Friday, August 23, 2013
Gameboy Advance review: Metroid Fusion
When Nintendo sought to revive their long-dormant science fiction series Metroid, they released new games on two fronts. The one I experienced first was Metroid Prime, developed by Retro Studios for the Gamecube. Prime was my first foray into the franchise, and quickly rose the ranks to become one of my all-time favorite video games. Meanwhile, I knew a number of friends who owned Metroid Fusion, a sequel to Super Metroid developed on the same engine as the SNES classic, yet the closest I ever got to it was through secondhand experience. I had a couple of friends offer to let me borrow it to experience it in proper over the years, but I was frequently wrapped up in some other game or another, and thus a proper playthrough of Metroid Fusion did not come to fruition until 2013 – one week ago today, to be precise.
Metroid Fusion is effectively a trimmed down take on everything Super Metroid did – a curious tactic, considering Super Metroid did not bear much (if anything) that felt unnecessary or that came across as ‘extra weight’ to its phenomenal experience. Metroid Fusion takes place after the events of Super Metroid, opening with the famed bounty hunter escorting a research team to SR388, former home planet of the Metroids. As Samus eradicated the Metroid populous in Metroid II, there has been a significant shift in the planet’s food chain. A parasite known as X was seemingly kept under control by the Metroids who fed upon them, but have grown out of control in the absence of their primary predators. The X Parasite ends up attaching itself to Samus’ Varia Suit and begins to alter her genetic makeup. Thinking quickly, Federation scientists cut Samus out of her Varia suit and develop a vaccine from tissue taken from the baby Metroid Samus rescued on SR388, which they inject her with. This halts the progress of the X Parasite and allows Samus to collect X Parasites she might find as a means to replenish both her health and ammunition.
As the X Parasites are found within all the creatures Samus faces onboard the BSL research station, farming to restore these is a much faster and convenient process than in previous 2D Metroid titles. Samus is able to access a surprising amount of upgrades, energy tanks, and missile tanks within the game’s first hour. While this may initially seem like overkill, the fact of the matter is that the game is designed to do its best to give you a fair chance at Metroid Fusion’s notably high challenge factor – largely brought on by the game’s demanding boss encounters. Most of the bosses are designed with new combat strategies in mind, so anyone hoping to exploit the same strategies used on Crocomire or Phantoon from Super Metroid ought to think twice before taking on the likes of Serris or Yakuza. The later boss fights are among the game’s best offerings, with a few ranking among the most memorable of any of the 2D Metroid titles.
The research station is divided into six major sections, which all connect to a central hub zone. These sections are all modeled after different environments that Samus previously visited, lending to each having significantly different layouts and aesthetics. Save stations, recharge stations, and navigation rooms are all placed in strategic locations, so as to save you too much trouble with backtracking but also avoid holding your hand along the way. Samus will need to revisit each of the six areas after her initial exploration of it, but there is minimal backtracking on the whole. When Samus does eventually return to Sector 1, Sector 2, and so on, a new, generally larger section will be accessible with new upgrades and abilities, and will subsequently offer up new environmental puzzles and tougher foes. Practically all of the weapons and upgrades should be familiar to anyone who has played previous Metroid titles, even if Samus does collect them in a different order than usual.
Though it runs on the same engine, Fusion looks even better than Super Metroid due to a higher level of detail, brighter colors, and more fluid character motions – all of which is only to be expected, considering that the two titles were released nearly a decade apart. Fusion also does a great job of perpetuating the sense of horror and suspense that has frequented the series – the sense that Samus is alone in space has long been the element that added varying degrees of eerie atmosphere to her adventures. With Fusion, the fact that she is not alone, but is in fact being hunted by an X Parasite clone known as the SA-X, heightens the horror aspect. It should also be noted that Metroid Fusion is surprisingly dialogue-heavy. Samus frequently interacts with her ship’s on-board computer, and reminisces about her former CO, who she is reminded of through the computer’s mannerisms. The game is rooted in a decent chunk of context, with references to Metroid II and Super Metroid occasionally springing up. If you aren’t intimately familiar with the greater Metroid lore, it won’t hinder your enjoyment of this fast-paced action-oriented game. But if you are, Fusion draws connections to Samus’ past expeditions in interesting and unexpected ways.
The length of time it will take you to complete Metroid Fusion depends on both your familiarity with other titles in the series and your intent to collect the game’s many upgrades. If you are a veteran of Super Metroid and the two titles that preceded it, expect the game to take you anywhere between two-and-a-half to four hours. If you have little-to-no experience with the series, your play time could easily double that. This is a Metroid game designed for Metroid fans – it is thoroughly challenging, but equally enjoyable, with perfect controls and magnificent presentation from start to finish.
My rating: 9.25 (out of 10)