Warning: The following blog contains spoilers for both Metroid Fusion and Metroid: Other M.
A while back, I made a cryptic remark along the lines of, “it’s almost as if Other M was an attempt to rewrite Fusion in hopes of removing the latter from the series continuity.” While the announcement of two new Metroid games at E3 back in June was exciting—and certainly bodes well for the franchise—I can’t help but think something’s off about the whole thing. This is just a hypothesis, but I think Nintendo really did try to retcon Metroid Fusion!
But why would the Big N try to remove Fusion from the series continuity? Well, first let me just point out that the Metroid series is rather unique among Nintendo’s repertoire in that it actually observes continuity. Unlike other series that either only present plots that span a few games before moving on to another setting (such as Fire Emblem) or are designed “gameplay-first” with timelines being a mere afterthought (e.g. Zelda), the events of each Metroid game are closely tied to those of the games previous to it. So unlike other series, plot developments have consequences moving forward.
The events of each Metroid game are closely tied to those of the games previous to it.
This makes Fusion problematic for a company that’s rather fond of maintaining status quo. Metroid Fusion shakes up the series in a couple ways. Firstly, it ditches the heroine’s iconic appearance, potentially disrupting the franchise’s branding. Samus now sports a rubbery, blue suit instead of her iconic orange, metal suit and pilots a spindly, purple spacecraft instead of her more rounded, orange ship. Moreover, Fusion ends with her still using this equipment. Even when she regains her powers from SA-X, Samus is still wearing the fusion suit, now just with an orange color palette.
Of course, this isn’t that big of a deal, as redesigns are reversible or even welcome at times (I’m looking at you Breath of the Wild). No, the biggest problem is what the game does to the continuing Metroid storyline. Metroid Fusion ends with Samus directly defying the Galactic Federation. She not only destroys their metroid breeding program, but foils their attempts to weaponize the X-parasites. By the end of the game, she’s most likely angered some very powerful people. I think it’s safe to say that after Fusion, Samus is a wanted criminal.
Metroid Fusion has far reaching consequences for the series, fundamentally changing the relationships between the Metroid universe’s various factions and thus the types of stories that can be told. This presents an intimidating challenge, as these new stories would require the writers to accept that they can’t rely on the plot conventions of previous games. Furthermore, shifting the focus to combating a corrupt industrial-military complex instead of the unilaterally evil space pirates may radically alter the tone of the series, potentially alienating fans.
I’ve already gone on at length about how Other M is essentially a retelling of Fusion, but let’s look at one of the ways the two are different: the ending. As mentioned, Fusion ends with Sammy triumphantly thwarting the federation’s misguided efforts to weaponize the lifeforms of SR-388. Other M ends on a much more somber note; after Ms. Aran and co. manage to defeat the malevolent (and possibly “just misunderstood”) A.I. controlling the bottle ship, the federation arrives and starts sweeping up. Samus is allowed to go freely, but knows that the federation will take whatever data it can find and continue to research bio-weapons. It has a very different “you can’t beat the system” kind of feel to it.
Other M‘s ending has a very different “you can’t beat the system” kind of feel to it.
Other M‘s ending is much more open ended: Samus isn’t implied to be an enemy of the state, thus allowing her to take more jobs from the federation. This means that if Other M replaced Fusion, Nintendo could easily continue with the typical Metroid plot structure of taking assignments from the federation, which in turn means future games need not revolve around governmental conspiracies.
This brings us to the present day. Nintendo has just released a remake of Metroid II: Return of Samus and Metroid Prime 4 is on the horizon…somewhere. Notice anything strange about that? One’s a remake and the other is a continuation of the Prime series. For those of you who don’t know, the Metroid Prime games take place between the events of Metroid and Metroid II. That means they’re technically prequels and don’t continue the story. Fusion is the last entry on the Metroid timeline; there hasn’t been an actual continuation of the overarching narrative in fifteen years! I think it’s safe to say Nintendo either isn’t interested in continuing the story, or just doesn’t know how.
There hasn’t been a continuation of the overarching narrative in fifteen years!
See You Next Mission?
In a weird way, I’m actually glad Other M received so much criticism. If it had been a resounding success, Fusion may have been quietly removed from the series’s continuity. While I’m positive that Nintendo feels like they’ve painted themselves into a corner, I think Fusion sets up a fascinating and fresh new direction for the franchise’s story. Yeah, it’d have a different tone from the games before, but I think the acclaim Fusion got for incorporating horror elements proves that the series is capable of tonal evolution. Unfortunately, with things as they are, I’m losing hope we’ll ever see a proper Metroid 5…