Game Boy Advance’s Metroid Fusion is also known as Metroid 4, but you may not have noticed, as it was released the same day as Gamecube’s Metroid Prime, which went on to be hailed as one of the greatest games of all time. While Prime began a legacy of 3D first-person adventures, Fusion is a 2D action-adventure in the same vein as Super Metroid, also hailed as one of the greatest games of all time. By the way, this is the only 2D Metroid game I’ve played. I’ve completed the Metroid Prime Trilogy and got quite far in Metroid Prime Hunters but never clocked it.
You play as Samus Aran, the greatest bounty hunter in the galaxy, who wears an upgradable space suit granting her special abilities. Her arm cannon is used to gun down enemies, while her Morph Ball ability allows her to literally morph into a ball to roll through tight spaces. At the beginning of the game, much of the area is inaccessible, so Samus must traverse what is accessible to pick up power-ups to make her stronger, acquire new abilities and unlock doors. Oftentimes bosses are standing in the way of achieving these goals. Eventually, more of the area is accessible and Samus’s abilities reach badarsery.
Every other Metroid game prior to Fusion basically said “here you are, this is the area, you’re on all own, go find stuff and use it to kill stuff”. Super Metroid was nice enough to have a map, whereas the original Metroid on the NES has players scribbling out their own map on paper, as well as passwords instead of save stations. In Fusion, you have Navigation Rooms where a computer guides you on what to do next, usually pointing to a Data Room on the map, or telling you to investigate some suspicious activity.
Some may believe this takes away from the Metroidvania style of players being lost and having to find their own way in a non-linear fashion. It is more linear yes, but the guide is simply a step in the right direction. You still have to figure out how to get to the destination yourself, and no-one tells you where secret upgrades are. Samus’s interactions with the computer also help with storytelling. Plus for a handheld game, that pick-up and play nature works well with this new format. I’m not a fan of being lost and wondering around aimlessly (which still can happen despite the game’s linearity), so I liked the way Fusion played.
The story sees Samus bring sent by the Galactic Federation to the Biologic Space Laboratories (BSL) space station after an explosion to see what’s up. The station is swarming with X parasites, which can replicate their hosts physical appearance and memories before killing them. Samus’s new mission is overseen by a computer who she nicknames ‘Adam’, after a late friend. The Fusion subtitle refers to Samus’s fusion suit; after she is infected by the virus and saved by surgery, parts of her suit have become physically attached to her body and too dangerous to remove. Her infection means a fully capable Samus Aran X parasite is wondering around the BSL. It’s a good story, well told, and gives a new light to some familiar Metroid characters, mainly the Galactic Federation.
The worst part of a Metroid game is usually the beginning. You’re not only powerless physically, but mentally, as you have no grasp of the world around you. Once you get a groove on everything – the story, the controls, the map – and you start to collect some cool power-ups, Fusion starts to feel and play beautifully.
For a handheld game with 2D sprites, the sound design and graphics work surprisingly well to create atmosphere and tension. The music certainly sounds like it would fit in any science-fiction movie score.
The game is short, but is extended slightly by being very hard. Thankfully there are plenty of save stations around, because no-one likes to repeat things. Unlike Nintendo friends Mario and Zelda, the bosses Samus faces are not easy and go beyond attacking the same spot three times when the boss puts their guard down. No, to defeat the bosses in Fusion, you need speed, endurance and agility, because they hit Samus hard.
I don’t mind short games, you’re likely to actually finish them and Fusion is the sort of game you would want to replay. And of course, good short games don’t overstay their welcome.
For Metroid fans, Fusion is a must-have. In fact, anyone a fan of action games should give this one a spin. It’s a fun, challenging, well-polished and involving sci-fi adventure..