"A Tear in this Old Man's Eye
A Tear in this Old Man's Eye
In my heyday - back when polygons stayed in geometry class where they belonged - the American entertainment industry first became host to what would become perhaps the most powerful symbiotic entity ever to come over from Japan - the Nintendo Entertainment System. It wasn’t long until everybody and his grandma owned one. But while most of the NES-owning kids cared more about Tecmo Super Bowl or Double Dribble, there was one enchanting game that spent years being the talk of the playground amongst the slightly geekier of us called Metroid. To those who ''got it'', it was pure sci-fi genius, and it remains one of the most underrated and influential games in history. Since that time, the Metroid franchise has been used sparingly and faithfully, keeping its fans happy, loyal, and wanting more. Now that Metroid is coming back into the limelight in the form of Metroid Prime for Nintendo's Gamecube, the latest (and perhaps the last) implementation of this game's classic formula, Metroid Fusion, stands to be somewhat overshadowed and overlooked yet again. If you have access to or any inclination toward acquiring a Gameboy Advance, I strongly suggest not letting Metroid Fusion pass you by.
Less of the Same
I can well imagine the conversation that went on during the preliminary stages of design for this game. The designers wanted to make a sequel to the SNES incarnation of the Metroid series, but the main character Samus had already acquired all of her special abilities by the end of that game, and collecting special abilities is what makes a Metriod game a Metroid game. So they had to have her loose her abilities. But how? Well, if you happen to be a creative genius, it might occur to you that Samus must get attacked by a deadly parasitic life-form and lose most of the peripheral pieces of her body armor in a consequently necessary surgical operation. In case you’re not, I’ll explain the rest. Samus, having been stripped of most of her suit enhancements, is sent down to a space station orbiting SR388, the planet on which the second Metroid game’s story unfolded. Her mission is to stop the aforementioned parasites. Thanks to a vaccine she was given in order to save her life earlier, Samus can fuse with the parasites and absorb their energy. Fusing with some of these parasites (bosses) will allow her to regain her old powers one at a time... Tada! What a perfect setup for another visit to the world of Metroid!
The game manages to be true to the series‘ progressive adventure theme, with a needed simplification here and there. But don’t get the wrong idea. Metroid Fusion may be simplified for the sake of making it hand-held, but it’s still got all of the important trademark elements. It’s still about exploring deep, dark corridors, gathering ability-enhancing items, and blasting abominable space creatures to bits. You still start out with a relatively weak blaster and unable to do pretty much anything but flip. And you still slowly, boss after boss, gain new beams, missiles, jumps, and more, allowing you to move on to previously unreachable areas. This is why Metroid has always had a great learning curve - you learn every move one at a time. Now, however, the range of abilities, along with the length of the game itself, has been downsized. Rather than having various kinds of missiles and beams, now your weapons simply become stronger while maintaining their old properties as well. Instead of having to shoot different colored doors with different weapons, you must find computer stations to unlock doors of a certain color. This works out surprisingly well, and the taste of sheer adventurous fun that this pint-sized Super Metroid brings will probably inspire a number of the nostalgic among us to dust off their old Super Nintendo units for another round of 16-bit adventure.
With this simplification also came an apparent drop in the difficulty level of the game. Most Metroid veterans will never even come close to running out of health or ammunition, even in the toughest boss battles. Perhaps this “dumbing down” was to avoid frustration on the small screen or to introduce a broader audience to the game. In any case, it goes too far for my taste. I would rather settle for a difficulty option than to be stuck with a too-easy game. The game is also notably shorter. I played the entire thing the first time through in a mere four hours. However, to its credit, Metroid Fusion does have it’s share of secrets (though not as many as before) to keep you coming back, including the now-obligatory picture of Samus in the ending that changes based on your item-finding skills.
Also new is the scope of the game’s plot. Where other aspects have been simplified, the story is much more prevalent this time around. Rather than the usual case of Samus being completely alone, this time she’s in direct contact with a commanding officer who coordinates her efforts, giving her hints and orders. This takes away a bit from the open-ended gameplay of the other games in the series, but it's an okay trade-off for something new. The game also features many cut-scenes in which we are treated to a monologue inside of Samus’ head, with the result being a much more intimate look at her take on the situation she’s in. Although less complicated, less frequent and a bit more predictable, Metroid Fusion’s plot twists are stylistically on par with those of, say, Metal Gear Solid.
''Is That an SNES in Your Pocket, or Should I Just Stop These Dumb Section Headers?''
How ironic it is to think that the flagship company for anti-piracy would someday develop what is essentially a pocket-sized SNES emulator. But that's just what Nintendo's Gameboy Advance has become. Just about every company that ever developed for the SNES seems to be porting their games over to the handheld system, and that makes financial sense from their standpoints. It's also kinda nice to have Super Mario World 2 along for a boring plane trip. But that doesn't quite justify the purchase of the system for me. I'm more worried about the amount of original, exclusive software. And although I feared that Nintendo would simply slightly augment the Super Nintendo's Super Metroid and cram it into a Gameboy Advance cartridge, I'm overjoyed to see that they chose to give us an all new adventure to go along with the highly anticipated Metroid Prime. Metroid Fusion, though very similar to Super Metroid, is an all new adventure, but it looks just as good as the SNES game ever did.
It's a terrible shame that this game appears on such a tiny screen. If you can (and yes, the moderately savvy can) project this game onto a larger screen, the detail in the graphics is a thing of beauty. But even on its native small screen, Metroid Fustion packs in all the graphical goodness of its predecessor and then some. Samus' new look is sleek and slender (for most of the game). If you let her idle, you can see her blue and yellow muscles cyclically moving as she breathes. The enemies she faces are on par with her, beautifully realized as 2D sprites and with animation as smooth as the cold, steel walls that often surround them. The environments, while classic and memorable, have all been redone for this game, and are looking better than ever. You’ll venture through harsh cold, fungus-infested forests, foggy abandoned laboratories, and fiery caverns filled with molten lava. Scaling and rotating effects abound, and high-detail anime-ish cut-scenes break up the action and enhance the plot. The bosses are an especial treat, filled with character and armed with processor-taxing, bad-ass weapons. At least one old favorite is back with a radical makeover, though I won't spoil which one it is.
Metroid Fusion comes as close to visually immersing you into a space station as likely possible on the GBA.
A Better Beep
Although sound seems to be one area that the Gameboy Advance doesn't match the SNES in, Metroid Fusion makes brilliant use of what it does have. Fusion gets bonus points for offering a headphone output option - I can't emphasize enough how much this enhances the audio quality.
The sound effects themselves are sonically crisp bring-overs from the other Metroid games. Samus' crackling energy weapons and whistling flips return, along with the dead-serious and ominous sounds of the biological oddities that comprise the bestiary. In a few instances, you’ll have to hide behind a wall from a deadly enemy whose footsteps echo through the halls and send a chill up your spine. The game even offers a digitized voice or two here and there.
The music is characteristically ''beepy'', and this works to the game's advantage. Although some of the explorative scenes are accented by forceful, heroic overtures, the suspense is never interrupted by the music, which spends most of its time appropriately subtle, blipping and bleeping out echoing space tunes. Many old themes return from previous Metroid games, invoking feelings of nostalgia that only come with franchises of this caliber. The tunes set the mood for the game perfectly, never missing a beat (no pun intended). Konji Kondo couldn’t have done much better himself.
If you don't already have a set of headphones or earphones, buy some for this game. The audio is too good to be lost to the tiny Gameboy Advance speaker, and you'll probably save a bit of battery power as a nice side effect.
With Some Thoughtful Simplification…
The plain fact is that the Gameboy Advance has two fewer buttons than the SNES. By making this game so similar to Super Metroid, the developers forced themselves to make a choice: either simplify the gameplay as it relates to the control setup or complicate the controls. They responded admirably with the right combination of both, leaving everything in that would allow the game’s fluid gameplay and discarding the rest. The result is astoundingly appropriate - a game that knows its limits. It looks, sounds, and plays like a portable game should. Kudos to Nintendo for keeping the interface manageable and keeping in mind the end user even though they were probably using GBA emulators and huge flat-panel monitors when they made it.
The in-game control is quick and responsive, allowing for the type of massive, tough boss battles for which Metroid is known. One face button shoots and one jumps. One shoulder button aims Samus’ weapon diagonally and the other toggles the weapon in use when held. The only complaint I have is the lack of any control configuration options. I would have opted for the dual diagonal aiming control with the shoulder buttons that the SNES version offered, and to have the unused select button toggle the weapons, as the weapon-aiming can get a bit complicated in some of the tough battles. But the game plays great as it is, and can turn a boring, five-hour car trip into a painless and blissful gaming experience.
The Last Hurrah?
I’d hate to think that this will be the final 2D installment of the Metroid franchise, but this could very well be the case. Metroid Fusion is minimized, but every bit as creepy, thrilling, and fun as the series has always been. It’s a credit to the late Gunpei Yokoi’s genius, and a game that shouldn’t be missed by any Metroid fan.
GRAPHICS - 9
GAMEPLAY - 8
CONTROLS - 8
SOUND - 10
REPLAY VALUE - 7
[ + ]
The Classic gameplay that Metroid fans crave
Deeper plot than before
[ - ]
A bit on the easy and simple side
Some control options would be nice
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Community review by richorosai (February 02, 2003)
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