It finally happened. Nintendo released another Metroid game, only it’s not the long-awaited Metroid Prime 4(Q4 2022…hopefully?). For anyone who managed to avoid the surprisingly visible online marketing campaign by Nintendo, Metroid Dread – the first all-new 2D Metroid game since 2002’s Fusion was released a matter of days ago on October 8. Was this game worth the long wait? In this biased Metroid fanboy’s opinion…absolutely yes.
Metroid Dread is a direct sequel to Metroid Fusion whose development cycle has seen numerous twists and turns since it its inception for the Nintendo DS back in 2005. The project eventually become more known for it troubled development cycle than about the game itself. This illusive, almost mythic status made for all the more surprise when Nintendo finally announced that, yes, Metroid Dread was finally going to see the light of day as a Nintendo Switch release on October 8th during their E3 2021 presentation. It was also announced the fabled Fusion sequel had been handed off to MercurySteam, who had developed Metroid: Samus Returns – a remake of Metroid II: Return of Samus, for the 3DS released back in 2017.
I had heard the stories of a 2D Metroid game that had been stuck in development purgatory before finally being cancelled. I was that much more excited and intrigued to see the announcement of a brand-new side scrolling Metroid game for the Switch, and releasing in a matter of months no less! I must admit that while I really enjoyed Samus Returns, I didn’t regard it anywhere near as highly as Super Metroid, Metroid Prime, and Metroid Fusion, but I was still willing to see what MercurySteam could bring to the table. I can honestly say the result is a phenomenal game and exactly what I wished Samus Returns could have been…
Metroid Dread begins immediately the events of Metroid Fusion. Samus has escaped the Biologic Space Laboratories(BSL) Station and the “X” parasites are thought to have been wiped out in the collision with the planet SR388. Shortly after, the Galactic Federation receives a video sent from an anonymous source showing an “X” parasite inhabiting the remote planet of ZDR. The Federation sends a small team of Extraplanetary Multiform Mobile Identifiers or E.M.M.I. to locate and extract the DNA of the “X” parasites, but upon reaching ZDR, communication with the E.M.M.I. is lost. Our story begins as bounty hunter Samus is once again commissioned by the Galactic Federation, this time to investigate the planet ZDR and uncover the whereabouts of the E.M.M.I. After landing on ZDR, Samus is attacked and nearly killed by what appears to be a Chozo warrior. When she regains consciousness she finds that she has lost most of her abilities….yet again, and begins her trek to the planet surface. She then is approached by one of the seven E.M.M.I. which engages pursuit as it’s clear something(someone?) else is controlling them.
The game overall has a moderate difficulty curve to it, very similar to the original Metroid on the NES or Super Metroid, but it never felt overwhelming. The boss fights in particular, are challenging, yet exhilarating to overcome. There’s also a few nice references to previous entries in the Metroid series such as each new region having to defeat(deactivate?) the Central Unit in order to venture further, which very closely resembles the Mother Brain fight from Samus’ very first adventure. Another memorable moment in Metroid Dread was descending to the depths of Cataris and facing off against Kraid, another of Samus’ old foes. The Kraid battle was another blast of nostalgia as the fight, for the most part, mirrors the epic battle in Super Metroid, while adding a few new angles. Many of the enemy encounters(as well as procuring missile upgrades and health tanks) reminded me of the many NES/SNES-era games which demanded the timing of your jump, attacks and counters to be PRECISE in order to succeed. The boss and mini-boss fights can seem a bit like a disorienting challenge at first, but once you learn the attack patters(and likely see the game over screen a few times) it almost becomes to its own choreographed fight sequence closer to what Team Ninja attempted in the divisive Metroid: Other M for the Wii.
The combat in Metroid Dread feels like a near-perfect evolution of its 2D predecessors, with tight, responsive controls that allow Samus to perform a number of maneuvers and attacks. The melee counter introduced in Samus Returns is back and is once again, critical to successfully defeating the many dangers awaiting Samus on ZDR. Being able to play a 2D Metroid game with a modern console/controller allows for a greater number of moves to be smoothly performed at any given time – a contrast to having to hit the Start button to switch between missiles and your grapple beam. This new(er) dexterity adds to the familiar feeling of powerful satisfaction as you once again find yourself decimating the same region full of enemies that had made venturing through so treacherous a mere couple hours earlier. Dread is 100% the best-playing Metroid game yet…
The nine different regions across ZDR are all unique and have their own set of enemies and terrain to encounter. One thing that really impressed was the way MercurySteam created a greater sense of scale by implementing some 3D background effects in areas while still retaining the familiar feel of its 2D predecessors; very similar to the what Koji Igarashi and ArtPlay did with Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night.
As one would expect from a Metroid game, its DNA is comprised primarily of exploration and atmosphere. While these two elements are what drive the game, Dread does contain enough of a story to glue it all together as it dips ever so slightly into Samus’ backstory of an orphan raised by the Chozo, while continuing the story from Metroid Fusion.
My two biggest flaws in Metroid Dread boil down to two things…
Feedback – It was difficult at times to tell if you are even dealing any damage to enemies, particularly during boss fights when the margin of error for timing counter attacks and evading enemy attacks is already thin. This made the boss fights feel very trial-and-error as one minor mistake could often result in re-doing a multi-section boss fight from the beginning. Perhaps this could have been alleviated a bit by implementing health bars during boss fights, but as previously stated, the battles are difficult enough due to the dexterity required to jump, dash and slide away from enemy attacks; there isn’t a lot of time to focus on how fast the boss’ health is depleting. I should also point out that Super Metroid has a similar issue with enemy feedback during some of the boss fights, though I’d still say it was slightly less noticeable there(or back in 1994).
Pacing – The E.M.M.I can be a terrifying enemy as the have the relentless tenacity of a T-1000 stalking your every move. They add a sense of tension and of course, dread as you mostly have no other option that to evade contact with them. They do begin to seem less menacing as the game goes on and they soon become more of an annoyance than fearsome foe, similar to the way B.T.s felt terrifying for the first several encounters in Death Stranding before beginning to irritate more than instill fear. Strangely enough, they only function in certain areas of each region designated by the E.M.M.I doorways. In order to fully conjure the feeling of dread the title implies, I would have preferred the E.M.M.I pose a constant threat throughout the game. This would be like playing Resident Evil 3, but the possibility of the Nemesis bursting through a wall and pursuing you only entering your mind a little over a third of the area in each region. The fact it starts to feel like stealth sections were added to a Metroid game – similar to sneaking into Hyrule Castle with young Link in Ocarina of Time wasn’t exactly something I was in love with while playing. The frequency of instant fails in the E.M.M.I sections created a very noticeable disconnect in pacing when compared to the rest of the game.
Despite some issues with pacing and a lack of enemy feedback, Metroid Dread is one of my gaming highlights of 2021 and immediately after completing the game I was already wanting to go back through the adventure all over again, this time to test out the newly unlocked ‘Hard Mode’. Players who disliked the more linear approach to Metroid Fusion – having your next destination explicitly pointed out to you, will appreciate the way Dread offers the freedom of exploration for those seeking it, similar to Super Metroid. MercurySteam has done an excellent job improving the Metroid gameplay and formula since Samus Returns in 2017. Even if the game doesn’t quite instill a sense of….dread as the name suggests, it does an exemplary job of taking what made Super Metroid/Fusion so great while adding some updated touches. Exploration and atmosphere are at the very core of the series and Metroid Dread is a perfect modern example as to why the series is the namesake(half of, anyway) of an entire subgenre of games colloquially known as Metroidvanias. Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait another 19 years for the next game…
4 thoughts on “Metroid Dread”
Love that you finally got to play a much anticipated game! Was interested to hear your opinion on the difficulty as I’ve seen a ton of people talking about it – seems like the complaints might be a bit overblown. Looking forward to the next Metroid review in about 15 years!
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Thank you! Still having a blast playing it, having just finished up another playthrough last night.
Yeah, I’d definitely say Dread can be a challenging game, but didn’t feel it was anywhere as difficult as some made it out to be…I thought it was around the same level of challenge as the Ori games. I guess some of that could be down to familiarity with the older 2D Metroid games? The E.M.M.I. sections can mean a lot of instant game overs and the boss fights can be pretty intimidating at first. The biggest thing for me with the boss fights on my first playthrough was you can’t always tell when you’re actually dealing damage to the enemy, but once you learn the patterns they seem a LOT easier and gave me very little trouble at all. Once you do that, the fights flow so well and you begin to feel like a true badass bounty hunter!
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