It’s weird to see the Metroid series come back with Metroid Dread. Though as experienced as other Nintendo stalwarts like Mario or Zelda, the space-traveling, alien-blasting saga does not quite match in terms of popularity. Still, Metroid’s impact is almost unsurpassed. It practically invented its own genre: “Metroidvania” games that focus on exploring open labyrinthine dungeons, where players slowly gather more abilities to unlock new areas and defeat powerful bosses.
Launched with the new, Metroid Dread is not only a great companion game to the new hardware, but it’s also a strong entry in the Metroid series. It revives the atmospheric sense of exploration and excitement that comes with finding your way through the depths of a strange, unknown Metroid world.
As a direct sequel to the 2002 Metroid Fusion and a return to the open 2D structure that Metroid was originally famous for, Dread hangs close to the threads and foundations that its predecessors have laid over the past decades. In Dread, we see series heroine Samus Aran travel to the planet ZDR to uncover clues to a threat that was once thought to have been defeated, revealing an even greater threat that threatens the galaxy.
Despite this return to the series ‘roots, Metroid Dread has a sense of finality and ties story threads related to Samus’ story and her connection to the lost Chozo civilization. Although Metroid Dread leaves the door open for future games, Dread’s story feels like a culmination of multiple stories across different games. I found it satisfying to see it play out, as someone who stuck to the series over the years.
Metroid Dread remains consistent with the formula established by 2D games in the series. In this game, we see Samus Aran in his highest strength, which opens up fast and smooth opportunities to remove alien threats and skillfully cross dangerous environments. Playing as Samus in Dread offers a satisfying and exciting way to explore and take on enemies. Alongside more precise goals, elusive moves and opportunities up close, Dread sees Samus as his most versatile.
Barring through the various zones of ZDR, maintaining your momentum with the additions of fast melee attacks and finishers is exciting. Taking enemies never gets old. Seeing the various layers of the planet reveal themselves, such as the dilapidated Chozo temple ruins and the labyrinthine underground laboratories, remains a satisfying aspect of the Metroid experience. Dread increases the ante by focusing on more options where Samus can face his battle. She is often outgunned.
During the opening of the game, Metroid Dread introduces lightweight stealth sections where you have to evade the gaze of junk AIs known as the EMMIs, four-wheel-drive machines that can easily overpower and surpass Samus. These sections bring the game down at a slower pace, which I sometimes found disturbing, but they are the game’s most tense and fear-inducing encounters. Just when you feel like you have a gem on how to maneuver the EMMIs with new power-ups, the game manages to add different layers that make later encounters with the machines more intense.
These encounters are not only a great way to break the core height of exploration, platforming and shooting, but they also keep players grounded throughout the main story. Like its predecessors, Metroid Dread is a challenging game, and I ended up meeting my end at several of the EMMI meetings. These big fights got noticeably harder towards the end, forcing me to really keep my skills sharp. Aside from immediate bouts of frustration over having to repeat battles, it was always gratifying to get the best out of enemies with your abilities while getting away unscathed, especially towards the back of the story.
Switch’s handheld mode really enhanced my experience. Not only did it bring me back to remakes of Metroid Zero Mission and Fusion on Nintendo’s older handheld, Game Boy Advance, but it also allowed me to feel more invested in the game’s history and atmosphere. Playing Metroid Dread was like gathering together with a gripping side-turner, leaving me with the feeling that I needed to see what was just ahead, and promising myself that I would save the game and take a break.
Metroid Dread also feels good at home on the new Switch OLED. The lighter screen made some of the darker areas feel more atmospheric and eerie and conversely added depth to the more colorful areas. It features some of the most exciting and dynamic environments the series has seen yet, allowing you to observe details in the background that suggest further dangers ahead. Much of it felt more pronounced when playing on Switch OLED, making this game a good companion title to the new hardware.
But there are a few issues. While Metroid Dread is a great action game, it stays a little too close to its own established formula. It does not necessarily rock the boat when it comes to the now well-established Metroidvania subgenre. The loop of gathering power and slowly clearing up a scattered world is compelling, but I can not deny that Metroid Dread felt safe in some respects.
The game’s release is timed with a resurgence in the Metroidvania genre. Games like Hollow Knight and Ori and Wisp’s Will have taken their tracks from Metroid, but promote the formula in meaningful ways. While Metroid Dread is a worthy, well-crafted post in a series that was groundbreaking in a subgenre, it feels like yet another addition to a chorus of games offering similar experiences.
Still, there’s a lot to like about Metroid Dread, and I’m glad to see the series in good shape. While Metroid Dread certainly will not be the last we see of Samus Aran, it is an effective cloak for a particular era in the Metroid series. Metroid Dread is a great game that feels like coming home.
Metroid Dread launches with the Nintendo Switch OLED on October 8th.