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Metroid Fusion is a great place to start with the series

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With Metroid Fusion joining the retro games lineup of Nintendo’s Switch Online subscription this week, every mainline 2D entry in the franchise will be playable on the Switch. And if you’ve never played a Metroid before, it’s a great place to start. Fusion combines depth and accessibility, while also nailing all of the things that make Metroid so distinct — namely, its moody exploration and the feeling of being isolated in a dangerous place. Plus, it has a smartass robot and a terrifying villain.

First, some caveats. Fusion isn’t the first in the series chronologically — and obviously isn’t the only place to get started with Metroid. You could play the NES original, which remains a cryptic masterpiece, or its Super Nintendo successor, which helped pioneer an entire subgenre of side-scrolling exploration games. I personally think Super Metroid is an ideal starter, but you also don’t even need to stick to the realm of two dimensions; Nintendo just released a solid remaster of the excellent Metroid Prime, which shifted the franchise to a first-person perspective. (Metroid II on the Game Boy remains a delightful addition to the canon, though in my opinion, it’s best experienced once you’re more familiar with the franchise; maybe Nintendo will give Samus Returns a Switch remaster one day.) But Fusion is a good spot to begin for a few reasons.

Even if you haven’t played a game in the series before, you’re probably somewhat familiar with the premise. In each game, Samus — an intergalactic bounty hunter who rarely hunts bounties — arrives on a desolate planet or space station tasked with exploring every nook and cranny to survive and progress. She starts out by losing all of her powers, so you have to steadily collect them again to build her up to full strength in order to make it out alive. In 2021’s Metroid Dread, this affliction was described as “physical amnesia.”

This conceit gives way to a fascinating structure. Each 2D Metroid takes place in a labyrinth-like world, and initially, much of it will be inaccessible. You’ll come across doors that won’t open and ledges that are too high to jump onto. But as you replenish Samus’ arsenal of abilities, like the iconic morph ball, the world slowly starts to open up. It’s a type of game design now known as a “Metroidvania,” a portmanteau of Metroid and the similarly influential Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.

Metroid Fusion has all of this. It sends Samus to a research station that has become overrun with a newly discovered parasitic alien called X. They look like little floating globules but can mimic any creature, so Samus ends up fighting her way through a whole bunch of aliens that are actually X parasites. Thanks to a biological quirk, when she defeats an enemy, she can absorb the X blob to replenish her health and weapons. The twist is that an X has also mimicked her — and a more powerful version at that. The game becomes a quest for Samus to get back to full strength so she can fight herself.

Fusion has all the hallmarks of classic Metroid design, with a dense, intricate world to explore, challenging bosses to take on, and a real sense that you’re completely alone in this haunting environment. But it also has a lot more personality than most of its predecessors. It’s bright and colorful at times (I’ve been replaying the game on the Analogue Pocket, and it looks incredible on a bright, modern display) and has slightly more exposition thanks to an (annoying at times) AI companion named Adam. And nearly two decades before Dread became the scariest Metroid, Fusion’s alien Samus was creepy as hell, an intimidating enemy that forced you to run rather than fight for most of the game.

When Fusion first debuted, it received some criticism for being relatively short and linear. But that’s also what makes it a good entry point. Classic Metroid games can be daunting and easy to get lost in, but Fusion shows you the beauty of the franchise in a much more streamlined package — one that’s now easy to pick up if you splurge on a subscription.

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