Beyond the save point, Samus reaches the lab proper. Technically, I suppose the whole space station is a lab, but it’s divided into quarantined simulation zones and work zones for the scientific support. This area is the latter.
And here you find another Super Metroid parallel: Samus arrives too late to this lab to prevent its civilian personnel from suffering a terrible fate. As at Ceres Station, bodies lay strewn across the ground, the collateral of whatever violent horror has taken place here.
In this case, though, not all the bodies simply lie dead. Beyond the human corpse is a bizarre zombie that rises from a degenerate puddle — a human possessed by an X parasite, evidently. The leftmost corpse never stirs, suggesting that this civilian was killed by a parasite-possessed colleague before he or she could be consumed by an X.
The zombie doesn’t pose much of a threat, ranking somewhere below “Castlevania zombie” on the danger meter. It just shuffles along, quivering slightly if Samus comes within striking range.
Unlike the small creatures Samus has already encountered at this point, though, the zombie doesn’t disintegrate when “killed.” It disgorges an X, yes, and you can soak up the parasite per usual. But the zombie itself collapses into a wobbly puddle of goo that you can’t interact with. If you leave the X it emits alone, the parasite will eventually return to the zombie’s mass, regenerating into an upright monster again. All you can do here is prevent the X from reconstituting its host. This is not a common scenario throughout the game, but reformation of enemies is something you’ll have to deal with from time to time and this is a nice, safe introduction to the mechanic.
Above the first zombie lurks another, as well as a more curious obstacle: Some sort of mucus-like growth obstructing a door. Your blaster can’t harm this thing, so it basically represents another obstacle to overcome in the future — one to file mentally alongside red and green doors.
Surprise! You quickly arrive at another Navigation Room. As you can see, the station is lousy with them. This time, Adam passes along information on a superficial change to the game mechanics from previous chapters of the series: How Samus acquires gear. In other games, you almost always collected power-ups from ancient Chozo statues… but since Fusion takes place in a human-built space station rather than the ruins of a Chozo-colonized planet, there are none of those statues on hand. Instead, Samus is forced to rely on the Federation to pass along weapons data for her new suit as they’re able to develop it— the idea that Samus’ powers here are simulations of her previous skills developed for her new bio-technical suit. A little flimsy as premises go, but sure.
There’s a feeling of tension and urgency in the background of Fusion, and it comes in part from the looming sensation that you were rushed into action before Samus was fully ready. The Federation works in the background to come up with programs to allow her gear to mimic the functions of the Power Suit. You don’t have certain abilities because those abilities simply don’t exist yet. Again, it’s a thoughtful way to unite play mechanics and story design, and shows that the Fusion team wasn’t simply content to lazily reprise previous games where it didn’t make sense. Structurally, Fusion works quite a bit like its predecessors, but some careful consideration was given to how its workings reveal themselves.
And here’s an entirely different kind of obstacle than ever before: Some sort of structural damage to a pair of conduits. You’ll have to come back once you acquire wire cutters, it seems. Really big honkin’ wire cutters.
The only other door in the area takes you to, yes, an elevator. As in previous games, the elevator serves as a natural break in the layout of the game world…
…but it also serves as an opportunity for exposition. We get a glimpse of Samus’ rich inner life here, whether we want it or not. Later in the game, elevators serve a different narrative function, too. But due to the “down time” they create, elevators make a smart place to advance the story a step or two.
The observation deck basically works as a command center for the station, consisting of a single large chamber leading to one of every kind of sub-room: Navigation, Save, Recharge, and most importantly (for the moment) Data.
There’s nothing to do here but head to the Data room and upgrade Samus’ suit to fire missiles. Missiles work differently here than in previous games: Rather than activating them with an on/off toggle that brings up missiles in place of standard energy projectiles, you hold down the right shoulder button to work as a modifier. It’s not a bad idea, as mechanics go, allowing you to hot-swap between your weapon selections almost instantly. But it does come with a tradeoff, as the ability to fire at 45 degrees sits solely on the L trigger now. Where in Super Metroid up and down angles were mapped to separate buttons, here you have to hold L then press down to depress Samus’ aim to 45 degrees downward. This is especially cumbersome when you’re firing missiles at a downward angle, as it requires you to hold both shoulder buttons and down and press fire. Blame Nintendo’s goofy decision to make Game Boy Advance functionally a portable Super NES but remove two of the Super NES’s face buttons.
You’re immediately given a new objective here, even as the space station suffers a power loss.
The power outage takes out the doors, so that out-of-place wall hatch comes into play. The room’s illumination dims down, allowing the lighting inside the service tunnels behind the hatch to stand out and draw your attention. As always, Metroid Fusion follows up the acquisition of a new tool or weapon with a situation in which you’re forced to use that tool to get back into the action. But instead of simply sending you through a red door, the game instead makes you find a less-obvious alternate route for advancement. This is a really nice bit of design here, as much of Fusion involves finding hidden routes and passages (including the cathartic “breakout” sequence many hours in). By immediately forcing players to jump through a small and obvious hoop, Fusion sets up player expectations and habits for the future.
Another of those mucus barriers appears here, though this time it completely obstructs your path. With no where to go but forward, you can easily make the mental connection here that you need to blast this thing with missiles to advance.
Further on, a “dead end” allows you to advance with crumbling flooring that regenerates once you pass through it. This pitfalls will come in to play over and over in Fusion, and here you’re getting a crash course.
And finally, you land in a pit which can only be escaped by climbing a ladder embedded in a wall. Oh, the humanity! Samus reduced to climbing a ladder rather than jumping to escape? This gets back to the theme of disempowerment that permeates Fusion: Samus has been weakened, almost crippled, by the X’s attack.
I mentioned her hunched postures in the previous update, but I forgot to point out a major element of her new design that speaks to her newfound weakness. In previous Metroid games, Samus didn’t just stand upright, she held her weapon differently. In the original Metroid, she held it at chest height. Beginning with Metroid II, she began to sling the weapon a bit lower, placing her left (off) hand on top of the gun barrel as if to steady her aim and against the weapon’s kickback. This made even more sense in Super Metroid, where the ability to fire at 45-degree angles made it look even more as though Samus was simply holding her aim steady. But in Fusion, her firing stance changes. Can you spot the difference?
Rather than holding her arm cannon down, now she’s holding it up. Either her body or her suit has been weakened enough that her blaster has become a burden, and she’s forced to support it with her off hand rather than simply steady it. It’s a subtle change, but a significant one. And not incidental, either, because these sprites were deliberately drawn in this fashion — as someone noted in the comments, Samus’ appearance in her Power Suit during the prologue shows her fighting the old way, and the SA-X also walks and shoots with the gait and stance of old Samus. Over and over again, Fusion hammers this theme home: Samus is no longer the invincible loner, and she’s in over her head.