Samus is back in a darker, more intense adventure. And it’s her best one yet.
I have been waiting a long time to write this review.
It has been almost 20 years since the last entry in the 2D Metroid series. Sure, we got the remake of Samus Returns in 2017 that introduced some very welcome modern innovations to the Metroid formula. But what exactly happened after the events of Metroid Fusion in 2002? We finally have an answer in Metroid Dread.
And I’m pleased to say that the wait was well worth it.
In Metroid Dread, Samus recieves a video transmission from an unknown source. In the transmission, evidence of the X parasite on the planet ZDR is shown. Samus is tasked with heading to planet ZDR to check things out and, if necessary, eradicate the X parasite for good. Upon arrival, Samus descends into ZDR and is attacked by a mysterious Chozo warrior. Seemingly at the end of her life, Samus blacks out and awakens shortly after, no Chozo warrior in sight. Confused and determined, Samus heads into ZDR to search for the X parasite and her mysterious assailant.
This set up to the game exudes the classic notes that are key to a solid Metroid game: mystery, isolation, and dread. Highlighting these notes of dread and fear are the new enemies, the EMMI robot. These killing machines are an echo of SA-X, the X parasite mimicking Samus at full power in Metroid Fusion. Although, they’re much more lethal than SA-X was in Fusion. While the EMMI robots are relegated to set zones, encounters with them are almost sure to result in a Game Over screen. If an EMMI robot catches you, you are given two chances to deflect it’s attack. If you deflect one attack, you’ll stun the EMMI robot, giving you an opportunity to escape. If you fail to deflect the attacks, the EMMI robot jams it’s deadly spike into Samus’ chest, resulting in a Game Over.
I’ll admit that while I enjoyed the addition of the EMMI robots, there were times they truly got on my nerves. The game will spawn these robots in randomly in their set zones. At times, it was almost as if the EMMI spawned right behind me, or close enough to me, that I had little opportunity to make an escape for come up with a plan through the area. While ultimately not a bad thing, as it added to the game’s tone and push to think quickly while under stress, it can be frustrating at times dying at the ends of an EMMI when all you’re trying to do is get by.
Which is the tone for all of Metroid Dread: the game is difficult. Metroid fans are not ignorant of difficulty; it’s been a staple of the series for awhile now. There is something different about Metroid Dread’s difficulty though that threads the needle between a fair challenge and just brutal. I found myself enjoying the difficulty to the point where I’d laugh and jump back in to the game after getting beaten down by a boss or miscalculating a jump and landing in a hazard.
Each area of the game is distinct and has it’s own personality. Some areas are beautiful and lush, teeming with plant life. Others are dark, dingy, and truly terrifying as machinery creaks and lights flicker as you go by. The usual areas are present, namely an underwater and lava area. While I don’t think they’re quite as memorable as Norfair was in Super Metroid, the underwater sections were actually a good bit of fun. Prior to getting the Gravity Suit, there’s several areas where you have to traverse underwater. Normally, this would be a pain but the tweaks to the physics and movement are so well done that I didn’t mind my time in the water.
Which brings me to the upgrades. Metroid Dread shakes up conventions by changing up the order in which you obtain some of your favorite upgrades. I don’t want to give anything away here but just be ready to wait a little longer for some of your favorites. The game is designed in such a way to not only make you earn the upgrades but truly make you desperate for them. I know this sounds like a knock but the progression for this is probably the best the series has ever seen.
And the new animation for the Power Bomb? Let’s just say it’s truly epic.
You will need these upgrades too, especially all the missile and energy tanks you can find. Those familiar with Legend of Zelda will be very familiar with the new mechanic to obtaining them. While you can still find full containers and packs of energy and missiles, scattered throughout the game world are pieces of energy tanks and small missile packs. You’ll need 4 pieces of an energy capsule to get a full energy tank and upgrade your health. While you’ll be able to pick up mini rocket packs that extend your full capacity by 2. This may sound like an annoyance but there’s so many of them that I found myself progressing nicely in the opening hours of the game.
However, just because you have a good amount of upgrades does not mean Metroid Dread will be a walk in the park like Fusion was. Metroid Dread, as mentioned before, is a difficult game. This is highlighted in the game’s handful of boss fights. The key to these boss fights is both quick thinking and reflexes combined with patience. Each boss is like a puzzle in itself, clearly pulled ideas from Legend of Zelda. The final boss as well is a gauntlet of endurance, reflexes, and raw strength. Each boss is truly satisfying to defeat, especially in the flashy ways that come by way of the parry system, introduced in Metroid: Samus Returns remake.
By the time I finished Metroid Dread, my time clock read 6 hours and 58 minutes, just shy of an even 7 hours. My percentage of items collected was 39%, which was surprising because I felt I had picked up a lot more upgrades than that. Clearly, I have some exploring left to do. And I do plan on diving back in to Metroid Dread: the game was a thrill from start to finish! As a longtime Metroid fan who has been waiting for a new Metroid, I can say that Metroid Dread was worth the wait. It expanded on Samus’ story, introduced some new mechanics and characters, and ultimately left me hungry for more.
Like past Metroid games, you do get some neat unlocks for finishing the game. When I finished the game, I recieved some exclusive art that was an homage to past games, as well as a final look at Samus. I assume you get the usual final poses such as Samus without her helmet and her in her Zero Suit, based on your final finish time and percentage of upgrades. Which, I do plan on jumping back in and trying to speed run the game.
If you own a Nintendo Switch, you owe it to yourself to pick this one up. Especially if you have never had a chance to experience Metroid. Embrace your dread and get your mission started.
Note to Parent’s: While Metroid Dread is rated T for Teen for Fantasy Violence and Animated Blood, it’s worth noting the marked shift towards horror in Metroid Dread. Metroid has always dabbled in sci-fi horror themes but Metroid Dread leans into them heavily for this entry. Encounters with the EMMI robots are tense and terrifying, and some of the alien designs could be frightening for younger gamers. Also, some of Samus’ attacks are violent, especially as the game progresses. While it’s nothing remotely like Mortal Kombat, they are a little more savage than what we’re used to seeing.
To see a playthrough of Metroid Dread from start to finish, head on over to the YouTube channel.