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Metroid Dread on Switch
Metroid has always been considered fairly niche as far as Nintendo’s most recognizable franchises are concerned, but Metroid Dread offers an experience that both veterans of the series and newcomers will thoroughly enjoy.
MercurySteam understood the assignment: they’ve created a brand new Metroid game that successfully lives up to high expectations by combining tradition with innovation. The game is well-designed all around, captivating from start to end, and challenging without being unfair. For this reason, Metroid Dread is a must-play for a wide audience of Switch owners.
Metroid Dread is the fifth game in the series of 2D Metroid games and is a direct continuation from Metroid Fusion, which was released back in 2002. If you haven’t played Fusion (or forget its plot), Dread catches you up with the story before you take control of Samus.
In short, you’re set off to planet ZDR because of a suspicion that the X Parasite, a hostile, shape-shifting organism previously thought to be extinct, has plagued this world. The Galactic Federation had initially sent seven powerful robots called E.M.M.I. to investigate, but after losing contact with them, Samus Aran steps in to help.
However, upon arrival, Samus is attacked by a mysterious Chozo warrior, which causes her to lose all of her weapons and abilities. Samus must journey back to her gunship on the surface, collecting everything she lost while being aided by her ship’s computer Adam.
To make things worse, the E.M.M.I. robots that had been sent to investigate have been hacked and will hunt down Samus, killing her in just one hit. Because these robots cannot be destroyed by normal means, these are the stealth sections of the game; each of the seven E.M.M.I. is confined to its own zone. They have supersonic hearing and can climb walls and ceilings quickly.
The first few E.M.M.I. encounters are daunting and tense. You don’t have a lot to work with when you’re first starting out, so my experience in these zones included moving slowly and holding my breath with every beep and click the E.M.M.I. made. By the fourth and fifth encounters, I felt like I was well-equipped to handle the zones.
I worried these parts of the game would feel tiresome by the last couple of encounters, but that was not the case. Each offered a unique type of challenge, even by the seventh time. And by that point, the E.M.M.I. were far from the most terrifying thing I’d be facing.
It helps that these sections of the game were broken up by exploration and boss battles. Metroid Dread is incredibly well-paced. The gameplay is somewhat linear but also allows for open exploration for new items and, for the most adventurous players, sequence breaking.
There are no waypoints that tell you precisely where to go, but the game has a way of nudging you in the right direction. Sometimes I felt totally lost and directionless but still ended up in the right place as a result of how purposeful the areas are designed to traverse through.
Metroid Dread does a great job of making sure you’re using your entire arsenal of items and abilities throughout the game; you aren’t going to use a new beam for only one section after getting it and then never touch it again. Every single item and ability I gained had a lasting purpose, and when I felt stuck on a roadblock, I considered everything in my toolbox to help me find a way forward.
My favorite sections of Metroid Dread were the boss battles. The monsters you fight are ridiculously intimidating, often taking up nearly the entire screen, but the game makes you feel totally epic while battling them. It rewards you with cinematic scenes during the fights for successful parries and counters that leave you feeling on top of the world.
Without sugar-coating things, some of the fights in the game are very difficult. However, they are never unfair. Each boss has predictable attacks and basically broadcasts its next move. It may take you several attempts to learn the mechanics of each fight and how to respond to attacks, but you actually feel yourself getting better every time. It’s incredibly rewarding.
And it’s not punishing when you do fail. Even though you can only save the game at designated save stations, losing a boss battle takes you right back to the room right before it. Fast load times also mean you can quickly jump right back in.
The story to Metroid Dread makes enough sense on a foundational level if it’s your first time jumping into a Metroid game, and it also expands on the lore in a meaningful way for veterans. There are several nods to previous Metroid games that longtime fans will appreciate. You don’t need to have played every game in the series to enjoy the jaw-dropping moments in Dread’s story. I never cared much for Metroid’s lore, but Dread has totally changed that for me.
Perhaps one of Metroid Dread’s greatest strengths is its environmental storytelling. There are a handful of narrated bits with cutscenes and dialogue, but a lot of the narrative is told through its dynamic environment.
In one instance, I was walking down a hallway in a facility when I heard a crash and saw the outline of a figure trying to burst through a metal door in the backdrop, signaling that there was some sort of danger ahead. Another time, I passed by a giant monster being zapped with electricity; turns out, I would later encounter this experiment as a boss.
There are so many environmental cues like this throughout the game that it was easy to find myself completely immersed in this world. It helps that the areas you’ll visit in ZDR are beautiful and distinct from each other. It’s a diverse planet powered by thermal energy; at its lowest regions are hot molten lava areas and its highest are lush jungles full of animals and even a coral reef aquatic research facility.
In previous Metroid games, I felt a little annoyed with backtracking across huge areas, but that was actually never the case for me in Dread. There are transport stations that take you around the global map to make things faster. When I was near the end of the game and realized I needed to go back to the very first area for something, I felt a sense of dread at first until I found a shuttle that took me straight there without the need to heavily backtrack.
It’s honestly hard to find too many negative things to say about the game. Many players will wish they received the Pulse Radar, which reveals hidden breakable blocks, sooner in the game in order to avoid running around perceived dead ends. I can sympathize with this. It would have been nice and could have been a perk if the game offered an easy mode (it does not).
While the E.M.M.I. zones weren’t too repetitive, one other type of boss is, but it really wasn’t bad enough to sour the taste for me. Finally, I wish the soundtrack was a bit more memorable. The Metroid series is usually full of catchy tracks, but unfortunately, the music in Dread was somewhat lacking in comparison.
I think a lot of players, especially newcomers to Metroid, may feel frustrated at the game’s high level of difficulty. There are few ways to mitigate this, which could be problematic to some people, but exploring ZDR to its fullest to find upgrades for your energy and missiles is the best way to lengthen your survival during the hardest fights. But as stated earlier, none of it ever feels unfair, which is exactly what a high level of difficulty should be.
I would recommend Metroid Dread to all audiences, with these small exceptions: if you’re resistant to battling bosses several times to learn the best strategy, if you find yourself easily frustrated without direct waypoints to guide you, or if you despise any sort of stealth gameplay, you might find more faults with the game than I did.
MercurySteam handled Metroid Dread with such care that I would not want any other studio to create a 2D Metroid game at this point. The developer has proven itself first with a successful remake of Metroid II (Samus Returns) and now with an original title, and I’m eager to see the next step they take with the series. Samus’s story here seems to be over, but I’m hungry for more.
Metroid Dread takes risks for the series, but it succeeds in doing so. The ending was completely grand, and the interpretations of the final scenes will leave me thinking about the game for a long time to come.
Reviewer: Rebecca Stone | Award: Editor’s Choice | Copy provided by Publisher.
- Great pacing and extremely well-designed levels.
- Gorgeous visuals and diverse areas.
- Boss fights are fun and memorable.
- Perfect mix of familiar and new abilities.
- Story is interesting with multiple layers of depth.
- Few ways to mitigate high level of difficulty.
Oct. 8, 2021