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After the masterpiece that was Super Metroid, the next question is, how do you top that? Apparently, rather than try to do so, Nintendo instead chose to shake up the formula.
Metroid Fusion is entirely a story-directed experience. Basic directions (e.g. "go to this location and check out the disturbance") are given by an AI commander, and as the player tries to do so, stuff happens. Disasters occur. Security robots turn rogue. Parasites spread. Destruction spreads. The electricity goes out while you're using the elevator, forcing you to take a different route. A powerful parasite assuming the appearance of a clone stalks you. These events are all scripted and occur at specific points in the game, but they still shake things up and make it feel like you're doing much more than simply going from point A to point B.
The maze-like design of previous Metroid games is replaced with a largely linear design that still requires players to figure out how to get to different places. Power-up items such as additional missiles and energy tanks are hidden out of the way, and there's still that classic Metroid figure out factor. The automap continues to be useful, even though enormous chunks of the world are hidden from the map and only appear when you explore them.
The story-driven aspect extends to the music. Unlike Super Metroid, music isn't based on location at all, but almost entirely on what's happening in the story, turning tense, heroic, or other moods as the story dictates. It's a different approach, but one that I think works here. If the game were non-linear, this unique approach would be harder to pull off well.
The main antagonist, the SA-X, is brilliant. It has all Samus's previous abilities from Super Metroid, and it stalks the player throughout the game. Well, okay, it appears in specific places at scripted times. But still, the encounters are tense, and get increasingly moreso, as the chance of being accidentally caught and killed within seconds increases. When you finally become strong enough to fight the SA-X head-on as the final boss, it continues to be intimidatingly powerful.
Metroid Fusion may be a bit controversial with its linearity and story-driven design, but it does provide a very different experience, one that's well made for what it's trying to be.
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