This review originally went live in 2014, and we're updating and republishing it to mark the game's arrival in Switch's GBA library via the Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack.
Released a full eight years after its phenomenal Super Nintendo predecessor, Super Metroid, 2002's Metroid Fusion is a well-paced, tense, atmospheric game and an oft-overlooked GBA classic that, while not as substantial and expansive as other 2D games in the series, suits portable play beautifully.
Naturally, you assume the role of Samus Aran, the legendary bounty hunter responsible for overturning the sinister designs of the Space Pirates and obliterating their organic weapon, the Metroids. Samus accompanies a group of scientists to SR388, the Metroid homeworld, planning to survey the planet, but is unknowingly accosted by a virulent organism known as an X Parasite. The reality of this infection is explained once Samus loses consciousness and crashes her ship on the return journey – though she escapes the impact unharmed, her body and equipment are teeming with X Parasites, and her chances of survival are slim. Her signature apparel, the Power Suit, is surgically removed and she is injected with cells from the last of the Metroids, saving her from a grim demise but drastically altering her appearance. Weakened, she is given little time to recuperate when the laboratory containing both the creatures collected in the exploratory mission and her Power Suit is rocked by an explosion, thus tasking her with the responsibility of investigating this mysterious space station.
It’s a powerful opening sequence, particularly for those that played Super Metroid. Samus muses that the Metroid vaccine administered to her was derived from (spoilers!) the Baby Metroid in the SNES title and, as such, she owes it her life twice over. Metroids were apparently designed to be the X’s sole predator, and thanks to the cell infusion, she is now able to absorb X Parasites into her body.
Previous experience with the series is not necessarily required to enjoy this entry, but knowing that Samus' own actions in wiping out the Metroids in Metroid II: Return of Samus have indirectly caused the events of Metroid Fusion does add some great flavour. We'd recommend playing at least Super Metroid before this one, (but we'd recommend that to anyone who will listen, regardless).
The gameplay itself was further refined from past instalments. Samus is as sprightly as ever and still utilises her signature spinning jump and 8-directional aiming techniques from previous games, but is now also able to grab ledges and climb certain surfaces. As you'd expect, Samus is stripped of power-ups from the previous game thanks to the removal of her Power Suit, and these are gradually unlocked through progression in the game.
So far, so Metroid. Metroid Fusion’s progression, however, is surprisingly linear. Samus is given instructions from her ship’s onboard computer, whom she dubs 'Adam' after her late commanding officer, and there’s very little room for deviation from the main path for most of the game. Metroid Fusion has a story, one that it insists on telling, and funnels you in one direction. Metroid games have always been linear experiences, of course. Sure, you backtrack and open up new paths once you've acquired a new ability, but there's typically only ever one thread to follow, however cleverly it's sewn across the map.
So it’s perhaps a little disappointing that Metroid Fusion often just seals off certain routes with locked doors, particularly towards the beginning of the game. It’s this lack of ingenuity and originality that keeps Metroid Fusion from surpassing its 2D predecessor — Super Metroid — in quality, but it doesn't spoil the game and arguably suits the shorter play sessions typically associated with portable play. To series fans who know the lore, Metroid Fusion’s narrative is worth the concession, too. It’s a gripping tale of suspense and intrigue, perfectly accompanied by the hostile setting and Samus’ unfamiliar feeling of helplessness.
The research station Samus explores is host to a number of biological specimens now infected with the vicious X Parasites. The variety of enemies on display is impressive, and boss battles in particular are enjoyable and inventive. Samus’ larger foes are formed from X Parasites holding one of her previous power-ups, and they use this ability against her. The opponent holding the Morph Ball, for instance, is an alien armadillo that curls into a sphere and rolls into Samus, whereas the boss holding the High Jump — and you'll never guess this — vaults high into the air.
It’s a nice little touch, one that is seen again in Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, and is used in both games to great effect to make Samus seem appropriately vulnerable without her equipment and suitably empowered once it's recovered. Again, it's Metroid 101, but Fusion does it very effectively.
An undeniable highlight in terms of enemies is the SA-X, a doppelganger of Samus created by the infection of her Power Suit. This merciless clone hunts the bounty hunter and is in full possession of her entire arsenal of weaponry, including the Ice Beam, to which she's now extremely susceptible thanks to her Metroid DNA. The game frequently reminds you that the SA-X is far too powerful to combat in her current state, and evading the creature whilst attempting to reach the next objective is tense and exhilarating.
Graphically, Metroid Fusion is a joy to behold, with detailed sprites and moody, atmospheric environments. It's awash with colour (partly to help players see the action better on original non-backlit GBA hardware), which is refreshing for a title with a sci-fi setting where a dark, muted palette would have been the obvious choice. Environments are distinct and varied, displaying an excellent fusion of organic and mechanical design.
Metroid Fusion is very far from the longest game in the series. Following the story itself should take perhaps six hours for most players, but there’s a wealth of hidden power-ups and items for completionists. Collectibles are often fiendishly hidden, betrayed by subtle visual cues that only the most perceptive players will notice. There are fewer head-scratching moments than Super Metroid, for the most part, but it’s rewarding to uncover a hidden trove using wit and attention to detail. Fusion isn’t overly challenging; save points are littered fairly frequently across the environments, whilst enemies drop health-restoring X Parasite for Samus to collect. Some bosses can prove tricky, but locating a healthy supply of Energy Tanks can allow Samus to tank through most encounters.
Metroid Fusion is engaging, it’s tense, and it’s polished. It isn’t as good as the outstanding Super Metroid, but judged on its own merits it’s a very easy recommendation. Its relative linearity makes it a great jumping-in point for those new to the series, whilst longtime fans will enjoy the narrative focus and the references and subtle winks thrown at them. It's 'Metroid 4' — essential for fans, but also an exhilarating, compact delight for newcomers.