One of the reasons many gamers have remembered the Super Nintendo Entertainment System so fondly is 1994's Super Metroid, the third installment in a classic series of open-ended side-scrolling shooters, and one of the best 2D action adventure games ever made. Starring the tough intergalactic bounty hunter Samus Aran, Super Metroid delivered a level of detail, polish, and style previously unseen or unheard of in a game of its type. Fans of the series, which started on the Nintendo Entertainment System and continued on the Game Boy, were especially thrilled, since Super Metroid fully realized the distinctive style of gameplay of its predecessors. Samus has since made a few appearances in Nintendo's multiplayer party games, but now she's finally back in the limelight where she belongs as Nintendo unleashes not one but two outstanding Metroid games at the same time. While Metroid Prime for the GameCube is an ambitious reenvisioning of the series in full 3D, Metroid Fusion for the Game Boy Advance is a throwback to Super Metroid, offering most of that game's best qualities in an all-new adventure. It's disappointing that Fusion ends so soon, since it's such a great game while it lasts.
Samus may look different this time around, but she's still got many of her old abilities.
Unlike any other Metroid game, Fusion is heavily story-driven. The game begins with some retrospective cutscenes that explain how Samus got into her latest predicament. On a routine mission, she's assaulted by an unknown parasitic organism that infests her nervous system and fuses her power armor to her body (hence the game's title), nearly killing her in the process. Ironically, it turns out that this creature--simply dubbed "X"--was the natural enemy of the metroids, those jellyfish-like energy-sucking things that Samus had hunted down years prior. Now that metroids are apparently extinct, the X have rapidly multiplied, and they suddenly pose a grave danger to the universe, much like the metroids once did. A precious vaccine made from the last metroid's DNA fortunately saves Samus' life--but she's changed, and, among other things, she's now immune to further contamination from X. So when a distress call arrives from a deep-space research laboratory orbiting the X parasites' home planet, Samus is quick to take the job. Sure enough, the facility has been overrun. And so, under the watchful "eye" of a computerized commanding officer, Samus sets out to save the remnants of the research station and hopefully find a way to destroy the X once and for all.
It's a good story, and it effectively drives the action along as Samus' CO guides her through the research facility's numerous infected quadrants. But the focus on plot has a certain effect on the gameplay. While Metroid Fusion essentially features the open-ended design of its predecessors--Samus gains numerous new abilities over the course of the game, enabling her to access numerous previously unreachable areas--there's so much urgency to the storyline that you'll likely find yourself constantly following the CO's orders without taking the time to explore. There's never a point in the game when the situation isn't desperate, and so rather than carefully surveying your surroundings as in past Metroid games, in Fusion you'll find yourself rushing from one checkpoint to the next, all the way until you finish the game about six hours after you begin, give or take one. The fact that you can't outright skip the story sequences also diminishes Metroid Fusion's replay value, as you'll wish you could just play the game rather than have to sit and read a bunch of text every so often.
It's too bad Metroid Fusion doesn't last longer.
Now that all the bad news is out of the way, it bears repeating that Metroid Fusion is really an outstanding game. Extremely responsive controls, terrific graphics, and great audio make Fusion easily one of the best action games for the Game Boy Advance. Those who played Super Metroid will feel right at home, though this new game offers a number of new play mechanics. Samus does not have many of her signature abilities at the beginning of the game, thanks to the X parasite, but she can still run really fast, jump really high, and fire her main beam weapon in eight directions all around her. She soon gains back some of those signature skills, such as the ability to roll up into a "morph ball" to fit through narrow passageways and the ability to fire powerful missiles. Samus can grab hold of ledges this time around, which she'll need to do when trying to make some precarious leaps and is really helpful for when she mistimes a landing on a platform. While hanging, Samus can either pull herself up or can plant her feet against the nearby wall and vault off backward. Samus can also climb ladders or move hand over hand across certain types of ceilings, and she's able to shoot while doing so. Try not to wonder too much about why she's able to do all this new climbing when she's still got a big blaster for a right hand.