First was Psychonauts 2. Now a brand-new Metroid game. This year is my year!
Metroid Dread is game with a lot riding on it. The series has been more or less stuck in hibernation ever since the release of Metroid: Other M back in 2010. Aside from two 3DS games, only one of which we shall speak of, and an announcement that has currently amounted to nothing, fans of the series have gotten very little. Not unless you count getting Dark Samus and Ridley into Smash Bros.
So, was Dread worth it? Does it live up to expectations?
Some time after the events of Metroid Fusion, the Galactic Federation receives a transmission proving that the dangerous X parasites are still alive. They send their ultra-durable research bots, the E.M.M.I., to investigate. But when they go dark, it’s up to our heroine Samus to save the day! But things quickly take a turn for the worse when she runs into a mysterious and powerful Chozo warrior and discovers that the invincible E.M.M.I. have been set to hunt her down! Will Samus be able to escape the planet alive and fulfill the mission?
I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not an exceptionally well-written story. The characters are all flat and lack much growth. Our main villain isn’t all that memorable or interesting on a writing front. It’s still a Nintendo game.
Adam is also a huge problem. He’ll just exposit information that you already know or just straight-up spoil shit! He’ll tell you about upgrades you don’t have hours before you unlock them! Honestly, you’d be better off just skipping most of his dialogue. He definitely detracts from the story.
But if you’re like me and you’re super into Metroid lore? This game is amazing! It dives into all of it, even the manga! As a fan of the series’ lore, this game made me happy beyond belief!
This game is jam-packed with fan-service. The X make their return! We go further into the history and culture of the Chozo! Samus having Metroid DNA is made into the centerpiece of the narrative! This truly is the ending to the Metroid saga, which is immensely satisfying as someone who grew up with this story.
Although I imagine it can be a little jarring to people who don’t know the story. Lucky for you, I put this together! Plug plug, click the link here for that sweet sweet lore!
Also, Samus actually has a voice! She actually speaks! Sure, it’s only once! And it’s in the Chozo language! But it’s cool! Especially when you reach the end of the game and she lets out one of the most guttural and determined battle cries I have ever heard! It’s a small thing, but as a fan of Samus’ character, I loved it!
On a presentation front, this game is incredible for a Switch game! The character models, from Samus herself to all the various monsters and robots she’ll encounter, are highly detailed and animate wonderfully! All of the environments are jam-packed with details, both in the foreground and the background! The world of ZDR feels truly alive!
Or dead, depending on which point of the game you’re at.
I especially love the boss kill animations. In these, Samus goes all-out, performing some of her coolest acts of action! The cinematography of these is absolutely stunning and the animation is gorgeous! Samus has always been badass, but now you get to see just how cool she truly is!
The animations on Samus herself are incredible! There are so many tiny details, from her body language to how she interacts with the environments! Samus has never been so well animated before, not even in the Prime games! She’s been brought to life with so much detail that you’d think she could pop right out of your Switch!
That classic Metroid atmosphere is here in spades! Those constant feelings of isolation, claustrophobia, and dread (GET IT?!?!) that made the previous games so memorable are here. On top of that, you’ve got all-out terror! Although that feeling fades pretty quickly once you get the hang of dealing with the E.M.M.I. That, or you get tired of them.
Music wise, this game is great! The classic Metroid theme is back and as bombastic as ever! The item collecting jingle is wonderfully cathartic! The boss fight music is bombastic and intense! From classic tracks to new ones, the OST of Dread is great! The new tracks are a bit forgettable at first, but once they sink in, they’re just as great as the classic tunes!
Now, we come to the game. Which is arguably the most polished Metroid experience the franchise has ever seen.
If you’ve ever played a Metroidvania, you know how this goes. You’re placed into a massive world wrought with danger and collectibles, starting with very little to work with. Explore, kill bosses, and get new stuff to explore further and be better at killing bosses. Rinse and repeat until you are a one-woman genocide machine that can go anywhere whenever she pleases.
Let’s start with Samus’ core moveset. On top of her returning staples, she also carries over the melee counter from Metroid: Samus Returns. Only this time, it has been greatly improved! In that game, you had to sit perfectly still on solid ground and wait for the enemy to come to you. Now, you can do it in the air or while running. Not once do you need to slow down! Getting the timing down can be challenging, especially later on in the game. But once you master this technique, few things will be as satisfying!
And master it you must! For if you use it on bosses, you’ll be treated to a badass cinematic wherein Samus can absolutely lay into her current foe! It’s immensely satisfying to watch, not to mention it deals an insane amount of damage. Not to mention that it’s literally required to beat certain bosses, so… make sure you practice.
As for gadgets, you’ve got a wide selection to choose from. From returning toys such as the Morph Ball (which you don’t get for a fair little while, which is interesting) and the Screw Attack, to brand new toys like the Phantom Cloak and Aeon Dash! Samus has a wide range of abilities, all of them useful.
However, I do find the distribution of them somewhat odd. For example: later on in the game, you unlock the ability to double-jump. Then almost immediately after, you unlock the Space Jump, which allows you to jump infinitely. So… why bother with the double-jump? If I’m only going to have it for ten minutes, then just give me the infinite jump instead! Sure, that’s always been a thing in these games. But in the older games, they got plenty of use before they were discarded! You had to use the Grapple Beam a ton before you got the Space Jump in Super Metroid!
That aside, your powers all have a time and place to be used. Unless you’re dealing with one of the various E.M.M.I.s. In which case, they’re all useless.
The E.M.M.I.s are the stand-out feature of this game. Almost every area in the game has one, patrolling around a set section of the map (a large one, at that). You can’t kill them, not until you kill the Mother Brain- I mean, the Central Unit, connected to them and get a limited extra-powerful weapon. Until then, you have no choice but to run and hide. Be careful; they can hear you even better than they can see you. If they catch you, you have only the most limited window to counter and escape. Fail, and it’s game over.
Initially, these dudes are terrifying! Being totally helpless, forced only to run away, is super scary! At first. After your first two or three E.M.M.I. encounters, the fear starts to evaporate. After that, they become more of an annoyance than a terror. Especially near the end of the game. If you were hoping for the Metroid equivalent of Mr. X from Resident Evil 2, you’re going to be disappointed.
Speaking of Xs, the X parasites return from Fusion! Once these dudes step onto the scene, the game becomes a lot harder! Enemies are faster, hit harder, and respawn quickly if you don’t absorb them. Make sure to polish those X killing skills you honed back in Fusion, because you’ll need them!
Especially in the boss fights! These dudes are tough! All of them have a huge range of moves that are tricky to dodge or counter before you’ve memorized them. And memorize them you must, because they don’t pull their punches! Expect to die at least once or twice to each boss in the game. Maybe even more than that.
They’re also really long. Like, some of these bosses take a long ass time before they’ll go down. Sure, some of them have secret strats to kill them quicker (if you sequence break the game and get the bombs early, you can insta-kill Kraid, or you can insta-kill the Experiment with a Shinespark; this is amazing and I love it). But not every boss has those strats. Some of them just require you to hunker down and outlast them. This is especially true of the final boss, who is one of the longest and most difficult battles in any Metroidvania; motherfucker feels like a Hollow Knight boss!
And the real scary part is? That was just normal mode. Once you beat that, you unlock hard mode. Enemies hit a lot harder in this mode. But oddly enough, I found it easier than normal mode. By the time you get to it, you’ll have all the knowledge you need to overcome the obstacles in your way. The lack of knowledge was the biggest challenge; once you know what to do, the game will bend to your will.
In terms of exploration, this game is like a blend of Super Metroid and Fusion. Adam will give you a general objective, but he won’t point out where it is on your map; it’s up to you to explore the area and find it. These areas start off fairly linear at first, as the way back closes behind you for one reason or another. But over time, the map will slowly become more open until you’re capable of exploring every area of it.
Getting lost in this game is super fun! It’s really satisfying to not know where to go and just hunker down and look for shit! Especially when you find a really tricky hidden item. And tricky, they are; you’ll need to master some incredibly difficult mechanics in order to 100% the map.
Seriously, just look up a guide to Shinesparking. You’ll thank me later.
Overall, I really enjoyed Metroid Dread. It was an incredible continuation that innovated the franchise in interesting ways and showed proper reverence to its fans and history. Sure, the E.M.M.I.s don’t stay scary for long and some of the items are too much of a bitch to get. But this is easily one of the most addictive and satisfying games in the series! It’s the only one that could actually compete with Super Metroid for being the best game in the series!
For the first time in a very long while, I’m feeling pretty optimistic about Metroid’s future. Dread already seems to be a solid success and I have little doubt that Prime 4 will be one as well… if it ever comes out. Maybe the dark days are finally behind us.
Metroid is finally back. And hopefully, it’s here to stay.