Metroid Dread Review: Exactly What Fans Expected
19 years after the release of Metroid Fusion, the series seemingly came to a standstill. Metroid Prime was the series that fans had become accustomed to, but there was a surprising lack in classic 2D Metroid titles from Nintendo. Players got Metroid Prime 2, Prime Hunters, Prime 3, and Federation Force. Players also got Metroid Other M on the Wii, but that game is considered the black sheep of the series.
However, there was one game that the director of the series, Yoshio Sakamoto wanted to make, but for some reason, wasn’t able to. This game is Metroid Dread. It was rumored to be on the DS but was then scrapped for some reason. The game laid dormant in development hell until one developer came by to save the day. That developer is MercurySteam, who were behind the amazing remake of Metroid 2: Return of Samus. With Nintendo knowing that the developers behind this remake were the right people for the job, they gave them the opportunity to fulfill the vision of the director, and finally make the game that was aimed to be the end of the bounty hunter Samus Aran.
Thus, Metroid Dread Launched last Friday, October 8th, 2021. So how good is the game, and does it live up to the hype from the reveal and all of the years from the game’s rumored existence? With 19 years of hope from the fans, it’s finally time to review the title that surmounted the odds, Metroid Dread.
Metroid Dread Review
The game picks up right after the end of Metroid Fusion. For those who don’t know, or haven’t played Metroid, there’s a cutscene that players will be able to watch to see the story leading up to now. While it doesn’t mention much else besides the major key points in the story, there’s a whole 4 previous games that players should check out if they want all the context. For Metroid Dread, there are only a few things players need to know before jumping in, and the game explains it for them in the cutscene.
In Metroid Fusion, Samus found herself attacked by the X Parasite, an alien species on the planet SR388. These creatures were the prey of the Metroid, a species of aliens wiped out by Samus. With the Metroid gone, they were able to flourish and infected Samus. She was only able to stave off the attack from the parasite by incorporating Metroid DNA into her body, which allows her to absorb the parasites. After destroying all of the X on SR388, and fighting a clone of herself at full power made out of the parasite, she’s able to destroy the X Parasite.
Now, with the X seemingly gone, Samus receives a video from a new planet ZDR, which shows that the X Parasite still lives on. Being the only lifeform immune to the parasite, she goes to ZDR to see if the video is real. However, she’s attacked by another creature, stripped of her powers, and sent to the depths of the planet. Without her abilities, and now learning that the Federation has sent E.M.M.I to the planet before her have been hacked, she must make her way to the surface to escape.
The gameplay of Metroid Dread is similar to the gameplay of the Metroid 2 remake. Move with the left stick, jump with the B button and shoot with the Y button, hold r to use missiles, the normal stuff. However, Samus has some new moves in her starting loadout that weren’t in other games. For one, Samus now has a slide. This is used by pressing ZL when moving. The slide is the replacement for the morph ball until Samus unlocks it later into the game. Her slide allows her to move through gaps that aren’t too long. Also included in her starting loadout is the ability to free aim. This was included in the Metroid 2 remake as well. Holding L will allow Samus to aim her arm cannon wherever she wants and will allow her to shoot in any direction. There’s also some freedom of aiming in the game as well while moving. Tilting the left stick up or down at a diagonal will allow Samus to shoot in those directions while moving, but I didn’t find it very useful while playing. Samus also gets the ability to melee counter. This is from the remake of Metroid 2 as well. The melee counter allows Samus to hit enemies while running, dealing damage and knocking them back. Using the melee counter will also net Samus ammo and life energy to replenish in critical fights.
Being that Samus is in the depths of ZDR, her main objective is to make it out alive, and doing this requires skill and intuition, as well as some exploration. The game isn’t linear in the slightest, while some paths may be clearer than others, there were places in the game that I got stuck. Players will start in Artaria and have to work their way up through the nine levels of the game.
But just moving from Artaria to the next level isn’t going to cut it. Player’s will eventually have to backtrack to make their way farther in the game, as some points are blocked off by powers that the player hasn’t gotten yet. For example, in Artaria, there’s a massive box blocking the way for Samus, which has three lights on it. Shooting one of them will make it light up, but she’s going to be unable to do anything with it until she acquires the wave beam. This beam will allow Samus to shoot three projectiles at once, and using it on the box will allow it to move, and will also let her open covers on doors with the same defenses. The only issue is that the wave beam isn’t acquired in Artaria. Samus doesn’t get it until later in the game, so she’s going to have to come back to unlock new pathways.
The game tells the player that they’ll have to come back, but it never tells them when they have to, and that’s up to the player to figure out. Another thing that is mentioned in the game that will sit in the back of the mind of players until they realize it is the concept of hidden blocks. Being that the game is 2D, the player is able to see through the walls, and possibly find other paths from rooms by looking at the map. However, the path forward might be found inside a hidden block. There are multiple types of blocks in the game. There’s the beam block, which Samus can break with her normal arm cannon, there’s the missile block, which is only able to be destroyed with missiles, and there’s the bomb block, which is only able to be destroyed with the morph ball bombs. There are also other blocks like the speed boost block and the electrical block. There’s also the pitfall block, that will destroy itself when Samus steps on it.
These blocks are worked into the environment and can be tricky to spot if players forget about them. When I was playing, I found myself stuck between two sections, with no way back from where I came. However, when I shot the ground at the end of a hallway, I opened the path because the blocks were beam blocks. This made me feel silly since I had completely forgotten about them since I was fresh out of a boss fight.
Speaking of bosses, there’s plenty of them in the game, and they’ll be introduced with a cutscene before the fight begins. Fighting bosses is exactly the same as the other 2D titles. It’s also completely possible for the player to beat the boss without taking a hit because, much like the original games, Metroid Dread’s bosses have attack patterns and phases. Players are going to be able to take on these bosses if they know the patterns, as well as be able to hit their counters. In boss fights, there are ways to counter their attacks, as they will shine like the rest of the enemies, and landing a counter will put the player into a scripted event where the player is able to shoot the boss, dealing more damage, as well as giving out health and ammo, which is crucial for some of the boss fights. This doesn’t mean they aren’t tough. The game still follows the same philosophy as the other titles, and fighting bosses is just as hard as games like Zero Mission and Super Metroid. I found myself dying regularly while playing, but It always felt like it was my fault rather than the games.
However, there’s only one enemy where fighting back isn’t an option, and that enemy is the E.M.M.I. Around each area, there’s what’s called an E.M.M.I zone. While there are nine levels in the game, there’s only seven E.M.M.I., so running into them all the time isn’t going to be an issue. However, there’s no way to avoid entering one of their domains, as the path forward is most likely going to include going through the zone. Upon entering the zone, which is marked by a special door, Samus is going to have to tread carefully, as the E.M.M.I. are always on the prowl. They have a radius of sensors, which can hear Samus when she moves. There’s no walking for Samus, she only runs when the stick is tilted, so sneaking around without a special ability isn’t an option.
Once Samus makes a noise, she’s going to alert the E.M.M.I. to her position, and they’ll start closing in on her, if she can get out of their line of sight, or their sensor radius, she can slip away. However, they’ll start looking around for her in the spot they last saw her. If she is caught by the E.M.M.I. who have a cone of vision that can be seen at all times. They’ll give chase. The only option is to run after that, being that there’s no way to destroy the E.M.M.I. without a special item from the central unit. If Samus is captured by the E.M.M.I. she has a very slim chance to escape via a counter. It’s possible to do it, but it’s tough. The window of opportunity is very slim, but those with good reflexes will be able to pull it off once in a while. However, if they can’t. It’s game over. The game is forgiving, however, and will start the player outside of the E.M.M.I. zone, giving them a second chance. Each E.M.M.I. is different. When the player enters the zone for the first time, their first encounter with the E.M.M.I will show them what that E.M.M.I. is capable of. For example, there’s an E.M.M.I in the first part of the game demonstrates how the Central Unit works. With this E.M.M.I already being damaged, the player will learn how to use the Omega cannon before their first encounter with a real E.M.M.I.
One of the later E.M.M.I. use what’s called E.M.M.I. vaults. These narrow passageways can’t be accessed by Samus without her morph ball, but they’re also inaccessible while the E.M.M.I. is still alive. All E.M.M.I. have special abilities, and they’ll be given to Samus once she defeats them. To do that, she’ll have to find a way to get to the Central Unit in the E.M.M.I. Zone. These creatures that Resemble Mother Brain will provide Samus with a small mini-boss before upgrading her cannon to the Omega Blaster. This new blaster will let Samus take aim, changing the camera to a more dynamic perspective. Samus has to attacks with the blaster, but can’t move while using it. Samus has an automatic mode, which will fire shots out of the blaster, heating up the metal plating around the E.M.M.I.’s head until it’s destroyed, and then her main attack, which after charging up, fires a massive blast that can destroy the E.M.M.I. However, the player is going to have to put some distance between them and the E.M.M.I. before they can unleash their attack. Not enough room means certain death. Players also can’t leave the E.M.M.I. zone with the Omega Blaster either, as the doors to the E.M.M.I. Zone will close, and Samus’ location will be revealed to the E.M.M.I. even if they’re at opposite ends of the area. Once an E.M.M.I. is defeated, the zone will open up, and Samus will lose the blaster. However, she’ll be free to roam around the E.M.M.I. Zone and use the E.M.M.I. Vaults after the E.M.M.I. is defeated.
However, one of the issues I had with the game is that the E.M.M.I. is hard to sneak around. Coming across one is one thing, but after being caught once or twice, sometimes the place where the E.M.M.I. is changed. There’s been a few times where I’ll enter a room right in front of them, and they’ll proceed to immediately capture me. I felt like this was a little cheap, but it didn’t happen enough to be a problem in the long run. However, there was one E.M.M.I. that I had some frustrations with. This one, in particular, was the Blue E.M.M.I. that grants the player the Ice Missiles. This E.M.M.I. doesn’t have a small cone of vision. Instead, it has a long, thin cone that if Samus enters its line of sight, it’ll freeze her until it catches up. There’s no way to judge when this is going to happen, nor any other way to dodge the attack. So running from it is a problem, as any move is going to make it freeze the player, and stick it in a stun lock until it catches Samus. Then it’s up to the player to have really good reflexes to prevent death or force them to try again.
Using the Phantom Cloak is the only way to outrun the robot, and I found myself able to do so after some trial and error, the frustration I felt while I was being stun locked by the E.M.M.I. was a little annoying and worth mentioning.
Some of the E.M.M.I will grant Samus new abilities like the Ice Missiles, or the Grapple Beam. These will increase Samus’ traversal ability, as well as allow her to open specific routes she wasn’t able to in the first place. Samus can also ger her abilities from various other rooms in the game. There are two versions of the Chozo room now, with Samus able to pick up abilities from the sitting statues, as well as special rooms with cubes held by massive Chozo figures. These new abilities are Samus’ Aieon abilities. Samus gains several moves through these rooms, however, in my playthrough I currently have three.
There’s Samus’ Phase Shift, which is a fast dash that allows her to zip past enemies or bypass pitfall blocks, but their biggest use is to bypass pressure plate doors. Then, there’s the Phantom Cloak. This ability is the first one given out by the game and has Samus turn herself invisible, which can help her sneak around the E.M.M.I. if they’re still wandering around. It’s also used to let Samus enter Sensor doors without being seen. However, The Phantom Cloak will deplete Samus’ Aeion until it’s out, but it’ll remain in use, depleting Samus’ life energy until there’s a little left. It won’t kill Samus, but it will put her in danger if it’s used all the way.
Lastly, there’s the pulse radar. This specific ability allows Samus to see hidden blocks in the environment, but it’s picked up much later in the game, so players won’t be relying on it too much while they’re going through the game’s worlds until they pick it up.
There are also five other rooms that Samus can come across. There’s the Save room, which does exactly what it says. There’s also the Map room which will show Samus the map of the environment, but not the specific terrain, this room also allows Samus to save. There’s the Network room, which lets Samus upload her data onto the network, and speak with ADAM, her ship’s computer. Being that Samus is underground, radio communication between ADAM and Samus is impossible, but ADAM is able to connect onto the network of the planet and speak with Samus, pointing her in the right direction, while also being able to give her tips on survival during her adventure. Then there’s the shuttles and elevators. These are the main mode of transportation between levels in the game, Samus will be able to move between areas with these rooms, and there’s multiple in every area, giving Samus ways of exploring parts of the map she can’t reach.
Lastly, there are the teleporters. These function similarly to the shuttles and elevators, but they send Samus to different areas that aren’t directly connected.
Being that the game is on console, the Switch I’m playing on is one of the launch versions of the console. The game runs at a solid framerate and is smooth enough for precise platforming. The game does hitch sometimes, but it’s mostly on loading screens. I haven’t run into any bugs with the game while playing. I did play it with both controllers, and the game plays extremely smoothly.
The sound for the game is also very good, focusing on atmospheric tracks, with boss themes. It does use a lot of the sound cues from the original Metroid, with the powerup sound being the same, but done with more instruments, making it feel more epic.
With the game including cutscenes, there’s some voice acting. There are a few characters who speak, with ADAM being one of them, but for the sake of keeping things spoiler-free I won’t mention who the other two are. But they do speak in an alien language with subtitles. ADAM does speak English, and there’s a voice who announces that Samus is uploading data into the network room. The funny thing about this is that keen listeners of the audio will recognize the voices of ADAM and the voice in the Network room. It seems that Nintendo has repurposed the voice synthesizer from Tomodachi Life on the 3DS, and used it for the computer voices. I’m 100% certain if players opened the game, and messed with the voices in Tomodachi life, the Audio from Metroid Dread could be replicated.
It doesn’t change the gameplay or pull me out of it, I thought It was a fun little easter egg from the game that players would notice.
The music for the game is also pretty good, with the ambient music crawling around in your head after playing. But the game definitely stands out in the audio department with the interactions with the E.M.M.I. The robots will give off a beeping sound when the player is in their zones, and when they notice the player, the music picks up. When the chase is initiated, well, that’s when the music ramps up into this almost horrifying track, the tension with the chases with the E.M.M.I. are nerve-wracking, but the novelty wears off after they’ve caught you once or twice.
The visuals for the game are phenomenal: it’s one of the best-looking Metroid titles out there, and it takes full advantage of the Nintendo Switch without sacrificing the game’s fidelity. I did play the game in handheld mode, as well as on a larger than average television screen, and I can say that the aliasing in some sections, specifically the pre-rendered loading screens, are lower quality than normal. However, it’s not an issue for me.
Another thing I would like to mention is Samus’ suit in the game. The player starts off with the Varia suit in the intro but then gets put in the power suit when the game actually begins. Her power suit is blue and white, and from the images, Samus still has parts of the Fusion suit on her. This continuity with the games is one of my favorite things about the title, as the Fusion suit was a big deal, being that Samus was fused to the suit she always wears. Seeing the lingering consequences of Metroid Fusion in Dread realty helps set the tone for the rest of the game. Another thing worth mentioning about the game is that the character design of the E.M.M.I. is also impressive, having this larger-than-life terminator style of robot makes for a menacing foe.
Metroid has a massive community, being that it’s a triple-A title, players around the world will gather online to talk about the series, and now, with Metroid Dread, they’re continuing their conversation about the series in full swing. This has been the one title to revitalize interest in Metroid, and now is the best time to start joining the community if you’re wanting to get into the series.
While there are the official Nintendo Channels that are talking about the game, the best place to talk about the series, and Metroid Dread, is the Metroid Subreddit. Players all across the internet have come together to talk about the series, as well as discuss the new game, which is full of spoilers at the moment on the Subreddit.
The Metroid community is open to all members, and having more fans of the series will prove to Nintendo that more games should be made, and with Metroid Prime 4 on the horizon somewhere, Metroid Dread is the one game that’s going to tide players over until then.
If you’re a fan of the Metroid series, or like exploratory Metroidvania titles, this game’s for you, it’s got Metroid in the name. I highly recommend that players pick the game up and give it a shot if they’re looking to scratch their Metroid itch. However, if this is your first game, be prepared, as the game isn’t like the newer titles from Nintendo. It’s a tough game, and it feels like it crawled back from the past to be made now. It’s not going to be very forgiving, but it’s certainly going to be a lot of fun.