There are very few games that I keep coming back to year after year, that keep me engaged no matter how many times I play them. One of these is Metroid Fusion.
Metroid Fusion is a game that does two things extremely well: creating an atmosphere of dread, and making every mistake feel like it’s your fault.
Let’s start with dread.
First, the premise. The player is essentially a de-powered space marine sent into a biological research station after it stopped transmitting signals. You arrive on board alone (of course) with the exception of your HAL-esque AI commander.
Soon you realize you aren’t the only sentient thing on this station. Worse, whatever else is out there is not only far more powerful than you, but actively trying to kill you.
This plot element is integrated into the gameplay well, as the player often runs into the pursuer and has to make a break for it without getting destroyed by its ridiculously powerful plasma cannon.
The moments when you can finally pull off a new technique, or when you figure out another use of one of your upgrades define why I keep coming back to Fusion.
In addition, there’s a reason I specifically use the word “dread.”
Fusion doesn’t invoke simple fear. It produces that feeling that not only is there something scary out there, but you are going to run into it sooner or later. There are very few scenes where something suddenly attacks the player. Instead there are many scenes where the player’s only way forward is to go through a particularly dangerous fight.
It makes the player fear what is coming up, as opposed to working with sudden jumps of emotion about the present.
The eerie music and the dead, sterile backgrounds also imply that the player is all alone in this hostile land.
There are quite a few scenes where I was asking, “Wait, what? How do you expect me to do that?”
Of course, there was a way to do each, but the seemingly overwhelming tasks the player is asked to perform emphasize the feeling that this world is hostile, and you need to fight to just survive.
Now, the controls.
It is very hard to pinpoint why certain games feel smooth to control without going into a ton of detail, but I’ll try.
Fusion effectively uses four buttons for its main control scheme: jump, shoot, aim and switch payload.
However, then the game starts asking you to combine buttons.
First, the player aims and shoots. Then they have to shoot in midair. Halfway in, it’s asking for a missile shot aimed diagonally in midair, and it only gets more complex from there.
This sounds complicated here, but the way the game ramps up and gets more difficult over time is essential to how it expects its players to learn the complicated controls later in the game.
Some of the more complicated maneuvers involve wall-jumping by timing very tight jumps, and adjusting height and type of jump by holding the button down for different lengths of time.
As a result of these extremely tight controls and how well Fusion teaches them to the player, every mistake feels like the fault of the player and not of the game.
That was your mistake for jumping into that laser, it’s your fault you didn’t jump out of the way in time of the charging beast, and it’s your fault if you die.
I can’t emphasize enough, though, how natural it feels to be using these button combinations by the time the game is over.
So why isn’t it well known?
Metroid Fusion was released in 2002 as the long-awaited sequel to the 1994 critical masterpiece Super Metroid.
So really, there was no pressure.
The major reason most fans dismissed Fusion is because it is a short linear game, something I’ll talk about in more detail later, while the beloved Super Metroid was very nonlinear and lasted quite a bit longer.
Essentially, Fusion had one straight line through the story, while Super had many branching paths.
However, this is actually one of my favorite parts about Fusion. I don’t regularly replay games more than once, but I have returned to Fusion over half a dozen times precisely because of these reasons. My time for getting through the game with a perfect completion rate is down to three hours, and shrinking.
I’m also slowly becoming better, as I died only a single time, and that was only during the final sequence on my last playthrough.
Being able to sit down and beat it in one day (if one knows what they’re doing, of course) is actually something I like.
It also released the same day as another masterpiece, Metroid Prime, but there’s nothing it could really do about that.
Nothing is perfect, though. The intro doesn’t do a good job explaining things if you haven’t played the previous games, and there is one particular enemy that has some hitboxing issues (the area its attacks affect is bigger than what it looks like on screen), but the little things certainly don’t ruin the experience.
The game was originally released on the Game Boy Advance, but it is also available for pretty cheap on the Wii U E-Shop, for the few of you who own a Wii U.
If you want a retro sci-fi horror game that you can beat in a weekend, you can’t go wrong with Metroid Fusion.
See you next mission, where I’ll try to explain some of this video game vocabulary I’m using.
—By Mac Scott