Metroid Dread is going to be coming out in two weeks at the time this piece goes live. This gave me the idea of replaying Metroid Fusion, the first of the two Gameboy Advance Metroid games and my personal favorite of the games in the series I have played. I thought “you haven’t played this since 10th grade, how much could you get out of it nowadays?” A whole lot as it turns out.
I’m prefacing this with the fact that I played this through the 3DS by way of that old Ambassador Program they rolled out back when the 3DS came out (I got mine a literal two weeks before the first price drop). Metroid Fusion was one of the ten GBA games and this is probably the only legal way to play this game without spending an arm and a leg to get it.
With that out of the way: THE SETUP. Taking place at the furthest point of the Metroid timeline; Samus Aran, bounty hunter, and all-around badass finds herself back on planet SR-388 in an escort mission for a group of scientists doing an ecological study. She gets attacked by one of the local creatures and assumes all is good. Things proceed to go wrong when after losing consciousness at the helm of her ship, she is discovered to have been infected by the X, a gelatinous, parasitoid life form that’s just Metroid’s take on the Thing, specifically the titular creature as it appears in the 1982 Remake by John Carpenter (my favorite horror movie of all time). After getting large pieces of her Power Suit surgically removed to stave off infection and herself ultimately cured by way of a Vaccine cultivated from the cells of Metroid DNA (turns out they were the X’s main predator and with them, all wiped out, they exploded in population, whoops); Samus is sent to the Federation’s Biologic Space Laboratories to investigate following the facility going dark.
If it feels like this is a lot to take in, that’s because it is. Metroid Fusion was the series’s first attempt to lay the narrative in snug and it shows. The general narrative flow is you go from Navigation room to Navigation Room in a linear fashion and get updated objectives from your ship’s AI. It’s a significantly more guided experience than one would be expecting from the more open-ended, isolationist take on Metroid up until that point, as was the style at the time. The main shakeup is the general feeling of disempowerment and dread that you feel throughout the entire game as a result of losing most of your abilities. Because you had had large parts of your suit surgically removed to keep the X from killing you, you end up losing most of your powers in the process and it feels like a mostly uphill battle to get them back. This is great because while all of the other Metroid games have had strands of horror inside them from the onset of the franchise, Fusion is quite possibly the closest Metroid gets to actual, legitimate horror, and the setting and the X are the biggest reasons for this.
Compared to Zebes, SR-388, and other planets you’ve gone to in other games; the events of Fusion are contained entirely within the confines of the Biologic Space Laboratories. The station is cramped, claustrophobic and home to a variety of alien fauna taken in for study. The station is broken up into the main deck and the six research sectors that serve as recreations of specific ecosystems. They range from the mundane (such as desert, aquatic, tropical, and sub-zero environments) to the less mundane (a near 1–1 recreation of SR-388), to the unsettling (like an area dedicated solely to nocturnal creatures). Their overall layout is significantly smaller compared to the usual wide open, single world maps in previous games, but what they lack in spaciousness they make up for in some of the best atmospheres in a Metroid game. While it can lead to a near excessive amount of backtracking near the end, it does its best to make the station feel like an actual place.
Narrative ambitions and structure aside, Fusion is still a Metroid game. You still get an assortment of power-ups and weapons, but how you get them is different. Rather than finding conveniently placed Chozo statues across the map, you get them from Data Rooms and from Core-X’s, which are the game’s bosses in a myriad of terrifying forms. These foes are also all foreshadowed brilliantly, using the subtle and not-so-subtle environment and sound cues to clue you into their presence. The standouts being Nightmare, a biomechanical, gravity manipulating monstrosity that nets you the Gravity Suit lurking in the background of Sector 5 before being confronted in Sector 6’s Junk Room, and Neo-Ridley, the mutated, X-infected copy of a cloned Ridley who’s initially found in Deep Cryo storage as a freeze-dried corpse and the usual bestower of the Screw Attack.
Lastly, there’s the SA-X. The SA-X is what happened to the infected pieces of Samus’s Power Suit, having created a silent, non-emotive blank slate clone of Samus. The worst part is that this…thing has access to all of Samus’s weapons and powers in her possession at the end of Super Metroid, chief among them being the Ice Beam. I bring this up because that Metroid Vaccine I mentioned earlier made Samus just Metroid enough that she’s susceptible to freezing temperatures. Can you see where I’m going with this? What this means is that the X has created the perfect killer to hunt you down across the station with; it starts small, with the occasionally destroyed hatch, but eventually ramps up to doing your damndest to avoid detection and even being forced into situations where you have to just get in front of it to proceed. It’s an excellently crafted series of Cat and Mouse encounters that still manage to be pants-shittingly terrifying all these years later. The expert use of low chords in the soundtrack does an excellent job of establishing that juicy tension that works so well.
Metroid Fusion is probably my favorite Metroid game and I hope the above explains why. It’s a great horror-style experience that goes well with the start of Spooky Season and if Metroid Dread can even do a bit of that, then I am excited about it.
Mojo’s Note: I just wanted to take this little blurb at the end to say that as of this week, I’ve been posting weekly on Medium for 52 straight weeks (woo milestones) and that I’ll be taking the month of October off to work on some other projects that require my full attention. Check back in November for some sweet things I got planned and if you’ve been reading this entire time since I came back: thank you. Be it sharing, liking stuff on the page, or even just reading, it means a lot. I hope you have a wonderful October and here’s to new stuff in November.