atmosphere are all very detailed. The music is atmospheric and chilling to a degree. I wouldn’t call it great, but certainly memorable. The visual aspect is also very noteworthy, as the smooth animation and crisp, colorful design of the game is magnificent and easy to appreciate. The backgrounds are interesting, the enemies are varied, and the bosses all look fantastic. It’s one of the best looking handheld games I’ve ever played and is always a pleasure to take in.

From a technical standpoint, the best thing about this game is the control. Samus controls about as tight and as accurately as she possibly could in a 2D side-scrolling game. I haven’t a single complaint about how the game handles or how it incorporates movement or button-specific scenarios. It’s almost so good that it only further proves my point about how dull it is. It feels so good that its effortless to traverse the area the way the player wants to, running and jumping and shooting all the while. This by no means implies that I think the control suffers from my subjective criticisms, but rather that it enhances my subjective criticisms. The game responds well enough to make the platforming, the preciseness of certain obstacles, and the overall experience far more enjoyable.

Putting everything aside, Metroid: Zero Mission is a game with a lot of heart, but simply doesn’t give me the same type of thrill while playing other titles in the series. A lot of the factors behind this are based on the decision-making of the developers when deciding how easy to make this game, along with its relative shortness. The argument many people have behind the rating of a game is how much fun they had while playing it. Well, I only had fun sporadically when playing this game, so by that account, the rating will suffer accordingly. However, I feel that the amount of effort put into all aspects of a video game are worth taking note of, and Zero Mission isn’t an entirely bad game; rather, it’s more good than bad. It’s just not really a game catered to my interests, as cold as that sounds to my younger, Metroid-loving self. I appreciate the effort and love put into it, but it’s wasted on the cracks that appear beneath the surface.

Final Score: 5.5/10

(All gameplay screenshots courtesy of SaikyoMog.)

Metroid [Manga] Review

The Metroid series made history when they decided to make their lone, warrior-esque main character a woman. Up to that point, no other game series had had a female protagonist as prominent as Samus Aran. Nintendo had created another legendary character to fight alongside Mario, Link, and various other characters in their video game hierarchy. With this new character came added pressure to give her a backstory worthy of her base appearance as a silent hunter. An attempt to make her more human, despite her robotic appearance. An official manga was created almost twenty years after her first appearance to reveal the tale of Samus Aran’s past and upbringing into the hero that she is now. Almost twenty years later, and fans would finally get to know the whole story behind their favorite female space warrior.

One other thing to note is Nintendo’s insistence on making Samus more human. Ever since the manga was released, the main games in the Metroid franchise have slowly and progressively shown Samus outside of her suit, and even has her talking regularly in the latest installment: Other M. Some fans feel that Nintendo’s attempts to make her more vulnerable is unnecessary, and Samus’s personality should forever remain whatever the player makes of it. One thing that most Metroid games have in common is great ambiance, and Samus’s hesitance to speak only further enhances the experience of her games. Despite these complaints, Nintendo seems intent on making Samus a tragic hero worthy of pity and empathy.

One thing that is apparent immediately with the Metroid manga is that the story is not very unique. Samus is a normal three year-old girl, living on a planet with her mother and father, who serve as commanders for an unexplained federation within the population. One day, an enemy species called the space pirates invade Samus’s planet and attack everything in site, with the help of their commander: Ridley. Through a series of events, the entire population is wiped out, leaving only Samus alive after the entire incident. This leads to another alien race, the Chozo, adopting Samus and taking her under their care for the time being.

Samus’s upbringing screams typical shounen. The entire story can be wrapped up in a cliche mess of different scenarios that can be found in multiple other sources. Her mindset is the usual “righteousness and justice” that plagues the characters in Japanese media. If they truly wanted to make Samus a tragic hero, it may have been more enticing to make her question the events that had happened to her, rather than accept everything and fight to ensure it doesn’t happen to others. Sure, she suffers from anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, but it’s only touched upon once throughout the entire story, and is resolved in one of the most unnaturally rushed situations I have ever read in any story. It seems that no matter what bad happens in Samus’s life, she’s able to shrug it off in a matter of minutes, or in due part to some random character’s ramblings.

What’s more cliche than Samus herself is the characters around her. Ridley as a character is laughably absurd. Everything with him is mass murder and insults. Nothing more. He’s not an interesting character; he’s evil to be evil. The space pirates are even worse. Not only are they uninteresting, but they’re treated as if they were ants. No single space pirate is given more than a few panels’ worth of attention, and are mostly there to showcase Samus’s righteous well-being. The chozo seem well enough, but are mostly just given the role of Samus’s adoptive family. Not a lot is shown of their wise and philosophical nature. However, with the logic that this manga has, I’d rather not see it. One other character worth mentioning is Adam Malcovich (as spelled in the manga), who is a high-ranking general in the galactic federation later on in Samus’s life. His face, for whatever reason, is the most hilarious thing about the manga. He always looks as if his insides are being gripped by a slimy tentacle, crushing his ribs, his heart, and his ability to make facial expressions. He says next to nothing and is basically shoehorned in because he plays a role in the Metroid game that came before the manga.

Mentioned above, I touched on how the Metroid games had a great sense of ambiance. The design of the games helped that immensely. Metroid’s manga has trivial art. For its time, it looks almost like standard shoujo. The humor is on par with it, too. Samus’s eyes arc in a way that could only be described as the shape of topaz. Perhaps that’s symbolic of her pure nature. Her body is contorted in the sexiest way possible. Even when she’s (assumed) in her mid-twenties, she looks as if she’s no older than sixteen. The image that this manga paints of Samus fails both anatomically and emotionally. Even with her power suit on, she still looks sexy. Everyone else comes off as hilariously misshapen or unintentionally absurd. The only saving grace? The main antagonists. Ridley, Kraid, and Mother Brain all look menacing and deranged, like a lot of time and effort were put into crafting their design perfectly. If only this showed with the rest of the story.

Giving Samus her own backstory is sure to cause some debate. And it has. Other M was panned by most fans as a pitiful attempt to make Samus into a more believable and emotional hero, even when chronologically, it wouldn’t make sense for all of her past symptoms to crop up again. Such is the case of the Metroid manga. It’s along the same lines; an attempt to make Samus human. The only issue here is that Nintendo can’t seem to make sense of the whole thing. They rely on cliches and the usual tropes that embody modern shounen stories, and they just come off as lazy. If this is what Samus is like as a character, I’d rather be hidden behind the shadows of ignorance. If this is what the story of Metroid comes down to, I’d rather watch the Alien movies.