Friends, meet Samus Aran. She got the band back together.
With Ridley-X defeated, Samus is basically back at full fighting strength — the one absence from her arsenal of goodies being the Ice Beam, which remains somehow impossible for her to use because… metroids? Science? It’s never really explained, since she can use ice-powered missiles that send a freezing ripple through the air, and she gained the ability to absorb ice parasites a while back, so who knows.
In any case, this is the point at which the entire station opens up to you. The last barrier blocks — the ones that comprise massive chunks of wall throughout the station — fall before the Screw Attack, opening up a number of hidden areas and creating helpful links between different zones.
At this point, you might think back to previous games an assume you have a few final objectives or new areas to explore, but….
…instead, Metroid Fusion pulls its biggest dick move ever.
To put it in Ranma 1/2 fanfiction terms: “ADAM NO BAKA!”
Once you have the Screw Attack and enter a Navigation Room, Adam locks you out of everything but the final area. Now that you have the ability to traverse the entire station, you’re no longer allowed to do so. If you, perhaps, find yourself lacking in Energy Tanks and other power-ups and would like to buff up before the final set of encounters, you’re outta luck. Adam performs one last “would you kindly” and strong-arms you to the station’s central control area.
The solution, of course, is simply not to talk to Adam once you have the Screw Attack until you’re satisfied you’ve collected everything there is to find. That’s what the huge swaths of Screw Attack blocks are for: They create links between the various zones so you don’t need to use the main elevators, which require you to pass through Navigation Rooms.
So, the Fusion team hath provided… but not in a very obvious fashion. If you don’t know the shutout is coming, it’s entirely possible to blithely chat with Adam and save your locked-out state, erasing your pre-Adam-chat save file and permanently locking Samus into whichever status she might happen to have immediately after conquering Ridley. Good luck beating the final boss with only half the maximum health tanks, newcomer!
You can work your way through the entire station to collect all manner of power-ups, and there are plenty to find. Fusion‘s map designers went the extra mile to create a puzzle-like environment here; it contains a huge number of items to collect, many within esoteric areas that don’t appear on the map. You need to sleuth them out for yourself. (Or you can use a guide, but that seems a bit contrary to the spirit of the thing.)
The final areas contain really vexing puzzles like this one: It’s packed with disintegrating and pass-through blocks, and if you detonate a Power Bomb to figure out which bl0cks can’t be trusted, a rising barrier emerges and walls off the Energy Tank. You can leave the room to reset the barrier, but it’s a real, “Yes, we know your little tricks,” moment from the designers.
You’ll also find some absolutely insane shinespark puzzles that require either meticulous timing or profound good luck.
Samus may come across these odd bubbles along the way, depending on which path you take. They look for all the world like molted metroid shells from Metroid II. But that’s strange! Didn’t you detonate all the metroids in the security zone?
Eventually, though, you need to say “enough’s enough” and trek to the end game. No special Tourian Zone this time, though.
Instead, Adam accedes to Samus’ concerns that the X parasite cannot be harnessed as a bioweapon and that it would destroy all life in the galaxy if the Federation were given the opportunity to collect specimens and attempt to engineer them. So he gives Samus a path to the control room in order to bring the station closer to the planet and evaporate both the station and all life on SR-388. Samus is racking up quite the kill count.
No points, however, for guessing that the control center is locked down once you arrive. A familiar explosion sounds out…
…and the SA-X appears again. Well, an SA-X. There are a bunch of them now.
There’s no running or hiding here, as this is the final showdown. But that’s OK, because the game has clearly been building up to this. Every encounter with and appearance of the SA-X to date has been progressively lengthier and more difficult; meanwhile, Samus as continued to grow in power and skill. At this point, the two versions of Samus are pretty evenly matched.
They’re so evenly matched, in fact, that if they both collide while performing a Screw Attack, they’ll both take damage. This is not a very smart way to win the battle, however, as the SA-X can outlast Samus in a head-butting contest.
The SA-X is fairly easy to lure into a pattern, but it seems almost a necessity to do so. Samus versus her more powerful self is a devastatingly difficult battle otherwise, and despite all the upgrades collected throughout the course of the game, the SA-X nevertheless has the upper hand. The theme of Samus as having been badly weakened by her brush with the X has run throughout the game, and the constant hand-holding and admonitions from Adam — not to mention the numerous hopeless run-ins with SA-X throughout the game — have made the message clear: This is the roughest fight in the game. And if you don’t play smart, it really can be. The SA-X moves quickly, is constantly on the attack, creates a tiny target, and hits hard. If Fusion truly is the ultimate point on the Metroid timeline, this isn’t a bad culmination of the tale: Samus has destroyed pretty much every other powerful force in the galaxy, so she might as well wind things up be destroying the most powerful, i.e. herself.
Once Samus deals enough damage, the weakened SA-X drops to one knee — exactly as Samus did at the end of Super Metroid, further reinforcing the notion that SA-X has duplicated Samus in her prime.
Unlike at the end of Super Metroid, however, the defeated SA-X loses its physical cohesion and metamorphoses into a gruesome chimaera that appears to be both an effigy of Samus — note the visor and abdominal coloration — and a fusion of many of the game’s bosses. This second phase plays out a lot like the second Dracula form in Castlevania, with the chimaera leaping high into the air and crashing to the ground in an attempt to crush Samus. This is a mercifully easy conflict, though it does help further underscore the idea of metroidvania.
Eventually, the SA-X degenerates to a Core-X, which is no more or less difficult than the previous cores you’ve encounters. You have ample space in this chamber with which to evade it, so it amounts to a pleasant denouement to Samus’ ultimate battle.
You can’t absorb the SA-X, however — when you try to snatch the exposed Core-X, it darts off-screen and vanishes.
Still, this leaves Samus free to nuke the station, and also an entire planet. Yes, it’s another countdown, a rush to the docking bay.
Unlike the usual escape sequence, there’s nothing tricky about this one. It’s a brisk run downhill, with no enemies and no complicated platforming to worry about. Although the passage immediately preceding the docking bay seems a bit messed up…
Inside the bay, Samus’ ship is missing — shades, unsurprisingly, of the absent landing craft in Aliens — replaced instead by a badly damaged bay and an absolutely massive metroid husk. One big enough to have belonged to THE BABY THE BABY THE BABY
But actually just a random metroid that escaped the security quarantine and molted to Omega status, no big deal.
It’s also completely impervious to Samus’ attacks.
The Omega slowly advances toward you, shrugging off your attacks and generally being a lot more menacing than the ones you wasted so effortlessly in Metroid II.
Once cornered, Samus can do nothing but absorb a single, massive swipe of the Omega’s claws, which reduce her to a single hit point and leave her gasping for breath on one knee.
When, out of nowhere, the defeated SA-X appears and begins blasting the Omega, legitimately inflicting damage with nothing but its standard blaster.
But, since you previously kicked the SA-X’s butt, it proves to be no match for the Omega, which slashes the parasite and causes it to lose physical cohesion again.
Hmm, this all seems pretty familiar….
At this point, Samus acquires the final Core-X at last, and gains a considerable health upgrade as well as a new physical form. According to Yoshio Sakamoto, merging with the SA-X brought Samus back to her original biological state — which in gameplay terms means you now have an integral Ice Beam, which allows Samus to damage the Omega.
While this entire sequence is more than just a bit reminiscent of Super Metroid‘s climax, it also creates an interesting contrast. Samus’ ultimate power-up in Super Metroid made her an unstoppable destroyer; her ultimate power-up here simply reverts her to the state she was in before gaining the super metroid’s Hyper Beam. This has been a journey not of gaining new powers but rather of simply recovering from a tremendous weakening. Samus at the beginning of Fusion was honestly even weaker than she had been at the beginning of the original Metroid; now she’s in prime fighting form, capable of holding her own against a final boss that was a step below Metroid II‘s endboss.
Eventually, the Omega goes down, and Bishop — I mean, Adam — zooms in and collects Samus with her gunship.
The game ends with a classic colony drop…
…and Samus hits warp drive before the Genesis wave hits.
And that’s the story’s finale. Not just for Fusion, but for Metroid as a saga for the foreseeable future. Zebes is gone; SR-388 is gone; the metroids are gone; the X are gone; and the Federation is not so happy with Samus.
Samus has an annoying new crew member…
…but on the other hand, the story comes full circle as the critters you (optionally) rescued during Super Metroid‘s escape sequence repay the favor.
On the whole, Fusion serves as a pretty decent final chapter of the Metroid saga. No, it’s not perfect, and as a whole it would be far more enjoyable if the designers had had more confidence in their work and their audience and spent less time guiding you through the station. While the back half of the adventure opened up considerably — or at least offered the illusion of freedom, anyway — it didn’t quite go far enough. And the arbitrary, untelegraphed lockout at the end of the game was some real amateur hour stuff.
Nevertheless, Fusion does a great many things well. It’s not as timeless and seemingly effortless a masterpiece as Super Metroid, but I think the team was smart to try a different tack with this game rather than simply trying to outdo the classic Super NES game on its own terms. I don’t agree with all their choices, necessarily, but for the most part they pulled it off and gave Fusion its own identity. And most importantly for the purposes of this particular project, the game’s creators still managed to insert lots of subtle storytelling and design ideas into Fusion despite Adam’s pedantry.
I would still love to know what Metroid Dread was meant to be, how Sakamoto intended to follow up on Fusion’s design and story twists. But that never worked out, and for now, this is well and truly…
Well, except for one other game that doesn’t really advance the story but brings together the sum total of the Metroid series into one perfect classic sendoff. I suppose we should look at that one, too.