There are some game series that change with every installment. The 2D Metroid games, in my opinion, are not one of them. They seem to stick to a certain formula, and the simple reasoning is because it just works. After all, there’s a reason a whole game genre is named after it!
Metroid Dread is the first non-remake 2D Metroid is a very long time, 19 years to be exact (since Metroid Fusion in 2002), and while other Nintendo series tend to reinvent the wheel and change things completely, such as the new Pokemon and Zelda games, Dread delivers in all the ways in which I expected it without changing much from the formula.
Of course this doesn’t mean it doesn’t add new gameplay elements. Most notably, Dread introduces the EMMI robot, which tracks you down in parts of the map, adding a degree of fear to the exploration – something the seasoned Metroid player probably isn’t used to feeling. While you’re underground in dark locations basically the whole game, constantly being assaulted by enemy and element alike, the longer you play Metroid games, the stronger you become both in terms of abilities and in player skill. The EMMI takes all of that feeling of progression and throws it out the window – this “creature” cannot be defeated through traditional means, and the EMMI “zones” as they’re called are a game of cat and mouse – that is, a part of the map that is patrolled by one of these creatures, who will continuously stalk you until you manage to exit.
You can render yourself invisible, hang from the ceiling to try to avoid it, hide in small alcoves in Morph Ball mode, and this thing will still find you. Seriously, it is one well-programmed robot, I’ll give it that.
Let me tell you, there were a lot of close calls with the EMMI, and that siiiigh of relief once you made it out alive was such a rush of adrenaline. I don’t typically enjoy stealth elements, but that’s just the thing that made the EMMI element great – you don’t have to. You can totally run through each zone, and it’ll be a hell of a lot harder if you don’t know where you’re going, but it’s definitely doable, particularly once you find some more movement abilities.
I don’t read many reviews of games I’m about to play, but from what little I’ve seen, the EMMI was one in a very small list of mild complaints, mostly because it cannot be defeated and must be avoided. I can see why people didn’t like it, but they never posed much of an issue to me. Sure they killed me about a thousand times but it was always more exciting than frustrating. No doubt, I had to dry off my controller on more than one occasion!
The map design is classic 2D Metroid platforming perfection. While the levels are traditionally labyrinthine in nature, and you find teleporters and elevators all over the darn place, there is some method to the madness, and you can never really get lost so much as you feel lost, simply due to jumping between areas so frequently. You’ll wander into some random room, stand on a tile, and boom, you’re teleporting to the middle of some other zone you have yet to enter. Now you’re in the middle of a new location with really no guidance, but only your raw instincts.
This is especially where Metroid Dread shines. There’s never any real direction on where to go, but through solid level design, you’re pulled in the right direction via inaccessibility, that is, you can’t go this way, so I must be able to go this way! This works great and breaks the awful convention of waypoints, allowing you to feel lost without actually getting lost, as I mentioned earlier.
The soundscapes and presentation are perfectly on par for a five year old Switch game, and as 2D platformers have a lot less demand on hardware, they did a great job making the game look gorgeous. Graphics in a 2D space are far less important than in a 3D space, as you simply don’t require the level of detail to see where you’re going, but the environments are rich and full and fun to jump around in.
Of course, my favorite part of any Metroid game is that incredible feeling of finding a new ability. All of a sudden, you’re thinking of all the places you can now visit, and all the goodies to find within! Going back through the map and finding all of the collectibles was very challenging, although I was able to pull off a 100% completion in about 16 hours, according to the end credit screen. This is actually pretty long for a 2D Metroid game, as typically I’d 100% them in about 10-12 hours, but there were a few collectibles that were just simply ridiculous, but oh so much fun to get once everything clicked.
You know the move Spineshark, where you get a running start, charge up, and then BLAST in a specific direction? Well, Metroid Dread takes these to the next level and sets up some serious challenges to make damn sure you’ve mastered the technique.
I was so stunned every time I actually managed to pull off one of these challenges, that I completely blanked on recording the video for any of them, so you’ll have to take a look (after finishing the game, of course!) at this compilation video just to see how ridiculous some of these were.
Most if not all of the 2D Metroids have this mechanic as well as these puzzles, but boy, some of these took me over a half an hour to finally nail. The feeling of success was just something else!
Of course, there’s nothing like a good boss battle in a Metroid game. Dread‘s no different, with excellent boss battles that will annihilate you at first, but once you learn every attack, it feels more like dancing a tango, and beating bosses without taking a single hit even becomes easy! As I have so far only played in Normal mode, I’m unsure how this changes in the higher difficulties, but after a good 10-15 deaths, I basically had each boss nailed down, finishing even the final boss with about 90% of my health remaining. The game makes it no secret that every single attack can be avoided, and you also have the melee attack that was present in Metroid: Samus Returns to help you even more.
This melee move really helps you out in boss battles if you can manage to use it properly, as it is a high-risk high-reward move, but if you’re low on health and are running out of options, you can squeeze some rockets and health out of your opponent by timing it right. There’s something so gratifying about interrupting an attack by a giant alien by straight up punching it in the face, and enjoying a moment or two of awkward pause as you fire rockets into it’s mouth!
Ultimately, how did I feel about Metroid Dread? I loved it, I have loved every 2D Metroid game I’ve played, and Metroid itself is probably my favorite franchise of all time. It really bounces back and fourth with Zelda and trades places occasionally. It delivers the satisfaction I expect, and not one of them has let me down yet! I’m easy to please, in other words.
MercurySteam was the primary developer on this title, and they did an excellent job, much like with Metroid: Samus Returns back in 2017 on the 3DS, and I hope they continue to get more work from Nintendo. I recommend Metroid Dread to newcomers (although it’ll no doubt take far longer to beat if you don’t yet understand the abilities you’re looking for), but especially to long time fans of the series looking to follow up the excellent Metroid Fusion from nearly twenty long years ago.
It’s also worth noting that there have been some updates to the game, and you can now unlock some more gameplay modes.
And here are my ending stats. I’ll probably go through and do a Hard Mode playthrough at some point, but for now I need something a little lighter – and I think Kirby and the Forgotten Land will be just what the doctor ordered. Thanks for reading!