We’re in the home stretch, and it’ll be a double-header this time! Metroid Fusion and Metroid: Zero Mission were both Game Boy Advance games developed within 2 years of each other, and were released during the series’ brief renaissance of the early 2000s. Metroid: Zero Mission is a remake of the first NES game with an extra epilogue chapter, and Metroid Fusion is officially “Metroid 4,” the sequel to Super Metroid. Fusion is currently the last game in the Metroid timeline, and this is where Dread‘s story will pick up. Neither Fusion nor Zero Mission are as iconic as Super Metroid, but both games introduce important twists, refinements, and mechanics that I believe MercurySteam is going to (hopefully) incorporate into Metroid Dread.
Both games showcase a more agile Samus with an improved control scheme. The time you spend fumbling to select missiles is dramatically reduced by using the R shoulder button. Both games feature a more linear progression system — you’re told where to go in these games, though not necessarily how to get there. The result is something more akin to Samus Returns — you have enough structure to not feel frustrated, yet you’re given just enough freedom and mystery that exploration feels satisfying. To me, it’s a happy medium.
That’s about where their similarities end. Let’s first talk about Zero Mission and what it brought to the table, and then finish up with Fusion.
Zero Problems Here
To me, Metroid: Zero Mission is one of those video games I could play over and over again. You’re given a blip on your map telling you where to go, and then you’re on your own. As a result, the pacing of this game goes by blindingly fast. I just get into this state where I’m wholly absorbed in the next powerup, the next boss, the next area… I blink and I’ve already defeated Mother Brain. It helps that this game’s map is considerably smaller than both Samus Returns and Super Metroid; there’s less you need to keep in your head at once.
And then the epilogue chapter sets in.
After defeating Mother Brain, Samus gets shot down and finds herself stranded on Zebes without any of her powers. She’s alone with just a stun pistol. The game’s action hero pacing grinds to a slow crawl, literally, and everything becomes much more anxious. This part ends up being more like a stealth game, where you have to infiltrate a Space Pirate ship, as well as some Chozo ruins, while avoiding detection. You feel vulnerable. If spotted, there are a few hiding spots you may try, but the Space Pirates are also pretty smart, so your first attempt may not always work.
This brief period of stress and frustration ends with a new power suit that lets you tear through the Space Pirates like they were made of paper. A new bombastic Brinstar theme plays, and you feel like the coolest bounty hunter in the entire galaxy. After one last boss fight and escape sequence, the game is finished.
Playing through this final section again, I can totally see how Yoshio Sakamoto wanted to expand the stealth concepts for Dread. I can also see how the DS’s hardware limitations might have caused a lot of problems with that. I understand why Dread never got off the ground until MercurySteam came onto the scene. E.M.M.I’s sections appear to be very similar, where Samus needs to avoid detection and capture. However, whereas Zero Mission‘s sections are very scripted and linear, Dread appears to be more open-ended. It also appears like Dread will give us some similar catharsis to Zero Mission when we’re finally able to defeat these E.M.M.I. robots.
This game is the ideal place to start the Metroid franchise. Unfortunately… it’s a Game Boy Advance game. So unless you own a Wii U or buy an original cartridge (which goes for like $80 on eBay right now), there’s no official way to play this game.
A Short Fuse
Metroid Fusion is the Metroid game I’ve played the least. The reason why is because Fusion is the most linear 2D Metroid game and it gives you the shortest leash. You have some freedom to explore, but it’s not much. Furthermore, the game’s not good at telegraphing how to get from Point A to Point B. Most of the time you’ll need a guide. And for most of the game you’ll have an ill-tempered, purple A.I. telling you what to do.
The game is also the most difficult Metroid game yet. For one, Samus’s suit has been altered to save her from the X Parasite, the main “villain” of this game. This means she takes much more damage than in the other games. In addition, every enemy you defeat doesn’t actually “die” — you merely expose the X Parasite within, and you’ll have to touch it and absorb it to finally be rid of it. If you don’t, the X Parasite will actually come back as another enemy. Combining Samus’s weaker suit with these X Parasites means that you’ll have to dodge attacks well while playing aggressively. Rooms that have multiple enemies in them become especially difficult to navigate. Bosses are tough, too.
The biggest redeeming quality for Metroid Fusion is the emotional experience. The X Parasite found a way to hijack your old corrupted suit, and this creature is on the hunt for you in this abandoned space station. While it’s entirely scripted, Fusion feels like one long game of cat and mouse, only you are the mouse. It feels like an expanded version of the stealth epilogue from Zero Mission but without any actual stealth mechanics. Instead, as you’re traversing the station, portions will get attacked and demolished. This limits where you can go, as doors and hallways become inaccessible. From a gameplay perspective it’s a little frustrating, but from a story perspective it’s highly immersive seeing the station crumble apart bit by bit. And the Galactic Federation has more secrets than just the X Parasite on board.
Every once in a while you’ll actually encounter the other version of you, which again, aren’t exactly stealth sections; they’re more like cutscenes. Sure they feel tense, but you can tell that they were trying to work within limitations. Thematically it feels really cool to face off against a previous version of yourself — the powered-up version of you from the end of Super Metroid, in fact. In a way, it feels like the developers saw this as a symbolic struggle of trying to move on after creating such a widely-considered masterpiece. How do you make its follow-up get out of its shadow?
After Fusion’s climactic ending, Samus will likely no longer be in the Galactic Federation’s good graces. I’m so curious as to how Samus will move on and how Sakamoto will end this story arc. Remember, Metroid Fusion is the latest game in the timeline, and it came out 19 years ago. I’m beyond ready to experience a new chapter in Samus’s tale.