Wednesday, June 3, 2009

GBA look: Metroid Fusion

Developing a follow-up to a great game is never easy. At times development is handed off to a different team, often there will be different styles of gameplay involved or even an entirely new direction, or more likely changes will invariably end up being made to the core that end up creating something else. Metroid Fusion is perhaps the most radical departure from the Metroid series yet. Released at around the same time as Metroid Prime it's rather surprising to find that the first-person Prime feels closer to Super Metroid than the 2D Fusion. In fact at times Fusion doesn't feel like a Metroid at all. 

Upon returning to planet SR338(the home-planet of the Metroids) Samus discovers a new strain of parasite referred to as "X". After becoming infected by it she's forced to leave behind her power-suit and then investigate this parasite at a rather huge lab. Predictably things go wrong and Samus not only has to deal with an entirely new set of foes but also SA-X...her original powersuit now controlled by the X parasite.

The biggest change one will note when they first pick up the game is all of the story involved. A long and rather dull intro tells the story and seemingly every five minutes there's a briefing, an inner monologue, or some other kind of excuse to throw a few paragraphs of text on the screen. While this is all well and good for fans of the Metroid Universe it does little for people who just want to play the game(all of this stuff is unskippable). This is handled thanks to the linearity of this game. Certainly there's a bit of linearity in every Metroid but this one takes it to another level since as you progress you're constantly locked out of previously accessible areas and through a number of plot-devices you'll find entire sections of the game-world blocked off, forcing you to find alternate paths. 

Samus controls quite a bit differently in this game. The floaty jumps and movement have been scaled back and she controls more akin to a standard action game. This is good in a way since she's better at facing off against bosses and dodging a greater number of attacks. On the other hand she doesn't have Super's absolute freedom of movement and thus can't pull off a number of more interesting abilities like wall-jumping off of very small pieces of wall(in fact wall-jumping in general is relatively useless compared to Super Metroid). Using the trademark bomb-jump also won't work out too well since the timing of explosions has been changed up so it's not a reliable means of getting around. Not that it matters much since most of the time you're at the game-world's mercy when it comes to exploration.

The controls are definitely good for handling the enemies of Fusion. While some of these creatures might be familiar to Metroid fans a number of them exhibit new properties and more importantly they can hit really hard. I assume since Samus is without her power-suit she can take several times more damage and this game makes it quite clear. To balance this out recharge stations are fairly abundant and the method of recovering energy has been changed up quite a bit. Through a cure of her X-infection Samus can recover life and weapons by absorbing different-colored bits of X that appear when enemies are killed. If Samus doesn't collect this stuff it's likely to combine with nearby enemies to form stronger ones or simply reform itself. This can be useful in some instances to access power-ups but most of the time it's dangerous to leave X un-attended. This is a neat system and it's a bit of a shame future Metroids never bothered with building upon this.

The bosses are all quite good in this game. Sure they're fairly standard in that you have to find the weakpoint and fill it full of missiles but they're just so much better-designed than previous fights in the Metroid saga. Since Samus can't take much damage at all the bosses are designed so that attacks are relatively easy to dodge but the slower/more obvious attacks can hit very hard. It's nothing new for action game fans sure but it's still quite an improvement for the Metroid series.

The tricky part about looking at this game is that while it has faults they're only in the sense that they're things that shouldn't be in a Metroid game. If you look at this game as any another action-adventure title it's a fantastic piece of work. As a Metroid game however there are problems. 

The biggest issue is exploration. Certainly there are a handful of side-areas with hidden items but for 80% of the game you're on a track you can hardly deviate from. In fact only until near the very end of the game can you go back and pick up everything you either missed or more likely was locked away from you because the game didn't want you there. The level design which is paramount to a great Metroid is simply not right here. While other Metroids have created alternate paths and ways of getting through the game faster(like in Zero Mission) Fusion doesn't really offer that because it's too locked in telling its story to allow the player even the slightest deviation. Granted there are a couple instances(like floors that break-away so you can space-jump/screw-attack through vertical sections easily) but there's not enough to make a dramatic difference in completion times. Also while the game has a handy checklist for all of the items you have left to collect the items themselves are not arranged well enough. The game-world is rather large but despite all of the areas running close together there's simply not enough instances where you can find shortcuts. So if you miss an item the first time around you're going to have to take the long way around everything just to get there(even if due to your many powers you should be able to just bust a hole in something to get around faster). 

However that's pretty much it. If you're not all that concerned about what a Metroid should be you'll find little to dislike about this game, and to even the most hardened Metroid fan I'd still recommend it. Granted I couldn't care less about the story or the instances with SA-X(which are clever the first time around but on repeat playthroughs it's just another annoyance) but otherwise even when it isn't a good Metroid it's a fantastic game.

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