Metroid Dread – Welcome Back Samus!

Metroid Dread box art

Released on: October 8th 2021

Available Platforms: Nintendo Switch

Price: $79.99 CAD ($59.99 US)

Developed by: MercurySteam, Nintendo NDP Published by: Nintendo

The Metroid series didn’t get a lot of love these past few years. Despite Super Metroid being one of the best games on the Super Nintendo along with the Metroid series’ generally high quality, we haven’t seen Metroid titles since Metroid Other M. From what I can tell, Metroid hasn’t achieved the monumental sales figures that the other Nintendo properties received, which might help explain why the series remained dormant for so long. Something must have changed Nintendo’s mind as a few months ago, they revealed that they were working on a new Metroid title: Metroid Dread.

I was thrilled that we were getting a new Metroid game for the Switch. Metroid Other M was the only Metroid game I didn’t personally care for. I didn’t think it was bad per se, but I did feel it was a weaker entry in the series. Nonetheless, it’s incredible to see Metroid return after all these years. The only trailer I saw was the first one, as I heard online that the other trailers spoil a lot of the game’s bosses. Thus, I ignored every other trailer thereafter. After what seemed like a short wait, we got Metroid Dread in October. It’s fitting that a game about exploring a strange world filled with hostile new alien lifeforms would release on spooky month. With that said: was the wait for Metroid Dread worth it?

Metroid Dread Title Screen

Set after the events of Metroid Fusion (which happens after Super Metroid), Samus receives a report that a previously thought extinct parasite known as the X survives on planet ZDR. The Galactic Federation sent unique robots known as the Extraplanetary Multiform Mobile Identifiers (E.M.M.I. for short) to investigate and bring back data on these parasites. Sadly, the Federation lost contact with these robots. Thus, they send Samus to ZDR to investigate. Not long after she arrives on ZDR, she gets ambushed by a giant bird-like warrior (the Chozo). He quickly incapacitates Samus, causing her to blackout. When she wakes up, she discovers she is in the depths of ZDR. It is now her mission to return to the surface and escape ZDR.

I think that, by itself, Metroid Dread’s plot is easy to follow, even if players haven’t played Super Metroid or Metroid Fusion. The gist of the story boils down to “Samus must escape planet ZDR after losing a fight with a bird warrior thing.” That said, those who are fans of Metroid’s lore (like I am) will love what Metroid Dread adds to it. There might be a few things that the game throws at the player that might confuse newcomers, but I don’t think it would be a deal breaker for them.

Metroid Dread’s visuals are phenomenal. One of the reasons I like the Metroid series so much is that it fills players with a sense of genuine dread (pardon the pun) that comes with exploring a new and mysterious planet. Metroid Dread has cool-looking aliens, foreboding rooms with reduced light, yet never dark enough to obscure the player’s vision. Some of my favorite bits of graphical prowess in Metroid Dread come from the tram systems that carry the player to a different area of the planet. The backgrounds of these tram stations are teeming with detail that gives the player a fantastic sense of what kind of area they are about to explore.

Metroid Dread lava tunnel
That is a lot of lava!

I hesitate to use this word, but I feel it’s appropriate here. Metroid Dread’s game feel is perfect. Where Super Metroid felt clunky to control at times, Metroid Dread irons out to give the smoothest gameplay experience I’ve had with the Metroid Series. Just like Super Metroid, players can aim in any direction they want, only this time, holding the L button will lock the player in place and let them precisely line up their shot using laser-guided aim. The player can now grab onto ledges and pull themselves up, and they have a melee attack that can stun enemies for a quick kill. Countering enemies like this will also give Samus more health and missile drops than usual.

Despite Metroid Dread having buttery smooth controls, the player’s actions still need to be deliberate when controlling Samus. Panicking will only lead to the player’s demise, especially when it comes to heated moments. The fact that the developers of Metroid Dread managed to perfect the way Samus controls while also demanding decisive inputs for optimization is why I feel this is the closest to perfection Metroid gets when it comes to its gameplay.

I feel like I would be doing Metroid Dread justice if I didn’t talk about the boss fights. Calling the boss encounters outstanding would be putting it mildly. Not only are the bosses incredible by design and stature, but the player also gets glimpses of Samus’ attitude when fighting these bosses. Some of the more enormous bosses have multiple phases to their battle. When transitioning to the next phase, the camera will zoom in on Samus and what she’s looking at to give the player visual hints on where to hit the boss. My favorite part is when the player finally kills the boss. Samus has so much personality when it comes to her delivering the finishing blow that I couldn’t help but shout at the screen in excitement when the boss finally falls.

Metroid Dread boss death
Cool hunters don’t look at their dying prey!

Speaking of bosses, I need to talk about one more big baddie of Metroid Dread: the E.M.M.I. During the player’s exploration of ZDR, they will enter greyish zones known as the E.M.M.I. zone. These zones have one of the E.M.M.I. patrolling them. Why is this bad? Well, these E.M.M.I. are hostile and, if they reach Samus, it’s an instant game over. The player’s primary concern when in these zones is to avoid the E.M.M.I. at all costs. If the player gets caught by the E.M.M.I., they have two chances to counter its attack. If the player fails to counter it, they are dead.

The E.M.M.I. zones are where Metroid Dread is at its scariest. Even when I got used to the E.M.M.I’s presence, it was unnerving to dodge them. Especially when later ones can freeze Samus in place, or the game asks the player to bypass an E.M.M.I while underwater. Those are the moments that put me on the edge of my seat when playing Metroid Dread, and it was glorious.

The most prominent issue players will run into with Metroid Dread is finding out where to go next. Some players will figure out the route forward almost instantly. Those players are more astute than I am, as there were a few areas where I had to look up where to go next (I am not ashamed to admit this). It was me who failed to notice the crack in the map where I could go through. I’ve seen it frustrate a few players online, but in my case, I just felt like the game outsmarted me. I don’t think that is a bad thing, but it did point out how unperceptive I can be at times, and I’m okay with that.

I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but Metroid Dread might be the best Metroid game to date. Beautiful visuals, scary foes, precise controls, and beautiful additions to the Metroid lore make Metroid Dread a must-play for fans of the series and newcomers alike. My advice: beware of the E.M.M.I!

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