Genre: Action-Adventure, Metroidvania
Original Release: October 8, 2021
Developers: Mercury Steam, Nintendo, Nintendo Entertainment Planning & Development (Nintendo EPD)
Publisher: Nintendo, Nintendo of Europe GmbH
Platform: Nintendo Switch
I’m not sure what it is about 2D metroidvanias that use 3D models, but something about them bothers me. Or at least, they did for the longest time. Maybe it’s because my brain usually associates 2D games with sprites rather than fully rendered models, or maybe I just haven’t played a lot of good ones in the past and so internally I’m just sitting there like “oh no…” Fortunately this wasn’t the case with Metroid Dread. When it was first announced I’ll admit that I was hesitant because of the aforementioned artistic choices, but as time went on I felt progressively more excited for it. And I think I owe it to another metroidvania I tried out earlier this year: GRIME.
Sadly I don’t have any screenshots of GRIME, but it just felt good to play. It was tight, controls made sense, and it was fun to explore! The demo’s even available on Steam if you want to try it out for yourself! But I digress, the point of this aside is not to advertise, but to explain that sometimes you just need to fight your brain and give something a try even if you’re not feeling it. For better or worse, you might find something new to love.
Anyway, Metroid Dread is the latest installment in the Metroid series. Whether the Metroid Prime games and Other M are considered canonical appears to be up for debate, so I’ll just leave this bit of info with “it happens directly after Metroid Fusion, whenever that happens to be in the timeline.” We return once again to my personal favorite bounty hunter Samus Aran as she embarks on a mission to uncover what happened to seven E.M.M.I. units sent to a planet called ZDR following a video of a single X Parasite roaming about freely. As Samus is the only one immune to the X, it’s up to her to figure out what’s going on and sort it out. And then in the grand tradition of Metroid games, she loses most of her abilities almost immediately after arriving. At least there’s almost always a reason for it, right? Like in Prime it was the result of an explosion that slammed her against an exposed electrical panel and damaged her power suit, Prime 2’s loss was because the Ing managed to steal her abilities directly from her suit, and Fusion involved literal surgical removal of portions of her suit. Samus has it rough, man. This time around though, she’s not completely alone.
Samus wakes up shortly after this to discover that she’s actually forgotten how to use most of her abilities. Your ship’s computer describes it as a sort of physical amnesia so at least there’s a chance of recovery. And so in the grand tradition of metroidvanias you’re off to explore massive locations to recover abilities you’ve previously lost and to gain some new ones! As you gain more abilities, you’ll be able to explore more of the map and find all sorts of hidden goodies to give you a better chance of survival. I think that’s what really speaks to me about Metroid and similar games: you start out on a fairly linear path that slowly but steadily opens up more and more until you can go pretty much anywhere and do whatever you need to grab everything before the end. It lends a sense of growth that you don’t necessarily find in games like first-person shooters and somehow it feels more immersive as a result.
Now because the map is split into multiple regions and all of them are sprawling as well as littered with collectibles, it can feel daunting at first. I know it did for me. Fortunately there’s a map available to you at any time if you need it! Just pause the game and you’ll get the name of the region you’re currently exploring, access to a global map, and a tracker showing what percentage of items you’ve found in the region up to this point! They even mark the kind of blocks you’ve found once they’re uncovered and highlight portions of the map that have an item hidden on it! We’ve definitely come a long way from Super Metroid, but that’s not bad considering that Super was the third ever Metroid game and possibly the first to have a map. I have not played Metroid II or its 3DS remake at the time of writing so I can’t say that for certain, but maps of super important in games like this.
So I actually didn’t take that many screenshots during gameplay. I wanted to, but a big part of metroidvanias to me is the near-constant movement and trying to take a screenshot with the joycon while running in one direction or another is not something I have the physical prowess or dexterity to manage. However, I’ll say that there’s a new mechanic that I really appreciate: Samus can now parry a number of enemies by smacking them with her arm cannon. Doing this leaves them open to a one-hit-kill in most cases and yields more rewards if you pull it off, so it’s well worth the time to practice it. It’s also really satisfying to just see the camera zoom in following a successful parry and then watching them get vaporized. You can even parry the E.M.M.I. if you need to! The timing is incredibly tight, but it can save your hide if you pull it off.
Now Metroid Dread is a good game, but it is not perfect. I like a challenge as much as the next person (I mean Dark Souls is one of my personal favorites), but I found Dread particularly brutal at times. I got a LOT of game overs during my first playthrough. The enemies do a lot of damage even as you regain the Varia and Gravity suits, it can be tough to dodge attacks or time your parries correctly, and a careless mistake here or there can really bite you in the aft end if you can’t recover from it. In addition there’s a pretty heavy reliance on hidden blocks to move forward. Hidden blocks have been a thing since Metroid on the NES, but I felt like I had gotten stuck on more than one occasion because of it. You do get an ability later in the game to help you detect them, but a few times before that I ran back and forth in a room trying to find that one block wall that I could destroy to make my way into another room. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. You’ll never truly be stuck since you can’t get into a room without a way to get out, but it can be frustrating at the very least. However, there are some legitimately awesome moments throughout the game that more than make up for that frustration. And because of that I felt compelled to keep going. Honestly I kind of want to replay from the start or maybe try out hard mode. I’ve already started on the next piece for the article though, so that might be a while. Maybe it’ll make a fun stream? Hard to say right now. What I can say for certain though is that I recommend Metroid Dread. Maybe not as the first exposure for newcomers, but once you have a grasp of what you’re doing or if you’re at least familiar with other metroidvanias it’s worth trying out!
If you have access to Nintendo’s online library via your Switch (or even a SNES classic), I would definitely recommend trying out Super Metroid. It’s probably the most accessible game in the series at present (by which I mean it’s the most widely available and not as difficult as Dread, at least to me) and will definitely let you get your feet wet. In addition, Dread’s gameplay feels very reminiscent of Super while also building off of techniques from Fusion and adding some flair of its own! It really is a case of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” and I love that. Well, that and being able to just barrel through everything once I get a running start. The Speed Booster power has always been ridiculously fun.