"A general situation is that you save and refill your life, find a new boss, die, return with a strategy, die after almost winning, then come back a third time and find victory. There's never a feeling that the game is handing you the next upgrade on a silver platter, and only seldom are you likely to feel truly overwhelmed. Even then, victory might be yours the next time you try."
There was a time when you could tell when someone started playing games based on their answer to one simple question: ''Is Samus Aran male or female?'' The answer is one of legend again, just as it was 15 years ago. There was a long period of time, though (say 7 or 8 years), when Metroid was all but forgotten. Only the loyal Nintendo fans remembered it, as passionate as that memory was. After the bliss that was Super Metroid, it would have seemed we would see a string of sequels that would make Eidos proud. Alas, it didn't happen. We didn't see a new entry in the franchise for a long time, not even on the Nintendo 64.
Then, quite suddenly, Nintendo announced two new ones. There was Metroid Prime for the GameCube, and Metroid Fusion for the Game Boy Advance. At last, Samus Aran had returned. But would the game match the splendor that was Super Metroid? Or would it fall flat on its face? If you think I'm going to answer that question in this review, well, you're absolutely right.
Let's look first at the most important area of any game, the graphics. To put it mildly, what you see here is sheer beauty. Samus Aran moves with the grace of a ballerina trapped in an enormous sheet of metal shaped to her form. Movement is fluid, whether our universe-saving friend be trotting merrily down a dimly lit corridor or rushing in a blur aimed at obliterating an apparently solid wall blocking the way to further progression. The complete range of moves Samus has to choose from is as varied as ever, and each is animated with an artist's loving strokes. You can tell there was a lot of stroking going on when this beauty was made.
That graphical splendor isn't limited only to the protagonist, though. Environments are even more impressive. There are definitely some unique areas. What could easily have been a space station where you'll be lost at every turn became a space station where you'll only be lost at every three or four turns. There are the dark caverns, the underwater corridors, and more. Each has an impressive amount of detail and it's hard to say ''Oh, there go those lazy artists using the same sprites again.''
Music is another thing that has always been first class in Metroid, and that's again the case here. Eerie music wafts out of the adorable little Game Boy Advance speaker. It's enough to set you to shivering, and it's interrupted only by the hollow sounds of boots on metal, or the gentle rumble of missiles blasting alien scum into fractured atoms. The only real limitation here is the hardware, so it's amazing to see what the developers were able to do with something so small.
And now, I have a confession: I was just joking when I said the graphics are the most important part of any good game. If you believed that for a second, stop reading this review and go hit your head against a chalkboard until green is red and you lie dead on the floor. Every true gamer knows it's the actual gameplay that matters. Again, Metroid Fusion delivers in this regard, though perhaps not so well as it does in the graphic/audio departments.
Samus Aran is on a very large space station. Not only that, but this is a structure built by people with a sadistic delight in making things difficult. I can just imagine the architects sitting around a table. ''We could put a door here,'' one says. ''No,'' the next guy says. ''That would be too simple. Why put a door at the base of the decline when instead we can place it halfway across the station and force ourselves to run the equivalent of 5 miles every time we need to reach the toilet to take a piss?'' It's this kind of logic that drives the design of the space station where Samus is marooned (more on plot later in this exciting review). Often you'll find you've been directed to explore a new section of an area you'd already passed through before. You rush toward your objective, only to find an explosion rattled the station and blocked off the familiar route. Fortunately, you've since picked up a new ability and can now rush through the walls as if they're not even there. A hole in the floor might suddenly open an exciting new area, filled with enemies not yet seen. Or it might be the hiding place for that next missile expansion.
To be honest, this is perhaps not the most admirable aspect of the gameplay. After all, there really is a lot of backtracking. What makes it all bearable is that there's no way you can deny how crafty the game's designers were. You can pass through the same place five times without ever really repeating previous events. New enemies may lurk in the shadows that next time around. You never really know. Aided by the ever-present and always moody music, this can make things quite tense. There are times when you'll be limping along on your last energy tank, hoping against hope that you'll find the recharge center and save point before Samus is blasted to bits.
Ah, save points. I'm happy to report they're spaced perfectly throughout the station. You seldom feel as if they're too close (which would make the game too easy), yet you're never so far from the next one that it feels impossible to reach. For those with dwindling battery power who have just defeated a particularly challenging boss and want to save before the screen blinks off, this is good news.
And yes, there are numerous bosses here. In fact, I can't recall a Metroid title that has more frequently put you up against some new massive threat. The first few bosses are simple enough, once you're used to controlling Samus. And then from there, they only get tougher. By the time you're fighting the last few bosses, a confrontation is likely to leave you short of breath. Each opponent utilizes a different attack method and forces you to adopt a new strategy in order to exploit weaknesses. You'll have to be creative not only with your missiles and beams but also with the various other abilities you pick up along the way. A general situation is that you save and refill your life, find a new boss, die, return with a strategy, die after almost winning, then come back a third time and find victory. There's never a feeling that the game is handing you the next upgrade on a silver platter, and only seldom are you likely to feel truly overwhelmed. Even then, victory might be yours the next time you try.
And you will be willing to try again. There's something addictive about finding what lies behind that next door, or what the next boss will look like, or what the story holds for you. For the first time, story is really a driving force. No, it's nothing truly fascinating, but it's less shallow than fans might expect. To summarize, you're trapped on a station with some sort of virus that could destroy the entire universe. Only you can stop it, with the aid of a mysterious computer. If you fail, the whole universe could become a playground for the most lethal virus the world has ever known, a virus so lethal that your very survival hangs in the balance. There's more to the plot, of course, a few twists surprising and not so surprising. Added to the sense of exploration, they're enough to keep you going for a long while.
Unfortunately, you don't have a long while. You can collect most of the items in this game and reach its end in around 6 hours, quite easily. Part of this is the computer I mentioned while discussing plot. This computer tells you where to go at each and every new turn. At first, you might find it a nuisance. You'll soon realize, though, that it's a time saver. You're never really restricted from exploring outside of the bounds the computer sets. But even if you do, you'll find the corridors blocked by various insurmountable objects. It's soon evident that the computer is a time saver, not an annoyance. You still feel like you're in control.
About the only time you're not in control is when your enemy on this station, the SR-X, comes into the scene. Throughout the game, you'll have several meetings with this mysterious entity. It's as powerful as you can imagine. As powerful, in fact, as Samus Aran was at the end of Super Metroid. For the vast majority of the game, facing off against it and surviving is a hopeless impossibility. This forces some areas where Samus Aran has to run like hell and hope things turn out okay. It's aggravating to find the numerous upgrades in the game and still be unable to survive more than a few shots from this mysterious opponent, but such is life. Everything comes together in the end.
And like I said, that end comes far too soon. This is the franchise that many agree inspired Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, after all. One might reasonably expect an adventure twice as long as this one. But after playing through, I'm pretty sure you'll agree that a few differences here and there are fine. The two franchises are separate. What Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and its successors had is a beautiful thing. Metroid Fusion is just a different type of beauty. If you've ever liked this type of game, you owe it to yourself to add this one to your collection. It's one of the best examples of why you bought the Game Boy Advance. With more titles like this one, the world would be a truly fine place to live.
Staff review by Jason Venter (April 24, 2003)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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