I’ve got to preface this review by saying that I’m not the biggest Metroid fan by any stretch. I played through Samus Returns, have played a bit of each of the 2D Metroid games on their respective platforms and Metroid Prime has sat on my pile of shame for many years. I’ve always felt like I missed the boat with this series, and whilst Dread probably was the worst possible place to start, I was pleasantly surprised from the get-go.
Metroid Dread is the long-awaited fifth and final game in this particular Metroid arc, but the game does a great job of welcoming you both in the way of an initial tutorial, tips on loading screens and by introducing new weapons and items as time goes on. The game also does a great job of getting you prepared for the story at hand, which is somewhat self contained, but obviously series veterans will get the most out of it. Whilst this game is more than accessible for series newcomers, there’s no shying away from the fact that this is one that will cater most to those that have been waiting for it for years.
I can only imagine how hard it must have been for Nintendo to create this game. How do you create a Metroid game in 2021, when the original games literally created an entire genre that still exists and is incredibly popular today. There must have been such a battle of wanting to stay true to what made the franchise so great initially, and then also learn from other Metroidvanias to innovate. At the same time, you’ve also got to think about those that have been following this story for 25 years, and those that might be playing for the first time.
Metroid Dread feels familiar from the onset. Samus is stripped of all of her abilities and special suits and left with nothing but a weakened Arm Cannon. From here, Samus will gain new abilities, some familiar and some totally new in order to help her gain access to new areas, more easily take down certain enemies and progress the story forward.
The combat still feels so great all these years later, with the team doing some really good work to make controlling Samus feel a lot more fluid than we’ve seen in past games. Just like Samus Returns, Samus being able to free aim with her cannon, quickly counter enemy attacks and take them out in one swift blast really adds an extra dimension to the combat, and truthfully I never got sick of sliding around and countering enemies like an absolute badass. I think the additions that are here makes the game feel a lot more modern and much more accessible to newcomers.
One of the biggest changes to Metroid Dread is the addition of new stealth sections which are brought on by the E.M.M.I robots. These are special robotic enemies that appear at certain parts of the game, and are by far the most lethal thing you’ll come across, where your goal will be to avoid them at all costs, or face a one hit kill (aside from the small chance that you can pull off a counter). Earlier on, these were some of my favourite moments, they provided tense chases, that just felt the threat of this ship all more real.
After being stalked by them for a little while, you’ll get the opportunity to take them out with an Omega Blaster, which is a cool little over the shoulder sequence that is a still a bit of a challenge to pull off, but satisfying nonetheless. My biggest problem with the E.M.M.I is that once you’ve seen and conquered the first one, the rest of them are fairly similar in nature. They provide a great little stop point in exploration, but for a game that’s founded on expanding your arsenal and an ever-changing world. It does get to be a little bit repetitive.
Outside of the E.M.M.I, the enemy design is second to none. There’s a great amount of variety in each area, and I always felt kept on my toes in terms of having to stay on top of which enemy would shoot at me from different angles and which would simply explode in my face. You will die quite frequently if not from the E.M.M.I but also the aforementioned threats, but the game isn’t too brutal with its save and checkpoint systems.
Whilst the boss battles were insanely frustrating difficulty-wise, they were definitely the highlight of the game for me. The boss battles have always felt like the pinnacle of Metroid and with the power of the Switch, it feels like a lot of the grandness that these battles deserves have been delivered upon.
Between running from the E.M.M.I, collecting new items to unlock new areas, and taking out bosses, you’ll be doing a lot of typical Metroid platforming, and that is where the game annoyed me more than a couple of times. Whilst the game has some brilliant level design, there were quite a few occasions where I found myself stuck simply because I didn’t shoot absolutely every block visible in the screen to find my way through a path. I get that it’s a Metroid staple but it felt a bit antiquated, and like it undid some brilliant game design throughout. I came very close to giving up, thinking the game had either glitched out or there was no way forward, before revisiting an area for the 5th time and finding that I just had to shoot my way through a singular block.
It’d be amiss to not talk about the Nintendo Switch OLED, with Metroid Dread being the first game that I played through on the console. The game and console obviously go hand-in-hand with the inky blanks that so often fill a lot of the screen really coming to life on the OLED. The designers have been really clever in taking advantage of this too, with parts of the world that take place in the dark and such.
I had a really great time with Metroid Dread, but it did feel like something was missing, and I can’t quite put my finger on it. I don’t know if it’s the fact that we’ve seen so many Metroidvania games that do just as good of a job if not better in recent years, or it’s just purely the fact that we’ve seen games like Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey take classic Nintendo franchises to the next level. I’m glad this game exists for the purists, but it’s pretty clear that that was Nintendo’s primary objective with this game. I’ll be really interested to see where the Metroid series goes next.
Metroid Dread feels like a celebration of 2D Metroid. It manages to stay true to the original games, whilst also introducing some new elements that keeps things feeling fresh. The game is held back by some questionable level design, the E.M.M.I feeling repetitive and a definite knowledge barrier for series newcomers.