OMG Samus is back!
I’m going to need a moment.
When Nintendo first announced this past summer that the world would be getting a new official Metroid release, the internet went wild. You could hear the cries of excitement from Metroidvania fans (including yours truly) from all over the world! After 17 long years of not seeing an official Metroid installment, (outside of the Prime series) fans of the genre are finally rejoicing as the world’s greatest interplanetary bounty hunter of all time returns to face her toughest mission yet. MercurySteam has outright perfected the Metroid formula that has gone stale over the years, and has elevated the series to new heights. Metroid Dread comes in hot with a highly rewarding combat system, stunning cutscenes and new stealth segments that provide greater variety to the gameplay. I’m going to go right ahead and say it, this is the comeback fans have been waiting for!
Before we get into it, let’s recap the Metroid timeline to date.
After the events of Metroid Fusion (2002), we recall that Samus totally wipes out the lethal X parasites along with planet SR388. (Swoon) Present day, the Galactic Federation receives a video transmission from an unknown source indicating that the X, somehow, are still alive. The Galactic Federation dispatches a special unit of seven specialized EMMI robots (Extraplanetary Multiform Mobile Identifier) to planet ZDR, the source of the transmission. Shortly after, the unit vanishes and Samus is sent to ZDR to investigate. After landing on the planet’s surface and beginning to explore, Samus is confronted by a rather dangerous boss-like wearing a Chozo Power Suit. After a rather gruesome fight, the path back to the planet’s surface gets destroyed during the battle and what’s worse, Samus gets creamed at the end – like, pretty bad. When she comes to, she finds that she’s lost all of her suit’s upgrades and still has no way back to her ship. By the end of the cut scene it is revealed that she needs to find a way back to the planet’s surface if she wants to live.
Needless to say, the story is rather simple and pretty sparse, but this is done on purpose. You will find that in Metroid Dread, this is already a much better storytelling strategy. The game dismisses the complex story elements that Other M has built up years ago and instead, focuses on what fans want: a story that underlines notions of hunting and being hunted. (Trust me, it works really well!) Eventually the game begins to fill in key elements of the plot, working in the best twists as only a high caliber Metroid game can do.
Everything has been overhauled in Metroid Dread. The game makes full use of the Nintendo Switch’s resources to pull off a solid 2.5D platformer experience that all Samus fans will instantly appreciate. Cut scenes look great. While the system is docked, background dioramas become impressively detailed with sprawling alien scenes that bring the bucolically creepy elements of planet ZDR to life. Furthermore, Metroid Dread’s gameplay has been revamped to match the high caliber visuals. The experience is fluid, quick and seamless. This is key for a Metroidvania platformer as reaction time is easily accommodated as you blast your way through hordes of enemies. I found that even during the most chaotic battles, the game did not chug nor choke at all. It was always one step ahead in terms of processing the action on the screen.
Samus’ controls and mechanics all feel modern and refreshed. This was a welcomed change over previous Metroid predecessors where controls were glitchy and not very intuitive. Metroid Dread’s controls have been simplified and made more comfortable. This allows you to easily and creatively chain together an assortment of moves, counters, attacks and dashes without missing a beat. Much like the graphics, combat is also fluid and keeps getting faster as Samus levels up and unlocks more skills! With time, it felt that Samus’ abilities became second nature, or an extension of my own fingers.
Planet ZDR is gigantic. There’s quite a bit of ground Samus needs to cover during her stay there. With many twists and turns, you will need to consult your map pretty frequently. This map however, is truly next level. Metroid Dread brings such exquisite level design and hidden item logic to each area of the map that players of all levels will truly appreciate. The world is put together pretty intricately such that you will only be able to visit certain areas only after you’ve unlocked specific skills. This in turn, will also reveal deeper chunks of the story line. Puzzle elements and secret passageways are masterfully hidden, and finding them gives you an amazing feeling of accomplishment. All of these secrets can be solved in part by using the map and studying its layout. The game ultimately challenges you to use the map to get through to subsequent stages of the map as the game itself gives you very little instruction on what to do next. Fortunately, for crazy Metroidvania gamers like me, I didn’t find this an issue. It’s important to note that Metroid Dread gets the overall pacing of the game just right – ramping up the speed at which you get new tools and access more areas of the map so that you are never at a total loss. Map discovery is a great layer to this game offering rather enigmatic situations which will keep you thinking even when you are not playing the game.
A universal hallmark of any Metroid game is the action. Let’s get serious, one of the best things Samus does well is lay hordes of vile aliens to waste in the most exciting way possible – guns ablazing! While running around on ZDR, you’ll pick up a wide variety of weapons and power ups to help rid the planet of some pretty scummy alien trash! While I won’t spoil it, the regular power suit blaster and missiles are part of your standard load out with heavier artillery to come. All this is going to be key as you go toe to toe with some of the biggest (and therefore best) boss fights you’ll ever see in an action platformer.
Boss fights are over the top epic! They are also tough. Like, really tough. Here’s the thing, bosses have very specific hit boxes, move very quickly and often give you no indication before they attack. While this sounds insane, they can still be beaten. Using careful timing and a steady hand you can succeed and emerge victorious! Game designers poured much thought into the boss fight design and you will find that they are not your standard “unload your clip” type of encounters. Be prepared to use carefully timed dashes, evades and counters to get you past some of these baddies. On that same wavelength, EMMI boss fights also add another layer of strategy and stealth to the boss fight mechanic. Mixing it up with these rogue machines offer a new twist on how a Metroidvania game is typically played. These encounters serve less as a boss fight, and act more as an action-stealth mission. I know that doesn’t quite make sense but believe me, it will. To explain, EMMI fights always end in one-hit deaths. Do not let these evil robots touch you or you are toast. The only way to survive an EMMI chase is simply to out maneuver and escape it. You have to move faster than it before the machine can catch you. Often, you will find that by using stealth and razor sharp knowledge of your surroundings you can find your way out of an EMMI’s clutches. Remember what I said about studying your map? Yeah, that.
Nintendo ultimately notes that Metroid Dread is the final conclusion of at least one of the many Metroid story lines to date. While this is sad to hear, I really do look forward to seeing how the franchise plays out now that Metroid Dread has set a new benchmark for the title at large. That said, Metroid Dread gets a lot of the genre’s defining traits right, and really propels this game back to the top of many gamers’ ‘must play’ pile. Lots of innovation, a good mix of action and exploration and intricate level design is what keeps Metroid Dread at the top of it’s game and really brings back that classic Metroid feel. The game will keep you busy for the better part of 10 hours on your first run and if you are a completist (looking to max out all missile and energy tanks), look to be running around ZDR for about 15 hours or so.
For a game that first turned up as a rumour in 2005 – this feels like the game we should have seen 16 years ago. Either way, we are glad Metroid Dread has emerged in 2021 and can breathe a massive sigh of relief as the wait for this installment of Metroid has been totally worth it!