Another Metroid 2(021) Rewind: A Metroid Series Playthrough

I’ll write up more detailed thoughts tomorrow as I just finished the game (didn’t really feel like doing anything else today, just one of those), but in the meantime —

Absolute same. I am essentially taking the same approach to basically all of these games as I take to my first playthroughs of Souls games, which is to say that whenever I feel like I’ve run out of options or have no clue how to progress past a certain obstacle, I’ll look it up. Also, as I’m playing on Switch, unapologetically using restore points. The only thing I’m trying to resist abusing is the rewind feature, but I’ve used that a couple of times too to bypass what would have been some frustrating backtracking.

I think this is something that’s pretty inscrutable if you’re coming to this game first, because it doesn’t indicate that really at all but it behaves exactly the same way as in both Metroid II and Samus Returns (and the infiniteness of it is specifically mentioned in the manual for II, a thing I always have to remember these games assumed you’d have). It’s actually remarkably less finicky than it is in II, where I found it incredibly frustrating to control — even more annoying than these goddamn wall jumps (which, yes, were the bane of my existence also).

From that, something I maybe wasn’t expecting to see coming into this was just how much of a series this really is. I’m used to video game franchises — at least the ones that aren’t hardcore RPGs (and like even some that are) — basically making each new game a perfectly suitable jumping on point with their own standalone, entirely explicable stories that maybe sorta connect to each other in some wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey way (s/o Zelda timeline). Which makes sense, considering how often teams change and how likely it is that the people working on a third or fourth entry may be completely different than the ones who worked on the first.

But no there’s continuity for days here. The title, Super Metroid, feels almost like a pun, because with it fresh in my mind this feels like a supersized, remixed version of that first NES game. It’s the same planet with many of the same enemies and power-ups — and they’re presented in a way that shows the game clearly expects you to remember them. The areas (with the exception of hell Maridia all have multiple points and structures that call back to their appearance in the original game — they even have some of the same traps (which, of course, I fell for again). One of the earliest structures you find is actually the remnants of the original Tourian, and the Morph Ball is sitting in the exact same part of Brinstar. And then the game follows the same structure, with statues representing bosses blocking the gate to Tourian and a final boss the first phase of which is… literally the final boss from the first game. Also, towards the end of the new version of Tourian, there’s a desert terrain and this sort of brushy vegetation pulled directly from SR388 and Metroid II, which seems to imply that these new manufactured metroids have turned this area into something resembling their homeworld. And of course there’s old pals Kraid and Ridley, in what seem like the same arenas in the same exact spots on the map that they were in the first game… That’s not even getting into the hatchling from Metroid II and what happens to it. The fact that Metroid 3 shows up during the start sequence — aside from meaning we went from roman numerals back to arabic numerals, which, please Nintendo — ends up feeling meaningful in hindsight.

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My thoughts on Super Metroid haven’t settled yet… so instead of giving them time, I jumped straight into Zero Mission. I’m still kinda feeling the 2D ones at this point, so I’m gonna push the Primes back in the schedule a bit. Might tackle AM2R right after this, if I’m still feeling like that once I’m done here (I’m not anticipating this game taking very long).

But hmm. This might be the first time I was really surprised by my feelings in this playthrough… because, at around the halfway point, I really, really don’t like Zero Mission. I’m very glad this wasn’t my intro to the series, because what it ends up feeling like is a vastly sanded down, simplified and linearized version of the first game stuffed into a Super Metroid skinsuit. It’s an uncomfortable medium between both games and the result is something that feels inferior to both. It has none of the hostility of Metroid I and none of the eerie emptiness that makes Super’s world so compelling. It’s just a cramped, brightly-lit shooting gallery. From what I can tell, it even removed the ice beam skip you could do to get the Varia Suit early on, and made it so that the game really strongly directs you to Kraid before Ridley — which maybe sounds small, but it ends up turning the oppressive vastness and… lostness(?) of the game it’s remaking into something very tedious and rote. It feels kinda sluggish at points, but not in a scary way — just a frustrating one. It’s almost like they said “let’s take Metroid, but, plot twist, let’s make it all feel like Maridia but also super linear.”

Which… I’m sure there are skips, and ways to play it nonlinearly, but it’s so heavily directed in its design that it ends up feeling signposted. I never feel lost. I’m never unsure where I need to go next. It doesn’t do the thing that makes Metroid I so disorienting where room after room verging from those vertical shafts looks exactly the same, and frankly I think it’s worse for it. That would be fine, if it offered something else instead. But so far at least, it hasn’t.

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I think you’re not alone in finding Zero Mission to be lacking. Both Zero Mission and especially Fusion are often sneered at due to their more directed nature. It’s a stark contrast with its predecessors. Personally, I like Zero Mission quite a bit (and Fusion, for that matter) though I do get annoyed by the hand-holding. I understand, however, that the more directed style is helpful for other players. I really do believe this problem in both games could be handled very simply by allowing me to opt either in or out of the hints.

But it seems like you’ve picked up on something that I’ve been thinking about, too: as the Metroid series goes on, it tends to move consistently further away from it’s moody sci-fi roots and further towards action. It’s done this in the Prime series, too. And Other M is a borderline character action game. (Personally, this is why Super Metroid works so much for me: it the perfect balance of being an action game and an atmospheric mood piece, and it’s engaging with both of those modes really well.) I think engaging with Zero Mission more as an action game makes it more appealing, because it definitely doesn’t have the same eerie, arcane vibe that Metroid originally had. This is the case with the Metroid 2 remakes, too. What it does have is great game feel and some of the best spritework on the GBA. It’s not the same by any stretch, but it’s another flavor that can be pleasant, too. But I won’t lie. That haunting mystery and eerie moodiness is something I long for a lot. I hope Dread brings that to the table.

I think an important thing to note, though, is the time that Zero Mission comes out. Over the course of about 2 years (2002 thru 2004), four separate Metroid games came out. This is unprecedented for the series, and that kind of boom has yet to happen again. Not to mention that Castlevania was hitting its stride as another “search-action” franchise on the GBA. It was a rapidly burgeoning genre, well before the late 2010s indie Metroidvania boom. I feel like maybe, at the time, it kind of didn’t matter that it felt a bit more linear and a bit less complex. It’s another treat in the bounty of Metroid. It’s flashy, and maybe less rich, but that was okay at the time. Oh, how naive we were as to what the future did (not) have in store for us.

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IIRC in Zero Mission you can pass by every guide statue without using it except the first one so I never got the complaints about it being too hand-holdy when one can just not put their hand out.

Metroid II is so awesome, the level design and the way the soundtrack is used is genius and I think Nintendo’s earliest example of translating how one of their console games plays to a handheld and preserving how it works while accounting for how it being something you’ll mostly be playing in bursts while on a bus or train.

Fusion and Zero Mission are built the same way - play one but limit your sessions to 15 - 30 minutes and you can see how effectively they keep the tone of Metroid 1 and Super Metroid without needing a lot of time for the atmosphere to set in.

We are probably just on different sides of this point, which is fine, but I don’t think it’s that simple. The statues are the most obvious example of Zero Mission having clear signposts, but it also eliminates a lot of the first game’s intention maziness (and not just because it has a map; Super Metroid has a map too, and doesn’t feel this directed). There are a lot of repeated rooms in Metroid 1, corridors that look exactly the same branching off the same vertical paths. Even if you’re using a walkthrough or a map, that shit gets wildly disorienting — and whether or not it was due to the limitations of the system or an active decision (or both), it’s something that’s just absent in Zero Mission, where it’s always pretty easy to tell if you’ve been somewhere before. And map-wise it’s just so much smaller than Super that I never felt the same sense of danger that you get say deep in Norfair or Maridia. Also, save points and map rooms — the save points felt quite a bit more plentiful than in Super or II (and obviously in 1), and the map rooms seemed to be placed right at the start of every area. And broadly, it seemed much more obvious about what obstacles were passable/impassable with your current toolkit, where the first game was always pretty cryptic.

(There’s also the cutscenes that direct a specific path through the two bosses, though from looking into it it does seem like you can fight them in either order. And in any case, my position on this particular question when it comes up is that it’s valid to call a game signposted/handholdy by design whether or not a player chooses to engage with those elements — esp. if it’s a clearly intentioned element of the game’s design, like it is here.)

There’s also (and this is more just an atmospheric observation) a significant shift in the scale of everything in Zero Mission. Samus is tiny in the first game, as are almost all of the enemies. Everything in Zero Mission feels almost doubled in size relative to the actual size of the levels (which, sure GBA game I know), which turns something that felt very vast and abyssal into something… not quite claustrophobic, but very run-and-gun. I don’t feel like it kept the tone of the preceding games at all, really. I could tell that when I picked it up at the start of this whole run, having just touched the first game a few times years ago. It felt like a straight-up sidescrolling action game.

(I also ran into weird control issues fairly often, where Samus refused to aim in a certain direction unless I actually moved her in that direction… maybe this is a Wii U issue? I have no idea. But it was fairly frustrating.)

Definitely agree there. I think I’m appreciating it more the more distance I have from it. A lot of my frustrating with it, in hindsight, was probably control-related. (Which in hindsight says something about how well Metroid 1 feels on a modern controller despite being made for a D-pad and four buttons.)

This makes a lot of sense yeah (and is wild to think about, in hindsight). Also between this and @NeoRasa’s comment I’m realizing that 2D Metroid sort of ended up a handheld series? You had II, Fusion, Zero Mission, Samus Returns, and now Dread all on handhelds. And it sure seemed like that late-2010s metroidvania boom was at least partially catalyzed by the Switch. Wonder if there’s something about this genre that makes them particularly conducive to handheld gaming.

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I’ve been meaning to share some thoughts on diglett’s response to Metroid 2, but haven’t had enough energy to do so :sob:

But in the meantime I wanted to share that the current Waypoint 101 is for Super Metroid! We made a thread here:

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Hey everyone, what’s up? I didn’t forget about this, promise. I did however, after finishing Zero Mission, realize that I did not want to play another remake this soon after the original game, much less two of them, so I’m gonna punt AM2R and Samus Returns to “the eventual future.” And so next up is Metroid Prime… and I finally got my Wii Remote working. I’ll be jumping into that in the next couple of days! I edited the top post with my new tentative schedule.

In the meantime, I’ve been going through my usual motions of pointing at every new game I play and whispering, “hey, that’s kind of a metroidvania if you really think about it,” a phrase my friends and family are likely extremely tired of at this point. For instance, the 2002 PC version of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets that I played probably hundreds of hours of as a child? In hindsight, basically a metroidvania. Returnal, the game I just spent most of August playing? Absolutely a metroidvania, roguelite elements be damned. Twelve Minutes? Not a metroidvania, not worth your time, might be the worst game I’ve ever played. Sorry, just needed to get that out. Again.

In any case, @vehemently I’m looking forward to your thoughts whenever you have the time and energy to give them! Metroid 2 has really stuck with me over the last few weeks, especially that ending (which in hindsight really soured me on the way they changed it in Samus Returns). Maybe the oddest thing to me about this challenge has been that, even after letting it sit for a while, Super Metroid has provoked probably the least amount of writable thoughts from my brain. I think I had almost too smooth a time with it; the friction in the other games that really made me think was kind of absent. That said, I’m really enjoying this 101, and I’m sure my thoughts will develop as I keep going through these.

Anyway, be back in a couple of days with first impressions of Metroid Prime. Just wanted to reorient this thread a bit, and give myself some motivation to stop procrastinating this playthrough if I want to get to Fusion and Other M (ugh) before Dread.

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So other people have written much more thoughtfully about the very literal genocide in Metroid 2. Specifically, this piece by S. R. Holiwell (which I need to read to its completion) gets into, as well as many other things about the game. It’s a really in-depth piece.

Though, I’d maybe like to stop using the term “genocide” given its historical and cultural implications. Perhaps “extinction”? After all, I think the most direct analog to what goes on in Metroid 2 is many of the manmade extinction events in human history.

This brings me to what I wanted to get into, though I might not be able to completely cover it, as my thoughts are so scattered. A recurring theme within the Metroid series is the interactions between the biological and the technological. (This is perhaps to me the most potent theme, but I think there’s no shortage of other themes. I often overemphasize this one because I’ve spent a lot of time thinking on it.) This can be seen in its biotechnology imagery, in its plotlines about meddling with nature, and even Samus herself, as a kind of cyborg. And Metroid 2 is the first time I think this really rears its head.

Metroid’s lore and story is often very quiet. Before they started working in more cutscenes, it was often told through environmental storytelling, and in the Prime series, scan logs. This has been a good thing and a bad thing. On the one hand, the series has felt just a little under-developed in its world at times. But on the other hand, its quietness allows for a much more profound eerie experience of its world. And our imagination and our projections are so much more potent than whatever they would write onto the game.

Metroid 2 was one of the first entries of the series to start engaging in storytelling, and is the first entry of the series where nature starts to take shape in its world. The first entry is a death labyrinth with waves of enemies. But here, there is a sense of ecology. It’s not particularly robust, sure, but the metroids have a life cycle (weirdly), the animals around you have their own spaces.

Samus kills pretty much every metroid. The ramifications of these actions are seen in Fusion. And I think the ecological element of that plotline can’t be ignored. Metroid 2 is about an invasive species. But are the metroids the invasive species, or is it the Federation? Or is it the Chozo, or the space pirates?

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All four of those are invasive species. But it’s easy to have Bambi Syndrome and sympathize with the Metroids more than the other three because they make cute skreee sounds and the baby sacrified itself for Samus at the end of the third game.

I thought it was really cool how they did add more of an ecological element to it with Fusion’s story, I’m a little irked by how much this piece uses the word genocide and how though - Until the baby remembers Samus and saves her at the end of Super Metroid we don’t even know that they’re sentient beyond being biological weapons, similar to how some insects “experience” life more like a program than what you or I would consider “consciousness”.

I know this is going offtopic but it kind of rubs me the wrong way, like whenever a difficult game comes out and you see pieces talking about game difficulty using terms like accessibility issue to describe a boss being too hard for them personally to beat. I hate when the word genocide is used just for “killing all of X” because it oversimplifies it and leaves out the part about eradicating chunks of human culture and history.

In Metroid II each one tries to kill you on site, understandable since you’re rolling into their territory. But in Super Metroid the player gets a clearer look at how their energy stealing properties work and unlike the other animals’ abilities back on SR-388 we can see how this is an ecological dead end and not a naturally developed part of a climate. So their being a biological weapon is kind of a given even at that point (especially externally with how much stuff like Alien clearly had some influence on the series).

So the way Super Metroid’s ending and Fusion handled the metroid being able to remember something from awhile ago and Samus going back to SR-388 was pretty genius since they got to have it both ways, but that doesn’t make Samus a monster for she did on SR-388.

But there’s another side to that also. Like the Chozo are masters of genetic manipulation and cybernetics and all this other stuff and we see in the games the reverence they have for this, when the X-Parasite in Fusion infects an animal the result is basically an all around more powerful and bigger version of that animal - The X-Parasite is like a thing that spits in the face of the Chozo’s guided manipulation of stuff, so them creating an entire lifeform, the metroids, just to consume it specifically tracks for them.

This is part of why I’m so hype for Dread, the way early stuff for it has been written so far implies that some Chozo are still alive now, it would be cool if the game reveals some more about why their massive empire fell apart and stuff.

There’s been two Alien films since the last mainline Metroid game so I’m curious to see if they have the Chozo’s downfall involve an android and mysterious goo lol

If you’re playing it for the first time, I’m curious to see how the intro text hits for you with the voice over and stuff. In the first release of the game in the US the intro was slightly different/shorter and the game had no voice overs.

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I just started the Trilogy version (on Wii) a few weeks ago. I don’t remember a voiceover? Just drops you off at the space station.

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It turns out I’m a dumbass and they recorded this and it’s on the GC disk but not actually implemented in the games. :smiley:

What they did add in the Euro version was some slightly different sounds/vo for stuff like your suit’s indicators and the tutorials in the earlier parts of the game.

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Sort of an errant thought, but it occured to me that instead of “genocide” (as said, given its social and historical implications), that a better and actually more accurate word is “extermination”.

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My semester started and I’m taking two classes alongside teaching for the first time and I wasn’t able to start Prime before that began… so my ability to carry out this admittedly probably impossible quest I set for myself at the beginning of the summer is pretty much kaput for the near future. Sorry y’all. I’m not quitting! This is just gonna be something I end up slowly building through over the next several months — and I do want to try and play Fusion in the next couple of weeks, and then Dread. That shouldn’t be too rough. I’m quite proud of what I’ve gotten through so far, and I’m looking forward to going through the rest on a slightly more relaxed pace. But first, some thoughts!

I agree with this. The word felt strange when I use it in this context, but I didn’t interrogate that feeling much beyond that. I think Undertale is permanently on my mind whenever games raise this kind of topic, but that’s a more unique context. “Extermination” is a good word, both because it fits mechanically and it implies a kind of unfeelingness that I think the game tries to play off with that turn at the end.

(I am about to make some claims that may be bullshit.)

I am fascinated by this question in general, when applied to just broad, Earth-bound ecology, because whenever I really try to dig into it I feel like the idea of an invasive species is fundamentally weird. The “simple” definition is more or less a) an organism is introduced to an ecosystem that it did not originate in and b) due to the lack of predators it overpopulates, thus c) destabilizing the ecosystem’s food chains and systems. But there are assumptions baked into that definition that trouble me. One: hinging the definition of an “invasive” species on “humans put it there” is itself actually quite anthropocentric; it casts us as gods and things like wind or ocean currents that could carry a novel seed from one ecosystem to another as something inherently different. It draws a very specific line between what’s natural and what isn’t, one I don’t buy. That said, as far as I can tell, metroids weren’t introduced to their ecosystem on SR388 — they emerged there. They’re not invasive. The ecosystem just produced a positive feedback loop rather than a negative one, and that results in something “unnatural” because we see ecosystems as things that should always be self-sustaining.

Second, the term itself, “invasive,” implies some kind of conscious agency on behalf of a species that is carrying out its imperative. Animals don’t have imperialism; we project imperialism onto animals (see “army” ants, “worker” bees, etc.). Metroids are a literalization of that — they are animals with a kind of social intelligence that seems to map onto mammals or birds. They recognize members of their own species, can imprint on parents, and seem to exist in a kind of hive. But they’re not primates. The thing that makes that fundamentally weird to us is that there are no parasites in those classes of organism; our schema for parasites is largely incompatible with our schema for that particular kind of socially intelligent organisms. And so these questions of invasiveness, on whether metroids should be sympathetic or not, even whether they should be exterminated or not, feel strange in a way I can’t fully explain.

(And now I’m thinking about headcrabs, which are probably like a weird evolutionary cousin to metroids, nice, neat, cool.)

What does this mean? I don’t really know. But I think it’s maybe one of the reasons I always found the aesthetic and the idea of this series so compelling even before I played any of the games. “What if parasites had community” is such a weird ass sentence but it’s a sentence that Metroid 2 does sort of ask. It’s great. I love it. Now I’m gonna go try and play through Fusion this weekend so I can not feel guilty when Dread comes out.

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So, this is some info you might not be aware of, since it is not explicated in the series until I think Fusion and Prime, and I also believe the manga. It could be seen as a spoiler? But here goes: The metroids are, in fact, genetically engineered creatures. They didn’t emerge from any ecosystem; they were actually developed by the Chozo as predators for the X-Parasite, which you will learn more about in Fusion. This is why you see most of them nearby Mother Brain, and why you saw “mocktroids” in Super Metroid. More will happen, and you’ll also see some explanations (i think? i forget) for the strange eusocial implications of things like the Queen Metroid are actually coming from. I hope this provides some context for what I and others were saying!

I do think you bring up good questions, though, in regards to what constitutes “invasive”. The term is definitely anthropocentric; however, I think it is such for a reason, as there tends to be a very specific thing that occurs when foreign species are introduced by humans to ecosystems, and it happens quite frequently. It is anthropocentric because it’s something that is routinely caused by humans. Certainly, the species that become invasive are not themselves malicious, but the circumstance is usually pretty clearly negative and disrupts ecosystems (which, while not inherently self-sustaining, are usually not as dire as post-contact).

I also love the question “what if parasites had a community?” and will be thinking about it for a bit, as well as “what’s the difference between a parasite and a weed?”

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The term “parasite” is surprisingly flexible and there are - in the social insects - “social parasites”, which parasitise the social hive, some of which are themselves social insects capable of having a community [at least at the level bees do].

I guess all “weeds” in that sense are parasites on lawns and gardens - in that they take “advantage” of the work a human gardener does to provide a resource-rich growing environment, but are not part of the class of organisms that are intended to grow there.

(There’s quite a few parasitic or mutualistic symboints in SF which are super-intelligent, and tend to be mind-controlling, which possibly says something about SF writers…)

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While trying to figure what to do with my yard, I learned about the term “Native Plants”. This is basically the inverse of an invasive species: they are hardy and fast-growing because they’re a key part of the ecosystem, rather than in spite of it.

The interesting part of this to me is that the popular American conception of a yard doesn’t acknowledge or care about invasive species or native plants: there are weeds and there are things planted intentionally. Native plants are usually considered weeds because they grow so well without human intervention, so a lot of native plants articles have tips on how to grow them without people thinking your yard is overrun with weeds. Similarly, a number of grass species commonly used in yards are actually considered invasive species because they aren’t part of the local food chain.

I guess using this framework, Metroids are (mostly like) native plants on SR 388, but they’re an invasive species on Zebes, and the Federation considers them weeds in both places.

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Well the big day has come and passed, Metroid Dread came out! I was shielding myself from spoilers as I waited for my copy (I’m a real sucker for artbooks so I was waiting on the special edition for a bit), but people seem to like it… and yesterday mine finally arrived. So, of course, I settled down this weekend to play, uh, Metroid Fusion, because I’ve come this far and I’m not going to skip an entry in the Metroid 1–5 sequence when that was the real point of assigning myself this big series of tasks.

I’m only about a third of the way in (as far as I can tell), but, contrary to my feelings on Zero Mission, I’m enjoying it a whole lot! I think it’s helping to clarify my generally negative reaction to Zero Mission because there are certain things they both do — like more explicit objectives and linear design — that I don’t actually mind at all here. I minded them in Zero Mission because I didn’t feel like the world of that game, i.e. the world of the first game, was as compatible with the ethos of that remake as this entirely new world is with what Fusion is trying to do. I like the level design here a lot. It’s clearly funneled and directed, but the game’s pacing reflects that — it’s fast, like by far the fastest of these, and that speed is a good match for a more linear path through its levels. It’s also clearly intended for handheld play — all the tasks are so short and compartmentalized, with clear reminders of what you’re supposed to be doing peppered throughout. The computer spewing objectives at you is kinda silly and feels very early-2000s game design, but it makes a lot more sense than the random Chozo statue directives scattered around Zebes in Zero Mission, and the weird kinda bumbling nature of that computer is at least amusing. Fusion flows quite well, and I haven’t hit many bad patches of friction yet, so so far it’s keeping me pretty happy.

(I also just played through a cutscene(?) where Samus wonders if the X parasite reconstruction of her has reason, which brought me back to a seminar I took in the spring on Descartes and a bunch of early modern conceptions of the animal… so uh, maybe that’ll be an upcoming detour.)

The other thing I find really interesting about Fusion so far is the setting — this compartmentalized space station with explicit biomes built for a particular purpose is a fascinating divergence from what the series had been doing up to this point, with worlds that were partially constructed and partially natural. “Biome” is a word I feel has cropped up in games a lot in the past couple of years — not that games haven’t always been attached to explicit, segregated “biomes,” but after playing a bunch of Subnautica and Returnal this year, the way this separation is made explicit here is tickling something in my brain.

(I also have a lot of thoughts about the X Parasites, but I want to wait until I’m mostly through the game for those.)

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I’m really glad you’re enjoying Fusion! I do think the computer is kind of overbearing, but I think the game is a really solid entry. It gets a lot of hate I think is undeserved. Your comment about the kind of utility of the spaces is interesting; given the limitations of the technology, they weren’t really able to gesture towards that kind of thing at all in games like Super Metroid. That game still does an incredible job with environmental storytelling, but current systems are able to do so much more with it. In games like Prime, a lot of the locations of discrete purposes. I think this sense of placeness can lend to a better sense of direction, too. I think this is a thing a lot of immersive sims do really well, especially Prey.

I wrote a review on Backloggd for Dread, and I’ll be curious how you feel about it. (Shamefully plugging but I’m kinda proud of it) It’s a bit of a meditation on the series as a whole, and since you’ve gone through the whole series pretty recently, I’m curious how you’d feel about my readings. There’s no spoilers in my review, but I totally get if you wanna wait before seeing anything about it.

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I thought that was a really beautiful review. It makes me both really excited to play Dread, because it sounds like something I’ll really enjoy the moment-to-moment play of, and it’s also making me remember how surprised I was by how much I fell in love with the first game earlier this summer. I expected to enjoy Super Metroid, and Fusion to a lesser extent because I love the genre the former inspired and growing up in the era of latter’s design makes it feel a bit nostalgic for me. But I had bounced off the first game a couple of times before, both recently and longer ago, and I’m so glad I did this if only because it finally got me to push through that initial wall. It’s been the most memorable part of this experience, truly, because it feels like it contextualized all these design threads from other games I love. It’s among those games, like Prey, that have created a permanent reference point in my brain.

It also made me think about how I came into this genre — really with Hollow Knight, which was both the first Metroid- or -vania game and the first soulslike I’d ever played. Since that I’ve gone through many games in both genres, and they’ve always felt linked in some spectral ways, but never more married together than in that first experience. But then, playing the first Metroid felt like a revelation… because there it all was. The hostile world and hostile design, the labyrinth, all the dead ends and doubled or tripled hallways, the very particular enemy placement that made it possible to dash past certain sequences, and the upgrades, the ways its traversal just opened up as I progressed… it felt like I’d found the source for all these things I’ve grown so fond of in Souls games and MVs that have been split and iterated on and reconnected over a period literally longer than my lifetime.

And it’s also interesting to see just how much Metroid as a series has evolved — and I think you’re really right about that, all these games are so surprisingly different from each other and playing them in sequence has only made that clearer. Interesting because, to me (and I think this was something Austin voiced too in the Waypoint 101), compared to most of the modern metroidvanias I’ve played, Super Metroid doesn’t actually feel that old. It’s clunky and frustrating at some points, but the ideas are all there. Like, in a lot of ways, Hollow Knight feels like Super Metroid with smoothed mechanics and 20 years of polish. To me the games that stick out now in hindsight are things like Dead Cells and Returnal, or Dark Souls and the general “Fromsoft game,” which transplanted these themes and ideas into different genres to make something novel. It’s interesting to think that the Metroid games themselves maybe evolved a lot more than many of the games they inspired did.

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I’m through Metroid Fusion, and while there’s a lot that I like about it, I think it’s my least favorite of this run of 2D entries. There are things I really enjoy about it — especially its setting. But there were also just enough speedbumps in my path that it wasn’t an entirely pleasant experience. It’s still a really good game, and I enjoyed my time with it, but as opposed to Super and especially the first game, it just didn’t capture me in the same way.

So, first, the linearity. I don’t mind it, for the most part, and the way the game funnels you back and forth through different parts of each sector gives a kind of expanding view of the setting that I quite liked. In a weird way, it reminded me of Black Mesa, and the way its environments slowly give you an idea of what’s been happening behind the scenes in this place. Not much was surprising — of course they’re breeding metroids in the secret restricted part of the facility — but the variety of environments and the ways in which they were linked created a world that I found really interesting. Made more so by every enemy secretly beind an X Parasite — I need to let the themes of the game simmer a little bit at this point, but there’s a lot of interesting stuff embedded in this world that I’m still working through in my head.

However, the thing that it did affect for me was the gameplay progression. The thing I enjoy most about these games (not just Metroid but the whole genre), is the slow, creeping sense of mastery it gives over the game’s environment. The linearity in Fusion defangs that a bit, especially because most of the revisits cover different ground and open up new passageways, so you’re rarely traversing the same topography (both in terms of the hazards and enemies) with new powers that make it easier. Case and point, I got the Screw Attack what felt like about thirty seconds before the end of the game — and while I know I could have gone back and re-explored and found the 55% of items that I apparently missed, all the game’s narrative momentum was driving me towards that final moment. It would have felt really unnatural to backtrack at that point… and so that moment of blasting through all those old frustrating passages with a shiny new screw attack never really came.

Beyond that, I just have momentary thoughts. I think there’s a wide range among these bosses — some I really enjoyed, others not so much. The SA-X was a neat mechanic in theory, but it felt both underutilized and a bit too scripted for it to really affect me or generate any kind of fear. Because it was always a designed sequence, it just felt like an obstacle course. It sounds like Dread is based heavily around something similar, and I understand why they waited so long to build it — this really feels like a prototype. Its boss fight also felt cooler in theory than practice, and in general I felt like these bosses followed a formula of 1) have a single gimmick and 2) have a little too much health. The computer thing was… fine. It didn’t annoy me that much. I wish the game did more with the revelation that apparently the computer was someone’s consciousness, but oh well.

And that all said, the ending self-destruct sequence with the Omega Metroid and the Etecoons and Dachoras was excellent.

Anyway — that’s Fusion. As long as I can get enough work done for a presentation I have to make this week, I’ll start Dread tonight. Which, from everything I’ve heard, sounds like exactly my kind of metroidvania. Fingers crossed!

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