TRANSGRESSIONS AND REGRESSIONS
In celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Metroid series this month, I decided now would be a great time to go back and revisit what is still chronologically the latest game in the series. For those that don’t know, Metroid Fusion is Metroid IV; originally following after Super Metroid, and now technically taking place after the events of Metroid: Other M, which explains several events referenced in Fusion that were never touched on in the original trilogy. Most importantly, it introduces Samus’ deeper relationship with the Galaxy Federation and, in particular, with her former CO, Adam Malkovich.
Looking back on that now, it’s a bit confusing. Why would the developers reference story events that never happened in the series? Were they perhaps hinting at a proper origins story, something before the original Metroid? Or did they fully intend to make a prequel to Fusion from the get-go? The decision to suddenly throw in this extra story content, hoping it’ll stick with little explanation, creates a pretty big disconnect between us, the players, and Samus herself. Now, we’re presented with the idea that Samus knows more than us – that there are things she isn’t telling us. In other Metroid games, we assume she knows about as much as we do. We were never given reasons to assume otherwise.
The sprites look pretty great, don’t they? Plus, it’s so colorful!
But, perhaps this is meant to deepen Samus as a character on Nintendo’s part; to have a series that has one continuous story to tell and to contrast the mostly isolated franchises like Mario and The Legend of Zelda. This is, however, a thin line to walk on. And the way Nintendo’s handled it in this case makes me think that this script didn’t start out as a Metroid game at all, but instead, had the necessary details added in later, after the story was fleshed out, ala StarFox: Dinosaur Planet. What’s also interesting about their desire to have a more story-driven focus is that the translation seems very rushed. The dialogue and delivery of the text is all very cut and dry (like Other M); the translators didn’t even bother to switch the Japanese names to read First, Last during the credits (ie: Satoru Iwata instead of Iwata Satoru), which is surprising because it seems like such a simple thing to change.
Thankfully, the gameplay is unaffected by the focus on story. At first, things start off rather linear, with Samus being told where to go with every new plot development. As she obtains more powers, however, the game gradually opens up. In true Metroid fashion, getting powers like the Screw Attack and the Super Missile are so satisfying because when the different areas eventually open up, and previously inaccessible areas can be reached, the game starts to resemble the open-world exploration of the original trilogy. Additionally, the controls are just as refined as ever and translate well to the GBA’s layout.
Somehow, I don’t think 55 missiles are enough.
Something I’m actually rather disappointed about, however, is the game’s score. I can remember quite a few themes from the original trilogy and the Prime series, but I can only remember two or three songs from Fusion, and I had to think hard to get that high. I can’t say that the audio as a whole is bad, because the sound effects are great, and the game even has a couple clips of voice acting, but the lack of an ambient and memorable soundtrack gives me the impression that corners were cut during development.
Looking back now, Fusion seems to be in a rather odd spot in the series. It has a rather interesting premise that I’d love to see expanded on, but many of the other plot points, from the idea of Samus having a doppelganger, to the ending, have been done by at least one other game in the series. In trying to become more story-driven, I find that Fusion runs into a couple issues that Other M had (mediocre translation being the big one). Also, until Other M‘s release, it sort of felt like Fusion existed in its own world because the plot seemed so disconnected. It’s great to see that Nintendo’s attempted to tie it to the series better, but it doesn’t explain why all of this mystery was there in the first place.
In the end, I still think Fusion is a good Metroid game. Does it beat out Super Metroid? No, not in any possible way. However, its gameplay is just as refined as that beloved SNES title. It also has a surprising amount in common with Other M. It controls great, and gradually opens up instead of just dropping the player in and expecting them to figure it out. It takes the series in an interesting new direction; one that one that screams for a Metroid V. I can only hope that, when that is made, Nintendo’s attempts to deliver a more story-driven Metroid game will pan out the way it should.
Ice Missiles: So awesome that it melts the boss’ face off. Terrifying? No, what are you talking about?
The Good: The plot is interesting, and the gameplay is near perfect. Sound effects are fantastic. Fluid animation abounds, and the world is very colorful.
The Bad: There is little to say about the music and, sadly, most of the plot elements appear in other games in this series. Boss battles are also a little disappointing, since most of them make you rely on the Missiles over everything else.
The Ugly: The translation is one of Nintendo’s greater missteps for this series and there were a couple of points where I found myself thinking I was stuck, only to realize I kept missing the one invisible path to the next objective.