The OTHER Metroid game releasing in just over a week is Metroid Fusion. Minor Spoilers in this glowing review of a new classic!
Super Metroid is widely considered the best in the Metroid series. Metroid is best known for its variety of weapons and suit upgrades, its rewarding exploratory play, and of course, the enemies. It was a letdown of sorts when the classic third-person side-scrolling gameplay from previous Metroid games was replaced with what is essentially a first-person shooter engine for Metroid Prime. Although Prime is shaping up to be an outstanding game in its own right, many were clamoring for another game in the classic tradition. Enter Metroid Fusion. This game has everything you could want in a Metroid game, from the bad-ass suit (and the chick in it), to the weapons and upgrades, to the swarms of enemies, and the exploratory nature of the gameplay. But let’s not forget the story, integral to everything Metroid…
The game opens on a black star field with the words “Nintendo Presents … Metroid 4.” How fitting. Very simple, yet appropriate. A quick clip plays, with a cargo ship with the letters “B.S.A.” on it, and Samus flying alongside. She receives a warning that an asteroid belt is ahead, and she zips ahead to investigate. Then there is an explosion. The next thing you see is the Metroid Fusion logo, and the familiar Metroid theme we all remember.
The basic story is that while on SR-388 with a Biologic Research Labs team, Samus becomes infected with “X”, which served as food for the Metroids. Samus returns to her ship, but the organism infests her central nervous system, she passes out, and crashes into the asteroid belt. Luckily the ship ejected Samus, and she was recovered by the research team and returned to the Galactic Federation’s Headquarters. All was not well, as the infestation multiplied quickly, managing to corrupt Samus’s Power Suit. Worse yet, Samus’ body had become so reliant upon the suit that it could not be removed without killing her. Parts of the suit needed to be surgically removed, but the X in her nervous system was too embedded to destroy.
Using a cell culture from the infant Metroid Samus rescued in “Super Metroid”, they manage to save Samus. X is no longer deadly to Samus; she can absorb them just as the Metroids did. However, she and her Power Suit are forever altered. The research team captured additional samples of X and the remaining pieces of Samus’ Power Suit and sent them to the B.S.L. station, but there is an explosion in the Quarantine Bay where they were being stored. Samus is sent to investigate this explosion, and this begins the game.
First and foremost, the game feels like a Metroid game. It should, considering the people that developed Metroid Fusion (Intelligent Systems) also developed Super Metroid. But the story line is what is really going to set Fusion apart from other games in the series. It’s solid, engaging, and firmly rooted in the mythos already established. There are some very nice plot twists and turns, as well as a couple of cameos that are sure to make fans giggle in glee.
The game is absolutely gorgeous to look at. It’s not quite as “dark” as other games in the series (likely due to Nintendo’s mandate to use lighter color palettes due to the dim screen), but it still captures the feel of a cavernous crawl quite well. There is a bit of slowdown in some of the boss battles, but that is with a LOT of sprites being moved across the screen. It’s nothing that can’t be forgiven, as there are few high-quality GBA games that don’t have some slowdown.
Up until this release, Castlevania: Circle of the Moon was the game that people talked about when praising the GBA’s ability to reproduce sound. No more. Metroid Fusion easily establishes a new benchmark for portable soundtracks. It’s moody, gritty, and it just plain fits. The only suggestion is to make sure you use a decent pair of headphones, and choose the “Headphone” option on the Game Start screen before you start or load a new game. Basically, the Headphone option switches the game into Stereo, and it’s like listening to an entirely different game.
The game controls the same as the other 2D Metroid games in the series, which might serve to throw off those that are new to the series and play Metroid Prime first. Weapon upgrades don’t need to be switched to as a separate weapon, like in Metroid Prime. They are simply active. It takes a little getting used to when you get the “Ice Missiles” and need to realize that enemies are going to be frozen first. Not too long, though, as it’ll shortly occur to you to use the frozen enemies to reach new areas. This will come as no surprise to Metroid veterans, as it’s classic gameplay with a slightly different weapon. Why no Ice Beam? You’ll find out.
There are a few tricks in store even for the fans, as the game is clever enough to use the fans’ memories against them. More than once, you’ll find yourself cursing something you overlooked as insignificant or impossible just because it didn’t work that way in the past. The only real loss here is the omission of the classic “Bomb Jump” technique … although you can still jump with the Spring Ball.
The only real complaint is that the game is short, even by Metroid standards. You can expect about 6 hours (by game clock time, closer to 10-12 real-time) your first run though, maybe a little more for people not versed in the way a Metroid game works. But this run through isn’t likely to get you the best ending, since you need to beat the game in under five with every item to get that prize. It’s that aspect alone that is likely to push the replayability up, since fans know what getting that best ending entails.
This only leaves one question. With Metroid Prime and Metroid Fusion both released the same day, which is the better game? Unfortunately, there's no solid answer that, as they are two entirely different gameplay experiences on different mediums. However, it’s easy to say that Metroid Fusion is easily the best classic 2D Metroid game yet, and even the best game on the handheld to date. And since the two games can link up with the GameCube-GBA Link Cable, you really don’t have to choose between them. Metroid Prime is Metroid for a new generation, and Metroid Fusion is the best of what gamers remember.