As starved as fans currently are for a new Metroid title, it’s hard to believe that once upon a time Nintendo gave players two of them on the same day. Metroid Prime and Metroid Fusion both launched together in November of 2002, marking the end of what was then an eight year hiatus for the series. While Prime tends to get the bulk of the fanfare these days, Fusion was itself an equally compelling entry in Samus Aran’s journeys. The game opens with a killer cinematic of Samus being infected with something called X Parasites. The creatures interact with her body and her Power Suit, resulting in parts of the two becoming fused together. A radical operation is performed, where chunks of the suit (and thus, her body) are removed, and an experimental vaccine derived from Metroid cells (the only predator of the X Parasite, naturally) is administered to save Samus’s life. After she’s given a Fusion Suit to wear, Samus sets out to eradicate the threat of the X Parasites.
In terms of story, Fusion has one of the most elaborate in the whole series. The game tells the bulk of its narrative through Samus’s internal dialogue and her interactions with her new ship’s computer, as well as a smattering of gripping cut scenes (presented as animation stills similar to motion comics). For some players, Fusion felt a little too linear because of the omnipresence of the story. The narrative is constantly popping in and out, and as a result mission parameters are regularly communicated, which negates some of the sense of isolation and free-exploration that the Metroid series is known for. That said, it’s unfair to accuse Fusion of relentlessly holding the player’s hand. Poking around the enormous space station where the game takes place is as autonomous as any other Metroid, with plenty of secrets and upgrades to discover– the narrative is there to guide, but it’s not overly restricting. I personally found Fusion to be a fun departure for the series, as the story added a sinister undercurrent to the gameplay that I’d never experienced before.
The main source of Fusion’s tense atmosphere is the presence of a creature called the SA-X. This advanced X Parasite is comprised of the surgically removed chunks of Samus’s Power Suit, which become sentient and pursues Samus throughout the adventure. The doppelganger is ridiculously overpowered compared to Samus; it isn’t until very late in the campaign that she can even defend herself from the SA-X. It’s because of this imbalance between the two that each of the handful of encounters with the creature are nerve-wracking cat and mouse altercations. These moments of sheer panic, where Samus is hiding from this soulless mirror image of herself, are some of the best in Fusion. Frankly, they’re some of the best in the entire series. Generally Samus is “the Hunter,” so to turn the tables on the player was both refreshing and an ingenious change of pace. Meeting the SA-X isn’t random, but it’s always a surprise when it happens, and one that will leave most players’ hands just a bit sweaty when it’s over.
Though there was nothing riskier than shifting the series from 2D to 3D (and a first-person shooter, at that) in Metroid Prime, Fusion made its own alterations that are worth noting. The redesign of Samus with her new Fusion Suit is the most obvious. It’s organic and smooth in a way that the Power Suit is not, yet the presence of Samus’s helmet and arm beam make the entire ensemble simultaneously familiar and alien– and cool. Samus’s Gunship is lost at the beginning of the game, so she’s given a new ship that, like the Fusion Suit, pulls some distinct visual cues from the original that make it feel both new and old at the same time. Adding a guiding hand in the form of Samus’s ship computer was also pretty bold of Nintendo, as it could have completely backfired and smothered everything about the first Metroid games that made them unique amongst other platformers. As it stands, Fusion can be somewhat polarizing to fans, but generally the quality of the title’s gameplay more than compensates for any deficiencies in the pacing.
Luckily Nintendo has seen fit to bring Metroid Fusion to Wii U’s Virtual Console, so for less than the average entree at a restaurant, fans can experience one of Game Boy Advance’s finest offerings. Fusion is a real triumph of level design and gameplay, one that truly pushed GBA to its limits and reaffirmed just how invaluable the Metroid franchise is in any form. Nintendo remains reluctant to move forward with Samus after the disaster that was Other M, but hopefully if the series ever does make a return, it’ll pull from Fusion for inspiration. Canonically, this game remains the final word on the Metroid series, so anyone who’s curious to see the (for now) final adventure of Samus, give Fusion a look!