TYF Column

‘Metroid Fusion’ Retrospective: Mutation In Storytelling | #Metroid35 Anniversary

Introduction:

In June of 2021, the gaming community was shocked by the appearance of a specter of rumors past. Not only did the long-awaited Metroid Dread suddenly spring to life after 15 years of speculation, but it is also the arrival of a conclusive fifth chapter in the mainline Metroid series and a follow-up to the GameBoy Advance classic, Metroid Fusion.

Dread is the first new game to mark a chronological end to Metroid’s story in 19 years, and Fusion was the last game to represent this moment in the series. Fusion was a game with a lot of conflicting opinions surrounding its release because of its structure, narrative, linearity, and stark change in tone. At the time, the expectation for Fusion was to carry over the successes of Super Metroid: a burden it no longer has to bear. Before we delve into this game’s ties to the future, let’s take one last look at it in the context of the series’ past. The following is a deconstruction of the series’ creators’ drive to make this particular franchise as different as possible, not only from its competitors in the industry but within Nintendo, and from itself, and Metroid Fusion achieves that with innovations in storytelling.

Nintendo

The Franchise

The Metroid franchise has always stood apart from Nintendo’s other successful IP. Where Mario innovated active platforming that scrolled left to right and Zelda was an expansive adventure spread across a giant map, Metroid came along and managed to pull off both at the same time.

You can read our storyline catch up here: Metroid Dread – Everything You Need To Know

The TLDR: Samus Aran is Nintendo’s first powerful female protagonist, inspired by Elen Ripley in Ridley Scott’s Alien. She’s hired by the Federation on multiple occasions to destroy Space Pirates and Metroids. The first time, for NES, on the planet she was raised to be a warrior on, blowing up Mother Brain and escaping. The second time, on GameBoy, she lands on SR388 to destroy all remaining Metroids and their Queen, feeling bad for a baby larva and escaping. The third time in Super Metroid, the baby larva is taken from a research lab by Ridley and Samus chases after him back to Zeebes to destroy Mother Brain, and the Space Pirates all over again, but not before the baby Metroid is fully grown and sacrifices itself. 

super-metroid-fusion-retrospective-storytelling-metroid-35-samus-the-young-folks

Super Metroid

With 32 Megabytes of storage, Super Metroid was the biggest game released for the Super Nintendo to date, literally and figuratively, and would become the iconic entry of the franchise. 

We tend to talk about Super Metroid the same way we do Ocarina of Time or Super Mario Bros. 3. It was a lightning in a bottle landmark piece of software that took the blueprint of what came before and used the technology available in 1994 to make the decrepit ruins of Planet Zebes feel alive. We still talk about its level design, its music, its non-verbal storytelling, how its art style holds up, and the open-ended nature of item collection for experienced players in the form of sequence breaking, deviating from the planned path for you to discover items on your own, thusly creating your own difficulty curve. Even in teaching you the gameplay, Super Metroid tells a story of a living ecosystem. All these moments are accompanied by rhythmic background music that skirts on the edge of melodic and ambient sounds of a living, breathing environment that can both inspire and make your skin crawl. How do you follow that up?

Read More: Every Metroid Game Ranked

metroid-fusion-retrospective-storytelling-metroid-35-samus-the-young-folks
Nintendo

Introducing Metroid Fusion

Once before on The Young Folks we’ve covered what it’s like for the developers at Nintendo to follow up one of the most iconic games they’ve ever created with a direct sequel. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask was only a single example of the dedication of a team’s desire to innovate and not rest on their laurels by making something eerily familiar, and a dark, corrupted foil to something that is overwhelmingly iconic. It is a curse that both Metroid Fusion and Majora’s Mask share in this era of revolutionary Nintendo games.

In the fourth main part of the Metroid series, we see Samus return to the planet where she once eliminated all but one of the galaxy’s remaining Metroids. The investigation results in her being infected by a nebulous goo named the X Parasite. Innocent in its appearance, the parasite behaves with a strategic and vicious instinct. Before the title screen, Samus is struck with paralysis, and her iconic ship crashes into a nearby asteroid belt. One of Nintendo’s most powerful characters narrowly escapes death, and neither she nor the series will ever be the same again.

Advertisement

Players of Metroid II and Super Metroid will recall the baby Metroid and its sacrifice in the battle against Mother Brain. Here, it lives on through a vaccine that saves Samus’ life a second time. It permanently alters her DNA to share the livelihood of the titular predators she’s spent so much of her career destroying. She dreads the future.

metroid-fusion-retrospective-storytelling-metroid-35-samus-the-young-folks

“It has awakened a nameless fear in my heart” 

She muses this thought before landing on the Biologic Space Labs, which contain the remnants of the X Parasite and her power suit to investigate a distress signal.

And that’s all before the players take control. 

Advertisement

It is a game that puts players alongside Samus through a desolate space station overrun by the X parasites as they infect, destroy and clone themselves into all the other memorable creatures from across the galaxy in isolated environments that attempt to recreate ecosystems we’ve seen in the series. It is a twisted corruption of everything we’ve seen before, even on a gameplay level as Samus is strung along and more vulnerable than ever due to the Metroid vaccine, taken along a haunted house ride through the Biologic Space Labs. Her only company is a cold, callus computer giving her orders which she reluctantly accepts, and a doppelganger stalking her in the shadows.

If that sounds like a lot of story to set up, you’d be right. For action-focused games like Metroid, it was the most directly told story in the series. While Metroid Fusion was developed as a simple entry point for pick up and play portable gaming, it also tried to balance accessibility and tone. If the original game was an homage to Ridley Scott’s Alien, Metroid Fusion would loosely mimic the structure of 1997’s Avant-guard Alien Resurrection

Upon its release, Metroid Fusion was criticized for its linearity and a heavy focus on the story: neither somethings that could be said its iconic predecessor. However, nearly 20 years following its release and with its chronological sequel finally nearing completion, we can see Fusion for its deliberate design choices, and how the final game is fundamentally influenced by its director, Yoshio Sakamoto.

Read More: The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask N64 Retrospective

Nintendo

Yoshio Sakamoto & Philosophy

The atmosphere of Super Metroid is well remembered by many, laying the foundation for the Metroidvania genre. Despite the overwhelming praise of this Super Nintendo classic, the franchise would go silent for eight years. In that time, we’d see Konami redefine the Castlevania franchise in 1997 on Sony’s Playstation in Symphony of the Night with the gameplay structure of Metroid, inspiring more games with expansive maps, immersive environments, and increasingly powerful dynamic upgrades for combat and puzzling traversal. This was the beginning of an even bigger movement in video games. While Kogi Igarashi would revolutionize visual novel games like Tokimeki Memorial before moving down the halls of Konami to become Castlevania’s key visionary director for two decades, Yoshio Sakamoto had already done all of this over at Nintendo a decade earlier…

Advertisement

Producer and director of the former Research and Development 1, or R&D1, at Nintendo’s Kyoto office, Yoshio Sakamoto had a tricky hill to climb from the moment that he became the face of Nintendo’s most famous western-influenced franchise.

Sakamoto went to art school at Osaka University of Arts and was hired by Nintendo early in their history of developing video games, contributing to works such as Wrecking Crew, Donkey Kong Jr, Balloon Fight, and Gumshoe. In this time, he would be brought to work under Gunpei Yokoi at the in-house studio R&D1 before even the release of the Famicom. Yokoi, the innovator of hardware like the GameBoy would have many disciples in the company, Shigeru Miyamoto included. But when asked about his relationship with Yokoi, Yoshio Sakamoto has often reflected on his desire to put artistic values first:

Sakamoto: I had an interaction with Gunpei Yokoi, where he said, "If you can make pixel art, you can make a game." He was the one that was always really pushing us to come up with new and creative ideas. The way that he would constrain us was to say, "All you have to do is come up with a great idea, and give it to a designer. In fact, I don't want you guys to learn any of the technical stuff. It's just going to hold you back." - Nintendo.com 2016

Sakamoto would often go out of his way to design games fundamentally opposite to Miyamoto’s, who preferred to focus on the technical side of game design. This ethos would even manifest in the Screw Attack, a power-up for Samus intended to be a replicate of how Mario’s jumping action atop enemies worked in Super Mario Bros.

The Nintendo game inspired by the revolutionary film Alien by 20th Century Fox would not be the end of film influences for Yoshio Sakamoto, as his first lead scenario and writing role at Nintendo would be for the two games in the Famicom Detective Club series in 1988 and 1989, which revolutionized the visual novel genre for console games. On several occasions, he’s cited the influence of film director Dario Argento (Suspiria, Deep Red). He would use these games to begin translating cinematic language to games:

yoshio-sakamoto-famicom-detective-club-metroid
Nintendo

Sakamoto: “ One of the things that I really like so much about Argento’s films is his use of music and quick cuts to create this amazing contrast from one scene to the next. The music would come along, swelling, and then a big cut with a wonderful surprise for the audience. And he was very good at using those sound effects to change the mood immediately, on a dime. All of this was very stimulating as I was creating these formulative creative ideas. I thought that this music was perfect for a scary environment and that it must be possible to include that sort of feeling in a game through music. I think some of that came out when I was working on Famicom Detective Club.” – Wired.com 2010


When he took over the Metroid property as director, the team produced Super Metroid, utilizing the Super Nintendo’s expanded ram, sound effects, and super FX chip to create the largest Nintendo game to date. There was a perfect storm of these fundamentals that resulted in one of the greatest games of all time.  And yet, after something so rich with worldbuilding and replayability, the franchise entered its first hibernation until 2002. This was a time in which Samus’ only appearance was in Super Smash Bros for the Nintendo 64. 

To follow up a game like Super Metroid is daunting and the fact that Sakamoto was to have a hand in not one but two successors, each slated to share a release date, was no easy task. Sakamoto would assist as a producer of Metroid Prime alongside Miyamoto for Retro Studios in Austin, Texas. However, this was only in the capacity to make sure the contents of the game’s story were consistent with what he wanted for the tonality and plotlines of the series. Even though developing a first-person Metroid with an American studio was a gamble, it would end up being the more successful game of the two and shared more of a structural and atmospheric closeness to Super Metroid.

Nintendo’s R&D1, however, would go out of its way to make Metroid 4 an entirely different experience. Using the engine for Wario Land 4, the game was built from the ground up to build upon the storytelling techniques explored in Super to even greater success. The resulting game is closer to a horror title than a Metroidvania.

Metroid Fusion was released on November 19th, 2002 for the GameBoy Advance, the same day as Retro Studio’s Metroid Prime for Nintendo GameCube, but both titles were also the first in the series since Super Metroid in 1994.

metroid-fusion-retrospective-storytelling-metroid-35-samus-the-young-folks

Welcome to the Haunted House

The scene has been set for Metroid Fusion by the time Samus docks onto the Space Labs. Once the gameplay begins, its structure allows players to acclimate to just about everything they’ll need to do. The computer makes for poor company as it cooly instructs her on every move she makes. For players of past games, this already feels foreign, maybe even as unsettling as it is for Samus, who is famous for working alone. The game environments are as sterile as the voice giving orders:  metal hallways, the quiet drifting horizon of space through glass windows, all in stark contrast to the living breathing planets before.

metroid-fusion-retrospective-storytelling-metroid-35-samus-the-young-folks

Samus enters a quarantined storage room and finds a Hornoad, a creature found all over SR388. When she kills it, the game’s antagonist reappears: a measly single X parasite. Flying around in its pure gelatinous gold-colored organism, it shares a resemblance to a large amoeba. Its movements express sentience and purpose. Samus, with her body permanently infused with Metroid DNA, is now a natural apex predator to the X. Now, players can absorb them and restore health. Besides eventually saving the animals from Super Metroid, the only organic interaction Samus has on this station will be the parasitic relationship with the X.

This storage room has a container blown to pieces, foreshadowing something ominous. Through dialogue, the computer reveals to Samus that the Federation foolishly stored both the X and her surgically extracted Super Metroid armor. Now her upgrades from that game have been taken by the X Parasites, which have cloned themselves into the bounty hunter, the SA-X. Because Samus is naturally weaker than ever, this SA-X is overwhelmingly powerful. For the first time ever in a Metroid game, players are encouraged not to fight but run and hide, setting the tone for the player and Samus’ relationship with the monstrous clone for the rest of the game.

metroid-fusion-retrospective-storytelling-metroid-35-samus-the-young-folks

The reveal comes following the game’s first boss battle. Samus descends down the elevator on her way to Sector 1 of the station’s environmental habitats. The screen lingers as Samus exits the frame, and we seamlessly enter a cutscene. Suddenly an explosion tears the thin metal walls of the room to shreds. We see a brief close-up of the SA-X’s stolen helmet, its face a vitreous mockery of hers with lifeless eyes. We hear its footsteps marching across the floor as it fires another missile and exits the frame. Those footsteps become a signal to players; when you hear them you know you need to hide, or the SA-X will lead you on a lethal chase. 

This opening sequence tells players everything that should be expected from Metroid Fusion while deconstructing just about everything Super Metroid is known for. Super Metroid never told players exactly where to go or locked them down a certain path with story and dialogue. It didn’t have sterile lonesome hallways in space, it didn’t have Samus acquire power-ups by downloading from government-issued internet, and it certainly doesn’t have a creature overwhelmingly more powerful than Samus that players have no chance of winning against it even if they tried. 

The result is an evolution of Super Metroid’s prologue. It is an embellishment of that sequence’s nonverbal storytelling foundations but amplified through creativity instead of technology. From a gameplay criticism, it’s hand holding the player through a tutorial. Through a storytelling perspective, it’s guiding the player along a ride of thrills, scares, and unease. In less than 30 minutes, Sakamoto and R&D1 lay out the formula for the whole of Metroid Fusion, and it only gets better from there.

metroid-fusion-retrospective-storytelling-metroid-35-samus-the-young-folks

SAX & Music

Because Super Metroid was an open-ended game with branching paths of discovery, it was hard for the development team to take players along a specific journey. However, in Fusion, Sakamoto and R&D1 team had the ability to take the segmented space station and guide players along a path as though they were guests in a haunted house. The resulting experience is objectively linear progression from the outside, but from within, the player is being chased into narrow decisions, scraping by for their lives against the X as they find new ways to evolve and dominate the terrain. 

The player feels the presence of the SA-X even indirectly by the motivation of each mission, being told through dialogue which routes it has been taking. This occurs as well through visual evidence of destroyed data rooms and doors Samus has traveled through before, the game going out of its way to stall player progress and circle around off the beaten path, trapping them into several routes that only have one destination: the SA-X.

When players encounter a room that is being monitored by the SA-X, we can hear the echo of its footsteps as they sounded in its introduction, always starting off-screen. The lights are off. A heartbeat pounds in the background music as players experience the tension of trying to plot an escape without being seen.

The man who would usually compose for the franchise, Kenji Yamamoto would spend this time on the synthesizer-heavy score for Metroid Prime, leaving Minako Hamano to develop Fusion’s score mostly on her own. She’s most known for some of Super Metroid’s most memorable tracks, including Kriad, Ridley, and the end credits anthem, as well as the iconic melodies of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening

via wikitroid

These little details in the background music tell a richer story than Metroid has ever had before, and a lot of it comes down to the behavior of these enemies. She had this to say regarding the background music of the game, and how she acted upon Sakamoto’s direction:

Hamano: “I aimed for serious, ambient [Music] rather than melody… [I] had to change the [Music] in accordance with Adam’s dialogue in the navigation room. The navigation room changes with each new scene, and the BGM flows from tense to suspicious... I think I made the BGM when you are being chased by the SA-X the most hysteric.” – Metroid Database 2003


Evolving to a sound card that integrates software-based processing, Fusion’s soundtrack presents something that feels incomplete, and alien, giving the traditional adventurous melodies a sense of unease and anxiety. The score drones between these artificial environments, increasingly more frightening and inhuman, but never without its own form of dissatisfying resolution. It faintly emulates the ethereal, living environmental noise of Super Metroid, but without the satisfaction of conclusive melody. The only feelings of triumph come from the score near the game’s end, as Samus prepares for her final encounter and escape.

Parasitic Design

The SA-X even has a behavior that fulfills storytelling through visual action. A resounding piece of fanservice is one of the smallest details, where the doppelganger attacks Samus. As it chases her, it attacks with a clearly recognizable strategy to fans: a shot fired with the Ice Beam immediately followed by two Super Missiles. This has been the surefire way for players to destroy Metroids throughout the franchise and now that Samus’ DNA is one with the Metroids themselves, she has the same vulnerabilities to cold temperature, which the X seeks to exploit as they gather more knowledge and power throughout the game.

Even the smaller X demonstrates this kind of intelligence through action. When players descend into the Nocturnal habitat in Sector 6 (NOC), the computer warns Samus that the X have gathered to propagate a sub-zero variant of themselves. The tension escalates as Samus explores the dark region with the new variant chasing her throughout. If Samus absorbs them, they begin to freeze her from within. This is until she finally encounters an X core which restores her temperature resistance with the Varia suit. The blue X doesn’t realize her upgrade at first, but just enough time passes for the player to notice that it learns the strategy has failed and begin to flee once more. While these encounters are merely a sort of puppet theater, for portable 2-D adventure games at the time they were revolutionary and in retrospect breathe life into the world-building without always stalling the gameplay. If there are details spawned from exposition, they’re backed up by moments like these as the player begins to understand the X’s means of survival.

Upgrading Tension

Much like the game itself, Samus is not quite so recognizable in Fusion. After her vaccine, she is covered with an organic mesh webbed over her body armor. This is a visual design choice that carries through her gameplay. While her core movement is similar to Super Metroid, she moves faster and can grasp onto ledges. These abilities are not gifts from the Chozo, but a rigid countermeasure as she’s provided. Explosive upgrades like bombs and the new ice-spreading Diffusion Missiles are installed through Federation data rooms. She also can absorb her abilities back from the parasites which stole them from her.

The SA-X didn’t keep everything for itself, and the others adapt by cloning themselves into creatures into powerful threats. Each of these boss fights presents a familiar power-up, used in the context of a mutant doppelganger of organic and inorganic creatures that the X has destroyed and studied in their attempt to overwhelm Samus and use her own abilities against her. Defeating Arachnus X restores the Morph ball, Zazabi X the high jump, Serris the Speedboster, Gedo the space jump, Plant Core the Plasma Beam, and Nightmare the Gravity Suit. 

Even leading up to boss battles, they visually manipulate the environment: creating a humid fog for breeding in Sector 1 (S38), creeping vines in Sector 2 (TRO), decimating Sector 5 (ARC) like a refrigerator torn to shreds, disabling the power in the reactor core, and a blisteringly tense timer sequence in Sector 3 (PYR) where the X attempt to cause a meltdown by cloning themselves into a human scientist. 

These sectors may appear linear at first glance, but as the player makes a return journey to each, it is at a disadvantage while the X tries to undermine Samus’ progress and shut the station down to continue their procreation, increasingly in menacing ways. For the first time in a Metroid game, Samus is at her wit’s end to keep control of her mission against a persistent antagonist.

Just as Samus finishes visiting every sector for the first time, the game ratchets up the stakes.

metroid-fusion-retrospective-storytelling-metroid-35-samus-the-young-folks

Difficulty Curve

As the player makes an ascent to the main deck at the game’s midpoint, the power shuts down. Samus needs to escape an enclosed elevator hatch. The X has shut down the main reactor. Samus needs to trek from her ship and down through the steep rafters to the station’s reactor core, which is choked by vines. The boss encountered here is Gedo, a massive spider that behaves like a hyperactive android, and it was the ire of myself in 2002 when playing this game.

Losing this fight and having to backtrack to it was demoralizing, and caused me to put the game down for several weeks in frustration. It was truly a personal first Get Good moment of the 2000s. The fight wasn’t overwhelming once the rhythm was recognized. It was tough but fair. The spider traps you in a narrow corridor, and you not only need to dodge its deadly grasp where it drops you from the ceiling, but it also spat fire to keep you from hiding in the corner. It is a boss that forces you to begin reacting to it in an instant instead of waiting for it to show weaknesses. 

Succeeding over the game’s first truly challenging boss is sweet relief, but Samus isn’t out of the woods yet. The exit dumps her back into the tropical Sector, but still unable to save data, the player encounters the SA-X. Samus can’t hide this time, needing to fall right on top of it and run. 

metroid-fusion-retrospective-storytelling-metroid-35-samus-the-young-folks

The X has grown more powerful, and Samus’ weapons take more effort to take them down. When she encounters the Plant Core X soon after it’s visually clear this creature is responsible for the vegetation overgrowth. The battle is a claustrophobic one that emulates both Super Metroid’s Spore Spawn and Kraid. After its defeat, the station finally reaches full functionality again. 

As the players regain the last of Samus’ upgrades, they can access shortcuts that allow each of the 6 sectors to seamlessly loop between one another for upgrade clean-up they may have missed. This, in addition to reopening locked hatches after a completed save, make accomplishing a 100% run of a Metroid game the most accessible they had ever been, as Super Metroid notoriously locked players from backtracking once deep enough into Mother Brain’s lair. Shinespark challenges here are segmented into isolated corners that present themselves more as optional obstacle courses for players who really want to do everything the game has to offer.

By the time players reach this point, the end is in sight, but first, they’re met with a story twist.

metroid-fusion-retrospective-storytelling-metroid-35-samus-the-young-folks

Chekov’s Arm Canon

Samus once again returns to Sector 6 (NOC) for a final encounter with the Security Bot X. Then, a security measure trips with a chirping threat that grows louder the further she descends:

“Warning. No entry without authorization.”

Such a claim begs to be ignored, especially once Samus has the wave beam to get through the barrier. 

From here, the environment shows evidence of the worst-case scenario. The federation has been breeding Metroids. Players of Metroid II can recognize the evolutionary stages of the creatures in test tubes. As they walk through the door at the top of the Restricted Zone, the SA-X stands in the middle of a lab, loudly firing into a room full of metroids. This reveal is foreshadowed in environment design with massive Metroid husks scattered throughout the map. These Metroids don’t attack Samus as she escapes, and Samus swiftly sets the Restricted Zone to jettison from the station into space.

In the next room, Metroid Fusion makes an unprecedented decision as the computer chastises her for her decision to eject the Restricted Zone. It then claims such an action to be a feeble effort. Not only are there ten more SA-X duplicates still aboard the station, but it also explains away the Federation’s breeding of Metorids for “peaceful measures.”

The computer’s attitude has worn thin on Samus up to this point. The final straw is the news that the human heads of the Galactic Federation will be docking onto the station to control the situation. After these kinds of comments throughout the game suggesting she has no authority on this mission, Samus finally, after nearly four complete adventures of doing their bidding, says no. 

metroid-fusion-retrospective-storytelling-metroid-35-samus-the-young-folks

She snaps the computer, engaging in her first-ever two-way conversation, exploding in a passionate outrage against the Federation’s choices. She sees they were using her heroics for their own gain. As she learns of their desire to capture and weaponize the SA-X as they did the Metroids, she decides to set the station to self-destruct. In a desperate plea, she asks the computer for help, accidentally calling it by the name she had internalized for it throughout her inner monologues: Adam, the name of her deceased CO.

The computer takes pause. When she finally thinks she’s alone and the galaxy doomed, the computer corrects her suggestion with something Adam would do. If the course of the station is altered to impact the planet before detonation, it would thoroughly eradicate all the X both on the station and on SR388.

From there, Samus finally sets off to face the SA-X before setting the detonation sequence. 

The SA-X storms in with its chaotic chase music. The fight isn’t the most challenging, but it articulates how evenly matched Samus and her doppelganger are. Once it devolves into an X core like all the others, the SA-X is vanquished, but its core escapes before Samus can absorb it.

Once the course for impact is set, Samus has a mere three minutes to escape to her ship, but not before one final boss fight against an Omega Metroid, rapidly grown courtesy of the Federation’s hubris on Jurassic Park scales of terrible ideas.

The creature can practically kill Samus in one hit, but in an instinctual moment of survival, the SA-X allows itself to be absorbed by Samus. This restores all her original powers, including the ice beam. This sequence is the most faithful throwback to Super Metroid in the entire game, as it mirror’s the final encounter with Mother Brain and the sacrifice of the baby Metroid. However, Fusion doesn’t make this fight as much of a cakewalk. If not timed correctly, a player can run out the clock or be killed to still get a game over.

Only after this do we re-encounter the rescued animals, the Dachora and Etecoon (the monkey and emu creatures) from Super Metroid. She freed them from captivity aboard the BSL, and in return, they bring the ship back for Samus before the station enters the atmosphere of SR388 on its collision course.

In the context of the series’ story, this moment is a wonderful resolution, despite some clunky dialogue about the computer being a clone of Adam’s mind before he died which kills the vibe. More importantly, the Dachora and Etecoon returning the favor to rescue her at this moment is emblematic of Samus’ growth and a new reverence for the natural order. Until now, Samus Aran spends the biggest moments of her career up to this point tearing down creatures in the name of people she can’t trust, signifying a change in her character.

The Chozo who raised her bread the metroids to counter the X, and the Federation have done the same here. Samus reaches a breaking point that marks the end of her relationship with the organization, choosing to be a fugitive. She concludes this journey by recognizing the symbiotic needs of life in the galaxy. Unlike the baby Metroid she once rescued, she refuses this powerful information of life to be in the wrong hands.

metroid-fusion-retrospective-storytelling-metroid-35-samus-the-young-folks

Dread and the Future of Metroid

It plants seeds for Metroid Dread, where Samus is a fugitive of the Federation after destroying the BSL and the SA-X. Now, it appears she’s at an even further disadvantage than in Fusion when she arrives on the planet ZDR. The SA-X sequences are embellished on, as the EMMI robots stalk her throughout the map to hunt her down. Their origin is unknown at the time of writing, but they can and will kill her on sight with little effort.

The EMMI’s likeness to the SA-X and the Adam computer are something they’ve been outwardly promoting, as in Nintendo’s Metroid Dread Report Vol. 4 on the day of the series’ 35 anniversary they state:

“The SA-X is a tremendous threat that Samus comes across many times over the course of the Metroid Fusion game. Each encounter—where Samus runs or hides from the SA-X—was an in-game event that springs on the player. However, we thought, “what would happen if we evolved this?” This line of thinking greatly affected the concept of the E.M.M.I. sections in the Metroid Dread game. Also, as the Metroid Fusion game is a direct prequel to the Metroid Dread game, you will find many threads weaving the two stories together. For example, the reason why Samus’ suit looks the way it does and the appearance of the ADAM computer AI in Metroid Dread, are directly connected to the events of Metroid Fusion.” – Metroid Dread Report Vol 4, Aug 2021


metroid-fusion-retrospective-storytelling-metroid-35-samus-the-young-folks
Nintendo / MercurySteam

It will be curious to see what in the DNA of Metroid’s gameplay Nintendo will trackback on as well, indicating in this quote that Dread may return to more openness to sequence breaking in its level design:

“The Super Metroid game can be said to offer the greatest flexibility for exploration in the series. You can enjoy similar flexibility in the Metroid Dread game, depending on how you take advantage of your abilities. You might be able to find ways to obtain weapons, items, and abilities earlier than the intended timing. We encourage you to try to discover alternate routes of exploration.” – Metroid Dread Report Vol 4, Aug 2021


One thing is for certain: Samus Aran will never be the same moving forward in Metroid’s story, even visually evident in the organic-looking, muscle striations on the exterior of her new power suit, showing the physical scars of the events of Fusion.

In developing Metroid Fusion, Yoshio Sakamoto never took the easy way out. While other brands were simply getting ports of SNES classics to the GameBoy Advance in its first couple of years, R&D1 went out of its way to not only make a new adventure but to make it unsettlingly different from such a classic game as Super Metroid. It prioritized telling a story, emulating horror movies and sci-fi films. It got us in the head of Samus for the first time. It gave us a linear structure that embellished unique storytelling beats and a satisfying challenge in the game’s back half and overall feels cohesive in the execution of tone in every detail it has. To this day, Sakamoto articulates in interviews that he’s always wanting fan feedback to make these games different. 

metroid-fusion-retrospective-storytelling-metroid-35-samus-the-young-folks
Nintendo

Sakamoto: We always try to do something really unprecedented, something people have never played before. Many of our designers and creators want to challenge something new rather than simply porting over an old title. That’s something I hope we’ll always do. If you can challenge something new, you can look forward to the public response, be it good or bad. Depending on the response from the public, we can explore some new paths for the new game, which is the only way for us to move ahead. I know that Metroid always has to grow – we’ve always been challenging with the Metroid games. – computerandvideoga,es.com, 2003


As we know now, it doesn’t always work out that way, as the musings of Metroid Dread’s mechanics have been brewing in his mind as far back as 2003 following Fusion’s release. We’ll never get another game like this, not because of its criticisms, but because Metroid is at a pivotal evolutionary state where it needs to survive or die.

Epilogue

metroid-fusion-retrospective-storytelling-metroid-35-samus-the-young-folks

Where R&D1 didn’t simply make a “Super Metroid 2”, that game lives on in the decade since Metroid: Other M with indie games: Hollow Knight, Axiom Verge, Dead Cells, The Messenger. All of these games take the weaving structure of Metroid and Castlevania and innovate upon them. Now, we have legions of young adults who have played every moment of every Metroid game but more often than not in the form of something else.

This, in retrospect, makes Metroid Fusion a genius decision. A tonally confident, creepy game that still succeeds in the escalating power escalation and hunt for secrets you expect, and paced in a way intended for pick up and play mentality on a portable game device. Twenty years later, it is no longer the burden of Metroid Fusion to just be another Super Metroid. Now it stands apart as a truly unique Metroid 4.

While there’s no way to really play it on the Nintendo Switch, it is still available for download on the Nintendo Wii U’s Eshop. It, among all the other 2D Metroids, has exploded to the top of the most popular purchases among Wii U owners shows that people are hungry to revisit this game.

Advertisement