The Metroid series is well-known for several things, from excellent wordless-storytelling to defining platforming mechanics. But one its lesser-known traits is the ease which with the games promote unease. While not particularly scary in the tradition of horror games, the Metroid games are rife with near-death scenarios that enforce the notion that Samus is a one-women army, and her survival is paramount. Throughout the series, its boss battles are particularly telling in this regard, where it’s easy enough to fall to minimal health just before celebrating a triumphant defeat. In a way, the amazing entry, Metroid Fusion, is one big boss battle strewn throughout the contents of a game, for it in, Samus must face off with a truly terrifying enemy: a doppelganger that, at first glance, would seem to be as powerful and forceful as Samus herself. Of all the enemies I’ve ever encountered in games, the SA-X conjures up more ill feelings than most. So it is not without more than a few butterflies in the stomach that I relay the uncanny account of Samus and the SA-X!
The story of Metroid Fusion takes place after the events of Metroid II (and the game’s remake, and by extension, after Super Metroid), in which Samus is sent to a planet called SR388 to destroy a dangerous (so-called by the “Galactic Federation”) race of space creatures called “metroids.” (She ends up saving a single infant Metroid in the end.) Unbeknownst to Samus at the time, that very expedition is what would eventually bring the SA-X to life. For during it, as the story goes, Samus became infected by something that was eventually called an “X” parasite. These evil, little amorphous blobs that not only exterminated but also espoused other life forms apparently populated SR388, and they were one of the metroids’ main prey.
Metroid Fusion, meanwhile, opens with scenes of Samus retelling this story and its terrible aftermath. After leaving SR388 and disembarking from a nearby research station, she feels the X-infection take hold. In a harrowing moment, she loses consciousness and her ship drifts into a nearby asteroid field. Thanks to the ship’s emergency power systems, Samus is ejected before the ship is crushed, and she’s rescued by folks from the research lab. She’s transported to a medical facility, but it seems it may be too late. Her power suit had become so infected by the X parasite that portions of it had to be surgically removed. Not only that, but Samus was physically infected as well, and her chances for survival were slim. A cure was derived, however, from an unexpected source – the last surviving Metroid, one that Samus herself had saved. With Samus alive, the infected portions of her suit are sent back to the research station she had once left.
And that’s where things went…awry.
With powers unknown to humanity, the X-infected suit pieces somehow are able to meld and reform. And the shape they take is Samus herself, only it’s a clone with dead, blank eyes, a doppelganger that’s permanently set on “kill.” Unaware of this creature, Samus, still recovering, is sent back to the research station to investigate the occurrence of a strange explosion. Samus learns soon enough of the SA-X and the lab’s decimated crew. But it’s not as if Samus can simply go after the SA-X with guns blazing. With her own power suit still in shambles from the surgery, Samus must avoid the powerful SA-X, which is equipped with Samus’s best weapons and armor, at all costs until she can rebuild her own arsenal.
This prey versus predator idea lies at the core of Metroid Fusion, and it’s one of the things that’s makes the game both extremely compelling and extremely distressing. Playing against a doppelganger in a game is nothing new, but Metroid Fusion manages to put a deadly spin on formula by making Samus underpowered from the start. Granted that the SA-X’s systems aren’t perfect; fans have pointed out that its detection skills seems to be somewhat subpar given how easily Samus can hide from it in certain situations. But the very fact that Samus can’t battle the SA-X until she’s fully equipped make that enemy, and really, the whole, game, truly feel like an uphill battle. Yet, it’s not an impossible battle, and that’s important.
Looking at the Metroid series in story order, Metroid Fusion represents the end of Samus’s story. The X infection had her in agony, and she was physically transformed by it. And still, she survives. Serving as the ultimate truth here is that despite all the metroids and Xs and phazons and everything else there is for her to battle in the galaxy, she faces no greater battle than the one with herself. After all. When you are seen by everyone else as the “best” that there is, only to be knocked down several rungs by happenstance, what, if anything, would drive you back to wanting to be the best? You worst enemy and you’re best friend: you. The SA-X is the physical (and very creepy!) representation of Samus’s greatest inner demon. It’s defeat completes Samus’s story (in the games) and bring about the closest thing to peace she’s ever known. And it’s likely an uneasy peace, but no sense in crying over split X parasites, as it were.
In-line images (© Nintendo, 2002) captured from Wikitroid.