As a “Metroid guy,” I want so badly to write about Metroid Dread. I have lots of thoughts about the game and what it means for the series as a whole. But how do I tackle it?
Do I recall how Metroid Fusion, aka Metroid 4, was the last main-line entry in the series? And how it set up a trajectory for the future of the series that was then avoided for 19 years while games like Other M and the Prime series shoehorned their stories in between existing entries in the timeline, until it was finally addressed in 2021? Or how the title “Metroid Dread” was nothing more than a rumor for so long that it actually became a joke, until the absolute shock that it was finally happening — and the revelation that Nintendo had actually abandoned a couple of false starts at developing the game before?
Or do we bring up the return to 2D gameplay, and how the reveal of Dread was a welcome swerve as everyone was rabidly anticipating news about Metroid Prime 4 at 2021’s E3? How it seems now, looking back, that Metroid: Samus Returns, the 3DS remake of Metroid II, was a testing ground for the appeal of another traditional Metroid game, as well as for the abilities of Mercury Steam, the Spanish developer entrusted with one of Nintendo’s most beloved franchises? Not to mention that Mercury Steam seems to “get” Metroid just as well, if not better, than anyone?
How about the lore that’s explored in Metroid Dread, further revealing details about the Chozo and Samus’ past? Do we like it, does it make sense, is it an acceptable history?
And speaking of the past, what about the present state of Samus? SPOILER:
Since Samus has now absorbed so much Metroid DNA that she is now a Metroid herself, to the point that her armor actually mutated into a Metroid Suit (which is super rad, btw), that brings up more questions: If Nintendo’s declaration that this is the last chapter of the original Metroid story arc is true (and why wouldn’t it be), can future games starring Samus still be called “Metroid” because the word will now refer to her? (Also, are the old dumb troll jokes about “Metroid is a woman” and “Metroid can’t crawl” actually now true?) And, considering the word “metroid” was originally a portmanteau of “metro” (as in subway) and “android” and originally referred to the main character of the game (before it was decided that Samus would be a human), doesn’t this mean that the entire project has now come full circle, all the way to the very inception of the game’s concept itself?
Speaking of concepts, since we’ve now learned that Dread was actually in development as long as 15 years ago for earlier Nintendo platforms, I also have questions about those versions. How far did they get? Are there any assets remaining? Who’s got them? Will we ever see them? Where was that stuff in the so-called Nintendo Gigaleak?
I dunno. Those are my questions. I do not have answers for them.
And that’s okay!
Here’s what I do know: Metroid Dread looks beautiful. It controls slick. The new moves are killer. I’ve played through it several times and it actually keeps getting better.
I love the speed and the fluidity of Samus’ movement, and I’m happy that the melee counterattack isn’t as mandatory for small-enemy encounters as it was in Samus Returns. Strangely, although that move can now be done while in motion, I still find myself stopping to do it (even though that was one of my biggest gripes about Samus Returns). The fact that it’s the secret to beating many of the bosses doesn’t bother me, however; it becomes quite a satisfying part of the process.
Speaking of bosses, what really struck me is that every time I encountered a new one, I got my ass kicked super hard and thought, “how the HELL am I supposed to beat this thing?” But after a few tries, just as frustration started setting in, I started to recognize the patterns, learned to adapt, and within a few more attempts went from being nearly helpless to beating the snot out of these monsters and barely taking any damage. Amazingly, the classic Metroid satisfaction of growing more powerful wasn’t just limited to Samus gaining powerups and new maneuvers; the old-school-style pattern/sequence learning style of the boss attacks makes the player themselves feel like they’re getting more skilled and powerful as well!
This is no more apparent than in the final battle; even at full power, I felt like there was no way I was ever going to figure out how to beat Raven Beak at first. But after dozens of attempts, one just can’t help but learn the strategies and eventually become so skillful that the final confrontation becomes a violent ballet, culminating in a shocking character twist that has been building at least since Fusion.
Upon my first play through the game, I did feel like the map was way too sprawling and didn’t feel like it flowed very well. I spent a large portion of my time just examining the map and trying to figure out where I was supposed to be going. After my next one or two plays through, however, I realized that I was doing too much exploring and wandering (believe it or not), and getting myself confused. But when I changed my playing style to just push through the game, I found that the map is actually laid out very cleverly, and tells you exactly where to go based on what power or ability you’ve just gained: usually, there will be an area or puzzle very nearby that you can now progress through, which will push you through toward your next goal. I still, after four plays now, haven’t gotten extremely familiar with the whole game’s layout, but I can say that my last run was more than 7 hours faster than my very first. So I must be getting used to it somewhat.
Let met just take a moment here to gush a bit about the game’s fan service. I mean, Kraid in chains, right? How cool was that reveal? And did you see the 8-bit Metroid in the game’s intro? And and and, if you look closely in the background of one area, there’s a Draygon frozen in a chamber! But I think my favorite bit of nostalgia was the Central Units, aka the mini Mother Brain fights, complete with gun turrets and Rinkas. I gotta admit, I actually liked the absence of Ridley this time — he was getting a bit overused, in my opinion.
I think my only real gripe with Metroid Dread — and from others I’ve discussed it with, I’m not necessarily the only one who felt this way — is that while the concept of being hunted by the EMMIs is interesting, they ultimately end up being more annoying than terrifying. I was expecting more of a Resident Evil 2 Mr. X style of stalking — and it kind of is — but the fact that getting caught can result in insta-death which doesn’t actually punish you any more than sending you back to the entrance of the EMMI zone makes them more of an obstacle than a threat. I’m not saying that I wish they killed you and sent you all the way back to your last save point — that would be even more frustrating. I think not limiting them to certain zones, and having each of the different EMMIs literally stalk you throughout the entire level (again, Mr. X style), would make them way scarier. That being said, gaining the Omega Beam and blowing an EMMI’s head off is admittedly very satisfying.
Beyond that, I guess the true test of the game is the fact that I’ve happily played through it multiple times, and I’m finding it a lot of fun each time. Metroid Dread is definitely going to be a game I reach for and itch to play repeatedly for as long as I’m still playing my Switch. And after all these years, it was great to have Samus come back and show all these newer “Metroidvania” games how it’s supposed to be done.
Now, one last question: What’s the next mission?