"The average player will tackle this game’s adventure in about 12 hours of total gameplay, while the hardcore Metroid player could beat it in half that time. And since Metroid Fusion does not benefit at all from the linkup with Metroid Prime, there are no real bonuses to keep you playing. However, speedy players will be rewarded with different endings, and finding every item in the game proves to be quite a time-consuming task."
When the original Metroid was released in 1986, gamers were introduced to a brand new hero, armed with an arm cannon and several nifty abilities, and upon completion realized Samus Aran was, in fact, a heroine instead. Nonetheless, the title was fantastic, so it was succeeded by Return of Samus on the Game Boy and Super Metroid on the SNES. So it seems only right that a fourth installment be brought to the series, and it comes by way of Metroid Fusion on the Game Boy Advance. In addition to being one of the most impressive titles yet on the GBA, Fusion ultimately manages to be a strong contender with Super Metroid as the best in the franchise.
At its onset, Metroid Fusion explains that Samus, after investigating the surface of SR-388 for Biologic Space Labs, had been infected by a parasite known as X. During her flight back to Federation HQ, she became unconscious and her ship crashed into an asteroid field. Her escape pod was retrieved by the BSL, and she was returned to Federation HQ, where it was learned her Power Suit had become corrupted by the X. Parts of it had to be surgically removed, changing her appearance, and due to the X parasites, a vaccine composed of Metroid DNA was necessary to save her life.
Soon afterwards, Samus receives a distress call on the Biologic Space Labs’ station orbiting SR-388, and she is called in to investigate. Thus, Metroid Fusion begins.
Of course, this is just the beginning of the story of Metroid Fusion. Unlike its predecessors, Fusion relies heavily on its plot, which is always engaging and manages to keep you interested in progressing in the game. However, due to this reliance on story, the freeform sense of exploration seen in the previous games is replaced with a more linear play style; as Samus progresses through her objectives, she must link up with her on-board computer with the Navigation Rooms scattered throughout the station, which points her directly to her next objective. This somewhat eliminates the exploration concept that Metroid titles usually boast, as figuring out where to go was a key aspect of the previous adventures.
However, the negatives of this change are practically negated by Nintendo’s impeccable level design. There are many hidden paths in each sector, and the obvious route may not be the actual possible path. Often Samus will find herself at a seemingly dead end, when some simple observation may open a hidden route that leads her closer to her destination. Areas of extreme heat or cold are inaccessible until Samus obtains the Varia Suit, while certain blocks can only be destroyed with certain items, encouraging the player to remember previously barricaded areas when they retrieve a new upgrade.
When Samus defeats an enemy, the X cell escapes from its corpse, and Samus must make an effort to absorb the parasite (she can’t be harmed due to the Metroid vaccine) and fuse with it to restore energy or ammunition.
Upgrades are obtained usually by beating the game’s menacing bosses, each with a unique ability corresponding to the upgrade they provide. For instance, the game’s first boss, who gives Samus her Morph Ball technique, curls up into a ball as one of its attacks, while the Gravity Suit’s boss can manipulate gravity itself. Each boss—as with the common enemies—has their own specific weakness, and discovering the best way to defeat them may take several tries. After defeating a boss’ main entity, the X parasite that infected it will show itself, and Samus must defeat it in order to absorb its ability.
Perhaps the biggest complaint that can be made—besides the linear storytelling—is the fact that Samus often takes an unfair amount of damage, even against simple enemies. Some attacks deplete an entire energy tank, while others do minimal damage. This usually leads to an incredible amount of frustration, as after defeating a difficult boss, Samus will die after taking eighty units worth of damage through one attack from a smaller enemy. Of course, this isn’t always the case, but the problem is present, and it seems as if it’s a cheap way to increase the longevity of the game by forcing several replays.
Another problem is that the game is just too short. The elapsed time on the load screen shows 4:30 for completion, though that does not include constant replays and cutscenes. The average player will tackle this game’s adventure in about 12 hours of total gameplay, while the hardcore Metroid player could beat it in half that time. And since Metroid Fusion does not benefit at all from the linkup with Metroid Prime, there are no real bonuses to keep you playing. However, speedy players will be rewarded with different endings, and finding every item in the game proves to be quite a time-consuming task.
That’s not to say the game doesn’t have its high points either. The story is the best of the franchise, and should warrant a replay. The controls are flawless, and are actually improved from the already comfortable scheme from Super Metroid. Most notable is that the select button is not used to switch between missiles and the arm cannon; holding down R and pressing B fires a missile, while releasing R switches back to the beam. This makes fighting enemies, particularly bosses, much easier, and is a very welcome addition. Also, Samus can aim her cannon at an angle using the L trigger, either up or down, which is often a lifesaving skill.
The visuals, also, are noteworthy. No slowdown is present, even in heated battles and with so many enemies on screen simultaneously. Many impressive transparency effects are used, and many of the elements—especially the X parasites—appear 3-dimensional thanks to some nifty sprite effects.
Much of the music is very immersive and mysterious, just as the composer’s efforts in the previous Metroid titles were. Each sound effect is unique and well done, though the entire experience requires headphones to really enjoy; the GBA’s sole speaker manages to pump out some impressive sounds, but nothing compares to the amazing experience headphones can offer. In other words, the sound department is, as the visuals, absolutely flawless.
For players new to the franchise, Metroid Fusion is a nice introduction, though most of the enjoyment comes from the nostalgia it provides, especially during the main plot twist (which is wonderfully surprising) and the return of a very special boss. What Fusion does not offer, however, is a relatively long adventure—this game is short. Nonetheless, it is one of the top games on the Game Boy Advance, and is a worthy successor to Super Metroid. Whether or not it is better than its predecessor is up to the player; I personally do not think it is. However, any self-respecting GBA owner (who also happens to be a Nintendo fan) cannot afford to pass on Metroid Fusion, as it is an incredibly fun action title with so many strengths.
After all, who can resist the sexiest bounty hunter in the galaxy?
Staff review by Zack M (November 29, 2002)
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