I was a bit of a latecomer to the Metroid series, only jumping on board when I happened to borrow a copy of Metroid Fusion off a friend in Year 6. I’ve since become a big fan of Samus' adventures, but in my eyes the GBA gem has never been topped; its atmosphere, gameplay and story were all damn-near perfect, and there are so many secrets hidden away that I’m still finding new areas to explore even after all these years. But by far the most memorable aspect of the game is its antagonist: the SA-X.
The game starts out with Samus Aran being infected by a parasite called the X, which leads to her Power Suit being surgically removed, losing all its amassed power-ups in the process. Despite being vastly weakened, she’s sent to investigate an explosion on a research space station, where she learns that an outbreak of the X has taken place, and what’s more, there’s now an X-based clone of Samus at full power roaming around the station, intent on killing pretty much anything it sees.
Codenamed the SA-X, it mercilessly hunts you throughout the game, and with no way of harming it your only option is to flee. The fact that every encounter with the SA-X is genuinely tense and at times terrifying is helped along by the atmosphere provided by the creepy soundtrack and the numerous hints that SA-X is steadily catching up with you – doors you went through a minute ago are suddenly blown to pieces, the shrivelled corpses of alien creatures litter the corridors and explosions echo in the distance. All of this combined to scare the bejeezus out of my younger self, and it’s still impressively unsettling to this day.
Brilliant SA-X sequences aside, Fusion has a lot of other things going for it. The gameplay follows the usual Metroidvania template, gradually unlocking more of the space station as you gain new abilities and weapons, and while it’s more linear than other Metroid games there are still a lot of ingeniously hidden areas that require clever use of Samus’ abilities and a hell of a lot of skill (to this day I still haven’t managed the shinespark trick to get to the hidden bonus scene).
The story is also fantastic, with plenty of twists and turns that lead to a brilliant finale. Replaying it now with more knowledge of the Metroid universe makes the whole experience even better, with various nods to other entries in the series that I missed on my first playthrough, in particular the appearance of a certain space-dragon whose significance I never understood at the time. The only downside to Fusion is its length; focusing on the story alone, it only lasts about seven hours. Aside from that, though, it’s a classic. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more challenging, fun and downright scary game on the GBA.