Samus Aran

Metroid Fusion: Risk Taking, and the Birth of Other M

As if Nintendo was listening to me about the Wii U’s Virtual Console, today we’re finally seeing the company take a step in the right direction. While Game Boy Advance games aren’t quite what many of us had in mind for the Virtual Console, their addition is worth celebrating. More importantly, this decision brings some really interesting games back into relevance, and none are more interesting for me than Metroid Fusion.

Metroid Fusion is possibly my favourite Metroid game, and the last entry in the series as far as the story goes. Chances are if you’re a Nintendo fan, you’re waiting on a new Metroid title with hopeful anticipation – we need a new Metroid game, there’s no two ways about it.

Metroid Fusion came out in 2003, and at the time, we weren’t completely aware of how it would throw the entire Metroid franchise on its head. We all noticed the sudden linear nature, but the setting’s layout still leads to some exploration, and the secrets are nicely distributed throughout. The game doesn’t feel like anything other than a Metroid title when you’re playing it.

Metroid Fusion still has plenty of the desolate atmosphere we associate with the series.

Metroid Fusion still has plenty of the desolate atmosphere we associate with the series.

Another thing we all saw at the time was how, all of a sudden, a narrative forced its way into Metroid – it didn’t apologize for it, and it certainly didn’t try to hide its presence. While earlier Metroid games let the plot take a backseat to the concept of exploration and the atmosphere behind it, Metroid Fusion didn’t take after those games. The plot became incredibly important, offering motivation to the player and a connection to Samus we didn’t have before, as we now knew what she was thinking.

As bits of information come to you through interactions between Samus and a Galactic Federation AI (who we come to learn is Adam Malkovich, who served as a commanding officer over Samus in Metroid: Other M), the game is leading us around and giving us clear objectives. Compare Fusion to the series’ first three-dimensional game, Metroid Prime. That game, despite the fact that Retro Studios had constructed a large storyline, told us its tale through our own curiosity as gamers – if we chose to scan everything we could, the game’s vast story unfolded.

Metroid Fusion didn’t bug me as a gamer until 2010, when Metroid: Other M hit the shelves. Despite a fairly warm critical reception, Other M is a game I can’t talk about positively. It’s upsetting, as I really wanted to like it. I wanted it to be the Metroid game that would take us in a new direction after the Prime trilogy – a smart entry that played akin to its older siblings and understood that less can indeed be more.

Here is where Metroid: Other M failed me, as the plot is so muddled and contradictory to the very notion of the character that is Samus Aran. While the series has always had a serious plot, even in its far less story-oriented beginnings, Other M saw its writer, Yoshio Sakamoto, attempt something far too grand for his abilities, and I know I’m not alone in considering Other M a catastrophe*.

Enough about Other M, as I’m sure I could write a whole handful of articles about its problems. Metroid Fusion is leagues better than Other M at everything it attempts, but it’s the point in which Sakamoto started to see Metroid in a different light. All of a sudden, it was a series deserving of a sprawling plot, rather than a quiet atmospheric experience. Sakamoto wanted to take risks with Metroid, and Fusion was definitely risky. How would fans react to a mostly linear, partially cinematic Metroid? In this case, it went over quite well, and the series headed off in a new direction.

The beginnings of the character who would change Metroid forever.

The beginnings of the character who would change Metroid forever.

Without Metroid Fusion, Other M wouldn’t have been possible. This isn’t a simple case of logistics, since the two games are linked through Adam and his role in the series. Fusion was an experiment in introducing a major narrative to Metroid, and I would be exaggerating to say that it didn’t work. Fusion is a fascinating game, as it really exists in an area between traditional Metroid and what Other M would attempt to do – call it a transitional stage.

Metroid Fusion was a step in the wrong direction, but I don’t think we could have predicted that at the time. It’s not easy to see a game as great as Fusion, even 12 years after its initial release, and label it as a mistake. This is why we revisit games – in my eyes, it’s one of the most important parts of writing about games. We hardly ever know where things are going, unless it’s entirely predictable.

Fusion‘s release on the Wii U Virtual Console is the opportunity to go back and look at the game in a different light. We’re being given a whole new level of accessibility towards the game, as long as you’ve got a Wii U and an internet connection. I’ll be playing through it again, that’s for sure. I’ll be trying to do so without thinking too much on what it would bring, but rather what it brought at the time. Sakamoto called it a risk, and while I don’t think that risk paid off in the end, it’s unfair to judge Metroid Fusion for Other M‘s mistakes.

I am fully aware that not everyone considers Metroid: Other M to be a bad game, or even a bad Metroid title. If you’re one of these people, I encourage you to speak up, as I always like to hear what others have to say on this topic.

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