Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Metroid Fusion

Platform:  Game Boy Advance
Developer:  Nintendo R&D1
Released:  2002
Genre:  Action Adventure

The Game
Some time after the events in Super Metroid, Samus Aran goes back to SR388 (the home planet of the metroids, which she scoured clean of the little buggers back in Metroid II: Return of Samus) with a group of scientists from the Biologic Space Laboratories (aka BSL).  She encounters and is infected by an organism that becomes known as an X Parasite.  The X attacks not only her but the organic parts of her suit, several sections of which the scientists have to surgically remove and later send off to one of their labs for study.  Just as Samus is about to shuffle off this mortal coil, someone hits on the idea of using some Metroid cells to whip up an antidote, and it works!  Samus can never be infected by X again, but it has irreversibly changed her cellular structure.  After she has mostly recovered, she gets a call from the Galactic Federation, sending her to the BSL space station on which her infected suit parts were being studied.  Seems there's been some sort of mishap, and they need Samus to go check it out . . .

Metroid Fusion is the fourth game in the primary Metroid series (despite the "Prime" in their name, the Metroid Prime series is a side story that happens in between Metroid and Metroid II), and the second to be on a hand-held system.

The Characters
Samus does a lot more gabbing in this game than she does in most Metroid installments, though we still don't get too much info on just what she's like.  We know that she's basically pragmatic, resourceful, determined, and has a problem with authority . . . but that could be said of virtually any action hero.

Fusion introduces a new character into the Metroid universe, an artificial intelligence that Samus eventually nicknames "Adam", after a commanding officer of hers of which she was somewhat fond.  He's an interesting character, and I actually look forward to seeing more of both him and his namesake, the latter of which is slated to appear in the upcoming Other M.

The best character in the game, however, has to be the X Parasites themselves.  They've turned out to be a very interesting new foe for Samus, a worthy successor to the space pirates and metroids of the previous games.  I found the way they work to be very well thought out and executed.  After infecting and absorbing the cells of a host creature, killing it off in the process, the X has the ability to duplicate the form and abilities of that creature.  In their natural form, they appear to be a giant floating mass of plasm.  If this had been another series - say, System/Bio Shock instead of Metroid - I could see how they could have turned into something extremely dark and creepy, which gave them a nice edge.  Not that they aren't kinda creepy anyway.

Speaking of creepy, and representing the best of the best, is SA-X.  SA-X is the X Parasite which infested the organic parts of Samus' original suit, and it has used that and the bits of Samus' DNA that it absorbed to turn itself into the ultra ass kicking machine that Samus was at the end of Super Metroid.  This scary bitch truly is creepy, and dangerous, and every time she comes on the screen, the game lets you know it.  She is also, of course, the final boss (or at least the last one to really count), and extremely good at it.

The Writing
Fusion's story is great.  The struggle against the X is well done, and the sequence of events through the course of the game is well plotted.  Though Metroid isn't really a series that particularly needs a lot of plot, this one makes the absolute best of what it's got.

But while the story is great, the writing is not.  Props on a good idea, but several million points off for terrible execution.  Firstly, I feel that the game would have been better serviced if the intro had been playable.  It would've helped give the player a better connection to Samus' predicament if her infection by the parasite had been part of a playable battle sequence instead of about three seconds in a cut scene.  As it is, the whole intro just kinda feels like "Okay, sooooo, a bunch of stuff happened . . . and now it's game time!"  Why couldn't it have been game time while that bunch of stuff happened?  I mean, we got to play the part where the infant metroid was taken by Ridley at the beginning of Super Metroid, after all.

And second, much of the backstory stuff in Fusion feels extremely tacked on.  I don't mind backstory exposition and I don't mind flashbacks or references to it, but I do mind it when it feels like it's just coming out of nowhere and sounds like it was just made up on the spot and doesn't fit in with anything else.  As much as I would like to know more about Adam and the Adam AI, both elements have just that sort of feel to me.

The Gameplay
The controls are spot on.  Steering Samus around in this game feels smooth and comfortable, very close to the way it was in Super Metroid.  The rooms are nice and spacious, allowing for even better movement and fine control.  It shocks and dismays me that they took this wonderfully constructed engine and turned it into the lurching horror that is the Zero Mission engine.

There are changes both big and small in the way Samus' abilities work from previous installments in the Metroid series.  The changes - such as the Ice Missiles instead of the Ice Beam - took a little getting used to, but it's not so bad or so different overall.  I look forward to seeing how the new suit's powers develop in future games.

The Challenge
Fusion manages to hit that sweet spot that so few games seem to do.  It doesn't take the super-easy route where walking from one end of the map to the other is a cakewalk and I barely even notice that I'm trodding on the gashed and bleeding backs of my enemies.  It doesn't take the super-hard route where I die time after time after time and feel that there is no Earthly way of getting past a certain point.  Instead, I died every once in a while, but in ways that I could see were my own fault, and that if I tried just a few more times, I could eventually get past it.  Winning involved neither luck of the draw nor simple button mashing; it involved learning the skill necessary to advance.  And I like that.

The place where this was most evident to me was the final battle with the SA-X.  I believe I tried beating her at least twenty times, but none of those deaths left me feeling discouraged in the least.  I gradually got further and further with each fight, learning the moves needed to keep one step ahead of the SA-X as I went along.  There wasn't any hoping that she didn't randomly use this particular ability and wipe me out with one shot, there wasn't any relying on a particular glitch or weakness that the game designer hadn't anticipated . . . it was all me, baby.  And that's the way it should be.  No cheap outs for the game's AI or for the player.  No attempts that end within three seconds of the fight because Samus got hit once and THERE ARE NO ROOM FOR MISTAKES, DAMMIT!

I wish more game designers would learn to set the challenge rating of their games like this.

The Graphics
Mostly based on those of Super Metroid, so verrah nice.

I didn't think I would, but I'm digging the design of Samus' new suit.  In the end, it doesn't really look that much different from the original, anyway, except for having a more organic than technological look.

I love the level design of Fusion.  Running around underground in caves and planet-based pirate bases is great and all, but the shift to a space station is a nice change of pace.  I really enjoyed the more logical, structured form of the station compared to the sprawling, organic feel of the previous game maps.  When the computer first opened up the elevators for the six main sections, all lined up in a tidy little row, I though, "Oh, hey . . . this is gonna be neat."

The Music
No complaints here.  Sounded a lot like Super Metroid music to me.

The Bottom Line
I have to admit, when I first started reading about Fusion way back when it originally came out, I was a bit leery.  Samus is in a weird new suit?  She's fighting some kind of Parasite organism that isn't a metroid?  Eeeeeeh, I dunnoooooo . . .

I'm thankful to say that as I progressed through the game, these feelings were quickly abandoned by the wayside.  The whole "new suit" thing wasn't nearly as much of a departure from the original as I had built up in my head, and I won't mind seeing it again in Metroid 5 or whatever.  The X Parasites were also pretty dang snazzy, and I find myself hoping they might pop up again later on.

In the end, I'm gonna place Metroid Fusion as my second favorite in the series, right after Super Metroid.  It's a damn good game in my opinion, and one that I'll most likely end up playing through again at least a few more times.

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