After extensive pondering over the Christmas break I decided against doing a two-part entry simply because I couldn’t think of two arguments that flowed well into each other. That and I certainly wasn’t going to just make a long article and split it in two.
Now this one might stir a bit of controversy considering that there are as many detractors for Metroid Fusion out there in the wild old World Wide Web as there are supporters. This might surprise a lot of you that read this journal considering most of you probably consider the game just to be a singular hit in the Metroid franchise worthy of its own place among the Metroid Prime Trilogy and the original trio of games. That is true, but when one extols the virtues of Metroid Fusion the vice of how linear the game is tends to be mentioned.
Which, if you follow convention, isn’t a point in the favor of a Metroid game. The series entire dynamic is built around exploration motivated by great level design and player experience. There are some that argue that any Metroid game that has a heavy focus on telling a story and not on exploration isn’t true to the franchise’s core values. At that point they bring up Metroid Other M as an example and then the conversation degenerates in ways you can’t begin to believe.
So for those of you uninitiated to the Metroid story I’m going to explain the situation a bit before leading into the proper argument if you don’t mind. As always, spoiler warning is in effect.
Metroid was part of the original set of games developed on the old Nintendo Entertainment System. The game centered on a character known only as Samus Aran, a bounty hunter set by the galactic alliance to destroy an evil group of space pirates (alien space pirates at that, and not the wacky kind) controlled by an over mind known as Mother Brain. The goal of the pirates is to take a creature known as a Metroid and use its energy leeching powers to make the universe submit.
Samus set off to defeat Mother Brain’s home world of Zebes and succeeded, bringing peace to the galaxy and revealing to players at the end (those tough enough to beat the game under five hours) that Samus was a woman. Thus she became known as “The First Lady of Gaming” and has rarely been usurped in popularity and design.
That fella’s got long hair!
In the sequel game Samus hunted down the Metroid race on their home world and nearly destroyed the entire species save for one final Metroid she took mercy on once it thought she was its mother. Not wanting to exterminate an entire species she turned it in to Galactic Federation scientists, only to have it get stolen about ten minutes later by one of Mother Brain’s most iconic flunkies: Ridley.
I think I should explain Ridley at this point: to date Samus has killed Mother Brain twice (three if you count a remake) and Ridley six times (eight if you count the remake). It doesn’t seem to stick.
Samus hunted Ridley down and went back to the Space Pirate home world and proceeded to methodically murder the entire Space Pirate force… again, culminating in a final battle where Mother Brain killed the last Metroid that tried to protect Samus.
That left us at Metroid Fusion, the fourth game in the franchise and second on a portable handheld console, the Gameboy Advanced.
Pretty graphics, small screen.
Now I can talk about the Metroid Prime Trilogy as well as the side game Hunters but that trilogy doesn’t really relate to this discussion aside from the fact that it’s a great trilogy and an amazing first person shooter game that really adds a lot to the genre. Since there is already a video online that goes more into how the Prime Trilogy compares to Other M by centering on Other M’s flaws, I’ll just link you to it here.
The thing is a lot of people compare Fusion’s use of story elements and more linear structure as something of a precursor, the first steps that led to the failure that became Other M. To be fair I can see the logic in that argument. The problem is, when you consider the use of story in Metroid Fusion you have to consider the reasons for it.
If you compare Metroid Fusion to the preceding game Super Metroid (and everyone does) you’ll notice that despite having more mapped areas to explore—seven to Super Metroid’s five (six if you count Tourian)—they do feel significantly more compact and easier to traverse. This is likely because the game takes place on a large research space station rather than a planet as with preceding titles.
The heavier focus on story dialogue is actually due to the game existing on a portable handheld, especially the choices for more narrative. At any point in the game you can find the navigation rooms (a new addition to the game) and be reminded of exactly where you left off in your game. While the constant new mission objectives steers the player away from exploration (though it is optional once an area is opened) by adding constant new threats and challenges, it also limits on a lot of running around from area to area trying to find the next enemy encounter, which Super Metroid allows. Why?
Nintendo’s first party handheld titles have used this method before. Look at Legend of Zelda Link’s Awakening where you’re given mission objectives by an owl. Named Owl. And that’s compared to its sprawling predecessor in Link to the Past.
Why is that? I think it might be in part that Nintendo wasn’t entirely sure how people would play their handhelds, especially the ones with save files. Now, the idea of a handheld with a save feature is no big news but consider that some of Nintendo’s most dominant titles in handheld form weren’t always capable of saving (the simple games of course). You see, with a handheld you can’t guarantee that a player will sit down and play the game for hours as they would a console. They may play it in transit (as you are supposed to with handhelds) and you may not have a chance to return to the game easily or you may have to stop playing in mid transit. If that’s the case then the player must, at all times, be able to resume the game, remember objectives and be able to regain that same momentum that they did when they played it previously.
If that’s the case, then suddenly a lot of Metroid Fusion’s design aesthetics fit. You can easily traverse the entire in game map easily through various shortcuts as well as a main hub area. The navigation rooms (which are often near recharge and save rooms) will always repeat the most immanent objective to the player on command to remind them.
Keep in mind that despite the fact that you are given mission objectives, over time you are left to your own devices to plot the route to those objectives and in later moments, the navigation computer (named Adam) will deceive you.
You know, I think if I say objectives one more time it’ll lose all meaning.
The other thing that has to be considered is how many new elements were added into the lore with Metroid Fusion. Aside from Ridley (who I’ll get to) each boss in the game is actually a representation of one of Samus’s abilities.
You see, in the intro it’s explained that Samus was infected with a new kind of parasite called an X parasite. Whatever organic material it comes in contact with it consumes and reconfigures for more violent combat. The only things immune are the Metroids.
Wait… didn’t we just wipe out the last Metroid? Shit.
Ah but all is not lost. You see Samus is actually the first to be infected by the X and as the infected components of her armor are removed she is immunized with a vaccine made from the DNA of the last Metroid. Despite losing all of her powers (again) this gives her the ability to consume X for health by contact once she destroys their physical form. However, there are larger X known as Core X that can restore her lost powers if she consumes them. These are bosses and as I said, each of them are based on one of her powers. Each is a horrible distortion of her own abilities turned evil.
They make the Morph Ball scary. The freaking Morph Ball!
And the strongest of them all is one known only as the SA-X, presumably the first X that tried to consume Samus. Containing all of her equipment and hardware from Super Metroid the SA-X is Samus at full strength. Ridley is the only repeat boss but that’s because his remains are stored nearby and the X make a new version so it makes sense. Especially since you get the screw attack from him and he usually guards it in other games. Either way, the entire game is based on the theme of beating Samus as you slowly defeat each of your own powers and claim them to make you whole until you are strong enough to surpass… well yourself. And I won’t spoil the ending as to what happens when the Core X from the SA-X is released.
Compare that to Other M which barely has any original bosses. They even recycle ones from Fusion, a game that chronologically happens after.
The other complaint is how the federation treats Samus during the course of Other M and Fusion. In both games Samus is left in the dark about their true objectives and in some cases hindered despite the fact that she is trying to save the galaxy and you would think by this point, she’d get a mulligan for it.
Well while in Other M the Federation don’t have a sufficient reason for stopping Samus, in Fusion it actually makes a bit more sense. It’s explained that as Samus opens up locks within the space station the X proceed to infect more and more areas within and consume some of the more dangerous creatures inside. Plus, once the station’s true purpose is revealed (cloning new Metroids) it makes sense they’d want to keep the great Metroid killer away from it.
Still, the federation does plan to try and use the X despite the incredible rate of infection and reconstruction. Even then they may have only intended to make a singular effort with Samus’s help to take control of a station that probably cost millions to make rather than just scrap it without trying to salvage it.
So, what it comes down to isn’t that Other M takes its cues from Fusion, which it does, it’s that it doesn’t try to innovate and add new aspects to the franchise where every other title (with the exception of the remake) has since. Fusion was part of a new initiative that led to Metroid Zero Mission and the Metroid Prime Trilogy which only really ended with the release of Other M.
But who knows? Maybe some intrepid new developer will take on the mantle, adapting Metroid for the WiiU and giving the series another good run of games. I’m sure there’s a budding crop of young developers aching to try and revive the series.
And so too does this work exist.