And now, we've come to the last chapter of the Looking back at Metroid series, and the final game chronologically in the Metroid timeline. After the release of Super Metroid, the franchise saw a long dry spell. An entire console generation passed before finally, eight years later, Metroid came back to life with not one, but two new games. Metroid Prime made its grand impact on the Gamecube, and Metroid Fusion debuted on the Game Boy Advance.

Even a bare glance at the box art makes it obvious that this Metroid was a bit different from its predecessors. In its own way, Fusion was every bit as experimental as Prime, despite being a traditional sidescroller. It changed Samus' classic look, presented players with a much more linear experience, and inserted dialog-heavy story sequences throughout the game. Classic, long-running, beloved series spawn dedicated if critical fandoms. Sometimes, change can be hard to take.

Fusion is considered by many to be the weakest game in the series, though still fun to play. I enjoy the game, but stand with its critics as I examine those elements that make Fusion a Metroid of a different color.

Technicolor Samus

It has its fans, but even before the game was released the look of the Fusion Suit had me appalled. The garish colors, the rubbery surface—that's no Varia Suit!

The existence of the Fusion Suit serves an important plot point and since the game also features a Samus clone, it does need (I suppose) to have a distinct look, but I still find the thing pretty hideous. The true Varia Suit is worn by one of the game's primary antagonists, a member of the parasitic organisms simply called X.

The SA-X

All that is new is not bad. Sometimes it's evil. One of the new elements found in Fusion takes the form of a roaming adversary far too powerful (at first) to even dare face in combat. This enemy is an X parasite mimicking Samus, and in possession of her fully powered Varia Suit. I'm not a fan of horror games, but I do enjoy the occasional scare, and the SA-X is one frightening foe. Unstoppable, implacable, the sound of its approach and slow, echoing footsteps fill me with dread.

The SA-X is easily one of Fusion's high points. Though not the only Samus clone we've seen (there was also Dark Samus in the Metroid Prime games), the SA-X is still the best one. What an experience to be on the receiving end of Samus' assault—one can almost pity the poor Space Pirates.

Don't Stray from the Path

Fusion replaces the traditional drop-Samus-on-an-alien-world-and-let-her-roam-wild approach with a more segmented, mission-based design. This puts a bit of a damper on free exploration while also limiting aimless wandering. It also puts the kibosh on the sequence-breaking much beloved by speed-runner communities. The bulk of the game keeps players corralled within the structure of the narrative. Only at the very end, right before a point of no return, can players take Samus off the expected path to go item hunting. Unfortunately, this end-game item search also acts as a padding slog every bit as bad as Metroid Prime 2's end-game key hunt.

Following Orders

Samus Aran, space bounty hunter, has always been a mysterious character, armored head to toe, and exploring hostile alien planets on her own. Little has been said about her character in-game. This premise has had many people toss around the word "isolation" as being a key component of the Metroid experience. I disagree—what I always got from it was independence, self-reliance, and self-sufficiency. Metroid Fusion 's story smothers any sense of being in charge of your own destiny.

I had this same problem of being led by the nose with Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, although I did like the mix of free-roaming and mission-based gameplay. Fusion is almost entirely mission-based, and the times when Samus is able to make her own moves are brief. While I feel negatively about this design direction, it isn't objectively a bad thing at all. Your mileage will definitely vary. A more legitimate complaint, perhaps, is how the narrative disrupts the flow of the game. Each new area entered is book-ended by a discussion with the computerized commanding officer. It always follows the same format, adding a hard stop and start to exploring each area. The story is hardly a bad one, but its implementation gets to be a bit intrusive.

A Hint of Things to Come

Aside from the X parasite plot, Metroid Fusion alludes to people and events existing in Samus Aran's past. It lays a foundation for a direct prequel and the promise of that allusion is being fulfilled on this very day with the launch of Metroid: Other M. I could have hoped, as I played Fusion long ago, that the linear and limiting design choices seen there were a one-off. Other M, however, seems to remain true to Fusion's style. While this choice will undoubtedly be polarizing among fans, it's hardly a bad way to go.

I have to be honest and say Fusion is my least favorite Metroid, which is like saying dark chocolate is my least favorite chocolate. It's still chocolate. It still maintains all of the classic qualities that make this series special to me, even if not at the same level as past games. For all that Metroid Fusion breaks away from the classic mold, it maintains the series tradition of excellence and I expect nothing less of its prequel.