Finding the balance between fear and joy in Metroid Fusion

After my Metroid Prime fiasco, I detoured away from the series. I played some other games, fell in and out of countless game loves over a few years, and started aimlessly wandering other cities and galaxies hoping to find a kindred soul…another Samus. Though I made some friends in those other places, I just couldn’t get her out of my mind. And I knew I had to make things right. But I feared the “new” Samus, the one that had been brought to life through the glories of 3D technology. We really tried to get along that one time, and I was the reason things fell apart. And I couldn’t bear being the reason a second time.

But when I got my DS, I knew salvation was in my corner. For there were two Game Boy Advance games that I knew would bring us back together again: Metroid Fusion (2002) and Metroid Zero Mission (2004).

In the Metroid canon, Zero Mission – essentially the original Metroid — started the series and Fusion ended it. But when I picked up the games, I didn’t know much about the series’ history and had only heard that Zero Mission and Metroid were the same thing. Well perfect! I never played the original Metroid, so it seemed like as good a time as any to catch up. However, with both games in hand, I decided to start with Fusion because I knew nothing about it, and I looked forward to the little secrets tiny Samus had up her…um…power suit?

Metroid Fusion cover art © Nintendo
Metroid Fusion cover art © Nintendo (source)

Metroid Fusion told the story of Samus and the X Parasites – virus-shaped creatures that could take the form of any living thing…at the expense of their host. The events of Fusion made for a rather hellish scene for Samus. Not only did she become infected with the X Parasite (though she was saved by a vaccine created from a baby Metroid), but she ended up having to fight a rather terrifying “version” of herself called the SA-X. The gameplay was very similar to that of Super Metroid, with plenty of running, shooting, jumping, and retrieving. Though the game took place on a space station, there were several areas to find and explore. Also like Super Metroid, you had to regain pieces of Samus’s suit in order to get various guns and power-ups. But unlike Super Metroid, the bulk of Fusion was rightly scary.

Spoilers ahead…blasters ready…

I know what you’re thinking…scary? A DS game? You’re just being overdramatic!

Well, I don’t mean “boo” scary. I mean, “oh shit it’s after me!” scary. The kind of scary that comprises panicky nightmares. The kind of scary that won’t give you a heart attack but will make you sweat a bit too much on the train to work. Early on in the game, when you first saw the SA-X, there was a moment where you had to hide from her lest you be killed. Hide? HIDE?? Samus doesn’t hide…she fights!  But no, you really did have to hide. And each time the eyeless, souless SA-X passed over me unseen, I physically froze and held my breath. I must have looked like such an idiot to the other commuters.

Oh god oh god oh god....yes I know there's 3 feet of metal between me and her but OH GOD! (source)
Oh god oh god oh god….yes I know there’s 3 feet of metal between me and her but OH GOD! (source)

And I kinda held my breath a little just typing that.

Whew…

Besides that, there were two core moments that, just thinking about them today, still send shivers down my spine. For the bulk of the game, the SA-X was stronger than Samus; and there were few points before the ending where you were able to meet her head-on in battle. The only option in those cases was to run your ass off for dear life…or until the game declared you were safe and/or dead.

Quick side note here… So I talk a lot about how I’m bad at flying in video games. Another thing I’m bad at is being able to quickly navigate an unfamiliar path. Any time I have to run away from something in a game, it’s going to take me several tries to get near the checkpoint, and then it going to take me several more tries to actually reach the checkpoint. With that in mind…

Fusion contained a brief scene in which you had to run from the SA-X across a level. Playing it the first time was truly dreadful. It’s not like you just ran a straight line from point a to point b. Oh no…you had to jump and fire and plant bombs and…christ. I died and I died and I died and I…yeah…I don’t know how long it took me to get to the damn escape point. But I did eventually and was probably the happiest moment of my life up to that point. Game goes on…jump for joy, elation, woohoo. The thing of it was that in each and every subsequently playthrough, I had to pause the game – literally push the pause button – right before the chase scene. Even though I knew the path and had gotten through it dozens of times before, I still had to take a moment before proceeding. How my life had degraded to the point where I was at the mercy of a goddamn 10-second video game scene I’ll never know.

Only the SA-X knows, and she's not talkin'. (source)
Only the SA-X knows, and she’s not talkin’. (source)

But that teensy-weensy moment of hell was nothing compared to what was my absolute least favorite moment in the game, and what is quite possibly my least favorite boss in any video game that I have ever played. It was called Nightmare, a horrible, floating mass of a bio-weapon. “Hard” and “difficult” don’t even begin to describe this boss.  It was a boss that required exact timing and mastery of Samus’s space jump. And did I have either? Hell naw! I was just some girl who wanted to be Samus’s friend and confidant, and I didn’t want to fight some horrible heap of flesh and space debris in order for that to happen.

If I just ignore it, it'll go away. If I just ignore it, it'll... (source)
If I just ignore it, it’ll go away. If I just ignore it, it’ll… (source)

Like most boss fights, the Nightmare (literally) happened in stages that got progressively more difficult. I played Fusion pretty regularly over a 5-year span, and I can count on one hand the number of times I beat the thing without dying at least once. Before you faced Nightmare, there were a few moments where you saw its horrendous shadow swoop over. Just seeing that was enough to set in the fear. But it was knowing that I’d be dead, dead, and deader in a matter of minutes that really made me freeze up right before that battle. And each time, I went over in my head the routine that needed to be precisely followed. And each time, my nerves usually got the best of me. That Nightmare got under my skin in a way like no other boss before (or since).

(source)
Look, the wall jump I get, but not the damn shinespark! And after all these years too! (source)

In the end, however, Fusion didn’t set me on the path to Quaaludes, which is probably a good thing. Metroid Fusion is a fantastic game in it’s own right; and it’s a must for any fan of the series. It’s my second favorite Metroid game after Super Metroid. It’s hard to argue with a game that integrated well various levels of suspense and drama into what could have been a routine space game. And I’m not calling Zero Mission routine…no, not at all. What I am calling Zero Mission is another story for next time.

14 thoughts on “Finding the balance between fear and joy in Metroid Fusion”

  1. Haven’t played that, but that Nightmare thing looks familiar. As far as I can tell from the screenshot, it looks like some boss I despised in, I think it was “Other M”. I know it was one of the Wii “Metroid” games. It looked similar, and it was mostly machine, with this creepy, square face that was more living than machine. And from what I remember, it screamed like a child. It was the most repulsive thing, and for me, it is also the worst boss in any game ever. Maybe it was the same thing. *shudder*

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    1. I just had to go out on the Internet and find out if the Nightmare does make a reappearance…and…IT DOES! (In Other M, you’re right.) Oh. My. Goodness. NOT COOL! Of all the Metroid bosses, why anyone would ever think to bring back that horrible monstrosity…I just don’t know. I know that Other M has lots of strikes against it, but this is one seriously HUGE strike from me. I can just imagine how awful it was to face in 3D. So awful!

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  2. I know the feeling. It’s always such a relief to see that check/save point. Otherwise, we’d have to go thru all that stuff again, starting from last savepoint. Re Persona 3, the player cannot stay in one place too long.The Reaper is like telling the player to move on, ha ha. have you played Persona games? P3FES was Game of the year in 2007, and still one of my most favorite. If you haven’t, I highly recommend it. It’s Shin Megami Tensei’s creation.

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    1. I’ve not played any of the Persona games, but I’ve certainly heard some great things about them! This looks like another one to add to the ol’ backlog. 🙂

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  3. Great article. I always enjoy/fear the frightening moments in video games that are not marketed as survival horror. Just reading about your encounter with the Nightmare boss reminds me of fighting the Dead Hand in Ocarina of Time. I thought the soulless cries of the ReDeads were bad enough, but when I saw that bloody mess at the Bottom of the Well, I freaked out rather hard.

    I have never played Fusion before, but I will definitely check it out. Thanks!

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    1. Fusion will be totally worth your while if you ever do play it. It is great when games introduce elements that you don’t expect, like those ReDeads. Man, I know what you mean. Those things were perfectly terrifying in an otherwise mostly sweet and somber (action) game.

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  4. Fusion managed to balance the Metroid experience perfectly. It helped you connect with Samus — you felt that fear in the early encounters with the SA-X, and it wasn’t a stretch to imagine Samus being petrified as well. It was a fantastic, visceral experience.

    Contrast that to Other M, where they used that fear to make Samus into something she isn’t — a sniveling, submissive, pedantic shell of a woman. Fusion = good, Other M = bad.

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    1. At some point before I’m dead, I’m gonna have to play the Other M for shits and giggles. I know it’s a “so bad it’s bad” game, but I feel like it’s unavoidable if I really want to try to complete the canon.

      In other news, it’d be great to see a new Metroid game capture everything that’s been right about the series so far, especially the awesomeness of Fusion.

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  5. Same feeling I had playing Persona 3 FES …. The Grim Reaper always scared the heck out of me, and I was always in a frantic mode while searching for the checkpoint to escape sure death……. * and the reaper was running after me, too * * and no player can defeat the reaper unless he’s at Level 75.

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    1. I truly can’t stand being chased in games – on foot, by car — doesn’t matter. And I tend to get stuck at those points, putting games on hold for way too long until I can muster the energy to get to that magical check/save point after the chase.

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