This is the only Nintendo game you need to play before “Metroid Dread”
As I gaze at the small 3DS screen in front of me, a stream of anxiety swirls around my chest.
I try to hold my breath as my bloodthirsty, white eyed lookalike walks towards me. With every step, her boots ring ominously against the metal gate before it suddenly stops just above my hiding place. Heart pounding audibly, my sprite-drawn heroine – legendary bounty hunter Samus Aran – is curled up in a helpless ball.
It’s hard to believe that a few moments ago I was the hunter, the daring adventurer who made his way through a space station infested with parasites. Now, as the game’s stabbing soundtrack ends with a crescendo creeping across the skin and the clone rolls out of the ramshackle hallway, there’s no doubt that I’m the prey.
This is what it feels like to play in the 2002s Metroid Fusion.
When I proposed to my publisher the idea of writing about this almost 20-year-old Gameboy Advance game, I naively expected Metroid Fusion to provide a pleasant retro blasting. Instead, I discovered a totally isolating and biting experience. To make matters worse I decided to play Fusion in the midst of a particularly brutal and real breakup. With Samus left weak, alone and struggling to adjust to her new surroundings, I found myself relating to our heroine on an extremely raw level.
So much for sitting down and blowing up aliens.
Late for the party is a Reverse series that offers a fresh take on retro video game classics from a newcomer’s perspective.
The origin of dread
So why a m I’m playing an old game that’s giving me a cold sweat? Well, dear reader, it is to prepare myself for the release of the aptly named Terror Metroid. Like many 90s gamers, I grew up on the blocky 3D polygons of the original PlayStation, leaving a 2D-shaped Samus Aran blind spot in my video game history. It was about time I put on Samus’ Power Suit and saw where all my favorite indies get their best ideas. Fusion was the perfect starting point for my modern Metroid mission given that this is a prequel to the next one Fear.
The first thing that struck me Fusion is its atmosphere. Despite the limitations of the Game Boy Advance hardware, Nintendo wastes no time pulling you by the hair and taking you to the terrifying world of Samus.
Beginning with a dramatic pixel-art cutscene, we find our intergalactic heroine rushed to hospital. After encountering a deadly parasitic organism known only as X, Samus’ costume becomes infected, leaving her to fight for her life. She survives, but only thanks to the Galactic Federation research team who injected her with cells from a dead baby Metroid, creating a raw and ready-made anti-X vaccine. It is only after all this that the game really begins.
In all fairness, my first hour with the game was a huge shock to the system. Rudimentary, confusing and relentlessly difficult, it completely rubbed my pampered modern gamer brain the wrong way. FusionThe first hour makes it clear that this world isn’t here to help Samus – he actively wants her dead.
Essential paths and destructible passages are not marked with useful visual clues. Instead, they’re completely hidden, hidden behind seemingly random, unmarked walls, panels, or boxes. Where contemporary Metroidvanias use encouraging visual language to gently nudge players in the right direction, there’s no such cuteness here.
Struggling to find my place in this strange and lonely world, progress that should have taken ten minutes or so instead saw me wandering aimlessly through the same halls for hours. Although to be fair to Nintendo of the early 2000s, what a neat hallway they are. Despite my waning patience and the mumbling of less than Nintendo language, I still felt the urge to keep exploring this creepy space station. Why? Because FusionThe unknown horrors of were too enticing to resist. Channel that sense of isolation that makes Metroid Prime games so immersive, FusionThe story of insidious flying parasites lends an alluring sense of fear and unpredictability to Samus’ running, jumping, and blasting.
Where other Nintendo games try to create a sense of unease, Fusion is fully committed to scare you away. Winding through the eerily deserted research station, its austere and haunting soundtrack effortlessly sucks you into a disturbing realm.
It’s no secret that Metroid frontman Yoshio Sakamoto had an unrequited love for the Extraterrestrial franchise. (The DS Game 2004 Metroid Prime Hunters: First Hunt literally describes his enemies as xenomorphs in homage to the emblematic monsters of cinema.) But thanks to the love of parasite X for the resuscitation of dead organisms, Fusion often looks like a nod to the horror of John Carpenter’s body swap The thing, too much.
Although initially frustrating, I quickly began to appreciate Fusionis ruthless logic. In its dimly lit death trap, you are the alien. As such, each new area should be treated with suspicion, caution, and a fair amount of fear.
With every lingering shot of its muddy hallways, Fusion painfully makes you realize that you are all alone. Living in this virtual isolation while struggling with my own sudden loneliness, FusionThe dark world of has often felt like a mirror of sprite-art in my own life.
Old fashioned challenge
It’s not just the fear of isolation that haunts Samus. The world is teeming with vicious enemies, including the aforementioned parasite X which is set to play a vital role in the upcoming Fear. With Samus undernourished in the early hours of the game, FusionEnemies can crush you to the ground with just a few hits.
In what feels like a throwback to arcade classics, I quickly learned that the best survival strategy was to simply run around each new area by relentlessly mashing the “fire” button. Sprinting through the side-scrolling space station, my completely unbalanced avatar charged into every room like a possessed woman, blowing up everything in sight. It’s not pretty or graceful, but it certainly got the job done.
Fortunately, FusionBrilliant bosses offer a meatier tactical challenge. Much like that initially frustrating loop of exploration, taking on each formidable new foe can seem like a hopeless endeavor. The first time you meet the gargantuan water dragon, Serris X, for example, this blazingly fast snake filling the screen seems almost impossible to beat. After an embarrassing time figuring out how to dodge his furious attacks (alternating between hanging onto the ceiling and diving into the water) when you finally kill him, you feel an overwhelming sense of satisfaction. It’s that grueling and brutal approach to boss fights that defines your stressful encounters with all the Fusion‘s brutal behemoths.
If those showdowns weren’t enough to face, you also have to grapple with an evil version of yourself throughout your journey. It’s those spooky encounters I alluded to earlier, where Samus is stalked by his sinister, expressionless genetic clone. Just like robot chases that squeeze the sphincter Terror Metroid, there is a tangible sense of tension running through these shivering segments. The key is not to defeat this evil enemy – just to escape alive.
Thanks to its oddly old-fashioned game design, Metroid Fusion will not appeal to everyone in the age of HD gaming. Although its first few hours were littered with frustration, I soon became captivated by Fusionthe strange unpredictability. Despite bottomless loneliness and insurmountable odds, with each new encounter, Samus grew stronger. Each power-up makes her more capable and better equipped to deal with whatever this world throws at her. It was a heartwarming feeling, and I began to identify with each new day that passed – doing Fusion a surprisingly reassuring post-breakup companion.
Whether you play it heartbroken or not, Metroid Fusion is still an absolute banger. Don’t be fooled by the superficial simplicity of its layout and control scheme – this is a master class in tension and atmospheric storytelling. If you want to catch up before Fear, do not sleep Fusion.
Terror Metroid will be released on October 8, 2021 for Nintendo Switch.