Metroid Fusion

On November 17, 2002 Nintendo did something unique – releasing a pair of Metroid titles simultaneously with Metroid Prime being released on Gamecube and Metroid Fusion for the Game Boy Advance. While Prime went on to revolutionize the franchise, Metroid Fusion it seems has always been overlooked as the little brother to it’s Gamecube counterpart, despite also receiving critical praise. I recently played through Fusion and it provides a gaming experience just as terrific as when it was first released nearly seventeen years ago.

same Samus, new fusion suit

Metroid Prime and Fusion were the first games in the series since 1994’s Super Metroid on the SNES, with Samus’ only appearance on the N64 being part of the roster of flagship characters in the first Super Smash Bros game. Prime made the jump from 2D side-scrolling adventure-platformer(titles falling within this subgenre will go on to be known as “Metroidvania” games) to first-person perspective, which many were skeptical about prior to its launch. Metroid Fusion in contrast to Prime, kept the familiar 2D camera and gameplay of Super Metroid while adding a few improvements. It’s certainly understandable, thought still unfair how Fusion would not receive as much attention as Prime as it didn’t present a radical change in the formula that fans had grown to love.

Metroid Fusion begins with Samus Aran accompanying a team from Biologic Space Lab, or BSL, to the Metroid homeworld of SR388. While on the surface, Samus is infected by an unknown parasite that attacks her central nervous system and later renders her unconscious and crashes her ship. The Galactic Federation rescues Samus, performing an emergency operation as the parasite, now known simply as “X” has FUSED itself so deeply to Samus that parts of her power suit were unable to be removed. A cure has been found however, as the cells from the infant Metroid that Samus has informally adopted(the same one from Metroid II) act as a vaccine and destroy the X cells as Samus makes note of the fact it has now saved her life twice. Shortly after regaining consciousness, an explosion happens at the BSL and Samus is sent to investigate; she is not completely alone this time as a new onboard computer AI is installed to assist. Samus decides to name the AI “Adam” and states the demeanor of this new partner is strangely familiar and sounds very much like her former academy officer, Adam Malkovich. Samus’ mission to investigate the disturbance at the BSL begins by cautiously making her way to the nearest navigation room to get a better layout of the facility; the BSL consisting of a Main Deck which is connected to six individual sectors, each one comprising of a different climate. Shortly after arriving, Samus learns the X parasite that nearly killed her has infested the BSL and Samus clone has been spotted destroying areas of the lab. The X parasite possesses the ability to copy the genetic makeup of its host and has created a duplicate of its most recent victim. Due to not operating at full power just yet, Samus is strongly advised to steer clear of this more powerful copycat and make her way through the research facility. Samus is able to recover her suit abilities as she progresses through the BSL before making the discovery of a secret area full of….you guessed it, Metroids. It turns out the Galactic Federation has secretly been working on a program to breed all different types of Metroids with the intent to weaponize their power. Further adding to the dangerous scenario is the fact the Samus clone, named SA-X has been alerted to her presence as has begun to hunt her down. After confronting Adam, Samus learns that the Galactic Federation has deliberately withheld certain information and power suit abilities as they feared if she were to know what was going on she would do her best to shut down the operation; they go so far as to order Samus to remain in the navigation room as Federation forces are en route to secure the facility and the SA-X, whose powers prove too enticing to resist. Samus knows the Federation will be walking into a massacre as they are no match for the SA-X, whose power will only continue to grow, putting the entire galaxy in jeopardy. Samus successfully reasons with her AI counterpart (then revealed to be very consciousness of the her former commanding officer Adam which had been transferred posthumously) and quickly devises a plan to propel the BSL down to nearby SR388 and annihilate any remaining X parasites in the process. Samus initiates the destruction sequence only after confronting and defeating the SA-X before heading back to her ship to escape the facility. Before she can reach her ship however, she is attacked by an Omega Metroid and nearly killed before the SA-X attacks the creature head-on and is destroyed, leaving Samus to finally return the favor and absorb the power of the SA-X and obtain the Ice Beam once again just in time to defeat the Omega Metroid and escape as the BSL crashes into SR388.

The gameplay of Metroid Fusion is nearly identical to that of Super Metroid, and plays just as flawlessly. You navigate your way through the Main Deck and Sectors 1-6 and acquire various upgrades for your power suit, beginning with missiles before other handy powers like Charge Beam or Morph Ball Bomb to assist you along your way. You also earn power suit upgrades such as the Varia Suit which protects you from extreme heat or cold, or the Gravity Suit which enables you to move freely underwater. This is a central formula in Metroid games and even after multiple games still proves one of my favorite aspects of the game – finding a new toy and excitedly looking for an excuse to use it. There are many corridors and hallways to search along the way to your next objective point, with many doors being locked and only accessible AFTER finding the locking mechanism for the corresponding color; quintessential Metroidvania – exploring every inch of an area and then returning(backtracking?) to a previous section as you are finally able to see what’s behind the door or where it leads(remember that door that was locked at the beginning of the game…?). One nice upgrade is the ability to grab ledges and climb up, this replaces wall jumping as the only way to scale vertical passages, at before you get the Screw Attack upgrade(another favorite 🙂 ).

The controls for Metroid Fusion feel right at home on the Game Boy Advance(or DS, as I used) and are blast to play. Super Metroid utilized the six buttons of the SNES controller, whereas Fusion accomplishes this while using only four. The L shoulder button serves as diagonal aim both upward and downward while the R button is held while pressing the B button to fire missiles. The only ability found in Super Metroid not found in Fusion is the X-Ray visor which I honestly don’t find myself missing all that much. Just like in previous games, your health and ammo are acquired from defeated enemies as Samus is informed that due to her power suit being inFUSED by the X, she is able to absorb the parasitic organisms as they float mid-air. The yellow X will replenish your health, while the green X will restock your missiles, but don’t wait too long to grab them or they will attach themselves to another nearby life form causing the same enemy you just blasted to respawn right in front of you. This is also used as a puzzle element in a couple areas as I couldn’t figure out how to proceed to the next room before realizing I had to destroy an enemy and refrain from grabbing the floating replenishment as you need to allow the X to replicate an enemy a few times before allowing you to pass.

The sound and visuals of Metroid Fusion still provide the ambience and atmosphere one has come to expect from the series and proves a worthy successor to Super Metroid. The feelings of isolation and trepidation have permeated through Metroid as a series. The Alien movies have been enormous influence on the Metroid series and the games have never shied away from showing it; Ridley – one of Samus’ most recognized adversaries is named after Ridley Scott, the director of Alien. Remember…in space, no one can hear you scream 😉

While I love nearly everything about Metroid Fusion, there are just a few critiques.

  • The story is a bit weak(story never being the strongest aspect of any Metroid game)
  • Navigation and save stations: There are numerous save and navigation rooms scattered throughout the BSL facility, almost too many. The save stations are never far enough apart to make you moderately uneasy about losing any of your progress, a contrast to other Metroidvanias where being given the opportunity to save your game is a welcome relief. This would definitely be considered a very minor nitpick, as it was a bit of a stretch to find things I disliked in the game.
  • Difficulty spike during boss battles: The overall difficulty of the game is pretty moderate, but the boss fights can prove to be surprisingly tricky. A lot of the difficulty is the fact many bosses take up the majority of the screen leaving you a very small window to maneuver around, usually sticking to the corners of the screen in Morph Ball mode.
  • Perhaps my biggest critique is the game can at times, tends to do too much “hand-holding” in regards to mission objectives. In Metroid Fusion, your AI companion Adam frequently acts as a compass by pointing out exactly where your should head next and reminding you of details that you shouldn’t overlook. The fact there seems to be a navigation room where you are told exactly where to go every few minutes. While this may have been a decision to make the game a little more straightforward or accessible to Metroidvania newcomers, it feels like one of my favorite aspects of the subgenre has been diminished in encouraging you to explore every nook and cranny of the area as you discover health tanks and missile expansions, along with clues as to where to proceed next.
saving the day against the Omega Metroid

To summarize(finally!), Metroid Fusion is an excellent entry to the series that is every bit worthy of being called a successor to Super Metroid, which is still considered one of the greatest games of the Super Nintendo, if not all-time. The game plays every bit as well as its 16-bit predecessor and the controls, along with sound and visuals are superb considering the limitations of the Game Boy Advance 17 years ago. My favorite moment of the game is facing off against Ridley X, who is defeated rather easily by a constant barrage of missiles, before absorbing the floating X to finally receive the Screw Attack. This always represents the greatest feeling in the Metroid games, the moment when you’ve upgraded all of Samus’ weapons and power suit abilities and relish the feeling of power provided by your new toys as you go to confront the final boss of the game. There’s also the fact you can connect your GBA and Fusion to a Gamecube to unlock the Fusion suit in Metroid Prime, as well as a full-version of the original NES game to play on your Gamecube, which was pretty awesome. Metroid Fusion may not have reinvented the franchise, but it certainly is among the best the series has to offer.

Have you ever played Metroid Fusion or Prime? If so, what did you think? Let me know in the comments below. I’d love to go through and write a post for every Metroid game, if nothing else to pacify myself until Prime 4 Nintendo decides to re-release more Metroid games. Well…that’s another week, another Nintendo game for show and tell 🙂

Keep on playing…

Gunstar Heroes – Treasure’s Debut Gem

As someone who grew up loving the many side-scrolling shoot em’ ups released for the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis during the golden age of games in the 90’s, Gunstar Heroes may be my absolute favorite. Some of my fondest memories as a kid were playing this on my Genesis and I still dust off my old cartridge and play it from time to time.

Gunstar Heroes was released in September 1993 for the Sega Genesis and was very well received by all the gaming magazines of the time(remember gaming magazines? 😁). The gameplay is similar to the side scrolling shooters popular at the time, like the Contra or Metal Slug games. You play as either Red or Blue, two siblings in the Gunstar family that has taken up fighting the evil Colonel Red (who does NOT wear red) has set out to acquire four gemstones to resurrect a powerful android – Golden Silver and control the galaxy…you know…the usual stuff.

When you choose your character you also select which fire mode you want to use – Free or Fixed. Free fire mode is what I have always preferred as you can run and gun through the levels rather than Fixed fire mode where you have to remain stationary to fire your weapon. You also choose one of four weapon types – Force, Flame, Chaser, or Lightning. Force is the closest to a typical machine gun with a faster fire rate(think Contra). Flame is a short-range but powerful flamethrower-type weapon. Chaser fires homing ammunition( F.Y.I – essentially the SAME as the Seeker fire mode you can use in Cuphead I was pleased to discover). Finally, the Lightning weapon fires laser beams that can shoot through enemies and barriers. One of my favorite aspects of Gunstar Heroes was the ability to combine weapon types; you can combine two of the same type of ammo the make a bigger more powerful version of the weapon such as two Flame types will create an even larger flamethrower or two Lightning types combined together create a steady short-range “blade” which looks conspicuously like a Lightsaber. My favorite pairing however, was the Force and Chaser types combined for a devastating homing machine gun effect which can be a HUGE advantage, as in typical shoot em’ up fashion the action on screen gets pretty chaotic( doubly so playing co-op).

Black’s Dice Palace forces you to roll a die to make your way through the level

Each of the first four levels can be played in any order and has a different boss fight at the end. You can pick from fighting your way through a jungle area( again…similar to Contra) and fight the boss, Pink to taking on Orange(who ironically is wearing GREEN military fatigues) and pursuing him on his flying base in an interesting level that begins climbing to the top of a tower chasing Orange as the screen scrolls vertically ending with a battle with Orange on the wing of a helicopter. You can also choose from playing your way through what is essentially a “board game” level as you have to roll the dice to advance to the corresponding spaces until you make your way to the end where you battle the boss, Black in what still remains one of the more unique AND at times, frustrating levels in a video game as a kid. (Another side note: this is just about note for note the SAME idea at the end of Cuphead playing your way to the DiceMaster at the end of the level…hmmm) Lastly, is probably my favorite level of the game in taking on Green( noticing a particular trend with everyone’s name?) – another member of the Gunstar family whose mind has been under the control and has been aiding the Emperor. The level takes place in an underground mining tunnel in which you ride in a small mine cart that can travel on either top or bottom path on screen while fighting waves of enemies before confronting Green who pilots the mech – Seven Force( think Tony Stark with Transformers). This is the most memorable boss battle of the game. Green can shift Seven Force into any one of…you guessed it…SEVEN different “Forces” – Soldier, Tiger, Blaster, Tail, Urchin, Eagle, or Crab. Once you defeat one of the first four stage bosses, you receive another one of the four gemstones. The next level finds you fighting your way through wave after wave…after wave of enemies to confront Colonel Red and rescue your sister Yellow, who has been kidnapped. This is pretty easily the most explosions I had seen on screen playing a video game to that time, possibly to this day, that’s how frantic the action gets during the game. The frame rate during this level gets slowed down to almost a crawl if playing co-op. After making your way through what seems like an endless amount of enemies before confronting Colonel Red who holds Yellow hostage, forcing you to hand over the gemstones before you battle the colonel’s right-hand man – Smash Daisaku who is dressed EXACTLY like M. Bison from the Street Fighter games and appears several times throughout the prior levels. After Smash Daisaku is defeated, the Gunstars chase Colonel Red who has set out to land his flying fortress on a small moon where Golden Silver is imprisoned. The next level takes place in space and has you piloting a small ship to shoot your way through the fortress’ defenses and stop the colonel. The setting of this level is from a top-down camera angle and plays similar to Xevious or the R-Type games and includes once again, a battle with Green and Seven Force in open space. The proceeding and final level of the game you catch up with Colonel Red, but not before he resurrects Golden Silver to be promptly destroyed by the android and initiates a battle between the Gunstars and Golden Silver before ultimately being destroyed.

Battling the brainwashed Green and Seven Force in the underground mine level

Gunstar Heroes was released as developer Treasure’s debut effort in 1993. Treasure was founded by devs working at Konami that had grown restless with Konami’s insistence on releasing sequel after sequel for their biggest IPs like the Castlevania, Contra, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles games and wanted to focus their efforts on making a more original title. Treasure was formed in 1992 and decided they wanted to utilize the Sega Genesis’ powerful( at the time) Motorola 68000 microprocessor. Treasure showed an incredible amount of imagination and absurd humor in Gunstar Heroes, and also in later releases like Sin and Punishment, Ikaruga, and Dynamite Headdy( another Genesis game I loved as a kid).

The boss battle against Orange takes place on the wings of an aircraft

There was a sequel to Gunstar Heroes release on the Game Boy Advance in 2005 titled – Gunstar Super Heroes that received critical praise. I very regretfully, never picked up a copy for the GBA and now is a bit of a rarity for the handheld console. As for the original, I absolutely LOVE this game and have recommended it endlessly to anyone who would listen since I received it as a birthday present not knowing the incredible game I was about to play. I still feel that while the game received numerous accolades from gaming media it still is not as well known as games like Contra or Metal Slug, which is an astounding shame. The game has since seen a port for the Sega Game Gear as well as being released as part of the Sega Genesis Classics compilations. The Sega Forever version was also released in 2017 to play on mobile devices.

That does it for this week! Has anyone else out there played Gunstar Heroes or any other Treasure games? What are some games that you absolutely LOVE and feel are criminally unknown to the majority of gamers?

Keep on playing…