Metroid Dread – One to watch for 2021

One of the biggest surprises of E3 2021 was the announcement of a new 2D Metroid game called Metroid Dread. This was introduced as Metroid 5, following on from Metroid Fusion, and the first new 2D Metroid game in nearly 20 years. Today I am going to check out everything we know about Metroid Dread, plus look ahead to its release on October 8th, 2021.

There’s plenty of history surrounding the Metroid Dread name. First reported by IGN back in 2005, there were rumors of the game’s existence. However, it had a troubled development, and getting the project off the ground and out of concept proved difficult, causing the project to be canceled or reworked a couple of times.

Metroid Dread is being developed by MercurySteam, the same studio that made Samus Returns, ad the project is being overseen by Yoshio Sakamoto. Sakamoto has a history with the Metroid series; he served as the Director for Super Metroid, Metroid Fusion, and Zero Mission too.

Sakamoto has said of his role on the project.

“My role on Metroid Dread was similar to or the same as it was on Samus Returns, where [Nintendo of Japan] and MercurySteam worked together to be one team. They are different companies, of course, but we had one mind. Also the same as Samus Returns, I was always in communication with MercurySteam from a day-to-day basis, looking at the good and bad, what they were producing for designs. I guess I was called the producer, but I was more involved on the creative side of things as well.”

Nintendo showed off a lot of Metroid Dread at the Treehouse Live event after their E3 2021 presentation. This new iteration of Metroid looks like it’s in safe hands when it comes to the development team and Sakamoto working as Producer, it looks like classic Metroid, which fans have been wanting for years now.

Dread takes place straight after the events of Metroid Fusion. Samus is investigating a transmission sent to the Galactic Federation. Once she arrives on the planet though she discovers the planet has been overrun with Alien life. As well as your standard Space Pirate-type aliens, there’s also the EMMIs. These are almost invincible robots that patrol and prowl, chasing Samus as she makes her way through the areas, providing the ‘Dread’ that the title indicates. Samus’ weapons are no match for the EMMIs at the start, so the only option is to hide or run.

This is Metroid brought up to modern standards and Samus is fast and fluid. Metroidvania’s have been popular since 2017, with great games like Dead Cells and Ori, in which the movement and attacks are fluid and feeling great, and it’s this combination that has propelled some smaller studios to great success. For example, the combat in Dead Cells has a certain distinctive feel, and here Metroid Dread looks to have upped their game to bring Samus up to 2021 standards. Samus looks fast, plus she has some new moves to show off. She’s going to need all the moves and tricks up her sleeve because these EMMIs robots aren’t playing around.

Metroid Dread keeps many of the useful features from Samus Returns. There’s the free-aim mechanic and the melee ability, which is extra devastating if timed correctly. This is the only way that Samus can currently evade the EMMIs, if she can time a melee attack right, then there’s a short window where she can escape, although I understand there’s a cannon power up later in the game that allows us to destroy EMMIs. This makes sense as we’re going to have to work to get this kind of power.

The sense of dread or fear has been integral to the gameplay mechanic from day 1 as Sakamoto described in an interview with Game Informer. It’s a similar mechanic to the chasing invincible big bad found in Resident Evil games. Mr X or the recently Lady D are good examples. Sakamoto said of the mechanics.

“It’s really about Samus encountering fear, but she actually stands against that fear and fights it and beats it,” he says. “That part of it is important. As far as where the inspiration came for my wanting to take the game in this direction, it comes from the tension surrounding the SA-X gameplay from Metroid Fusion, and how we wanted to take that style of gameplay and put it into what is considered to be the normal Metroid gameplay to make for an exciting experience.”

Metroid Dread does flip another convention on its head in the new game. Normally, Samus will start on the surface of the planet and then venture down, underground through the maze-like environment. This time, Samus starts in the middle of the maze and you have to find your way out to your ship. Other standard features of the genre are maintained; you have to find power-ups to upgrade your gear, you have to find new equipment that will help you get to areas you couldn’t reach before, and there’s going to be plenty of secrets to find and uncover.

The story and lore is going to be really important to the game, and this is going to be presented in a few different ways, with the team learning from their experiences in past games. I understand there’s going to be a story catch-up mechanic for Metroid Dread (or the 5th mainline Metroid game). Sakamoto also described the other story-telling mechanics in the game.

“With Samus Returns, we made use of cutscenes as well; there were 3D cutscenes and 2D scenes as well that transitioned very seamlessly between the two,” Sakamoto says. ” That helped us with showing expressiveness in the game. We found that very effective in Samus Returns. In a similar way in Metroid Dread, we use those to maintain a sense of tension and also expressiveness. Also, the story is very important in this game, so these cutscenes will be used to express the story as well.”

The concept of Metroid Dread has been around for some time but Sakamoto explained that it was hard to realize his vision on the earlier hardware.

“At the time that we came up with the idea, the hardware wasn’t there; the technological concepts weren’t working with our vision,” Sakamoto said.

“We had to put it on hold. Then sometime later, we started again, but then we stopped again for pretty much the same reasons.”

“Thinking in terms of the specs that I had in mind, it was a bit difficult to realize that concept with that hardware,” Sakamoto says.

Metroid Dread happens to be the first title to be released on the same day as the new model Nintendo Switch, which features a larger OLED screen.

It’s a very exciting time for Metroid fans. If you have access to Nintendo Switch Online, then you can go back and play the original Metroid via the NES Online feature and also Super Metroid via the SNES Online collection. You can of course watch playthroughs, but there’s nothing like experiencing the game for yourself.

Personally, I’m not a fan of the Metroid Prime games, which seemed to pivot the series more towards a first-person 3D shooter. Metroid Prime 4 is still in development, which Nintendo reiterated during their Nintendo Direct at E3. Metroid Dread looks to be returning to the series roots, and I am hoping Nintendo is going to flex their skills and design skills and really blow the competition out of the water.

We’ve had plenty of great Metroidvania games in the last few years, but I am looking to Nintendo to really lay down the marker, and hopefully, this will lead to more Metroid games either being remade or released onto the Nintendo Switch, so fans can easily play through the back catalog and enjoy the story and gameplay that Metroid has to offer.

Metroid Dread releases on Nintendo Switch on 8th October 2021.