plasticpals's Metroid Fusion (Game Boy Advance) review

New Suit, New Direction

Yoshio Sakamoto returns to his classic game series after a long hiatus.  Metroid Fusion is the first Metroid on the GameBoy Advance, and it’s a stunner.  The manga-style intro makes it clear that Samus has been infected by a mysterious virus code-named “X”.  After ramming her famous yellow spaceship into an asteroid belt, Samus is rescued and her infected suit is surgically removed at a special research station.  Ironically, the thing that saves Samus is a vaccine derived from the recovered Metroid DNA, the creatures Samus hunted to near extinction in her previous adventures (a small sample of which was kept for study).

As it turns out, the operation was not entirely successful.  The famous powersuit (made by the bird-like Chozo) could not be completely removed, having fused itself to her body.  Inheriting some of the characteristics of the Metroid DNA that saved her, Samus can now freely absorb “X” parasites, which her powersuit automatically converts into energy, missiles or bombs based on the strain.  However, she has also inherited the Metroid’s susceptibility to extreme heat and cold.  This clever plot-twist means that Samus once again must start from scratch rebuilding her suit.

What is most exciting about this storyline is that the “X” parasites can duplicate any life-form, and there are some that have duplicated Samus in her fully functional powersuit.  These mindless killing machines stalk the halls of the spacestation and can easily destroy you in seconds, adding a splash of suspense to the game.  Since this is a research spacestation, there are all sorts of areas built to replicate the natural habitats of the species onboard, and as the “X” spread, these zones become breeding grounds for monsters, resulting in some spectacular boss encounters.

Exterminating the X Virus

Unlike previous versions of Metroid, your exploration is limited by 4 levels of security locks, and many secret areas can only be accessed through the use of Samus’s special abilities.  Even with these limitations to your progress, the designers introduce a computer commander who orders you to complete specific objectives in a linear manner.

This new computer commander, nick-named “Adam” by Samus, turns out to be a double-edged sword.  On the one hand, Adam and Samus have interesting conversations about how the “X” virus is spreading, and often Samus will reflect on Adam’s personality.  These little storyline bits add an extra dramatic depth to the action, and it really does make each new objective seem all-important.  However, by removing the freedom to explore, some of the series’ intrigue is gone.

Also new to the Metroid series are ladders and monkeybars, and Samus can also jump and grab onto ledges.  In some areas, Samus can grab a ledge and then leap up into her ball form, rolling into a tight crevice.  Some of these are game play elements seen in other games, but they seem perfectly suited to Metroid and further complement Samus’ repertoire.  Another nice touch is that her Ice beam, which normally supplants her regular beam, has been tossed aside (since her Metroid-enhanced powersuit is incompatible with an ice-beam modification).  Instead of an Ice beam, she gets an Ice missile, meaning you can actively alternate between beam and ice attacks with ease.

As usual there’s a ton of endings to be won, depending on how quickly you finish the game and how many items you recovered.  Players looking to play it casually will find that a first run will take about 6-8 hours to complete.

Art & Music

Enemies are generally well animated, and the bosses range from good to downright jaw-dropping.  The GBA is a 32-bit machine, and some of these sprite-based monstrosities give the PlayStation’s Castlevania a run for its money.  Backgrounds are colorful and densely detailed, almost always with destructible bits, or some cool transparency/wave effects to simulate lights, water or fire.  The designers love to design mechanical objects that buzz and whir with little animations and moving parts.  All of the maps and schematics are polished beyond the call of duty.

The sound effects and music get the job done, but are limited by the GBA’s sound processor.  Despite this, there are several memorable tracks, and when required there are even a few voice samples (the trademark countdown sequences sure do get the adrenaline pumping when you’ve got the computer literally counting away the seconds for you!).

Reflections on Metroid 4

Metroid Fusion represents a new direction for the Metroid series.  Taking a more dramatic approach, we see cutscenes detailing the storyline (which include Samus’s own thoughts), and even more elements connecting it to Ridley Scott’s seminal sci-fi film, “Alien”.  Why do the scientists insist on maintaining a supply of Metroid hatchlings?  And what ramifications will the “X” virus have on future installments in the series?  Both engaging and challenging, Metroid Fusion presents the player with a blazing fast action game and an incredibly thorough scavenger hunt.
 
This review is a repost from my site: www.plasticpals.com

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