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…

Monster Hunter: Rise – Understanding The Hunt

Monster Hunter has been a popular game series for some time now, starting in Japan after its beginnings on the PlayStation 2 in 2004 and eventually becoming more and more popular in the West as time went on. And what’s not to love about a game that tasks you with hunting down dangerous monsters with oversized swords and axes, along with an assortment of tools and potions at your disposal? It wasn’t until very recently that I could say I finally began to see the level of enjoyment to be had in Monster Hunter after it failed to sink its claws into me in several previous attempts.

My first experience with Monster Hunter was on the 3DS. Shortly after trading in my original, “fat” Nintendo DS towards a 3DS XL, the newest iteration at the time, I happened to look through the eShop and decided to download the demo for Monster Hunter IV: Ultimate. I had known of the MH games for quite a few years, primarily from seeing the original PS2 as well as Monster Hunter Tri on the Nintendo Wii, but had never attempted to play any of them. I remember playing a few of the quests in the MHIV demo and having a fair amount of fun, but there was definitely a learning curve there. My initial perception of the series was an interesting game that seemed to require a certain level of commitment to fully grasp the game mechanics…along with other friends to play the game with. The fact it contained an overwhelming amount of items and resources that were difficult to access due to the game’s UI and inventory system feeling a tad on the counter-intuitive side(for me, at least).

Cat puns were never the difficult part of understanding Monster Hunter

A few years later, Monster Hunter: World was released and after hearing the amount of praise for series’ newest release, I decided to make another attempt to run around and hunt some monsters. Unfortunately, the same learning curve hindered most of my progress in the game. I had a difficult time getting the hang of the game’s slow, deliberate movement and controls, along with the crossbar inventory that still felt very difficult to navigate while avoiding ferocious monsters. Compounding this was the fact the matchmaking in the game is likely the most obtuse, counterintuitive process I’ve seen in a modern video game. Most of the time spent playing the game with my brother was simply trying to get paired up in the same quest. I did play MH:World a few times by myself and felt like I made some very slight headway, but still felt like I didn’t “get” the game yet…or if I ever would.

Earlier this year, I spent a fair amount of time watching a few bloggers within the WordPress community play Monster Hunter: World on Twitch(shoutout to Frostilyte and DanamesX) and had hoped to learn a thing or two. I had also been paying loose attention to Capcom’s updates after announcing Monster Hunter: Rise, which was to be released as a timed-exclusive for the Nintendo Switch(a PC port is expected early 2022). A release date for Monster Hunter: Rise was set for March 26, with Capcom releasing a demo on the eShop a couple weeks prior. Once again, I decided to download the demo and see if something would finally click – it didn’t. The Rise demo played well enough, but it still felt in many ways, like the intimidating wall of weapon sharpening, traps, and endemic life previous games had been.

Monster hunter in training…

Monster Hunter: Rise received a great deal of praise after its release and was one of the most-played/talked about games on Twitch and Twitter. I don’t know whether it was a greater amount of sheer determination or FOMO, but I decided to give MH yet another chance and picked up a copy of the game. Due to it being a little more streamlined than previous entries, I kept hearing Rise was the most accessible and best point of entry into the series. I had already been toying with the idea of playing it, when my brother happened to buy two copies of the game and give one to me with the intent(again) of playing some co-op Monster Hunter. You ever have a game that it seems like you just wake up and inexplicably feel like playing? That’s all it really took this time around…

I’m don’t know precisely what it is about MH:Rise that finally started to make sense of the series for me. It might be the fact that the game has been scaled down in size, making it a little less of a daunting task to play through, or the in-game tutorials seemed a little clearer than they had in the past(?). Another possibility is that I simply exercised a bit of patience and restraint in not charging into every monster encounter so….recklessly, which I could point to playing through Bloodborne a few months back as an example of learning not only what to attack, but WHEN to do so…

It only took me a few hours of playing and I started to feel as if I could confidently take down every menacing behemoth in the game all by myself, as I learned some of the ins-and-outs of not only the general combat, but utilizing the endemic life around the area for attribute buffs, along with your Wirebug maneuvers and the array of tools and traps any competent hunter has in their repertoire. Since first playing it a mere month ago, Monster Hunter: Rise has been the game in which I’ve spent the most time. The game credits roll upon finishing up the five-star quest “Comeuppance” which finds you facing off against the storied Magnamalo, which destroyed Kamura Village during a Rampage fifty years prior to the main story. The past few Saturdays have mostly been spent playing Monster Hunter, with one particular Saturday being spent doing little else as I worked toward completing the five and six-star Village Quests before I’d consider myself having “beat” the game.

There’s something incredibly satisfying about hunting and slaying(or capturing) the giant predators terrorizing the lands surrounding Kamura Village, especially when utilizing all the weapons and tools at your disposal. I’ve spent most of my time using the Switch Axe, which opened up a lot of combos to inflict maximum damage once I got familiarized with switching between axe and greatsword form while attacking. Monster Hunter as a series has historically had a greater depth than…let’s face it, a lot of the game I play and love. I’ve put 30+ hours into the game thus far and feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface as there’s many other weapon/armor combinations to try out from here. I want to experiment with some of the other available weapons, such as the Bowgun(s) or Hunting Horn.

the fearsome Magnamalo lies defeated at the feet of Lenny…

My experience with Monster Hunter had always felt like it was bound to be hampered by the fact I have typically spent 99% of my time gaming by myself. I never really had many friends to play games wit other than a younger brother, and any progress playing Monster Hunter: World was greatly affected by the game’s baffling matchmaking setup. I had always had the perception of MH games being closer to an MMO where it’s certainly possible to play the game solo, but the optimal enjoyment comes from playing with others.

I don’t know if I’d attribute it more to a lessened learning curve and greater understanding of the mechanics or sheer stubbornness, either I’ve been loving my time with Monster Hunter: Rise and it has become one of my favorite games I’ve played this year. Some games, regardless of complex gameplay may not resonate immediately, and others may never. I’ve mentioned in the past that it wasn’t until Ocarina of Time that I felt like I finally began to “get” the Legend of Zelda games, but I’ve loved them ever since. Sometimes, all a game needs to finally click is the right time and place…

Thanks for reading!