Metroid Fusion review
Classic 2D Still Has The Goods
After being missing for a whole generation the galactic bounty hunter Samus Aran finally returned to our game systems, and her series has since taken two very different directions. The Gamecube saw the rise of her first person adventures, and while the Prime games weren't to everyone's tastes they were excellent titles. Long time fans may be please then to see the first GBA offering continue to move along the same direction the series started in. This is side scrolling adventuring Metroid style, and it does the series justice.
Due to storyline circumstances Samus starts off with very little in the way of abilities. Her primary means of combat is a fairly weak blaster, and through a combination of the D-Pad and a shoulder button lets you fire in 8 compass directions. She also has some basic actions like jumping, which is quite responsive.
One of the key traits of the series is acquiring new abilities, and Samus starts doing this early on. For combat you not only gain better blaster beams, like penetrating beams, but can unleash a charge beam attack and can have missiles added. Missiles generally hit harder but, unlike the beam, use up ammo. Cleverly juggling the beam and missiles will really help you to fight off the enemies.
Enemy encounters themselves are really good. The grunts are your typical common foe types, like those that use the ever so effective shamble into you to cause damage, along with more menacing opponents like pirate clones that jump around firing. The thing that struck me about the use of enemies was the feeling of infestation. It isn't just a couple of baddies here and there. The passageways of the space station are teeming with hostile lifeforms. That said, generic enemy encounters rarely make the game too difficult. Health pickups are perhaps a little too plentiful for that.
Then the bosses come, and oh boy does this game do bosses right. These beasts provide the game's most immense challenges, possessing high health gauges, high output attacks and sometimes difficult attack patterns. Some of the concepts used are really cool too, like one boss will slow movement down during one phase of the fight and his movement will require you to move constantly to avoid getting hit.
The SA-X serves as the main antagonist, and is effectively a clone of Samus. You'll cross paths a few times and early on you'll be forced to avoid contact as you're so much weaker. This events can be tense alone as you may get chased by something you can't stop, but even the battles later where you're on more even ground can be fierce as your own tactics are used against you. A shame that the actual final endgame boss doesn't compare to the SA-X showdown.
One of the more unique traits to this installment of the series are the X parasites. Effectively, every enemy on the station is an X parasite mimicing the form of creatures they've infecting before, and killing the creature form will cause them to revert to their core form. At this point Samus can absorb them for health or ammo, or they will regain their previous form if left alone. Regaining ammo technically doesn't make much sense in this manner, but it works well enough for its intention.
But Metroid isn't just about blasting slimy creatures into oblivion. Exploring sprawling environments is another key element, and Fusion delivers here too. The space station is split up into multiple sections, with each area possessing its own specific themes, like an area that recreates the SR388 environment or a frigid location, and each location presents its own concepts, including things like water travel or icy platforms. You'll explore labyrinth passageways and huge chambers, searching high and low for the next door. Abilities play a part in this, as new areas can be reached by using certain abilities.
The morph ball is probably the most obvious one used for such a thing. Defying physics, Samus can curl up into a small ball and use this to move through small tunnels. Combine this with bombs and a jump ability and it opens up a myriad of new paths. Long term Metroid fans will be pleased to see this and anyone new to the series will find it a less common means of opening areas. You also have other abilities like aerial jumping and screw attacks that can smash through certain walls.
In fact, you may find stuff hidden in the rooms themselves. What may look like a simple chamber at first glance might hold a wall that can be shot away for a capacity upgrade, or a secret exit might be revealed by setting off a power bomb.
While it's mostly good Fusion can still be a little confusing to find your way around. The computer AI onboard Samus' ship links into various computer terminals and attempts to direct her to the next objective, but that is not as straightforward as it may seem. Despite marking the location on the map you have to understand that some paths will not be accessible anyway and even after going to a map station you'll find that half the rooms aren't shown until you visit them, forcing you to find your own way there.
For the most part this is good. It tests you mind to find the correct path and it's cool to try different things to progress. It does get a bit too vague at certain times though where some paths would likely have to be tripped across.
Lifespan is what you make of it. A good player that knows what they are doing can reasonably complete the game in under two hours, although chances are your first playthrough will take a lot longer than that. There's a bit of incentive to replay as you get different ending pictures depending on time taken and/or item completion.
Fusion really does look the part. The background scenes have been sculpted with an amazing element of depth and such intricate designs combined with similar foreground elements really make the space station a believable scifi location. Each area has its own theme that is wonderfully realised, and this range of environments makes the place a joy to explore. There's a certain feeling of claustrophobia in the design of the cramped passageways and a sense that any danger can be lurking just around the next corner.
Character sprite design is generally well done too. The detail level is quite high despite the small graphics, making Samus' classic power suit instantly recognisable (even though she's not the one wearing it). The new fusion suit definitely has an air of vulnerability about it. As for the monsters you encounter these have some rather vicious designs for the most part. Animation is really good too as sprites move convincingly about.
As for music it tends to follow the traditional Metroid formula. A number of gentle background melodies are used to great effect, playing along so gently as to enhance the feeling of solitude (no, the computer AI does not count) without trying attention away from the action onscreen. Typically none of it is music player material; not even the opening theme which admittedly is a bit too mundane for its purpose.
The storyline is that after a mission that resulted in Samus clashing with a new unknown organism she is returning to base when her condition turns critical. Her body was infected by the creature and she is rushed to surgery. The infection runs so deep that the team is forced to surgically remove parts of her power suit and synthesize a vaccine using the DNA of a Metroid to save her life, as Metroids were apparently the natural predators of the X Parasites until Samus wiped them out.
However, a distress signal is sent from the space station Samus' removed suit parts were sent to for research. When she gets there she finds that the parasites from her suit parts have multiplied and have infected the entire station. Her job is to tackle the problem.
Typically the story itself runs in the background for much of the game. She receives directions from the computer AI but nothing more comes other than the initial story until partway through, when some interesting developments occur. It's not RPG level storyline twists, but needless to say you'll begin to understand the reasons behind the space station's design and that people's motives are not as clear as they seem. It works out pretty well.
Ultimately, Metroid Fusion is the perfect continuation of the series classic 2D roots. It captures the elements used to define the series so perfectly and provides a solid challenge in side scrolling adventure form.
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