Metroid Dread

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…

Guess who’s back and as badass as ever?

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…

These fights feel oddly familiar…

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…

A familiar face…statue?

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.

Final thoughts

Hello again…

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…

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

I finally completed my playthrough of Jedi: Fallen Order, a game I have eagerly awaited since its announcement and gameplay footage shown at last year’s E3 presentation. Where would it rank in my Games of 2019 list? Let’s take a look…

Jedi: Fallen Order begins with Cal Kestis, a young human living on the planet Bracca. Cal spends his days salvaging the destroyed ships scattered across the planet, visible reminders of the Clone Wars recently fought between the Trade Federation and the Galactic Republic before Palpatine assumed control of the Senate, thus forming the Galactic Empire. One fateful day a co-worker/friend named Brauf slips from the edge of a crashed cruiser and Cal reaches out using the Force to prevent their otherwise certain death. In a mere instant, Cal’s life will take a dramatic turn as this incident is noticed by a nearby Probe Droid. Cal immediately realizes his quiet life is changed forever as Imperial troops quickly arrive to begin the search. Knowing all too well those who demonstrate a sensitivity to the Force is quickly apprehended by Stormtroopers and never seen again, he decides to make an escape aboard a freighter train.

The opening sequence of the game is somewhat reminiscent of other Star Wars movies where we first see Luke Skywalker or Rey <SPOILERS> as they live an unassuming life before being altered forever. Shortly into Jedi: Fallen Order however, we learn that Cal Kestis was once a Padawan to Jedi Knight Jaro Tapal and throughout the game we see flashbacks from his training with his former mentor leading up to the moment you hear Palpatine’s voice through a Clone Trooper’s intercom instructing the Clone Army to execute Order 66. Anyone who has watched the Star Wars prequels know what a pivotol moment this represents as Galactic troops turn on the Jedi in an event referred to in the game as The Purge.

You eventually receive the upgrade to your lightsaber which allows you to switch between single and double blades…

As Cal ventures further through the train, he encounters the Second Sister – a powerful Sith and member of the Imperial Inquisitors who hunt down the remaining Jedi and those with the ability to use the Force. Cal barely escapes the duel with the Second Sister as he is rescued by mercenary Cere and Greez, pilot of the Stinger Mantis. Cal initially distrusts Cere, but soon agrees to help the duo search for the Holocron, an object containing a list of all younglings known to show Force-sensitivity. The search for the Holocron begins on Bogano, where Cal comes across a droid named BD-1 who possesses a message from Eno Cordova, the Jedi Master responsible for hiding the Holocron among the Chozo Zeffo ruins. Time is running out as Cal is still being pursued by the Inquisitors who also seek out those able to use the Force and eradicate any remnants of the Jedi Order.

Jedi: Fallen Order is the product of developer Respawn’s long-awaited Star Wars game that began in 2014 and was released in November 2019. I wrote a post about some of the games I was most excited about after watching the E3 2019 conferences this past June with Jedi: Fallen Order being one of the games I was anxiously anticipating. The thought of a new Star Wars game with an original story was enough for me to be onboard, but adding to the excitement was hearing Respawn Entertainment was developing the game, the studio that created Titanfall 2 – one of my favorite games this console generation. After EA’s epic failure surrounding Battlefront 2’s implementation of micro-transactions and the…um…mixed reactions to The Last Jedi and Solo: A Star Wars Story in theaters, enthusiasm for Star Wars as a franchise seemed to have reached somewhat of a low point in 2017-18, leaving many fans desperately wanting a “good” Star Wars game…or utterly indifferent.

Flashlight? Who needs a flashlight?

It was over this past summer in developer interviews, those working on the game stated their main inspiration(s) for Jedi: Fallen Order were Dark Souls and Super Metroid. Shortly into playing the game it was clear that Naughty Dog’s Uncharted games are an influence as well. The game certainly does borrow from the likes of Dark Souls and metroidvania games, heavily from the former and somewhat loosely from the latter.

The beginning moments of Jedi: Fallen Order make it readily apparent it takes inspiration from the Uncharted games. Gameplay begins with Cal following Brauf to their destination on top of a destroyed cruiser as he jumps, climbs and shimmies across gaps just like Nathan Drake. The freight train sequence in the first chapter of the game sees Cal sneaking through cars and taking out Stormtroopers and was very difficult not to make comparisons to Uncharted 2, albeit this time armed with a lightsaber.

One can see Jedi: Fallen Order’s metroidvania influence as Cal reaches Bogano. You step foot outside on an unfamiliar planet teeming with hostile lifeforms before meeting up with BD-1 and setting off for the Zeffo homeworld. There are many corners of the map that are currently unaccessible and require you to use specific tools or skills that you have not yet acquired, similar to Super Metroid where Samus can only explore certain areas without the help of suit upgrades and powerups. There’s also a number of enemies guarding secret powerups that are vastly more powerful than Cal in the early stages of the game, indicating you simply cannot battle a particular enemy at this time. I found this out the hard way…several times. Each of the planets you visit – Bogano, Zeffo, Kashyyk and Dathomir – can be returned to later in the game if one wishes to scour the various nooks and crannies within. The main story in Jedi: Fallen Order is pretty linear, though it does allow for further exploration of the planets if you so desire.

Not entirely unlike Dash Rendar fighting an AT-ST in Shadows of the Empire.

The influence from which Jedi: Fallen Order most heavily borrows is none other than From Software’s Dark Souls series; developers at Respawn Entertainment admitted as much during interviews leading up to the game’s release. The central combat mechanic in the game is very heavily inspired by Dark Souls, but in place of medieval swords and shield Cal Kestis wields a lightsaber. Jedi: Fallen Order also makes a great effort to not simply be another Star Wars action game, in which players typical can button mash their way through waves of enemies and obstacles like the Star Wars Force Unleashed games, but players much approach enemies and combat scenarios much more methodically. While the average “grunt” Stormtrooper doesn’t pose much of a threat, at least not when facing them individually, you quickly encounter Imperial troops as well as hostile creatures that cannot be defeated by simply swinging a lightsaber at them. Many, if not most of the enemies you face later in the game will have a particular attack pattern or weakness that must be blocked and then countered to deal any damage. Just as in From Software games, you cannot simply “turtle” your way through fights by holding down the block button as your block/stamina meter will quickly fill up and leave you defenseless against vicious enemies. This gameplay element feels quite similar to the posture meter in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice – once your posture meter is filled you will be able to perform a devastating attack dealing far greater damage than slowly pecking away. There were many times in Jedi: Fallen Order(…Sekiro too) where I wasn’t keeping a watchful eye on my block meter before being swiftly killed by an enemy. Overall, the lightsaber combat felt GOOD, but I couldn’t help but feel it wasn’t as polished as it could have been, leaving it feeling a little clunky when attempting to dispatch multiple enemies in a given area.

Another Souls-like element of Jedi: Fallen Order is how it incorporates save points. Every so often you will come across a glowing circle in the ground which allow Cal the opportunity to stop and meditate. These meditation points act just as the bonfires in Dark Souls as they save your progress and refill your health, but also any nearby enemies. The meditation points also allow you to spend Skill Points to upgrade your health and Force meters, along with acquiring new abilities through seperate skill trees. Skill Points are gained once your skill meter is completely filled after accomplishing objectives and defeating enough enemies.

Overall, I enjoyed Jedi: Fallen Order, though my feelings were quite mixed at times. I would enjoy every minute of it one night only to feel frustrated with the game and conflicted about whether or not I was having all that much fun. The game’s high points come from a few certain set pieces such as the opening freight train or hijacking an AT-AT on Kashyyyk and demolishing Imperial troops. I really liked the boss battles, with exception of one or two fights against some of the more fearsome creatures inhabiting the various planets. The boss fights against the Inquisitors and other human(ish) foes were among the game’s most memorable and enjoyable moments. The visuals in Jedi: Fallen Order feature some impressive lighting elements and highlight the beautiful, if harsh otherworldly environments. The soundtrack is superb as well and lives up to everything you would expect from a game or movie set in the Star Wars universe. It can go from very soft and subtle when venturing through ancient vaults and caverns, to full John Williams-esque dramatic during the action sequences and cutscenes. The voice acting and motion capture used in the game are very well done as the game, at the surface level rivals anything else released in 2019. Last but not least, the game allows you to customize your lightsaber – emitters, switches, materials, sleeves and crystal color. I’m not sure how long I spent just tinkering with different combinations for my lightsaber…..

Oh….hello there

My criticisms of Jedi: Fallen Order lie mostly in the “feel” of the game. It’s a wonderful game to see and hear, but I felt the movement and alot of the combat scenarios felt a bit on the clunky side. There were certain parts of the game where I would be attempting to run through an area featuring many environmental obstacles and found myself frequently getting stuck to edges of uprooted trees or Cal’s character model sinking through the ground. Another point of frustration with the combat in the game was the fact I felt like the game just refused to let me “reach” the enemy as I would charge and swing my lightsaber only to be “stuck” in place as if behind a Force barrier and was only allowed close enough to deal any damage when the game deemed it permissible. Fights in which you were allowed freedom of movement and the ability to attack, but the game made everything feel a bit too context-sensitive. I also grew frustrated with your Force abilities, which are largely relegated for use in solving enivronmental puzzles and whenver I tried to use them during enemy encounters it was inexplicably “blocked” by common Stormtroopers and creatures.

In addition to the issues I had with combat and how the game runs overall, I felt the story was a bit detached, or uneven at times. It seems the game wants to provide both – a linear storyline similar to Uncharted AND a metroidvania type experience emphasizing exploration.

In conclusion, my feelings after playing through Jedi: Fallen Order could be summarized by “pretty good, but not great”. It’s a Star Wars game featuring an orignial story that feels its most interesting when it fills in some of the events between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope such as Cal arriving on the wookie homeworld Kashyyyk to speak with chieftan Tarfful about involvement with Eno Cordova. He discovers it is currently under siege by Imperial forces(remember the tutorial level as Darth Vader in The Force Unleashed?) and hijacks his way onto a AT-AT before running into Saw Gerrera and his band of rebels. There’s also a HUGE spoiler-y moment at the end of the game that I did think was pretty cool, though I wasn’t entirely shocked to see it play out that way. When playing Jedi: Fallen Order it’s perfectly clear just what games inspired its development – Dark Souls, Super Metroid, Uncharted. I have to admit that I don’t feel it did much to further the souls-like or metroidvania sub-genres, but still accept it for what it attempted to be despite feeling like it came up a bit short. The aforementioned titles are nothing short of influential in gaming and going back to play those games will only demonstrate just how many subsequent titles have borrowed from them. I feel similarly about Control as I do about Jedi: Fallen Order – both games are far from perfect and feature some rough gameplay and frustrating characteristics. I do feel as though I enjoyed Control a fair amount more so than Jedi: Fallen Order as its unique experience helped to overcome its shortcomings, whereas Jedi: Fallen Order felt more like “a Star Wars game trying to be Dark Souls”. It’s a good Star Wars game that I feel could have been much better if allowed more time for Respawn to refine and polish some of its gameplay elements. It’s very hard not to look at EA and automatically assume this is another example of insisting a Star Wars game be released alongside its theatrical counterpart in Episode IX: Rise of Skywalker.

Have you played Jedi: Fallen Order? If so, what did you think of it? Thanks for reading!