It wouldn’t be unfair to say that Nintendo is under an awful lot of pressure when it comes to the upcoming title Metroid Dread for Nintendo Switch. It releases alongside the Nintendo Switch (OLED) model (you can read our hands-on preview here) on the 8th of October – and Nintendo have sensibly been shouting about it. Not only have they been marketing it heavily digitally, this game finally wraps things up for one of the longest-running story arcs in gaming history.
For those unacquainted, the 2D Metroid series has been slowly drip-feeding fans for 35 years – this game means a lot to many people. And while fans of the series are impatiently waiting for more details of Metroid Prime 4 to surface, in the meantime we have a new world called ‘ZDR’ to visit in Metroid Dread. The good news is that we were lucky enough to get our hands on the first hour or so of the game. Please do not fret; we won’t be touching on any story spoilers. In our preview, we’ll be discussing how the game feels to play and what areas we explored.
Things have changed a little since Metroid: Samus Returns on 3DS. Since Dread’s reveal earlier this year, it’s clear Nintendo and MercurySteam Entertainment have upped the horror factor with the game, primarily through that familiar feeling of isolation. You’re still stripped of your epic abilities from the get-go, meaning the beginning of Dread is comforting in its familiarity, albeit with a chillingly secluded vibe. But before we were left to our own devices to explore the claustrophobic confinements of planet ZDR, we were treated to a lengthy but required recap of Samus’ story. Here, we are reminded of her encounters with the Metroid and told once again that Samus is the only living being that can resist the deadly ‘X’ parasite that was discovered and eradicated in Metroid Fusion. The transmission quickly focussed on the Galactic Federation, the primary known sovereign government that hires bounty hunters such as Samus Aran, and it’s explained that the Federation dispatched a special unit of E.M.M.I robots to ZDR for a special mission. Unfortunately, the Federation lost contact with the E.M.M.I, and it’s up to Samus to investigate. What could possibly go wrong?
During our introductory playthrough, we arrived in an area called ‘Artaria’ and were free to explore. Some nice enhancements and refinements to Samus’ movements and Arm Cannon controls made blasting through some simple enemies a breeze. Samus can now freely aim while moving and this, coupled with a punchy and effective Melee Counter, which was first seen in Metroid: Samus Returns, made light work of some of the enemies that lurked in the close-quartered chambers of Artaria.
By pressing the ‘+’ button, we got a quick glimpse of the map and, even though our view was fairly limited at this stage, locating a friendly AI called Adam gave us the means to save our game and learn more about the surroundings. Often, we found ourselves stopping and gazing at the environment before heading further into the depths of our current location. It’s stunning, but we’ll cover more on that in our final thoughts of the game. Needless to say though, the thought of exploring every nook and cranny of ZDR is exhilarating. The way the environment is presented on screen is beautiful; each section is well detailed and some of the lighting used is just plain lovely, highlighting the world’s alien feel. Having played the first hour or so of the game in handheld mode on a Switch (OLED) model, the crisp display certainly helped to make the experience more immersive, but we’ll have more to share on the new Switch model in our upcoming technical review.
Not long into our adventure, and after getting to grips with the controls and mechanics, the fateful moment arrived where we were greeted with our first E.M.M.I robot. Don’t let the name fool you as these ferocious enemies are hell-bent on ending Samus’ life in a single strike and are relentless in their approach. Thankfully, you’ll be pleased to know that E.M.M.I are restricted in where they patrol. E.M.M.I zones are shown on the map and have special doors to help indicate that you need to have your guard up. We carefully explored the areas to ensure we had a quick exit, should we miss a shot with our newly-acquired Omega Cannon – the only way to get rid of these robots. Suffice to say, when the time comes where Samus must face one head-on, it’s closely followed by a terrifying experience. There’s no parrying E.M.M.I and normal Cannon shots are ineffective, so we cleared an area large enough to fire one blast of the Omega Cannon, stunned it, majestically slid underneath its quivering body and it crumbled beneath our feet when we delivered the final blow. Phew.
It’s plainly obvious already that these mischievous and angry AI will be the main, constant threat to Samus. You truly do get a sense of dread when you enter an E.M.M.I-controlled area and, right now, we’ve barely scratched the surface of what these things can do, or what they are willing to do to see Samus’ demise. They scurry along the floor like something out of the Dead Space series and, although you do have an incredibly short period that you’re able to evade them when you’re in the tight grip of one, the chances of success are slim. It’s a big gamble if you’re wanting to get up close and personal with an E.M.M.I. A gamble that we often lost, we’re not afraid to admit.
With only 15 minutes left to examine this starting area of Metroid Dread, we honed in on the many missile tanks that were scattered throughout Artaria. Scanning the area for harder to reach areas meant we stumbled across some more upgrades. Here, the Charge Beam shot gave us additional access to previously discovered areas we were initially unable to explore. On our travels, we also spotted some blue surfaces that could be clung onto with the Spider Magnet upgrade, but unfortunately that was where our session concluded.
The first 90 minutes of Metroid Dread gave us a very clear message, immediately setting an uneasy tone. Not only does it tell us that we’re alone, facing an unrelenting evil that has only one job, but it also delivers this story superbly, thanks to some cleverly shot cutscenes that were a real joy to watch. These transitions are helping to shape something special, something that we just cannot wait to dive into again soon for our upcoming review. We’ll finally, but sadly, be able to close an important chapter on Samus’ relationship with the Metroid, learn more about the Chozo that we saw in the announcement trailer, and delve deeper into an exciting and equally dangerous planet that will undoubtedly throw up more questions about Samus’ past. Let’s just say, we couldn’t be more excited.
A two-hour preview session for Metroid Dread on Nintendo Switch was provided by Nintendo UK. Metroid Dread was played in handheld mode on a Nintendo Switch (OLED) model system for the purposes of this preview.