Samus is injected with vampiric jellyfish DNA in Metroid Fusion and the series still somehow isn’t a horror story.
By Jordan Ramee on
I’ve been looking forward to Metroid Dread a long time–my introduction to Samus and her story was 2002’s Metroid Fusion and though I would go back to play her earlier adventures and go on to enjoy the 2D remakes and Prime trilogy, I always hoped a sequel for Fusion would come out some day. Metroid has been a classic horror series. It is set in dark settings that put Samus in fearful situations. Metroid was always my favorite horror series for Nintendo. Fusion came very close to that for the 2D series.
But if anything, Dread is a step back in that regard. That’s not to say Dread is a bad game–I love Dread, and I foresee myself playing it repeatedly just like I’ve done with most of Samus’ adventures (what do you mean there were two Metroid games between Prime 3: Corruption and Samus Returns–no there wasn’t). Dread isn’t up to its name. The game has very little dread and little horror.
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Writer’s Note: Metroid Dread story spoilers ahead.
This is largely because the EMMI aren’t used very well in Dread. The EMMI
were part of Dread’s marketing strategy. They are an evolution of Fusion’s SAXX in that they hunt Samus within predetermined areas of the game. These robot-like spiders will quickly chase Samus if they hear a sound and kill her in one attack if you fail to counter them. The EMMI is not like normal bosses and enemies. You will need to search for Central Units to temporarily unlock the Omega Cannon. This beam can penetrate the EMMI’s near-indestructible shell.
Though ads for the game and in-game dialogue paint the EMMI as terrifying threats (Adam, the AI for Samus’ ship, loves telling you how outmatched you are when it comes to the EMMI), the seven you face in Dread aren’t all that scary. While they may have frightening abilities, the areas in which you meet an EMMI are not all that scary. They are all designed with similar layouts. To get around each one, you need to use the same strategy: running, jumping, running, and using Phantom Cloak. You don’t have to change how you handle them, or use a wider range of Samus’ abilities differently. So you can just keep using the same old strategy. By the third or fourth EMMI, getting away from one is a cake walk, and if you happen to mess up, Dread implements a very generous auto-save feature–why be scared of something if dying to it only costs you 10 to 20 seconds of progress? It’s nothing. This is a more annoying roadblock.
And that’s where Dread loses me–making the EMMI more annoying than scary. They are an evolution of SA-X mechanically but they are a devolution thematically. It’s not surprising that Dread teaches you that the EMMI can be destroyed. They don’t always appear as a threat, but they are there to hunt Samus down once she has the ability to. Because it can’t be defeated until Fusion ends, the SA-X is still a frightening threat. It fights hard even after that.
But what I dislike most about the EMMI is that they lack the element of horror that the SA-X had. Horror works best when the speculative nature a story has implies a terrifying or repulsive truth about its main character, society’s values or culture. This is where the SA-X shines. In Fusion, Adam tells Samus she thinks that the SAX-X is Samus at her best. It is a copy of who Samus was following the events of Metroid, Metroid II: Return of Samus, and Super Metroid. What does it do? It pursues Samus relentlessly to the farthest corners of her space station, where she is trapped. Samus receives Metroid DNA in Fusion. This makes her the last remaining living Metroid in all of the galaxy. In a shocking twist, Samus is now being hunted by her own, just like she hunted down all the Metroids and exterminated them all. The same terrifying feeling that you feel throughout Fusion is the terror you experienced when you went on a genocidal rampage through Metroid II.
That’s horror. Samus (and the player through Samus) learning that they’ve been the bad guy, that they’ve been the monster up to this point is a horrifying realization. That realization causes a growing sense of dread as Samus (and the player through Samus) realizes how pathetic they are towards the SA-X. They can remember what happened in Metroid II. It didn’t matter how much the Metroids fed on other creatures, evolving into stronger forms–Samus killed them all, barring the one whose DNA now lives on in her. She’s just doing what is necessary to complete the task by taking her own life. She is a cold, uncaring killer. She’s the same person she has been all her life, even if she does sometimes deviate from her mission to rescue animals or be a mother-like protector for infants. Only when confronted with this terrible truth in Fusion does Samus learn to be a better person.
Now you can argue that the EMMI fill a similar thematic role to the SA-X by collectively being mirrors of Samus. Although it is not clear if the Federation initially created the EMMI in order to replace Samus or to kill Samus as a retaliation for her disobedience to Fusion, at least one theory seems plausible. The EMMI is incredibly effective in hunting down Samus and quickly killing her. The EMMIs also have a number that refers to one of Samus’ abilities. This indicates that the Federation studied Samus and found a way for them to duplicate her Power Suit data (which isn’t a stretch given that they do that in Fusion), then programmed these abilities into the EMMI. The second EMMI, for example, is numbered EMMI-02MB, and possesses the trait to contort its body to fit into small spaces–upon defeating it, Samus discovers that, yes, MB stands for Morph Ball, and Samus reclaims her ability upon absorbing the data from the destroyed EMMI.
But just because the EMMI have Samus’ abilities, it doesn’t make them mirror images of her. Samus and the player won’t be shocked by the EMMI. It is a frightening realization to learn that the numerical labels of each EMMI suggest that Samus might have to keep her head up when it comes down to Federation. But that’s not new information. Adam and she came to this realization at the end Fusion. It is also frightening to see how each EMMI is connected to a Central Unit. This Central Unit both attacks and looks a lot alike Mother Brain. This suggests that people are trying to duplicate one of Samus’ oldest enemies. But that’s old news too–Prime 3: Corruption reveals how the plans for a next-generation Aurora (biomechanical supercomputers) leads to the creation of a new Mother Brain that Samus faces in Super Metroid, and in Other M, Samus meets MB, an android constructed with Mother Brain’s DNA. Since Samus destroyed the original Metroid 1 Mother Brain, people have tried repeatedly to create new Mother Brains. There is no horror in this; Samus’ enemies just have a tendency of reappear once she defeats them. If anything, the only horrifying truth of note when it comes to the EMMI and the Central Units is that EMMI-05IM is scary because it takes advantage of Samus’ weakness to cold, invoking memories of facing the SA-X. Fusion deserves this compliment for creating a villain so terrifyingly horrible that it lingers in our minds all these years later.
Without diving too much into spoilers, Dread does attempt to inject some semblance of dread with body horror, but it’s introduced late into the campaign and resolved in moments. It’s a shame, because the ideas that MercurySteam and Nintendo EPD have explored in these moments are intriguing. If they had the time, Samus and the players would have been able to really ponder them. It’s been a long-held desire for Metroid to explore this storyline. However, it was disappointing to have it introduced at the end of the game without fully understanding the implications. This could have allowed Dread the opportunity to expand on the themes in Fusion (that Samus is a beast) in an interesting way. It may also have made Dread the first horror title in Metroid’s series.
Again, I love Metroid Dread. It’s not a bad game. But it is not the horror-driven story that I expected from Fusion’s sequel. But maybe with Metroid Dread acting as the conclusion to Samus’ story that started with the original Metroid, the next 2D Metroid game can be a more radical shift for the series, and I’ll finally see Metroid become the horror experience I know it can be.
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