There was a listener question on an episode of The Computer Game Show podcast a while back that went along the lines of what game would most regret not playing if you found yourself on your deathbed tomorrow? Obviously, the hosts wondered if a video game would feature in such a list of regrets but I don’t think they had much in mind anyway. I did though! As much as I like to think I gave my once-unloved Nintendo GameCube a decent run in the end, and spent several years building up a carefully curated library of classics and stuff that just interested me, there was one classic I didn’t need to go hunting on eBay for because it had been sitting there staring back at me the whole time, together with the price tag that kept reminding me I’d also spent forty quid on it when forty quid was worth more than forty quid…

I’m sure the system itself never really getting a look in when there was also a PlayStation 2 on the scene was the main reason for never even loading up 2002’s Metroid Prime before, as far as I can remember (which makes it even more annoying because at least a sealed copy would now be worth more than forty quid!) but there was certainly also a hint of just not being a massive Metroid fan. Which makes you wonder why I bought it in the first place, but that usually means there were some pretty screenshots on the back to lure me in. Anyway, all that said, I have actually got a bit of form with the series today, albeit far more recent, having completed the 1994 sequel Super Metroid on the SNES Classic Mini in 2017, then the 1986 original Metroid on the NES Classic Mini when that arrived in 2018, and finally Metroid Dread on Nintendo Switch in 2021. It’s not that I don’t like them – I’ve just got no sense of direction (even with a map!) and while it all appeals at the start, by the end I’ve had my fill for a while and kind of forget about Metroid until the next time!

And the next time was far more recent, when the Switch Online + Expansion Pack was expanded to include Game Boy Advance titles at the start of 2022, and being a sucker for that particular handheld there was no way I could resist giving anything a go that appeared in that initially limited library! Which is how we arrived at Metroid Fusion, and what started as a quick looksie quickly became four hours I shouldn’t have been spending on it on a Thursday evening, followed by a couple more on Friday and finishing it off on Saturday morning. It was love at first sight though! And I’m not sure why, but hopefully over the course of the next few paragraphs we can establish how it’s already making a claim for the upper echelons of my big favourite games of all-time list, where, on the Game Boy Advance, it would also find itself in the almost exclusive company of Mario Kart: Super Circuit and V-Rally 3, just for your information! Needs a bit more time to stew before we decide exactly where it sits though, so let’s move on! I just read a description of Metroid (the series) that I’d not really considered before, but it’s better than side-scrolling (or 3D) action-platformer or whatever… It went along the lines of combining the platforming of Super Mario Bros. and the exploration of The Legend of Zelda with a sci-fi setting and emphasis on non-linear gameplay. Nice! Metroid Fusion was the fourth game in the series – although if we’re talking chronological story it’s not quite – having been preceded by Metroid, Metroid II: Return of Samus for the Game Boy in 1991 and Super Metroid; it did appear virtually alongside the aforementioned Metroid Prime though, just a day apart in 2002. I’ve never tried it but they can be connected using the GameCube – Game Boy Advance Link Cable to unlock a Fusion Suit costume and an emulation of NES Metroid inside Metroid Prime!

I don’t really want to recap the entire series’ storyline to this point, but it’s probably worth a few basics to give Metroid Fusion’s own story some context, as well as trying to work out where this fits in the overall timeline! I believe the original NES Metroid isn’t actually canon anymore, so we’ll start with another GBA game, 2004’s Metroid: Zero Mission, which is a remake of the original and the new official version of events, where Metroid’s leading lady, bounty hunter Samus Aran, is out to stop the Space Pirates on the planet Zebes from turning some parasitic creatures called Metroids they’ve nicked from a research vessel into galactic bio-weapons. Over on the GameCube, Metroid Prime then sees her after them again on a different planet and trying to exploit a radioactive mutagen, whatever one of those is. We then jump to the Nintendo DS and Metroid Prime Hunters, where Samus is investigating the mysterious Ultimate Power before we return to the GameCube for Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, where she’s cleaning up the mess caused by an evil interdimensional race called Ing, as well as bumping into Dark Samus. Cool! Over to that new-fangled Wii thing next for Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, and Samus and a bunch of other bounty hunters are putting a stop to more Space Pirate shenanigans. They only manage to weaken them though because in Metroid Prime: Federation Force we’re working with said Force and their mechs to try again.

After all that messing around, we’re finally back to Metroid II: Return of Samus, which was on the original Game Boy, or there’s the 2.5D remake, Metroid: Samus Returns on 3DS if you prefer, where Samus is now on the Metroid’s home planet to wipe them out because it’s now been decided they’re too dangerous to even exist! And from there we journey to the SNES (keeping up?) for Super Metroid, and this time Samus is back on Zebes, not content with having wiped out an entire species so this time she’ll take out the entire planet, the Space Pirates on it and the last remaining Metroid they’re now trying to clone after she carted off with her at the end of the last game. Foolish! But with that, we’ve now only got Metroid: Other M on the Wii between us and the game at hand! In this one, although the last Metroid was finally taken down during Samus’ last act of genocide, scientists found particles in her Power Suit and decided to recreate the Metroid species from them. These people never learn, so we’re off again to another space station infested by all sorts of nasties, including a clone of Space Pirate ring-leader Ridley and a bunch of super-Metroids, where we meet with Samus’ former commanding office Adam Malkovich. He ends up sacrificing himself so Samus can finish of the new Queen Metroid, and with her end the Metroid threat once and for all. Again!

If I can summon up the energy I’ll probably come back to Metroid Dread later, which I think is actually the only big Metroid game left chronologically after all that, but first let’s jump into Metroid Fusion! This is so annoying, because I’ve just found a copy of the original instructions and it summarises the entire tale way better than I just did! Anyway, we’re going to pick up the story from here in the form of Samus Aran’s journal, detailing her recent escapades back on the Metroid’s home planet of SR388, which is now devoid of Metroids so the remaining creatures living there are seemingly trying to create a new hierarchy without them at the top of the food-chain. The Galactic Federation hired a mob called Biologic Space Labs to go and check out this restructuring, and given Samus’ experience of the planet in Metroid II, she’s been hired to provide a bit of muscle. Everything was going fine until she came across a new parasitic organism, which the researchers later imaginatively named X, but at the time she thought nothing of it and just carried on to her ship to head off to the next sample collection point. Once on board though, her body suddenly seized up and she lost consciousness, leaving the ship to drift out of the planetary orbit and into the path of an asteroid belt. You couldn’t make it up! Luckily, an auto-escape pod fired her clear before the ship went down and she ended up being picked up and taken back to a newly-constructed research station in the vicinity, but not before the X had multiplied and spread throughout her body and her Power Suit as well.

Now in a coma and with only a 0.873% prognosis for survival, Samus was shipped off to Galactic Federation HQ where their medical top-brass could do little more than cut away the infected bits of the biologically-connected suit from her still-unconscious form for further study at the research station, when someone came up with the crazy idea of creating a vaccine from Metroid cells… Fortunately (and obviously, by now) the Federation had preserved a cell culture from the last Metroid so that was easy to sort out, and once administered the symptoms disappeared instantly, which was also fortunate because seconds after Samus awoke there was a distress call from the research station after an explosion in its quarantine bay, and with that she’s apparently on a ship and docking with the Biologic Space Labs station within ten minutes! By now we’ve had five pages of exposition and there’s still a quarter of a page blank on the last one so I’d have appreciated a bit more fleshing out of the end there (which I barely paraphrased) because I did have to have a couple of re-reads to make sure I hadn’t missed something, but I think that’s that – she came out of her coma and was shipped off to find out what was going on at the space station in one swift motion!

Things don’t get any simpler from here, but I’ll do my best! It seems that the infected Power Suit became an X, which we’re told can not only grow in the nervous systems of host organisms but also assume the appearance and behaviour of other life-forms through mimesis, a process of infection and replication, which also inherits the memories and genetic information of the host. And that’s what the suit has done with Samus, so is not only mimicking her under the guise of SA-X, but has all of her fully powered-up abilities and is on the rampage through the station, having used her Power Bomb to escape the quarantine bay (hence the explosion that brought us here), together with all its X brethren who are now infecting everything! It’s not all bad news though because the instruction manual has one last snippet to reveal, telling us that since Samus had the Metroid vaccine, she’s incorporated some of their traits into her makeup, which includes absorbing X parasites in their gelatinous form as they escape their newly-dead hosts to replenish her energy and her supply of missiles. The mind boggles but that’s us as we arrive at the station, making our way to the quarantine bay and ready to start playing!

I’ve taken a few liberties with the order of things there but I’m not planning a full walkthrough from here on in so it doesn’t matter! One important reason I think I connected with this so much and so quickly over other entries in the series is what we encounter next though, the new space station’s computer, which Samus names Adam because it reminds her of that old commanding officer we mentioned ages ago. As you explore and investigate (and shoot stuff) you’ll regularly reconvene with Adam in navigation rooms placed all over the map, and he’ll effectively be giving you specific objectives to progress the “story” a bit further at each one. These will often include unlocking specific types of doors or collecting specific power-ups, and together with in-game events and incidents are going to keep your current area of operation quite restricted, meaning the game comes out feeling way more linear that any of the predecessors we went through earlier. And for someone with no sense of direction like me that’s always a bonus! It still feels metroidvania enough to me though, but I guess if your thing is exploration in a Metroid then what’s on offer here – which, thinking about it, probably only extends to finding hidden rooms or power-ups – might be a bit of a let-down.

It’s funny, but by coincidence as I’m playing this I’ve got both Alien: Isolation and Resident Evil 4 Remake on the go, and I reckon you’ll struggle to find two better examples of creating tension in a video game but Metroid: Fusion comes close, with that SA-X thing a constant threat, whether literally (and terrifyingly!) as it very occasionally appears in the flesh in the room you’re in, or is just a fleeting shadow against the background or, more than anything, suddenly becomes apparent in the sound design! The SA-X even has it’s own theme tune, Darth Vader-style, and while it’s brief and not quite on the same level, it’s ominous, industrial heart-beat is sure to speed up your own! A lot of the soundtrack is similarly ambient, albeit generally more melodic, but almost always with the aim of building up that tension. Boss fights will have something a bit more up-tempo, with pumping dark techno electronica both egging you on and goading you all at once. It’s all very cinematic, combining with very “sci-fi” but strangely organic sound effects to really create an incredible atmosphere.

That atmosphere would be wasted if it wasn’t supported so effectively by the visuals. I recently decided that Sonic Advance had the best visuals I’d ever seen on the Game Boy Advance (specifically Ice Mountain Zone) but this comes very close! I know the original GBA needed a bit of a helping hand when it came to offsetting the lack of backlight, but all the same, the colours here are really mouth-watering, and given we’re on a space station, there’s so much environmental variety too, mixing metallics and organics to extreme effects in some cases – I don’t know why there’s vast tropical fish tanks here but I love them! Similarly, you’ll cross sub-tropical jungles, icy wastelands, volcanic nightmares and more as you find the next power-up, unlock the next level of security or defeat the boss to tick off Adam’s missions, counter the next threat and ultimately get out of there! And despite the variety, everything feels cohesive too – you’ll never be far from a mechanical reminder that you’re on a space station. There’s texture and detail to everything too, and with regular parallax effects creating depth plus movement dotted all over the place – from leaking pipes to just the flash of light on a door – you’ll always be fascinated to see what’s next, even if it is a bit scripted! Should mention that Samus looks great too, also full of texture and detail, with super-smooth movement and transitions between her various states and abilities. And we should talk about them next!

Because your Power Suit was cut away from you and is now on the loose all over the space station, you start the game with just your Fusion Suit and not a lot else. As alluded to just now though, each objective is generally going to deliver some new ability, which you’ll collect from data rooms also scattered all over the station, or by defeating a boss and sucking up the Core-X left behind. I won’t go through everything, but early doors you’ve got the classic Morph Ball ability that allows you to morph into a ball and access pipes and stuff you couldn’t before, as well as drop bombs to expose things that weren’t there before, such as missile or energy tank capacity boosts hidden away in the walls. Actually, it’s worth mentioning here that as linear as the game might be, there was still a single occasion that I had to consult a walkthrough video, where I was in ball form and stuck in a maze of pipes trying to reach an important room below; I knew the gap I needed was there and I almost knew how to get there, but just got stuck in one bit of pipe. I needed to jump-bomb (another ability) to just above me, which would then have revealed a path to another pipe downwards and problem solved. Maybe it was just me but I thought this was a bit cheap and was more typical of finding secret stuff in walls rather than finding a critical path. Just the once in about six and a bit hours to complete it though, and I guess I’d have got there eventually so no big deal. You do have to do a lot of mindless exploratory bombing to get the most out of the game though! By the way, at the end of the game you get a completion clock as well as a tally of items found, which was 47% for me, which I was amazed by because I really thought I’d mindlessly bombed my way to finding way more than that!

Anyway, back to power-ups, you’ve also got high jumps and space jumps, which are a bit like double-jumps but you can keep chaining them if you time it right, and that’s easier said than done when you first get it! You can also upgrade your missiles too, and these will usually be dictated by whatever biome you’re currently in, so you’ve got a super missile for big damage, an ice missile and a diffusion one that kind of combines the two by sending off a flurry of them all over wherever you are. Oh yeah, there’s that really cool power bomb too that your SA-X copycat used at the start! And by the time you’ve got all of that, and properly boosted your energy and missile stocks, you’re probably ready to start fighting back! Like the environments, there’s also a nice variety to the enemies you’ll encounter in general, reflecting their various environments, but the boss designs are another level! That said, apart from the final boss, which was more a race against time than particularly sophisticated, I’m not sure the fights themselves were especially memorable. Even when they were way more sophisticated and really demanded you made the most of your new-found abilities, charging up weapon strikes while leaping around platforms or hanging off railings, or space-jumping overhead before transforming into a morph ball and rolling below! As I said though, really cool designs, from giant mechanical spiders to, er, giant mechanical dinosaurs! My favourite was this two-stage affair that ended up with multiple eyes on a sad-looking melting green face in a giant monkey-like robot body, seen off with a few missiles down the throat before leaping up and over and ready for the next volley!

I’d say overall the difficulty is challenging (for someone who’s rubbish at games like me) but fair; the linear progression avoids too much back and forth frustration, and even the most intelligent of bosses only has so many different attacks to get your head around. Apart from space jump timing, it certainly helps that your movement is slick and predictable, and the controls are very intuitive, with an extra shoulder button press to get more out of your standard weapon button press about as complicated as things get. I did play entirely with my Switch docked on a big TV but I guess handheld as intended is also more suited to that more linear, objective-based play too, so everything makes sense as far as I’m concerned! And with that established, let’s quickly finish off with the 2021’s chronological sequel, Metroid Dread, also on Switch. I tried not to spoil too much of the narrative of Fusion but given previous form it will probably come as no surprise that some time after that ends, an X parasite is discovered, a bunch of robots are sent to check it out, they disappear, enter Samus! This one was coming forever – since about 2005, in fact, when it was first slated for the DS, but it took the Switch to properly do it justice, and it really did! Ultra-polished and everything you could ask for in a modern metroidvania, even if it is a bit too open-ended for my taste!

I was totally smitten with Metroid Fusion, and possibly for all the reasons others weren’t so keen, but that don’t matter to me. It’s the Metroid I always wanted and was always there. Just took me a while to realise! And, of course, I now have no excuse not to finally get that Metroid Prime thing loaded up on my GameCube! After all this time I’m looking forward to it too, although not so much taking dodgy photos of my dodgy old telly so I can let you know how I got on. Watch this space all the same!