Back in 2002, Metroid fans learned a lot more about the series’ mysterious heroine Samus Aran. On Nov. 18 that year, the first-person shooter Metroid Prime — developed by Retro Studios and recently remastered for the Nintendo Switch — put players inside Samus’ suit for the first time, allowing them to scan her surroundings, enemies, and objects, and learn more about Metroids, the infamous Space Pirates, and the ancient alien Chozo race that raised Samus. But the day before Prime’s debut, a 2D platformer called Metroid Fusion came out on Game Boy Advance, and it was this game that truly let players inside of Samus’ head.
In Metroid Fusion, which is available today as part of the Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack subscription, Samus may not technically speak, but she does finally get a voice. In diary-like text logs about her enemies and the strange space station AI that she nicknames “Adam” (after a former commanding officer who gave his life to save hers), Samus Aran opens up more than ever before about her emotional state, her past, and her journey forward. The game’s storyline may seem sparse to modern players who are used to chatty protagonists, but compared to previous Metroid games, Fusion signaled a massive change. The laconic heroine had previously been a cypher, an object onto which players could project their own feelings. In Fusion, Samus reveals her own feelings in her brief, haunting missives.
In a journal entry included in the game’s manual, she describes the planet SR388 – the birthplace of the Metroids — as “that forsaken rock,” a phrase charged with refreshing, relatable enmity about the horrors she has repeatedly faced there. In Fusion’s opening text crawl — another first-person monologue from Samus — she gets philosophical about how the Metroid species has both haunted and saved her. In fact, it’s DNA from a baby Metroid she once spared (during Metroid 2) that had saved her from the brink of death at the very start of Fusion: “I survived, reborn as something different. Pondering this fact, I realize... I owe the Metroid hatchling my life twice over.”
Throughout Fusion, Samus also ponders the nature of the AI that keeps giving her orders — a conceit that returns in last year’s Metroid Dread, which is a direct sequel to the events of Fusion. This overarching plot point has a huge emotional payoff at the end of Dread, and although Dread’s story works well even for players who haven’t experienced Fusion, it hits a lot harder for those who have.
The story details are not the only reason for Dread fans to play Fusion, though. It’s also a showcase of the early design concepts and sensibilities that later appeared in Dread — specifically, the Fusion enemy SA-X, which pursues Samus with relentless determination. Ahead of the release of Metroid Dread, Polygon spoke to Yoshio Sakamoto, director and producer of several mainline Metroid games, about Dread’s deadly EMMI robots, which took direct inspiration from Fusion and its SA-X chase scene: “The whole entire concept hasn’t changed over these 15 years. Really, it was that Samus, this powerful warrior, would be confronted with some overwhelming enemy that would chase her. That was the idea.”
Neither Metroid Fusion nor Dread are exactly scary — though they do have some high-stress, close-quarters moments, taking a cue from the 1979 horror film Alien, which inspired the first game. Much like Alien and sci-fi space horror games like Dead Space, Fusion is much more linear and tightly plotted than other Metroid games, with Samus venturing into key areas one by one, rather than unlocking a massive map over time through backtracking. That pacing is another big reason why Fusion is so different from other Metroid games; it’s an unusual choice that allows Samus Aran’s personal thoughts to stand out even more, since each discrete area involves a new conversation with the AI, or perhaps a new diary entry from Samus. It’s these additional details, as well as the deviations from the Metroid formula, that make Fusion still worth playing today.
Given the success of Metroid Dread, and the reintroduction of Metroid Prime and now Metroid Fusion on Switch, it’s all the more frustrating that several excellent Metroid games are still missing from current hardware. Although the original Metroid from 1987 is available via Switch Online services, the far more player-friendly GBA remake Zero Mission remains unlisted in the eShop (except via the Wii U’s Virtual Console). Meanwhile, the Game Boy classic Metroid 2: Samus Returns got added to the Switch last month, which has only caused fans to clamor even louder for MercurySteam’s Metroid 2 remake, Samus Returns, to get a Switch port of its own. (It originally was released on the 3DS.) Last, but certainly not least, what about the Nintendo DS classic Metroid Prime Pinball, the best-ever use of Samus Aran’s morph ball??
All that said, with so many Metroid games now readily available on modern devices, it’s hard to complain much. After Metroid Dread fans finish Fusion, though, I suspect they’ll want more. Hopefully Nintendo will heed that inevitable call.