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After the release of Super Metroid, the Metroid franchise went dormant for a single console generation. There were nearly ten years without a single new game. While I don't find an issue with this - I don't necessarily think franchises need to be alive - it definitely made returning to the property later down the line more difficult. Where do you go from Super Metroid, one of the most beloved games of all time?
Metroid bifurcated in 2002, two titles releasing on the same day. One propelled the franchise further into greater heights, and one allowed it to stagnate, intending on making "Super Metroid again".
Prime is "Super Metroid again." The overarching thematic narrative of the Metroid franchise is ignored here, a game sandwiched between Metroid 1 and 2 to tell a story that is largely irrelevant. With regards to canon, I don't care whether or not this game is a part of the "main story". What I do care about is that it is the beginning of Metroid as franchise, a narrative created outside of the risky thematic confines of the series thus far to make it easier to make more games. How do we make more Metroid games? We make Super Metroid again, but this time in 3D.
Samus once again has to defeat the Space Pirates and grow more powerful and satisfying over the course of the journey. Samus once again slaughters all that get in her way. Samus once again commits atrocities in the name of the Federation.
Metroid as franchise is rote and scary.
After Samus' bold and triumphant return, something sets in. Something she's been running from ever since she first executed a Metroid in Tourian, all those years ago: she is just as much a pawn in the Federation's game as anyone else. She must navigate their prescribed spaces, she must do exactly as they ask. Any exploration off the beaten path, any deviation from their exact orders, will result in punishment.
Super Metroid was a game highly fixated on the idea of empowering the player. Thematically incongruent to Metroid itself so far to me, but something that resonates with many. Fusion is a rebuttal of that, a return to the condemnation through play that Metroid II on the Game Boy fixated so heavily on. Samus, for her actions in the last game, has now become part of the state itself - her cyborg suit melded to become one with her flesh. The two are inseparable. However, she has also become part of the Metroids she swore to kill. A conflicted identity that cannot exist.
And through this journey, Samus reconciles that nature. She kills the part of her that was loyal to the Federation, buries it behind her. She even goes so far as to become an enemy of the state. It is only here, after she has thrown away all that defined her before, that she can learn to grow from the atrocities she committed in the name of empire. It is only here that she can be forgiven.
Intricate, complex spaces where you are the only God. Samus' continued path of slaughter is now in conflict with her privileged "moment of conscience" she was allowed in the last game. Samus' new perspective contrasts deeply with a rehearsal of her first mission, but instead of approaching it from a different angle, she chooses culling yet again. Once more, she destroys ecosystems for simply being in her way. Once more, she commits the colonial atrocities that she condemns the Space Pirates for.
What's most disturbing about all of this, though, is that she is no longer seen as the brutal and grotesque machine of the state as she was before. Her actions are framed as powerful and vindicating, as if she's carving a path for the better of everyone in spite of her clinging to her ideology of totalitarian violence. This violence is no longer critiqued, but exonerated. The fascist Galactic Federation versus the fascist Space Pirates once more, this time in a manner considered satisfying.
The entertainment Super Metroid brings through its cycles of torture are disappointing after the direction Metroid II took. Samus is now a monster in disguise, playing "hero" for puppeteers greater than her.