Despite being one of Nintendo’s biggest franchises, the company hasn’t released many games in the Metroid series. After the failure of Other M, it seemed the fate of the series will remain dormant for long. Thankfully at E3 this year, Nintendo delighted may fans with the sudden announcement of Metroid Dread, a title rumored to be in development since 2006. Moreover, Dread is the first new 2D title in the series since Fusion in 2002. MercurySteam, makers of the great Samus Returns remake on the 3DS, are behind this new installment. Not only did they fix all the issues with their original release, they crafted a game worthy of the series’ legacy.
After the events of Metroid Fusion, the threat of the X Parasites was thought to be over. However, after receiving a video showcasing a rogue parasite, the galactic federation sends over the E.M.M.I. units to investigate. Despite being state of the art machinery, the E.M.M.I. lose connection upon arriving to their destination, planet ZDR. Samus Aran, being the only entity immune to the parasites, must journey to the unknown planet. Upon arriving, Samus faces a new foe who strips her from all of her abilities. It’s up to Samus to regain her powers and discover the secrets of planet ZDR.
The storytelling of Metroid Dread is subdued just like the rest of the series. The intro slides explain the events of the series well, and the few cutscenes flesh out the many foes throughout the adventure. Most of the dialogue occurs at data rooms when the federation AI computer briefs Samus on her mission status. While it is refreshing to hear spoken dialogue in a Metroid game, the fact that there is very little of it makes the “show don’t tell” aspect of the story even more engaging.
Samus starts the game off with very few abilities. She is capable of jumping high and shooting energy or missiles with her arm cannon. She can either shoot while moving, or use precision aiming while standing still. Like other games in the series, Samus must find her missing powers one by one. The flow of finding a new power and utilizing it in a previously unreachable area to discover a new path is a gameplay loop that never gets old. Many old favorites such as the Morph Ball make a return, including a few new powers that elevate the series’ controls like never before.
The first move is the slide. Before getting the Morph Ball Samus is able to slide into tight corridors and resume running afterwards. This is especially handy dodging enemy attacks that may be too fast for a Morph Ball transformation. An even bigger upgrade is the counter system. Introduced in Samus Returns, when an enemy blinks, Samus is able to perform a quick counter to stun and destroy them. Unlike in Returns where Samus could only counter while standing still, in Dread the move can be performed while moving. Not only does this change increase the mobility of the counter move, but the extra frames makes it easier to execute.
Mastering Samus’ moves is the best way to deal with the threat of the new adversaries: The E.M.M.I. Upon arriving to ZDR, these machines have been reprogrammed to annihilate Samus on sight. E.M.M.I.’s are impervious to Samus’ weaponry, able to traverse the terrain no matter the size. If Samus falls victim to an E.M.M.I., death will be instantaneous. There is a window to counter an E.M.M.I., but the window is so small, that dying happens almost every time. Thankfully, speed and finesse can assist in avoiding death and reaching the next safe area. There are also minibosses that will grant Samus a power to dispatch the E.M.M.I. upon defeat. The enhanced arm cannon power shifts the camera sideways to further illustrate the devastating damage inflicted on the robotic hunters.
One of the ways to avoid the E.M.M.I. is utilizing the returning Aeion powers. These include a cloaking device that reduces movement, or a scanning ability that reveals breakable blocks in the area. Perhaps the best ability is the Flash Shift, which allows Samus to dash forward in an instant. Not only does it cover a lot of ground, but it can be a life saver in many situations. That can be helpful since Dread can be pretty difficult at first.
There are many detectors in E.M.M.I. sections that can detect Samus. Due to their movement capabilities, they can catch up with Samus easily. In addition, both mini-bosses and bosses can inflict a lot of damage. Samus has a very short window of invisibility frames after impact, so constant movement is necessary for survival. It’s worth mentioning that the bosses are some of the best of the series. They are both challenging and intriguing thanks to their many phases. The cinematic counter cutscenes not only allow players to dish a lot of heat to a difficult enemy, but the flair in those scenes is marvelous to behold.
While Metroid is definitely a difficult game, the checkpoints are forgiving. In many cases after death, players can be placed right before a hard boss fight. Even dying to an E.M.M.I. over and over isn’t frustrating thanks to generous nearby checkpoints. In addition, there are many save stations throughout the map. While those do not fill health or ammo, enemies drop a lot of pickups, and there are refill stations as well.
There are many areas in Dread, and while it may be intimidating, I never found myself lost. The game does a phenomenal job of funneling players to the next destination without outright stating where to go. The map also flashes if there is a power up pickup nearby, but doesn’t tell you how to obtain it. Considering the difficulty, finding everything in Dread by solving some of the environmental puzzle makes finishing the game at 100% all the more rewarding.
Metroid Dread is a beautiful looking game for the Switch, from the cold industrial structures to its lush fauna filled caverns, the game is a sight to behold. It’s even more shocking that the game manages to hold a steady 60fps throughout the majority of the time. There are some frame drops when there are a lot of explosions on screen, but those are short and infrequent. Perhaps the only flaw of Dread is the lengthy load times that can break the pacing. They are not a huge issue, but become noticeable when backtracking. The score is Metroid through and through. In the quiet moments the music is subtle and foreboding, but when a boss battle begins, the tempo ramps up and the orchestrations becomes more intense. The music fits the atmosphere as a perfect accompaniment.
The fact that Metroid Dread exists is just the tip of the iceberg. For a series with such a high pedigree, Dread hits all the high notes and leaves very little to be unsatisfied with. Even after experiencing its bombastic finale, it has many secrets to discover that warrant multiple playthroughs. Even if the additions are subtle, it’s the refined sheen of polish that makes Dread not just one of the best games in the franchise, but one of the best games in recent memory.
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