I got a rather late start to gaming, and therefore missed out on some really great titles. Super Metroid for the SNES was apparently one of them -- it's been hailed by many as one of the greatest games ever created, and considered by diehard Metroid fans to be the best game in the series (incidentally, the awesome Virtual Console is a way for me to catch up on the many classics I missed, but that's a story for another day). However, with the launch of the powerful handheld called the GameBoy Advance, Nintendo was given an opportunity to open up the "genre", if you will, that was defined by 2D Metroid titles. And, therefore, we GBA owners were blessed with a truly wonderful game called Metroid Fusion.
Story-wise, Metroid Fusion far exceeded any expectations that I had. I don't know why, exactly, but I've always associated shooter/2D action titles with poor stories, though I couldn't even give you a game that really contributes to that stigma, if you will -- although perhaps classic Mario platformers are at the root of the problem. Speculation aside, Metroid Fusion's plot starts out interesting, when a parasite named only "X" infects Samus and sends her into a coma. Her ever important Power Suit is infected and must be surgically removed -- part of it, anyway -- but her condition is still critical. Surprisingly, it's her own worst enemy that ends up coming to the rescue: Galactic Federation scientists find a vaccine utilizing the powers of -- you guessed it -- Metroids. Back from the brink, it's now up to Samus to explore the place of origination of the X parasite and attempt to stop it.
While Metroid Fusion has a better-than-anticipated story for a 2D GBA shooter, it's the game play that Metroid fans really care about. And, I'm happy to say that Metroid Fusion, in as many ways as possible, offers gamers the same sort of outstanding, exciting game play experience that was the hallmark of Super Metroid. Naturally, there are going to be a few flaws present in an attempt to take the spirit of a game created many years ago and transfer that essence to a newer game on a more modern console, but Nintendo deserves a hearty pat on the back for a job very well done.
Metroid Fusion essentially revolves around exploring the mysterious, infected space station in an attempt to discover the mystery behind X and stop Samus' mysterious clone that has resulted from her infection. Of course, the adventure quickly departs from the space station and into other, well-varied environments in her adventure to track down X and destroy it. Thanks to her infection, Samus has become immune to the parasite, and that's an auspicious thing for her, because the enemies that she encounters are essentially beefed-up versions of enemies from past Metroid games, all thanks to the X parasite. The parasites that are left behind when you defeat enemies can be absorbed by Samus' Power Suit and restore her health, missiles, and the like.
So, the way the game progresses is relatively simple and straightforward: you'll wander around from place to place, progressing through the area, combating foes, solving some pretty straightforward puzzles, and working toward unraveling the mysteries of X. The exploration factor that past Metroid games are so well known for is pretty toned down (presumably to make the game appeal more to casual gamers). There's a computer present in Samus' ship that essentially directs her where to go and exactly what to do -- needless to say, this takes a lot of fun out of simply exploring the big environment at your disposal. Of course, there are still plenty of Energy Tank and Missile capacity upgrades to be found, which is always fun, and netting all of these actually will take a good bit of exploration and ingenuity.
However, one of the biggest obstacles blocking your exploration of the space station and surrounding locales is the fact that when Samus' Power Suit was surgically removed, she lost all but her most basic abilities. In order to gain them back, and thereby continue her exploration and complete her task, she's got to regain those abilities. They range from using the Morph Ball to acquiring bombs for it to gaining the Space Jump abilities even to some pretty sweet weapon upgrades. They're not only necessary for exploration, but they're also going to help out significantly against enemies because, naturally, they're going to grow tougher and tougher as you progress through the game.
But how to regain Samus' abilities? Simple: boss fights. They're definitely one of the highlights of the game, and do a fantastic job of raising the game's difficulty level, challenging you to think creatively, and putting to good use all of the items and abilities that you have gained up to the fight. Additionally, it's pretty cool that many boss fights take advantage of the environment: for example, one fight features a beast that'll charge in your direction and who's too large to leap over. The solution? Jump up and grab a rock ledge, and wait for him to pass. The fights are relatively tough, but generally in the sense that you've got to figure out exactly how to kill a boss, which involves where to hit him, where NOT to hit him, and with which weapon to hit him. All in, they're a good time and definitely make the game more fun to play.
Graphically, Metroid Fusion is one of the most impressive titles I've seen on the GBA. The colors, in particular, really seem to push the handheld to its limits. It's tough to create a good-looking game on such a graphics-weak system as the GBA, but the developers obviously made the best of the situation and instead focused on aspects of a game's visual style that the GBA could deal with. The result: a profound, immersive, and atmospheric world that makes you believe what you're playing. That, at least to me, is the goal for any artistic designer, so Metroid Fusion easily scores top marks in the graphics category. Samus looks good, the enemies look awesome (the bosses, in particular, look really cool), and the environs are all distinct and generally awesome.
In terms of replay value, however, Metroid Fusion is going to be a bit of a disappointment, at least to gamers looking for a lengthy, time-consuming adventure. It appears that in an effort to really keep up the pace and suspense of the title, as well as keep the game fresh and prevent it from getting stale, the development team opted for quality over quantity. The game probably won't take you more than about 10 hours to complete, and veteran Metroid players should be able to whiz through it even quicker than that. And mind you, that game time estimation includes any time replayed because of untimely deaths -- which, incidentally, don't occur very often, because Metroid Fusion is significantly easier than I'd like. Bosses provide a challenge, at least until you figure out how to exploit its weaknesses and counter them with your strengths. Once you figure that out (or even worse, god forbid: look it up in a walkthrough!), it's relatively smooth sailing. The exploration factor is largely lost because of the hand-holding computer, and the rest of the enemies will usually go down with a few shots from your Arm Cannon or, at worst, a missile.
Ultimately, though, the sheer amount of fun that you'll have with Metroid Fusion cancels out any disappointments regarding the length and difficulty of the game. It's still fun, and isn't that what it all comes down to? Nintendo could have easily decided to recycle some game play elements to significantly lengthen the game, but instead they made a rather noble decision and decided to keep things fresh and unique. I, for one, very much appreciate that, and am happy to play a shorter, easier game if that means that I'm having fun the entire time I spend playing it.
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