The Metroid franchise comes home in its 11th entry in the main series with Metroid Dread, co-developed by returning studio MercurySteam (Metroid: Samus Returns) and Nintendo EPD. Servings as a sequel and follow-up to Metroid Fusion, Metroid Dread is the first original 2D side-scrolling adventure in 19 years which serves as the “proposed” conclusion of the Samus Aran “Metroid and X Parasite Hunter” storyline.
NOTE: MINOR SPOILERS ARE AHEAD.
If you are familiar with the main Metroid series (the Metroid Prime series, though canon, is not considered part of the main storyline), you already know the scenario. The game starts with Samus arriving in a new location, Planet ZDR, from where she received a mysterious transmission that the X Parasite, which was thought to be extinct, had been found. Soon after, sh*t goes down, resulting in Samus losing her full-powered abilities, and thus, the labyrinthian maze crashing begins. It’s a very tried-and-true trope of gaming, and Metroid Dread doesn’t stray from that concept.
SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST
Metroid Dread sees our hero traversing through 8 different biomes trying to return to her badass bounty hunter state that most gamers are familiar with. The visuals are gorgeous, featuring some of the best details and backgrounds seen in a 2D Metroid title. Metroid’s familiar run-and-gun platforming roots are on full presentation in this title. Puzzles are as prominent in Dread as they have been in all the newer entries of the series following Super Metroid. Players will have to adapt quickly to keep Samus’ journey from grinding to a halt or, even worse, resulting in a swift death at the hands of a powerful enemy. Do not be afraid of having to do some backtracking since Dread’s mazes tend to lead to dead ends.
Samus will eventually be reunited with the signature abilities of the series such as the Morph Ball, Screw Attack, Power Bombs, and more. Some newer additions to her arsenal are introduced and keep the game feeling fresh and reinvented along the way. One of the newer and more innovative weapons added to the series is the Cross Bomb, which gives Samus the ability to detonate bomb blocks in a 4-way blast. The ability also allows players to boost across terrain that might collapse under Samus’ weight, and when used correctly, it replaces the series-long mechanic of “bomb jumping”. There are a total of 7 new abilities which Samus picks up along the way in Dread.
The parry/counter mechanic, which was introduced in Metroid: Samus Returns, returns in Dread and plays a key role in Samus’ plight for survival. When mastered, maneuvering through rooms that are jam-packed with enemies, can turn a veritable nightmare course into a truly stylish romp for even the most seasoned of Metroid fans.
SAMUS’ SNEAKING MISSION
At times, Samus will need to rely on one gaming mechanic that is new to Metroid – stealth.
One of the newer enemy types that were showcased back in the game’s reveal trailer from E3 2021 are the E.M.M.I., a group of robotic collector drones that normally would have left Samus alone in her mission, but prove themselves to be one of the hero’s biggest adversaries for the duration of her mission on ZDR. In your very first encounter with an E.M.M.I., the game gives you the best piece of advice you can have – run.
An encounter with an E.M.M.I. almost always results in a Game Over screen no matter how powerful Samus has become. Players will eventually have to embrace stealth to minimize as many encounters with the E.M.M.I. as possible because the E.M.M.I. are abundant and clever. You’ll immediately know when you’ve entered an E.M.M.I. location once the music changes or you notice that surrounding areas are practically barren, littered with vents, filled with motion-activated barriers, traps, and other obstacles. All are designed to keep Samus locked in the room with the robotic menace.
THE LOOK OF METROID
The 2.5D graphics engine for Metroid Dread feels very much at home on the Switch. Whether Samus is in sterile or mechanized locations, lush jungle environments, inhospitable hot zones, or iced over frozen terrain, players will find themselves stopping to observe what’s going on in the background. Creatures wander the background doing their thing while others will try to stalk Samus. The detail is incredible, and the power of the Switch cannot be denied.
Samus moves the best she has ever in Dread. Gone are her slow and floaty movements from the older 2D titles as players can have Samus turn on a dime and complete actions as if they were all second nature. While the combat is fast and furious in Dread, the Switch hardware handles it exceptionally with absolutely no stutters or slips in performance. And the game does all of this and maintains a buttery smooth 60fps throughout the approximately 6-8 hour adventure.
Also… SAMUS HAS NEVER LOOKED SO GOOD! The newly updated take on the bounty hunter’s spacesuit is nicely detailed and sports an aesthetic that nicely brings Samus into a new gaming era for the series.
That being said, the game also shows off one deep technical limitation with the Nintendo Switch. Throughout the game, Samus will traverse back and forth in the many biomes of Metroid Dread and when she needs to travel to another location, travel cutscenes highlight rather excessive load times. On the digital version of Dread (on the non-OLED edition Switch), some load sequences take nearly 22 seconds before the action can continue. This can severely hamper the pacing of a game that itself excels with fast-paced combat.
Metroid Dread is a true beacon for Nintendo’s pioneering sci-fi franchise (which is now 35 years old). Everything from the older entries that created a universe of fans is here combined with the new parlor tricks MercurySteam brought to the table with Metroid: Samus Returns. Not only that, but MercurySteam didn’t slouch this time giving fans of the franchise new mechanics and an incredibly exciting story – a story that gives us our biggest glimpse into Samus’ backstory. While at times the map can be overwhelming and the enemies can be frustrating, but at its core, this is another entry that upholds the series’ pedigree for excellence.
FINAL SCORE — 4.5
Metroid Dread hits all of the marks that gamers have come to know and love with the series and is sure to usher in a new generation of fans. Add this to your library as soon as you have a chance!