Finally: Metroid dread. The first true traditional Metroid game in nearly twenty years. After all, Metroid Fusion appeared in 2002. “Huh, haven’t there been a lot of Metroid games since then?” Yes, but those were not new, like traditional Metroids; They were first-person side adventures (Prime Games), remakes (Zero Mission and Samus Returns) or failed experiments (Other M and Federation Force). And I don’t think I need to explain why Metroid Prime doesn’t count for Pinball, do you? In other words: having Metroid Dread is a thing, because it’s the long-awaited official return of one of Nintendo’s coolest and most hardcore franchises.
Metroid is one of Nintendo’s coolest series for the same reason that the “metroidvania” genre was born along with Castlevania: Symphony of the Night: it offers the player a unique experience where platforms and shooting are just as important as exploration and atmosphere. In Metroid, the obstacles are sometimes gigantic, aliens are hideous, and sometimes they simply get lost. So the Metroid is what Mega Man would be if you had to use the powers of defeated Robot Masters to escape an impenetrable maze; This is what The Legend of Zelda would be like if Link wore the Master Chief suit and traveled into space in inaccurate references to Ridley Scott’s greatest authorship. And yes, that’s awesome.
However, there were two important reasons to approach Metroid Dread with some hesitation. Most important is the presence of the Metroidvania genre mentioned above: it has flourished enormously in the absence of Metroid thanks to many compliments, reinterpretations, wishful thinking and even developments from outside parties. Games like Super Metroid and Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow are still timeless and could be restarted in 2021, but they’re no longer alone at the top.
We’ve been blessed in recent years with instant classics like rocky holo nite, beautiful ori, and refreshing guacamole! And the great honor Axiom Verge. So the question isn’t so much whether Metroid Dread is any good, but whether it can still impress in a genre that has been completely deconstructed and reworked, thanks mainly to enthusiastic independent developers.
Speaking of developers, let’s not forget about the studio Metroid Dread which is developed by. Because this isn’t Nintendo itself, as it was previously with Super Metroid, Metroid Fusion, and Metroid: Zero Mission. The dread is essentially the child of Spanish MercurySteam, the studio best known for the Castlevania series: Lords of Shadow. That’s a great group of developers, but the two games they released for the 3DS, Castlevania: Mirror of Fate and Metroid: Samus Returns, weren’t quite as memorable.
Of course, they were technically excellent games, but in terms of content they pale in comparison to the materials they were clearly trying to build on. Thus, the same makers were suddenly given the responsibility of putting together one of the most important comebacks in recent Nintendo history, causing some tension.
but! Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, non-duos and attack helicopters, spread the word: Metroid Dread is excellent! Yes, it can easily compete with its predecessors and modern hats within the genre! This is by far the best game MercurySteam has ever made! This is one of those rare moments when hype and hope perfectly combined. Given the disappointing state of the world, I cherish this wonderful little game more strongly. And since the future of the traditional Metroid hinges on the success of Dread, I’d encourage any Switch owner with even the slightest interest in sci-fi Labyrinth to consider a purchase. Let me explain in detail why.
What immediately captivated me was how amazing it was to control intergalactic bounty hunter (and also the coolest woman in games; sorry Lara) Samus Aran. Its jumps still have that contrasting balance between buoyancy and heaviness, but at the same time it also feels a little faster and more responsive than before. Something is of course also true from a story point of view, as Dread is a direct sequel to Fusion, in which she had to replace her heavy armor with a slimmer model. The fact that Dread runs at 60fps also contributes to this of course.
That tangible prowess isn’t just limited to platforms, though: Samus Returns’ offensive gameplay additions – the parry and the ability to shoot 360 degrees – are here, too, and it feels organic rather than forced this time around. After all, they’re moves that signify flexibility and physical control, and only in Super Smash Bros. Samus has managed to show this level of acrobatics before.
The fact that Metroid Dread actually requires you to master Samus’ newfound freedom of movement probably makes me happier. Explosive boss fights have always been a highlight in Metroid (in part because they contrast nicely with the long periods when you’re relatively undisturbed), but in Dread they’re more intense than ever. Especially in the second half of the game, when you are equipped with multiple attack and movement options, and standing still is not an option.
You’ll then slide under lasers, jump off walls and dodge enemies, all while switching between your energy weapons, missiles, bombs, and parry. No boss really feels hard – they all still only have three or four different attacks to use in turns – but those who don’t pay attention or master Samos’ full arsenal often die.
Dread even features boss fights where you are surrounded by two bosses instead of one, which isn’t something that would have been fun in previous Metroid games. But in awe? Your first reaction is still “Oh shit,” but your second reaction? “bring it!” Fear never feels sadistic, but it’s not very easy or forgiving either. The game isn’t old-fashioned in the challenge either: the fact that Dread almost always brings you back to life from a conveniently placed checkpoint rather than one of the rare remote savings areas proves that it doesn’t give the player an unnecessary physical challenge they want to frustrate.
The only downside I have to give the boss fights is that, in the second half, they often repeat fights against the formidable Kozu fighters (bird-like creatures that Samos originated), but luckily those encounters were so satisfying in terms of gameplay that they wouldn’t It pisses them off anyway.
Also a positive surprise is that Dread dares to be old school in level design. That we also have to look at the map a lot in this segment and the regular backtracking is something I’ve never suspected, but I’m actually very commenting on, in a modern Metroid? I didn’t dare dream about it. I expected a certain amount of “fluidity” for a modern audience, but the dread often dares to hide the correct path of the next force behind a fragile piece of wall so that it is not immediately apparent that it can break. Without compromise, as it should be.
I love it, because the game forces me to scrutinize the entire level design and to ask myself several times, “How can a developer design this?” before I finally know what to do. So I hung up a total of three times, including once where I honestly thought I should give up… until I retraced all of my steps and finally noticed a clever and subtle environmental tip. All this frustration suddenly turns into euphoria: only the best metrovania know and dare to make that feeling.
I am also very pleased with the efforts MercurySteam has put into ensuring the overall story of the series and the role Samus plays in it. Dread picks up exactly where Fusion left off, in a world where the titular Metroids have been wiped out and where the most dangerous X parasites have thrived. Horror respects this status quo enough to build upon it creatively. So there are no cheap plot twists “gotcha!” Dread is respectfully trying to bring the lore of the previous games into the new developments, and it has been largely successful.
It’s also great to see how much confidence Samus exudes without having to say a word, which is a refreshing response to better times before another character M’s clumsy assassination. Metroid Dread is a play for the sake of gameplay, but the fact that the narrative skeleton connects everything to the rest of the series in a satisfying way is the icing of a nearly twenty-year-old cake.
If Metroid Dread has one problem, it’s the lack of real openness. In other words, the illusion of freedom is paper-thin here, and it soon becomes clear that there is always only one path that will actually make you progress through this maze. Just like Fusion, in other words, while Super Metroid was much better at selling the idea that you could rearrange (or even skip) some parts of that route.
The map is still a huge maze, but it’s a shame that your freedom to move is often limited between certain areas, for example through doors that can only be opened from one side. This has prevented me from getting a chance to take a side lane a few times, for example to look for rocket upgrades. It’s anything but a deal breaker – Fusion has an almost identical setup – but it squeezes a bit, especially considering how daring the game is in terms of obstacles.
Less problem, but one that I have to address, is that there is nothing I really appreciate about Super Metroid: Unity. It’s an emotion that has long been associated with classic Metroid games; A feeling that is greatly enhanced by the dark cavernous planets of the previous parts. This feeling is unfortunately found quite a bit in Metroid Dread.
This is a double edged sword named with beautiful graphics. Each room in Dread is beautifully designed and contains a great deal of detail (like a giant dead alien being dissected by a robot), but the unfortunate result is that those distinct atmospheric feelings of emptiness and isolation don’t have room to settle in. to show you. This is also anything but a deal breaker, given the overall picture quality you get in return, but it once again underscores how irreplaceable a masterpiece like the Super Metroid is.
And what about EMMIs? Are the seven killer robots worth the amount of attention they’ve been getting in promotional materials over the past few months? not at all. Like the SA-X in Metroid Fusion, it’s supposed to make you feel anxious and restless (hence the title), but that rarely happens, in part because they can’t patrol everywhere. It is usually easy to tell which areas they are roaming in. There was only one EMMI who gave me a different colored chair – one that you come across underwater and can see through the walls – but trust me when I say they felt really interesting and forced to play in a game with a surprising kill rate for Metroidvania.
Anyway, all of these negatives really only stand out if you put Dread into the structure of previous Metroid classics and then compare them closely. Because what I basically want to convey is that these Spaniards did the impossible: create a really good classic Metroid! And in a world where the term Metroidvania does not raise any question marks. With production values for 2021, wow! So do more, MercurySteam; I promise I will never doubt you again. And… please don’t take twenty years, okay?
“Lifelong zombie fanatic. Hardcore web practitioner. Thinker. Music expert. Unapologetic pop culture scholar.”