Remakes aside, it’s been 19 years since the last proper instalment in the 2D Metroid series, but Samus is finally back and she’s blasting her way onto the Nintendo Switch. Delve into the depths of planet ZDR to learn Samus’ fate with fresh new weapon upgrades, enemies and the dreaded E.M.M.I robots who will stop at nothing to see the end of our intergalactic protagonist. Metroid Dread will strike fear into players, but is it a satisfying end to a 35-year long story? Let’s find out…
The 2D Metroid saga is finally coming to a close with Metroid Dread, a pinnacle moment for many fans of the series. According to reports, it’s been supposedly teased since Metroid Prime 3 on GameCube, with a sneaky visor entry pointing towards its development. However, it’s finally landed and we’re left suitably impressed. In fact, the last entry in the series is an absolute joy to play. From the moment that Samus lands on planet ZDR to discover why the Galactic Federation has lost contact with the E.M.M.I robots, it’s crystal clear that Nintendo and MercurySteam Entertainment have stayed faithful to the series’ staples.
In our preview, we spoke in detail about feeling isolated, and this instalment hits the nail on the head. Controlling Samus on her first few steps on ZDR, the isolation is evident, with your only companion named ADAM, an AI that aids in your adventure. In addition, Metroid games are also highly regarded thanks to some nifty weapons, abilities and techniques that Samus can utilise against her foes. Unlocking abilities will often give you access to new areas, which is another iconic feature of the series that makes a welcome comeback. The melee attack also returns and feels even more satisfying than before, the grapple beam is a ton of fun to use (and is very helpful in tough encounters), and Samus’ Aeion abilities prove to be effective in almost every situation. Aeion abilities, such as the Phantom Cloak, allow Samus to become invisible to enemies with smaller movements depleting less of the Aeion gauge. But start scaling the ceilings with the Spider Magnet while cloaked and you’ll quickly burn through your gauge in no time. There’s always the option to use your energy once the gauge sinks to zero though, but it’s a risky trade-off.
Of course, we’ll keep everything spoiler-free in this review but, as is tradition, Samus loses all but her basic powers thanks to a well-timed and unfortunate event. As such, it’s your task to explore the depths of ZDR to regain your powers and escape to the surface. New players to the Metroid series need not worry though as you’re brought up to speed with the story in the opening segment. Plus, the game’s gentle guiding hand in the first couple of hours ensures a speedy transition to the old Metroidvania ways.
Escaping the E.M.M.I robots is the main focus of Metroid Dread – and it’s a focal point that never gets tiresome. Challenging you to rethink, refocus and utilise the growing list of Samus’ abilities, these E.M.M.I controlled areas (of which they’re restricted to patrol via ‘E.M.M.I zone’ doors) will keep you on your toes. The constant cat-and-mouse game is daunting at first but, with a little encouragement from ADAM, escaping capture is a monumental win, giving you a guaranteed sigh of relief. Until the next E.M.M.I encounter, of course.
The good news is that E.M.M.I aren’t unbeatable and there are ways to escape their grip. Parry at just the right time and Samus will kick back against their finishing attack, allowing a slither of space between them. Slide beneath one and you’ll soon find your safe space, but with very little time to strategise your next move. The only way to completely stop E.M.M.I in their unrelenting tracks is to obtain the Omega Blaster: a suped-up temporary upgrade to Samus’ trusty Arm Cannon weapon. Engaging in a head-to-head Arm Cannon fight with a robot that’s crawling slowly towards you is tense business, but having the upper hand and retrieving your reward makes it all worthwhile.
Picture this. You know the exit is somewhere, it has to be on the portion of the map you’ve not fully uncovered yet. The faint beeping of the mechanical menace is far away, yet you know it can detect you in just a few seconds. Do you navigate through the small gaps towards your escape using your morph ball form, or do you slowly wade through the water-filled enclosure below? You take the plunge and go with your gut instinct into the water, but your movements attract noise, so you grapple onto the ceiling with your Spider Magnet ability and carefully edge towards the other side of the room, ignoring the morph ball route.
All seems well, until the E.M.M.I detects your movement and quickly discovers your location, locking the E.M.M.I zone doors in the process. You are trapped. You don’t consider the small platform beneath you – the tiny gap is just big enough for it to see you. You activate the Phantom Cloak hoping that the snap decision pays off and you can blend into the surroundings, but it’s too late and it’s locked on. Panicking, heart racing, you drop down and hope to make it through. At this point, you just need to escape. You make it to the other side of the room with a couple of seconds to spare, all while the beeping is piercing your ears as if it’s right behind you. But the exit is closed. With your death imminent, the E.M.M.I robot pins you to the floor and, with one quick stab to the heart, it’s game over.
Fortunately, there is no harm in trying again, perhaps with the morph ball ability this time. With quick reload times, you’re back in the action again changing tactics and approaching E.M.M.I with a different mix of abilities. A lot hinges on trial and error here, but learning the patterns of your enemy will be the key to success. This goes for the horrifying boss battles too, where the development team have once again stretched their imaginations. No boss is the same and Dread forces you to tap into Samus’ abilities to ensure the larger threats perish. There were times when we were left thinking that the fight against some of them was unfair, until that lightbulb moment of “oh!” hit and we gained control over our tougher battles.
Between the threat of the E.M.M.I and the edge-of-your-seat boss fights, the action is tight, fast and frictionless. Thankfully, for both newcomers and veterans of the series, controlling Samus is easy to get to grips with. You’re free to aim wherever you like, and with a squeeze of the L button, Samus becomes steadfast as her laser sight appears, giving you precise aiming for those harder to reach enemies or hidden blocks.
It’s this ease and familiarity that brings out the clever level designs to make for some truly awesome moments. Metroid Dread doesn’t try to reinvent the series – it doesn’t have to – but it refines the tried and tested formula that many will be accustomed to. So, even if you’ve not played a 2D Metroid title before, but have enjoyed Ori and The Will of The Wisps, Hollow Knight or Dead Cells, you’ll have a fair idea of what to expect here.
Most areas are impassable at first; whereby there is a specific ‘lock’ on a door or an obstacle that can only be cleared with a certain ability. As you progress and unlock more abilities, areas gradually open up and backtracking becomes necessary. We’re not afraid to admit that during a couple of points in the game, we found ourselves stuck scratching our heads and wondering what on earth we missed. Thankfully, Samus gains an ability later in the title that helps massively with navigation – in fact, it almost removes the fun and challenge from the game. But for completionists, you’ll be happy knowing that a 100% item pick-up rate is a fair task to undertake.
For the purpose of the review, we experienced Metroid Dread on the Switch (OLED) model. In handheld, this meant each area was brimming with life and the signature Metroid feel. One area was bursting with brightly coloured plants poking through gaps in the wall, while the other side was home to a fiery lair of confined tunnels, engulfed in lava. Here, the backdrops are stunning and give a real sense of depth. While there’s no 3D slider this time, each locale portrays a living, breathing world with friendly inhabitants dashing through crumbling crevices that serve as a pleasant distraction. Although Metroid: Samus Returns was a beautifully crafted remaster on 3DS, Metroid Dread shifts things up a gear both on the TV and in your hands. It’s rare to find a dull alcove or boring chasm in Dread, since its presentation is often strengthened by excellent sound design and music.
Having played through most of the title with headphones, the audio deserves a special mention here. Of course, each area has its own distinct and memorable theme tune. The sound of Samus’ attacks creating a punchy thud when firing missiles into a boss’ thick alien skin, or raucous thunder cracks blasting in your ears as you rush across a drenched chasm cause a feeling of intense immersion. Everything helped to keep us captivated in every room we explored. Small touches such as the sparking of a broken, flickering office light, to the low grumble of a creature residing in the walls didn’t go unnoticed either. It’s incredibly atmospheric, but also helpful. For example, players new to the series will want to keep a sharp ear for enemy attack cues, such as the shrieking of a flying creature or a battle cry from a huge boss. Here, it’s best to take note of the pattern of attack, learn from your mistakes and adjust your technique.
Chaining the perfect parry to blast our enemies was also satisfying, thanks in part to the fluidity and stability of the action in both handheld and TV mode. Performance-wise, and while we don’t have the technical means to check and confirm, the action seems to be very close to 60 FPS (as mentioned by other news sources). However, we noticed the odd dip in frames when the screen was cluttered with enemies, or when we activated one of Samus’ more exciting techniques, such as the navigation tool. Things took a slight hit in only a handful of cutscenes, too. Rest assured, it didn’t impede on our experience and, for many fans, it will go largely unnoticed.
The impressive performance and smooth gameplay both help to complement the narrative. It’s a story that does a brilliant job of closing the final chapter on the relationship that Samus has with the Metroid. But just how well does Metroid Dread put to bed a 35 year-long story arc? It’s the end of a saga, but we’re confident the conclusion will have a lasting effect on those who have followed from the beginning. Even if it is a little bitter-sweet. We’re staying away from story specifics here, but the narrative ties up nicely overall. Finally being given the last piece of the puzzle was an emotional, yet engrossing ending to the saga, but one we think most will be content with. It’s worth noting that this last instalment isn’t packed with Metroid lore, which will come as a disappointment to avid fans. However, Dread concludes matters with enough twists and turns to keep you second-guessing until the credits roll.
This final 13-16 hour instalment is an exquisite showcase of 2D Metroid in its prime. Newcomers and die-hard fans of the series can revel in a Nintendo Switch game that not only provides one of the most deadly and thrilling experiences on Nintendo’s latest handheld to date, but one that’s such a joy to play thanks to control refinements and HD graphics. Metroid Dread is an explosive and emotional end to a beloved story that cannot be missed, and we’re already itching to see where the next mission takes us. Just as long as it doesn’t include the dreaded E.M.M.I.
A copy of Metroid Dread for Nintendo Switch and a Nintendo Switch OLED model was provided to My Nintendo News by Nintendo UK for the purpose of this review.