Retro Review — Metroid Fusion

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By Josh Nichols on October 1st, 2021

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Metroid Fusion is the fourth game in the series, which is also what it was referred to as during the game’s development. Taking place after everything else released at the time, including Super Metroid and Metroid II: Return of Samus, Metroid Fusion takes place just before Metroid Dread, which represents the end of a 35-year journey for Samus and the franchise.

Or at least, the story that’s been told since Metroid was first released in 1986 for the Nintendo Entertainment System. I can’t help but think Metroid Dread’s meant to also serve as a barometer for the future of the franchise. Nintendo is setting the series up for success though with Metroid Dread’s release and placement on the timeline. Samus hasn’t had her own original story in years, especially if you don’t count spin-offs, which most fans don’t. And now on the 35th anniversary of the series, Nintendo is releasing a direct sequel to Metroid Fusion, which introduced owners of the Game Bot Advance to the series, genre, and one of the most iconic characters in video games: Samus Aran.

A History of Fusion

The story of Metroid Fusion and its placement on the franchise’s timeline makes much more sense in retrospect. At the time there hadn’t been a game in over five years, but Fusion revived Samus on Nintendo’s Game Boy Advance, as if the system were a Save Room pulled from the cartridge itself. In 2002 though, Fusion was just another mission starring Samus and it took place after all the other games. At the time these games only included three other titles: Metroid (NES, 1986), Metroid II: Return of Samus (Game Boy, 1991), and Super Metroid (SNES, 1994).

Fusion’s name proved to be far more than a clever name from the game’s story; the title would also prove useful 19 years later, working to fuse the rest of the franchise, Metroid Dread, and the future of the series. I believed in the power of Metroid Fusion in 2002 and I still do almost twenty years later. It’s clear Nintendo still believes in Metroid Fusion too, even if they won’t let us play it on anything other than the Wii U.

Fusion begins with bounty hunter Samus Aran exploring the surface of the planet SR388. She’s not alone on this mission. Samus is working with a survey crew from Biologic Space Laboratories (BSL) to obtain data from the planet’s organisms and environment. Samus is attacked however by a parasitic organism known as ‘X.’

Crash Course

Samus crashes and loses consciousness on her way back to the BSL station, but is recovered and brought back to the Galactic Federation for medical treatment. This is when doctors discover the X parasite as infected Samus’s nervous system. The doctors are able to cure her and prevent her from dying but not without side effects. The treatment is really interesting too. Samus was healed thanks to a vaccine made from cells taken from the infant Metroid she adopted on SR388 (Metroid II: Return of Samus / Metroid: Samus Returns).

And Samus isn’t just healed. She’s stronger and more powerful than she’s ever been. The Metroid vaccine gives her the ability to absorb X nuclei for nourishment, which for players means more health and stuff. In-game reasons for powers and progression are incredible for not only gameplay but also immersion — and Metroid Fusion is full of these.

Samus is sent back to the BSL station after regaining consciousness due to an explosion that has occurred aboard. Her investigation and mission are guided and interrupted by her ship’s computer. Samus chooses to nickname the computer “Adam” after her former subordinate and commanding officer, Adam Malkovich. It works really well for both story and video game reasons too, just like the abilities of Samus unlocking the way forward.

The computer is able to feel like a person without the same expectations that would be placed on it. This works for several reasons, which again: that’s how everything works in Metroid Fusion. It’s one of the reasons it’s such a special game, despite the valid issues it does have. Computer Adam being a computer means the game is in less danger from its strings showing. It lowers expectations, even if by accident, for what players will expect from Computer Adam. Guidance and story details can come from Computer Adam without needing to feel too human. This benefits the Fusion since it’s telling an in-depth story on the ambitious but still limited canvas of the Game Boy Advance. And perhaps most importantly, Computer Adam being a computer means Samus is all alone as she uncovers the horrors aboard BSL.

Uncovered Horrors

As Samus explores the station and uncovers its mysteries, she’s faced with some big decisions. Decisions that could include some pretty big consequences, but that’s part of what makes Samus Aran such an interesting bounty hunter. She plays by her own rules. She even tries to do the right thing. But things can’t always go well. And some actions include consequences regardless of your chosen outcome. Samus working against the morally gray flow of corporations and capitalism is at the core of Metroid Fusion. But wrapped around the entire experience are the struggles, triumphs, and trauma of Samus Aran.

I’d prefer to leave the rest of the details about Metroid Fusion’s story to you to discover, especially with its connections to Metroid Dread. But I do want to highlight its themes, framing, and how it plays out once it’s all unraveled.

As Samus makes her way through different parts of the ship, she encounters different temperatures, creatures, and climates. Throughout the entire labyrinth of hallways, Samus learns more about the intentions of BSL and her part in it. This eventually leads to an internal crisis of sorts. She believed in the work the company was doing and then learns their vision conflicts with hers entirely. And as these revelations come to light, Samus is also faced with a variety of horrors, including giant creatures. Monsters that feel like they represent the worst of their sectors. Monsters with incredibly powerful abilities that are fully focused on ending the life of Samus Aran.

You might die a lot. I died a lot on my first few playthroughs. It’s hard not to. Some of the boss battles (looking at you, Serris!) are incredibly intense, requiring the utmost level of focus on either a few different abilities or a single attack. Either way, it’s a lot to deal with and handle. You’re going to fall down. But in the end (and in my headcanon), Samus never fell. And just like her, we didn’t fall either.

It’s How We Process the Struggles

Sure, yeah. Struggles happen. Hardships and pain can be overpowering but Metroid Fusion’s message has always felt pretty clear to me. And with Dread approaching, it feels more clear than ever. Life isn’t about our struggles. It’s about how we come out of them. It’s about how we process our trauma and the pain we’re sometimes forced to endure. And like Samus, our pain isn’t always physical. Something she truly believed in tried to silence her completely, extinguishing a bright flame dedicated to bringing light to a dark universe.

But in the end, Samus pulls through. She makes it and just like at the beginning of the game, she’s stronger than before. As Samus annihilates each and every boss, she gains new abilities. These new powers help her overcome the obstacles in her path through increased movement, attack, defense, and even extreme temperatures. It doesn’t take too long before Samus is fully equipped and hitting the game’s ultimate boss with Screw Attacks.

Metroid Dread (2021)

And it’s with the game’s conclusion when another big boss battle happens. This one’s different and takes place in a cutscene, but more on that in a moment. The journey leading up to final conclusion is fraught with horror, peril, and just non-stop action, outside of a barrage of quick interruptions. While previous titles in the series relied more on player discovery, Metroid Fusion runs in a much more linear direction.

There are countless locations and secrets to explore and discover but most of the game’s movements are spelled out for players. Players are forced to take instructions and guidance from Computer Adam, which helps and hinders the game for a myriad of reasons. It’s fine for new players and something I thought nothing of during my first playthrough. I was 12 years old though so I mean, you know, keep that in mind. Fans that grew up with Metroid and Super Metroid loved some pretty specific things about the series, and these were largely present from Fusion.

Fixing What Was Meant to Be Broken?

Sequence-breaking is when players access portions of content before they’re supposed (or even after). It’s in all kinds of games but Metroid was especially known for it. The earliest games in the series are able to be beaten in a variety of different ways, or at least for anyone that knows how to maneuver Samus through certain spots to access things early. It’s fun for players to break things but it’s also nice for anyone wanting to get weapons and abilities earlier than intended. Another way of looking at it is like the Warp Rooms in the earlier Mario titles. Instead of saving your game, you could just jump into the second half much faster than the developer originally intended.

The linear approach in Metroid Fusion rubbed a lot of fans the wrong way as a result, but it honestly just works and I’m glad Nintendo made the bold decision to take a linear approach. It allowed for tighter storytelling. It also introduced Samus to an entire generation of players at an influential time. Samus destroys something precious to her employer in a cutscene at the end of Metroid Fusion. With no information at all, you’d assume it was mass destruction of property and assets. With the full story though, it’s pretty clear Samus made the right call.

It’s her experiences and the traumatic situations she’s worked through that have made her the person she is. Samus Aran is a survivor and a fighter, but she’s also one of the most badass bounty hunters in the galaxy. And she understands what she’s really fighting for. These reasons alone make her an icon and an inspiration, but they also make Metroid Fusion one of the greatest games in the series.

Incoming Dread

Metroid Fusion features intense boss fights that require strategy and often the use of the player’s surroundings. The environments are stunning and filled with details that later help detail the extent that BSL was willing to go for its research. Filled with environmental storytelling, powerful monologues from Samus, and some emotional moments that will no doubt come to mind during Dread, Fusion is the best title in the Metroid series. Or at least worth playing for anyone that’s missed it!

It’s a little more difficult to play without the use of emulation since it’s only been re-released on Wii U. Let’s hope Nintendo sees reason and releases Metroid Fusion onto Nintendo Switch Online or even the eShop. It sure would have been a fun way to promote Metroid Dread pre-orders too, as cynical as that sounds. You could always watch a full playthrough too. It’s a good way to go on Samus’s journey with her before the events of Dread — and beyond.

Don’t miss ‘Preparing for Dread‘ either. In it, staff writer Billy Givens goes over the chronological order of the Metroid series, which will come in handy before booting up Dread.

Josh really likes video games. Horror is their favorite but they also like other stuff.

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