Metroid Dread review

Metroid Dread has made it’s way to Nintendo Switch, after a surprise announcement earlier in 2021. This has been put together by Mercury Steam on behalf of Nintendo, following on from the remake of the Gameboy’s Metroid II back in 2017, entitled Samus Returns. The last 2D Metroid we had before the remakes was Metroid Fusion back in 2003, so it’s a welcome sight to see Samus Aran arriving onto Nintendo Switch in Metroid Dread, and I’m happy to say the game lives up to the hype.

The focus for Nintendo fans in recent years has been Metroid Prime, whether they are asking about Metroid Prime 4, or asking about the long-rumored Metroid Prime Trilogy rumored for the Nintendo Switch. A new 2D Metroid wasn’t really on the cards, although there had been talk of Metroid Dread since 2007, although that talk has been dampened into quiet whispers in recent years. Then Nintendo comes along at E3 to drop the major announcement that a new 2D Metroid would in fact be coming to Nintendo Switch, not only that but it would be coming in just a few months, launching on October 8th, alongside the new OLED Switch.

Metroid Dread is launching against the backdrop of multiple good Metroidvania’s out there in the market including Hollow Knight, Dead Cells, and Axiom Verge. After playing through Metroid Dread I’m partly relieved, and also overjoyed to say it can live up there with the best of them, and it instantly jumps into my personal top 5 games of 2021.

Metroid Dread is the direct sequel to Metroid Fusion and the 5th Metroid games as part of the 2D series. This is Nintendo at their very best, adding the AAA gloss onto a tried and tested Metroidvania formula, which all adds up to a very enjoyable game. It’s a 2D game, but there are 3D cutscenes and Samus just looks and acts so damn cool in the game, it’s hard not to be impressed at every turn. The detail of the environments, Samus’ animations, the movement speed and variety of weapons, abilities, and enemies to battle, plus the hard-as-nails boss battles (which feels very un-Nintendo at times).

The setting for the game is the planet ZDR. Samus has been sent to the planet to investigate the return of a familiar species in the X Parasite, however, it quickly transpires she’s been led there into a trap, and Samus is trapped way below the surface and your objective is to make your way back to your ship. The environments range from labs, industrial factories ridden with killer robots, you have your lava levels, ice levels, all filled with an abundance of atmosphere. This may be the direct sequel to Metroid Fusion, but it’s channeling Super Metroid in all the best ways possible.

Given Samus’ has been stripped of her abilities you have to gather these back on your journey to the surface. The tools at Samus’ disposal include the cloaking device, various upgrades to her hand cannon, the grappling hook, the morph ball (complete with bombs) plus various suits to help you through hot and cold environments. All the classic Metroid abilities are here. One criticism of Metroid Dread could be that the abilities are well known, but when they are executed this well, in this quality package then it’s hard to complain. In terms of looks, feel, atmosphere, and movement speed, this has the ingredients to go down as one of the all-time Metroid hits.

One of the biggest features of the game is the EMMI robots. These are droids that were sent to planet ZDR initially on the rescue mission, although somewhere along the way they have been reprogrammed as hostile to Samus by someone, or something. These EMMI robots don’t mess about, if they catch you they are likely to kill you. There’s a small window of opportunity to smack them in the face and run away, but much like a person fighting a Great White Shark, there’s about 99% probability of death here.

EMMIs are sectioned off into their own zones on the map, and there are seven of them dotted throughout the game, and each one gets harder and harder as you progress. The only way to kill an EMMI is to blast it in the face with the Omega Cannon, a power you receive from defeating a miniboss. First, you have to melt off the outer plating, then once that’s gone it’s a quick blast to the face and they are dead. This is much easier said than done, and some of them are particularly difficult. Saying that these are some of my favorite encounters in Metroid Dread, especially when you use the cloaking device. The EMMIs come very close like stalking killer predators, and you have to hold your breath and wait it out, hoping your cloaking device doesn’t fail you at the wrong moment.

Your journey through the map and the zones is punctuated by encounters with the Emmis, but you’ve been teleporting back and forth from different zones on a regular basis. Metroid Dread’s level design is very clever and you are always nudged forward in the right direction. You have this feeling of a vast wide open space to explore, but you may be locked off by a small wall, or another blocking element, which can only be opened up with another ability, and Dread does a great job of directing you without being too obvious about it. It’s a masterful design.

Samus appears to have a newfound attitude in this game and she’s never been more on form than here in Metroid Dread. The slightly cocky move of the head when something is flying towards her face, or the swagger in which she navigates the levels. There’s a sense that Samus has seen all this action before and she’s going through the motions with confidence and skill, rather than a previous outing in Other M, where her fear showed rather a little too much. There are moments here when the camera pans zooms close to her, revealing widening eyes, but otherwise, Samus seems to take everything in her stride – cool, calm, and collected.

Samus’ movement speed is something to behold in this game and perhaps takes inspiration from other games in the genre like Ori and Hollow Knight, which are great examples of fast and fluid movement. That’s where legacy Metroid games fall down a little compared to the speed of today’s games, but here in Dread Samus almost glides across the screen with pure speed. She also has a very satisfying slide move, which you’ll need to get a hang of to get away from the EMMIs.

There’s been a bunch of criticism that Metroid Dread was too hard. Personally, I liked the challenge. It felt very not like Nintendo to produce a game like this, plus other games in the Metroidvania space are just as tough, if not harder. The EMMIs add an extra edge to the gameplay, one that send your pulse racing on numerous occasions.

Overall, Metroid Dread has delivered on the promise of what a 2D Metroid could be. This is by far the best outing for Samus in 20 years, and in my book comes close to what Nintendo has achieved with Super Metroid. I thoroughly enjoyed my playthrough, but for it to be an all-time classic requires another couple of times through the game. For now, though this is a hugely satisfying gaming experience, with Nintendo taking inspiration from the Metroidvania market, then going above beyond. My expectations have been met and then exceeded, and if you have a Nintendo Switch, you should be playing this game.

Developer: Nintendo / Mercury Steam
Publisher: Nintendo
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 8th October 2021