Soapbox features enable our individual writers and contributors to voice their opinions on hot topics and random stuff they've been pondering. Today, as we look forward to the coming release of the next instalment in the 2D Metroid lineage, Stuart takes a look back at his very favourite game in the series...
Hello. Did you know that I think Metroid Fusion is “good”? Obviously, because it’s in the title. Did you also know that not only do I think it’s good, but I believe it to be the best game in the series? Again, basic reading comprehension should have made that position clear to you. Of course, in a series as good as Metroid it’s quite acceptable to have almost any game in the franchise be your favourite – even Federation Force!
Okay, probably not Federation Force. Look, the point is, I’ve come up with ten reasons why I genuinely, earnestly believe that Metroid Fusion is tippity-top of the pile when it comes to the adventures of Samus Aran. So why not give them a read and then explain how I am wrong and grotesque, eh?
Let's start at the beginning, sort of...
1. It’s a great place to start
Would it be fair to call Metroid a daunting series to get into? Not really, but everyone’s got to start somewhere, and in a series that’s spread out across at least six systems, I’d suggest Fusion is the best jumping-on point. Even Zero Mission, the remake of the original NES Metroid, assumes more series knowledge than you’d expect; it’s the subversion of the familiar that Zero Mission trades in, while Fusion isn’t really familiar at all.
And that’s a good thing – the more linear “action game” approach draws players in without confusing them, ditto the more traditional progression locked behind colour-coded doors and a navigation assistant effectively nudging the player to the next mission. Sure, it’s not a traditional take on the series, but without Fusion easing me in I may never have had the patience for the likes of the far more esoteric, labyrinthine Super Metroid.
Anyone can pick up Metroid Fusion and enjoy it.
2. The SA-X is terrifying
Nobody who has played Fusion has ever forgotten the horrifying, dead-eyed SA-X.
This is one of Samus’ most resonant opponents – no mean feat in the series that contains the iconic Ridley and Kraid. Essentially adopting the classic trope of the evil doppelganger, this is Samus’ familiar Power Armour possessed (quite literally) by an X Parasite mimicking her appearance.
When you encounter it, you are advised to run away because none of your weapons can do so much as scratch it. Thankfully you don’t run into it too frequently, but if you’ve played Fusion you’re already running through the encounters in your mind. Those footsteps.
There’s a reason the EMMI droids in Metroid Dread are biting this thing’s style so hard.
3. The X parasites make power-ups organic – literally
An underrated bit of cleverness in Metroid Fusion is the way that the game’s power-ups fit within the whole story of the X Parasites, which Samus can now absorb with her new Fusion Suit.
Besides the yellow and green X representing health and missiles respectively, you’ll also see bosses making use of the powers they offer upon defeat. The mighty Serris, for example, will zip around the arena at Mach speeds, even using the same sound effect as the Speed Booster she grants on defeat. A really cool way to make the gradual accrual of your arsenal fit seamlessly into the world.
4. The story is awesome
The game’s story isn’t just great fun, it’s also brilliantly told. For the first time in the series we’re privy to Samus’ thoughts as she descends those long, long elevators into each sector, reminiscing about Adam, her former Commanding Officer.
As the twists and revelations stack up, the game isn’t afraid to mess with you and take away your sense of security, either. The use of navigation rooms isn’t a design crutch – it’s a narrative device, for reasons that will become clear as you play. The revelation even gets a superbly timed one-second cutscene along with it. Sterling, cinematic stuff.
5. It proves Metroid can work in a linear framework
The aforementioned linearity of Fusion is, for some people, to the detriment of the game. I’ve never understood that – scope for sequence breaking and speedrunning is limited by comparison to, say, Super Metroid, but I’m not on board with the idea that this makes for a lesser game.
Why shouldn’t the Metroid series host a more 'straightforward' title, anyway? There are plenty of hidden secret Missile Tanks and such in Fusion, but the main “quest” is certainly more directed. This is a good thing! This means our favourite series (Metroid, keep up) can work in formats outside of its traditional comfort zone. Like, say, ooh, I dunno – first-person?
Nah, that’s crazy talk. Imagine a first-person Metroid. Pfft. As if.
6. The controls are perfect
I feel like I’ve ragged on Super Metroid a bit. It’s a brilliant game, don’t get me wrong, but I do wish it had the controls of Metroid Fusion.
What Metroid Fusion does is boil things down to the four available buttons, which is to say 'A', 'B' and the shoulders. 'A' and 'B' are of course used to jump and shoot, but the 'L' button lets you aim up or down diagonally with a tap of the corresponding direction, freeing up the 'R' button to engage your Super Missiles. No more toggling them on and off with taps of the Select button! It’s a miracle! Or should I say… a missiracle?
No, I absolutely shouldn’t. Sorry.
7. The Nightmare is a creature easily the equal of Ridley or Kraid
I’ve already talked about how great the SA-X is as an antagonist, but wouldja believe it’s not even the most memorable creature in the game? That would be The Nightmare, a legendarily terrifying blobby thing that sort of reminds me of Evil Edna from Willow the Wisp (ask your dad or something). They build this thing up big-time and it doesn’t disappoint when you finally encounter it — a massive melting telly with sort of simian arms.
Er, I’m not doing a very good job selling this, am I? Well, it’s a brilliant, memorable and dynamic battle that I contend you will never forget once you’ve endured its onslaught. There’s a reason they brought it back for Other M.
No, wait! Please! Don’t go! I won’t mention… that game again.
8. It’s challenging
Super Metroid is an avowed, inarguable classic within Nintendo’s library, but it’s not particularly difficult. That’s not a controversial statement, is it? Overall, it's pretty easy in terms of raw difficulty (on a conventional, non sequence-breaking playthrough, I should add). While that’s not a bad thing by any reasonable metric, I find that I can get a little… well… bored when a game is too simple.
Fusion has some teeth – those bosses are tough and the helplessness instilled by the SA-X segments is genuinely nerve-wracking. Let’s not forget the initial segment with the ice-mutated X parasites, too; one wrong move and you’re losing a good chunk of your health.
Fusion is – I reckon – the toughest 2D game of the lot, and that’s a strong reason why I adore it.
9. That easter egg
While it’s definitely fair to say that this game isn’t quite as friendly to sequence-breakers and speed-runners as many of its series brethren, that doesn’t mean that the developers didn’t sneak in a truly crafty little secret spot for the committed Shinesparkers.
Perform a series of esoteric moves in the underwater sector and you’re able to access an otherwise-blocked Navigation Room, which grants you a comedic extra interaction with the ADAM computer. I wonder how many players have seen that message, too.
10. The soundtrack is an all-timer
I mean, come on. The SA-X theme; both its approach and your escape are soundtracked so atmospherically. In fact, every track is absolutely brilliant, especially pumping out of the often sonically-lacking Game Boy Advance. There’s so much music, too – brand new songs and superb remixes of classics like Neo Ridley’s imposing tune.
It’s easy to take the tracks here for granted, but they fundamentally enhance the already-strong atmosphere in such a way that I urge you to really listen to ‘em. Pop in those headphones! Unless you have a Game Boy Advance SP, in which case you can’t without a little adaptor thingy. Oh dear.
Are you a Fusion fanatic? Think Metroid 4 is an underrated classic in the canon? Replaying it in order to get up to speed in time for the arrival of Metroid Dread? Let us know below.