No sooner does Samus land in the space station which comprises the entirety of Fusion‘s world than she comes across the first of many Navigation rooms. And that’s the beginning of the end for many people.
By far the most unpopular element of Fusion, the station’s Navigation rooms are compulsory stops where Samus has to stop and communicate with her mission “commander,” a computer which she nicknames Adam. (There’s a dumb plot twist around this later on, because the Metroid universe is incredibly tiny and basically consists of half a dozen named characters.) You can’t avoid these conversations, and they spell out every portion of your mission in excruciating detail until the point at which they don’t. For the first several hours of the game, Metroid Fusion offers very little sense of discovery as each and every goal is handed to you explicitly, not just through text but also with mini-map highlights as well.
On top of that, Adam is a patronizing, paternalistic, and sometimes condescending robot who talks to battle-hardened huntress Samus as if she couldn’t be trusted to visit a toilet unsupervised.
This marks a radical change in tone and style from previous Metroid games. Even at their most linear, the original Metroid trilogy dropped players into a silent labyrinth of space monsters and left them to their own devices. Not here. You’re marching to the orders of a computer, who sends you scurrying from point to point to do its grunt work: Investigate this, kill that, repair something else.
Mechanically, though, it’s very much Metroid. Samus runs and jumps, shoots, and finds her way through the space station maze. As soon as you receive your first mission objective from Adam, you come across this: The classic red door. Metroid veterans know the score here, of course. You can’t crack this door without a missile, which Samus doesn’t wield at this point. So regardless of how progress is doled out, there’ll still be opportunities to backtrack and navigate through previously inaccessible paths as you acquire new powers.
Speaking of new powers, Samus comes with one by default: The ability to grab on to ledges and pull herself up. This opens up a number of new puzzle design opportunities, but it ultimately comes from a place of practicality, an attempt to solve the Metroid II conundrum: Being on a portable system, Fusion suffers from diminished vertical pixel resolution compared to previous console entries (160 pixels versus 224). Metroid II’s solution to the Game Boy family’s scaled-down size was to make Samus bigger and then double down by giving her an infinite jump skill, often leading players to go leaping into danger without sufficient warning time.
Fusion goes the other route: It makes Samus’ sprite smaller than in Super Metroid, then diminishes the maximum height of her jump. Her reduced hang time makes for a faster-paced game, less floaty than earlier games. But the scale and proportions of the platforming remains similar to that of Super Metroid; Samus’ ability to grip ledges makes this possible. She can’t jump directly onto high platforms as in older games, but she can still reach those areas of the screen by pressing up against them and grabbing them. It’s a smart way to work around the platform’s inherent challenges while switching up the feel of the action and reinforcing the narrative conceit that Samus’ powers have been partially crippled.
The same shaft includes two other doors of a different color: Green, for Super Missiles. So multiple backtracks, then. The colored doors also mean that, for the moment, the game is strictly linear; there’s only one door you can go through, and it leads immediately to your objective.
Said objective is a small critter in a darkened room. This entire sequence, with Samus exploring a seemingly deserted space station, echoes Super Metroid‘s atmospheric beginning, but it’s far more brief, crashing to an abrupt ending here.
This encounter serves a much different purpose than Samus’ landing on Zebes in Super Metroid anyway; that involved a return to familiar territory and the slow build-up of tension. Here, you’re entering a never-before-seen locale in order to advance the story. The tension comes later.
Destroy the creature here and it spawns an X parasite, just like on SR388. This time, though, it doesn’t hurt Samus; instead, when Samus touches it — and the entrance to the room automatically locks and refuses to open until Samus makes contact with the parasite — she absorbs it harmlessly, taking it out of play.
As it turns out, Samus is now an X-destroying machine. Her metroid infusion allows her to soak up any class five full roaming vapors she may come across, converting them into life-sustaining energy and missile juice.
And here’s the central mechanical hook of Metroid Fusion. No longer do enemies drop standard energy and missile capsules; instead, a destroyed monster transforms into a free-flying parasite that can be absorbed to acquire similar effects to old-school capsules. But parasites have other traits as well, which changes the nature of certain areas of the game.
And here’s another change of pace: At key points in the story, Adam will unlock specific doors. This isn’t entirely without precedent, of course. Metroid II did something similar, with inexplicable earthquakes making new areas accessible as you worked your way through the metroid species. The similarity may not be an accident, as Metroid II informs much of Fusion‘s design.
The opening of Level 0 hatches allows Samus to travel beyond the very small entry areas.
You immediately meet another creature like the one in the darkened room. This one’s even easier to shoot, since it appears on a raised section of floor directly in Samus’ line of sight (you had to target diagonally or drop to the ground to shoot the first one). It’s your proper introduction to combat in Fusion, as the parasite this beast releases on its demise can be sucked up without incident or even ignored. A quick, simple, repeat encounter to denote the fact that you’ll be experiencing live combat from here on out.
And, with the introduction out of the way and combat encounters, you finally get to save. Just in case you screw up once the real monsters make their debut.