For my first contribution to Retro Rundown, I wanted to do something scary for Halloween, much like the rundown of Silent Hill 2. My entry is also my top horror game, but not a game many people would think of as horror: Metroid Fusion.
Breaking the Silence
Released eight years after Super Metroid and considered Metroid 4 even though it was released alongside Metroid Prime, Fusion was developed by the same team that made the acclaimed Super Metroid. It carries on many Metroid traditions but has a major difference over any other entry in the series, save maybe Other M which came about eight years later. Fusion has a rich plot with a great deal of dialog, both internal narration and interaction between Samus and her ship’s computer. All this dialog helps put plot twists and hazardous events in perspective to keep your adrenaline pumping.
To cite Wikipedia, as there are only so many ways to summarize the plot:
While acting as a bodyguard for researchers on the planet SR388, Samus is infected by a native creature known as the X Parasite, originally the prey of the Metroid species. Doctors surgically remove portions of her armor and cure the X infection with a vaccine created from the DNA of the Metroid hatchling (Metroid II: Return of Samus). The vaccine not only allows her to survive the parasites, but to absorb them to power up her energy and weapons. She is then sent to investigate a disturbance at the Biologic Space Labs research station, where it is revealed that specimens from SR388 had been carriers of the X parasite. An X mimicking Samus, nicknamed the SA-X, has taken control of Samus’s old suit, methodically breaking into different parts of the station to allow the X parasites to infect the entire station.
It is no secret that the Metroid series borrows heavily from the Alien series of films, and in no Metroid game is that more apparent and more appreciated than Fusion. Athletic and pretty Samus is alone aboard a space station with limited firepower and nobody to offer immediate help as a much stronger alien creature is systematically hunting her down, destroying everything that gets in its way.
In some other ways, it’s as though the roles are reversed in this game compared to other Metroid titles. Samus is the Metroid, feeding off the X parasites and struggling to survive against harsh environments as her own suit hunts attempts to gun her down.
Whereas many Metroid games are somewhat linear, giving you a few clear ways to get from point A to point B with secrets sprinkled along the way, it’s mandatory in Fusion that you grope along the walls and find concealed passages and items in order to proceed. Even after several playthroughs this can be a source of frustration, though trial and error can get you through whatever obstacle is in your way.
X Hits the Spot
The X parasites make for an excellent enemy faction. Their nature gives them perceived intelligence, a willingness to sacrifice themselves for their overall survival, and their abilities serve as a great excuse for several previous enemies to return by way of being mimicked.
The X also serve as replacement power-ups for the strange hovering pink dots of energy from previous Metroid entries, though the strange hovering missile refills are still there. If not absorbed quickly enough, a parasite may reshape into another minion, or combine with others to form a stronger enemy. In some instances this is used as a puzzle solving mechanic, adding to the already rich gameplay variety.
Huntress Becomes the Hunted
What really makes this game terrifying to me, though, is the primary antagonist, the SA-X. From early on you see it damage the environment of the ship as it hunts you and any other life forms it doesn’t care for. Sometimes you must take advantage of this, hiding while it bombs a wall, while other times it may destroy a door and force you to find an alternate route through the bowels of the station.
Through carelessness, bad luck, or inevitability, you will encounter the SA-X several times throughout Fusion, and at least up until the final battle with it, you will be far weaker than it and have no choice but to flee, navigating mazes and toppling obstacles with it hot on your heels (or… cold on your heels, because ice beam… whatever). After spending hours wondering if it will be around the next corner and seeing the devastation it wreaks on the station, even the final battle is thrilling and suspenseful.
Other horror games I’ve played have exploited jump scares or gruesome enemies in their attempts to build horror. This might trigger surprise in me, but that’s nothing compared to the fear I experience holding my breath and hoping the alien death robot goes away before it hears me, or making a frantic escape as I jump to avoid its ice beam. I often get power hungry in games and revel in my ability to squash even the most intendedly-powerful of gaming bosses. I’ve toyed with Ganon. I’ve mocked Lord Recluse. I’ve made games of seeing how many Deathclaws I can fight at once. However, the SA-X made me feel more threatened than probably any fictional character I’ve known.
It can only be attributable to human error.
Samus’s ship’s computer AI adds equal parts direction and paranoia as you fight for survival. As the game progresses, we see it converse with a third party, show surprise that you got upgrades it later reveals were deliberately withheld, and chastises you for taking liberties. Samus compares the voice to her deceased Commander Adam, who was expanded on in later prequel Other M.
In typical Metroid fashion, there are several different ending images you receive based on how well you did – five, to be exact.
The endings are of course subjectively ‘better’ the faster you clear the game, with a bonus best ending for beating the game in under 2 hours AND collecting all items. Japan has different ending images than America and Europe got, based on the Metroid manga. I find it strange that America got Metroid Fusion and Prime three months before their native Japan, but Japan gets comics that America doesn’t have perceived interest in. I digress.
A Perfect Fusion
Fusion is probably my favorite of the 2D Metroid games. Its dangerous atmosphere, suspenseful narrative, excellent use of the GBA hardware, and intimidating antagonist add up to a thrilling adventure. I think many people see Super Metroid through a rose-colored visor and refuse to accept that any other entries could ever compare, but really the end of 2002 marked new heights for Metroid between Fusion and Metroid Prime. Maybe I’ll write a rundown of Prime someday, but after this and AM2R I’m experiencing a little Metroid fatigue. At least these games will never leave me a dried husk.