Hello to you, dear friends. That’s a lovely new shade you’re wearing. It really brings out your everything. I’m glad you’re here for another installment of The Dig. For those just joining us, the objective is for me to review a game that’s a bit long in the tooth, and see how it holds up to the test of time. We aren’t limiting ourselves too much, here. Basically if it’s an old game, we plan to talk about it at some length. Today, we will be talking about my recent play through of cult classic Metroid Fusion for the Gameboy Advance. Should you find yourself interested, you can scoop this one up on the Nintendo eShop for both 3DS and WiiU.
Metroid is one half of the cornerstone genre known as a Metroidvania (the other half is Castlevania, if you didn’t realize it already), in which the gameplay is fairly formulaic. You, the hero, enter the dungeon/world where the entirety of the game takes place. It’s basically one giant level where you cannot access every nook and cranny quite yet. As you play, you find secrets and new abilities that allow you to access more doors or contend with new obstacles. Eventually, you end up fighting boss creatures, many of whom hold new abilities for you. The point here is more often boiled down to exploration and application of new gadgets and gear than combat.
Metroid Fusion doesn’t stray too far from this tried and true formula. It is technically the fourth game in the timeline, and the map seems to be the smallest. Compared to the previous game, Super Metroid (SNES) it feels less maze like, while simultaneously being a bit more densely packed. I collected a ton of items in my last play though, and after completion was shown that I only earned a little more than fifty percent of all the stuff available.
The maps here interconnect a little bit, but not the way the previous game did. In Super Metroid, every large section of dungeon was given a name and it’s own sprawling map to uncover. There were also secret passages between many of them. In Metroid Fusion, there is a hub elevator system to get to each separate “sector” and a few secret passes between them. This appears to be a design choice more than an oversight, however, as this game was developed specifically for a handheld system at a time when GBAs were used for short periods of play, rather than excursions that lasted hours.
This game is certainly built for short play times. At the entrance of every sector you will find a navigation room which links you to an AI that updates your missions, and basically points to where you need to go or what you are doing here. There are also plentiful save points and recharge stations, ensuring that you can face most of your challenges fully prepared.
I say most because there are a few instances where the game takes the kiddie gloves off, and suddenly everything is hard mode. In one instance, the power is out for a time, preventing you from saving. There is a looong stretch of dungeoneering before you can reliably earn more health and ammo, preventing the extras you are picking up from leaking out of the pant leg of your space suit.
Like other Metroid games, Fusion knows how to use atmosphere to make the already widely varied environments on the Bioscience Labs station even more memorable. The music is creepy or tense exactly where it needs to be. The tiny swarms of bugs scatter away from your feet as you approach. You are alone here, and it doesn’t seem odd or out of place at all. You experience most of the story through your own findings. You see the broken lab equipment; you cringe at the claw marks in the wall. The devs did not shy away from series mainstays, either; in the next room, you may well find yourself attacked by the next reincarnation of your best frenemy, Ridley. The giant purple dino dragon leader is the lieutenant of the space pirates. This game succeeds at show first, and tell a little.
Does it hold up?
Ab-so-freaking-lutely, it does. If you’ve never played this game before (or a metroidvania style game in general), Fusion is a great place to start. It’s built in a way that you can take little bites from it whenever you like. I looks beautiful for a game that came out in 2002 (the same year we saw Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man) and because of its heavily stylized art direction is still look great today. It sounds fantastic, and the new two button controls feel just fine.
This game is a deadly, lonely maze of monsters of all shapes and sizes. You do not need to have played the previous games to enjoy the story here. It’s also a bit short. I played through from start to finish in six hours, and died around ten times due to some of the more grumpy boss fights.
If you’ve got the itch, it is likely a good idea to give this fun and officially retro title a run through as Nintendo’s original leading lady.