We ran this review back in April 3rd, 2012, with the 25th Anniversary of Metroid still in mind. Now that it’s the 10th Anniversary of Metroid Prime and Metroid Fusion, we are giving it another go at the front page so you can light a candle in their honor.
Developer: Nintendo R&D1
Original Release Dates: Nov. 17, 2002 (NA); Nov. 22, 2002 (EU); Nov. 29, 2002 (AU); Feb. 14, 2003 (JP)
Systems: GameBoy Advance / 3DS Virtual Console
Our Unexpected Future…
Can you believe it’s almost been a decade? After an eight-year hiatus, Metroid returned to Nintendo consoles in 2002 with two spankin’ new entries. We’ll get to Retro’s legendary Prime at a later date. Today, we’ll focus on Metroid Fusion, Yoshio Sakamoto’s follow-up to his directorial apex, Super Metroid.
Also known as Metroid 4, this chapter (still the latest, chronologically, in the series’ canonical mythology) would be easy to call a departure. But that would also be incorrect. True, Fusion does not share the exact same progression structure or overall gameplay as Super Metroid, but Return of Samus isn’t a clone of the original Metroid, either. Each entry in the series tends to mutate a bit, and Fusion is no exception. However, it was also the first step down the road to what would become the most controversial and misunderstood game in the series. How does Other M’s forebearer hold up 10 years later? Well…
Fusion’s bright, pastel-heavy art style betrays its lineage as a pre-GBA SP game. It is undoubtedly dated. Yet, despite Samus’s atrocious-looking Power Suit, it has held up remarkably well as a pint-sized piece of 2D nostalgia. It manages to both jump off of the screen (a necessity before the SP’s back-lit revision), but maintain a sci-fi noir feel. It’s endearing…in a slightly garish way.
The aural presentation holds up much better, especially if you are able to plug a pair of headphones in. I played this game a few years ago during a particularly cold winter, and it’s amazing how a good set of headphones ups the horror leanings and overall icy feel of this adventure. Despite the heavily stylized visuals and small screen, Fusion sucked me into its disinfected-laboratory-gone-terribly-wrong world.
How did this world, the Biologic Space Laboratory, go to hell in a hand basket? It seems the heretofore noble Galactic Federation has a seedier underbelly than we knew. The layers of Fusion slowly pull back, revealing in horrific fashion just how untrustworthy Samus’s employers appear to be. She is, to put it plainly, recklessly used by a faraway invisible hand.
If this sounds like there’s a lot of focus on our heroine, it’s because there is. The bounty hunter narrates throughout, and we learn a bit about her psychology.
[As a sidenote, it's strange that Samus Aran has a reputation as a heroic mute. After all, she does narrate the beginning of Super Metroid, arguably one of the greatest games ever created.]
Gameplay and Conclusion
Fusion might be the ultimate distillation of 2D Metroid gameplay: run ‘n shoot platforming bliss. The GBA’s layout – Dpad, two face buttons (jump, shoot) and two shoulder buttons (diagonal shooting and missiles) – compliments the series’ 2D hallmarks while also refining them. Missiles are easier to switch to than ever via a quick tap of a shoulder button. Unlike Super, there is no dedicated run button, but it isn’t missed. Samus is fast, yet planted in her agility, and shooting arm cannon beams in any direction is a cinch. This fast-paced ethos bleeds into the game’s overall length: your first time blasting through Fusion may take six to eight hours, but a competent gamer can easily best it in as little as two-and-a-half. Speed runners and Metroid fanatics? Halve that (at least).
Overall, it’s a blast to play, and there are enough optional power-ups and unlockables (based upon your completion time and collection percentage) to warrant quite a few re-plays.
So, interesting visuals, a standout soundtrack, an entertaining story, lots of re-playability and near-perfect 2D gameplay. Winning all around? Not quite.
There is the small matter of Fusion’s progression structure. It is mission-based, with little room for deep exploration along the way. If you’ve cut your teeth on bombing every possible block of Zebes, you will find yourself disappointed with this game’s more claustrophobic, quickly-conquered world. And although I’ve replayed the game several times (I’ve lost count, really), if you want an adventure you can really sink your teeth into for hours-on-end, this isn’t your game. At all. This is a damn good hamburger, not a steak dinner.
But after a decade, this game has grown on me more than I ever imagined it would. While an acquired taste, I’ve grown to appreciate it a great deal. Yes, it suffers in comparison to Super Metroid, but most games do. Fusion is worth accepting on its own terms, even though I can’t quite recommend it to everyone.