4 out of 5. A must play for fans of the Metroid series as it progresses the story in ingenious ways. It also takes the foreboding atmosphere that Metroid has been so good at to the next level.
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How Metroidvania is it? Medium Fit. While the game does lock most of your progress behind story gates, if you're not also exploring extensively you're going to have a much harder time.
Primary Challenge: Ranged Combat
Time to beat: ~5 hours
Review Info: Metroid Fusion was played using the Virtual Console version on the Wii U

More Info

Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Sub-genre: Metroid-Like
Features: Map System, 2D Platformer, Ranged Combat, Story Rich, Environmental Storytelling, Narrative/Cutscenes Story Telling, Horror, Level-Based
Difficulty: Medium
Linearity/Openness: High Gating - Guided
Platforms: GBA, Wii U
Release Date: 2002/11/18
Available Languages: English, Japanese

Store Links

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Buy Metroid Fusion if you like…

  • Deep Science Fiction
  • Horrific Atmosphere
  • Metroid's Brand of Exploration
  • Well-Crafted Stories
  • Item Hunting

▼ Review continues below ▼

If you have followed all of my Metroid series reviews up to this point, you’ll know that I am a very big fan of the story. Super Metroid was a beautiful wrap-up to the trilogy. It tied up loose ends and gave us some of the most memorable emotional moments in gaming history. Given that the second game dealt with annihilating the series’ namesake from the galaxy, and the third game was centered on the last Metroid, it seemed like Nintendo had managed to write themselves into a corner as far as sequels are concerned. For a chronological fourth game they could have easily contrived something corny – something full of handwaves and retcons – but they didn’t. Metroid Fusion is exactly what a sequel to Super Metroid should have been – at least from a story perspective.

Samus returns to the Metroid home planet SR-388 as a bodyguard for a research team, and now that all the Metroids are gone, their natural enemy has thrived and has taken over the ecosystem. This Metroid rival isn’t another species of energy creating dragons, but rather an incredibly fast mutating virus that the Federation eventually calls the “X Parasite”. This virus immediately latches on to Samus and nearly kills her, but the research team manages to save her life by injecting Metroid sells into her. This vaccine made Samus not only immune to X, but she could absorb the virus and gain power from it. The virus itself is a fantastic creature straight out of sci-fi horror. It has the ability to shapeshift into the form of anything that it has infected, so a return of any previous Metroid enemy (besides the Metroids themselves) was possible.

The story on its surface is typical hokey Sci-Fi fare, written to allow for snarly monsters and general video game fodder, but like the rest of the Metroid games it has more layers beneath. Samus is at her weakest point yet, and is facing a threat that exists directly in consequence to her previous actions. Moreover this threat is literally her equal, and acts like a mirror into her past – like a reflection of the monster she truly is. Along for the ride is also a computer AI that reminds Samus of her old commanding officer. Between major segments of the game Samus will reminisce about her past and this previous human interaction, simultaneously adding color to both Samus and the Metroid universe. I had previously praised Super Metroid for managing to tell an iconic story without displaying many words at all, but Metroid Fusion proves that the series can do some amazing things when the writing requires a lot of words.

The focus on the story does have its effect on the gameplay, however, as many design changes are made to service the narrative. Instead of setting up a bounty for Samus and the player to chase at their own leisure like in the previous three games, the problems on the federation research station where Metroid Fusion takes place happen gradually with immediate priorities dictating where Samus needs to go. The aforementioned computer AI has the ability to seal off doorways to force Samus into specific directions, and it feeds her orders throughout the game telling the player exactly what they need to do next. This setup not only allows Nintendo to direct the story in a scripted way, but it also allows them to subvert the expectations it sets when it’s appropriate. The sacrifice is of course that this Metroid isn’t about non-linear and discovery-driven exploration anymore, and fans of Super Metroid especially may find that disappointing.

While progression is basically linear now, Metroid Fusion sort of makes up for it with its sheer number of secrets still tucked away in its corridors. In fact Metroid Fusion has the highest number of E-Tanks in the Metroid series even when you count the reserve tanks in Super Metroid. Boss encounters are maybe the most challenging in the series, and even though health and missile refills are plentiful in Metroid Fusion, increasing those maximum values really helps to mitigate some of that difficulty. Therefore it’s still a ton of fun to find places where it seems like you’re not supposed to be only to find a meaningful power-ups to reward you for it.

Just progressing through the game though, because of the relative size of the world and the forced linearity, progression is just far less interesting than it was in Super Metroid, or even in the also linear Metroid II in my humble opinion. A common criticism I’ve seen against every other Metroid game – one that I tend to agree with – is that it’s not very fun to blindly hunt for that one destructible wall or hidden passageway as these games sometimes make you do. I think from a design perspective, it is fine to do this occasionally, especially if it rewards astute observation. It’s done very well in the later Metroid Zero Mission thanks to some clever visual cues, and though it’s not always perfect in Super Metroid, outside of Ridley’s lair the poorer instances are generally for optional rewards. In Metroid Fusion however, it’s practically the core gameplay outside of fighting bosses. You always sort of know where you’re supposed to go in Fusion but you’re often met with some kind of dead-end and the only clue that there must be a bombable wall somewhere is that you have no other choices in front of you. Metroid Fusion also lacks the X-Ray vision that Super Metroid had, which was another mitigating factor to the similar design in that game. I was really happy when I found the Power Bombs, because I was comically able to use them to blow up every room just to see where destructible passages might be. What Power Bombs do not reveal however are pathways that are just invisibly hidden within the walls. As you memorize the game’s world, all of these criticisms become less of an issue, but for a first time blind playthrough it’s pretty frustrating. Unlike the original Metroid though, at least there’s little potential that you’ll wander to the opposite side of the map when you miss a hidden passageway.

It might be said that the main course of the game are the bosses, but unfortunately for Metroid Fusion the combat gameplay hasn’t improved a whole lot since Super Metroid. In fact because of the smaller Gameboy Advance screen and larger more detailed enemy sprites, Samus’ lack of agility is especially hard on her for this game. Dodging attacks is difficult, so you’ll really want to be diligent in finding those E-Tanks. If you’re short on hit points you’re going to be in for a lot of frustration. Bosses also generally don’t always follow scripted patterns, instead opting to react to what Samus does. This means you’re going to be doubly frustrated if you’re stuck in a pattern of action and reaction that is particularly unfavorable to you, but it also means that success is really about exploiting the AI more than anything else. If the enemies in this game weren’t so dang cool from a thematic standpoint, the encounters would just be a slog.

Theming is what Metroid Fusion does best though. In terms of atmosphere it may be the #1 for the entire series. If you’re into Metroid strictly for the exploration-focused gameplay, and don’t care about anything else, then Metroid Fusion isn’t going to win any prizes. If even a small part of you cares about Samus and the Metroid story however, Metroid Fusion is basically a masterpiece. To earn a perfect score I’d prefer some of the gameplay elements were cleaned up a little, but even as-is I’d say this is a must-play for any Metroid fan. The story wraps itself up nicely as with any entry in the series, but the revelations contained within still leave more room for adventures from Samus. I think it could be amazing if Nintendo continued from here with a Metroid Fusion 2, and maybe someday soon that wish will come true. Super Metroid didn’t need a sequel either, but it’s wonderful that it got one anyway.


Final Score

4/5

Scoring system overview


Metroidvania Breakdown

Combat
– 3

Exploring for more health and missiles is key. Enemies are bigger and there's less screen space, so pattern mastery can otherwise be very difficult

Platforming
– 3

Like with the other Metroid games, this is not really a focus. It's more like Super Metroid style puzzle platforming

Exploration
– 4

As always, this is a staple for any Metroid game, though it's held back a little because of the story focus keeping Samus on-rails

Puzzle
– 3.5

There are a few spatial reasoning puzzles that make up pretty much the entire game outside of the boss fights, but they're often ''find the hidden passage'' trial and error affairs.

Story
– 4.5

The entire game works in service to the story, and the story is worthwhile for any fan of the previous games in the series

Graphics
– 4.5

Even being a Gameboy Advance game, the pixel art is exemplary even by today's standards.

Music
– 4.5

Metroid Fusion is all about atmosphere, and atmosphere can't be accomplished without a great accompanying soundtrack

Replayability
– 3.5

The linearity holds it back a little, but there are still a lot of ending rewards for you to shoot for, both for speedrunning and getting 100% items


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