I’ve just finished a playthrough of Metroid Fusion on Wii U and there’s a lot I want to say about it. I remember it fondly as my first Metroid game in 2002. The dark unstable black hole that is the classic GBA screen, a perfect window to the man-made prison that is Metroid Fusion’s research station. Gazing into that screen with a burning lamp on my ear made me feel like I was out in space, in hostile territory. Fast forward to 2015 and I still love this game, it’s aged very well graphically and is fantastic to play on Wii U. Unfortunately, a lot of the design choices don’t fly with me anymore after experiencing the good stuff. Super Metroid, Metroid Prime 1, 2 and Zero Mission are what I would consider perfect games, and happen to highlight a lot of Fusion’s flaws just by existing and being their own beautiful selves. The biggest flaw being a slap in the face right at the start of the game.
Some games like to have a bit of narrative to establish the setting, and I get it. Multiple minutes of text is not uncommon in games that try to do this, and it normally doesn’t bother me. However, after Metroid Zero Mission’s 3 second intro, this was a struggle. I’ve come to see Metroid as a highly replayable series of games I engage in multiple times, and this aspect of Fusion came crashing down right away. Can I skip all this? None of it. We just had a briefing. Now I’m in an elevator. I’ve got deep thoughts about the 1 minute briefing I just received. As a player, I also have thoughts on top of that. I’m now thinking about my thoughts on Samus’s thoughts about the briefing. Do you see where this leads? In this game’s case, it’s not just the fact the text is there, but how awfully it is written. They take so much time to say so little, and throughout the entire game I hated the writing. If there’s an emergency in Sector 3, the flashing red lights and voice over saying “Emergency in Sector 3” is enough. I don’t need a briefing for that. It’s written so poorly that it takes 8 text boxes to announce this thing I already know is happening. It’s just text, you say. Not a big deal. Sure. Here’s more text. How do you like it? More nothing. Further nothing to mirror the nothingness. It’s a big deal when a game has something that periodically makes me cringe.
With that rant out of the way, I have now accepted that as part of Metroid Fusion. There is much more to the game than the presentation of the story. I find the setting itself extremely interesting, instead of the uncharted territory of an alien planet, we have a human-made biological research lab that is having some [spoilers]difficulty[/spoilers]. The game is divided up into 6 numerically named sectors to make progression easy to manage, which sounds a bit lame but that does fit into the profile of a research lab. To give sectors cool names like Maridia or Buttwholia (copyrighting that) would confuse the simple minded researchers.
The game controls extremely well, and you can believe me when I talk about controls because they can ruin a game for me if they are bad. I’d put it with Zero Mission as two of the best controlling 2D games I’ve ever played. They each have their own subtleties in movement but a big difference is the wall jump. It takes a bit of practice, but you can do wall jumps up a single wall in Super Metroid and Zero Mission by coming back to the wall you jumped off, and I learned to enjoy that sense of freedom. Unfortunately you can’t do it here. Fusion has more of a Mario wall jump that springs you off the wall so far you can’t get back. I was disappointed to find this out, but it does have its own uses for bouncing between platforms. I have come to appreciate the fact that it’s different, because it results in differences in the level design when it comes to collecting difficult items early in the game. I imagine if you had the patience to play Fusion “fast” it would be very handy because you can bounce up shafts real quick depending on the platform placement.
Have I mentioned the environments? This is why I love this game. Despite being a facility there’s still water, ice and lava areas and it feels alive. The context of the situation makes nature feel even more precious, because all this life is meant to be contained and organised, but it’s unstable and brooding. I love the music as well, it’s very eerie and quite powerful in all in the appropriate situations. It’s so glorious to play this game on the Wii U and hear it coming out of my stereo instead of crappy GBA speakers. I’m sure you could still enjoy it with headphones but there’s something cool about a game like this taking over your house.
Something else unique to Metroid Fusion is the sequence breaking. There is none. With the game divided into Sectors with multiple layers of security doors to unlock, there’s simply no way to use movement to explore the game in a more “creative” way. To Fusions credit, it is an extremely polished game in this regard because there are no exploits like the infinite bomb-jump in Zero Mission and the dozens of tricks in Super Metroid. To see a game like this with no bugs or glitches is a remarkable work of coding, and very rare. However, I can’t call this good design because looking for your own route through a game is something I’ve really come to enjoy, and it’s meant to be unique to Metroid.
I came across this developer interview (thanks Twitter) which clearly illustrates their intent to design Metroid Fusion to be accessible to “casual players” yet still retain the feel of Metroid. To hear them admit this is equally refreshing and frustrating. I understand taking this approach with Mario, Pokemon, even Zelda. Not Metroid. If you’re a newcomer then Super Metroid is still a better place to start, not because it caters to newbie players, but because it’s just well designed. The same thing applies to Metroid Prime, which came out at the same time and did not treat players like idiots. I can not imagine a scenario where a complete videogame newbie decides out of the blue that a GBA with Metroid Fusion would be their first videogame purchase. Furthermore, when you start playing a Metroid game, you are no longer a casual player. You’re here now and good luck.
Fusion is still well designed when you strip away this casual paint, which makes it a shame they didn’t give you the option to remove text in subsequent playthroughs. Being my first Metroid game, it obviously still did a lot of things right, enough to eventually turn me into a passionate Metroid fan. The second interview in that link I posted spawned a beautiful revelation; the backlash to this approach in Fusion is what spawned Zero Mission.
I wanted to give those players a taste of what an older Metroid game was like–that is, an action game with a higher degree of freedom. – Yoshio Sakamoto on Metroid: Zero Mission
Thank you for the best apology game ever made, I forgive you. I’m so happy both games exist now for different reasons. Then of course, Other M happened but I’m not authorised to talk about that.
Back to Fusion before this review becomes a non-linear polykotakuvania experience. The boss fights. The fucking boss fights. This is one area where Fusion is top tier in 2D Metroid, the boss fights are everything. They are absolutely glorious and there’s a good amount of them. The designs are brilliant, the attack patterns are wild and hard to figure out, they jump around like crazy beasts trying to escape their cage, and they are extremely satisfying to take down. I’ve taken down Ridley and Kraid enough times to know exactly what to do, but some of these things in Fusion, man. They are out of control and make you embrace who you truly are, a bounty hunter.
Another strength of this game is there’s some good fun to be had in the post-game cleanup, it’s a satisfying game to 100% complete. Fusion gives you way more power bombs and energy tanks than you’ll ever need, you could probably build a spaceship out of them and fly to a better game. Just kidding. Once all the sectors are open and you have all your abilities, there’s stuff in EVERY sector to rediscover. It could be seen as backhand bad design, but I just thought it was nice to have a reason to go back and pretend the game was open from the start. My experience of this was unique, as I left item collection so late that the final fanfare music was playing in every sector. Very epic and encouraging, but it spoiled the unique mood of each area a bit. Turns out I didn’t need to do this, but whatever. I’m happy to roll with unique aspects of a playthrough and I was enjoying myself.
Metroid Fusion is that family member or friend who talks too much, sometimes you want to slap them but they still love you and that’s important. I love Metroid Fusion right back. It’s a very good game. A good Metroid, even. The environments are beautiful, the boss fights are outstanding, movement feels great, the sound effects and music are wonderful, and even if I don’t like the way it’s told; the story itself is interesting and unfolds in a curious way. I would still give it 10 out of 10 with the flaws it has, that’s how much I value Metroid. Now, I’m pretty much done “rediscovering” Metroid, and I’m ready to see the next chapter. E3 is next month. Just thought I’d end by throwing that unrelated fact out there.