Metroid Dread Review
It’s been nearly 20 years since the last original 2D Metroid game was released all the way back on the Game Boy Advance. We’ve since had a 2D Metroid in the form of Samus Returns, helmed by the talented people at MercurySteam with direction from Yoshio Sakamoto, and once again MercurySteam has been put in charge of the series. Metroid Dread is the game that was never made several times over. Luckily it’s finally here with us, and the series which spawned its own genre can shine once again in 2021.
A quick note before we get any further into the review. If you’re looking for a grizzled veteran of the Metroid series’ take on the game – this is not the review for you. My experience with 2D Metroid has only been the Game Boy Advance titles. Luckily, in this case, Dread is a sequel to Metroid Fusion. If you’re looking for an in-depth juxtaposition between Dread, Super Metroid and any other Metroid game – you might be disappointed. If, however, you have only had fleeting contact with the Metroid series and are thinking of jumping in – this review will be great for you.
Dread begins with a flashback of all the previous 2D Metroid games. You don’t really need to know what’s happened in the past though, and before you know it Samus is on the new mission for Dread. Her mission is to explore ZDR and find out what happened to a squad of seven E.M.M.I robots sent to investigate the possibility that the X Parasites survived the destruction of SR388. Unlike other Metroid games, Samus doesn’t emerge from her ship peacefully, but is attacked by a living Chozo. They attack, strip her of her abilities (you saw that one coming) and dump her in the depths of the planet. Unlike other Metroid games, you’ll have to explore the labyrinth and fight your way to the surface and back to your ship.
Standing between you and the surface is a multi-levelled, any-which-way maze of puzzles, combat and platforming. You’ll have to plough through the different zones on different levels, travel back to previous zones once you have a new ability, and sometimes even find hidden paths to advance through the story. The threats to Samus come from varied and unique enemies, some of which are more annoying than others. But enemies aren’t the only threat, as the environments themselves can be just as lethal. With no abilities at the start of the game, you won’t be able to traverse through lava sections. The doors to those areas are nicely signposted with heat coming from them, as are the frozen sections. You’ll stumble through fire, ice, and even water to get to the end. The different zones are varied, even if it is a bit weird to see them all on one planet – but hey, this is a video game.
New to Dread, though, are the E.M.M.I. These bipedal killer robots lay in wait in almost every zone in the game. Luckily, they’re gated in specific areas, because you’ll need to get the heck out of there when you’re in their space. The E.M.M.I. all have a different ability, but their main goal is the same – to hunt Samus down for her DNA. Once you step into their area, you’re being hunted. Every step, every jump shot you make – you’re tracked, and if they catch you in their radar – bam, run. If you’re not fast enough to escape, you get sent back to whence you came. It’s just the door you came in, but it’s still annoying. At the start, that’s all you can do, and once you escape their zone after a short cooldown you’ll be able to enter and try and traverse through again. Eventually, you’ll get some tools to help with them but destroying them can’t be done with traditional weapons. There is one thing you can do to defend yourself against them, and that’s to perform a counter once you’ve been grabbed. Unfortunately, the counter window is way too small. You will die 99% of the time, which leads to what feels like padding.
The game’s map will help you find your way through the majority of the game. You’ll need it too, as a lot of the game is directionless. While you might get a slight hint from Adam, the AI on Samus’s ship, you’re on your own for the vast majority of the game. You’ll get a new powerup and have to figure out where to use it next. Hopefully, you spotted some blocks earlier and can remember where they were. The same goes for the game’s bosses. Once you finish them – well, what next? If this sounds like fun to you, then good for you – but for me, it would have been nice to know where to go. Especially after scouring the entire map walking around looking for the one section of wall I hadn’t shot out to progress. If you’re used to playing Metroid hardcore, the map might even make things too easy for you. Slight note Nintendo: please put some colourblind options or symbols in the game – the map is unusable as all the symbols on the map for warp points are the same shape. They’re only different in colour.
As I touched on earlier, the combat in Metroid Dread is that of the modern entries in the series, as the parry/counter and free aim from Samus Returns, uh returns? A new slide move also joins it for added agility. The combat in Metroid Dread is fast and furious (sorry). Being able to slide, grab and grapple around the environments makes for some fun traversal. It also makes battles with boss fights fluid and dynamic. Once you get the patterns down, you’ll be having a lot of fun.
The only problem with the boss fights is that there are too many of them. Between them and the E.M.M.I the game simply throws way too many boss fights at you—boss fights that take many tries and leave you with nowhere else to go. I’ve had to walk away and come back, or even go to sleep and try the next day. Toward the end of the game, the fun of exploring the map gives way to just constant boss fights again and again. The game has several unique boss fights that work over many phases, with some utilising an ability you just unlocked, or others using a combination. Other boss fights are recycled with a bit of difference. Sometimes it’s one enemy, or two of the same, or one with a shield – those fights get a little stale. The boss fights require so much stamina, with prolonged sessions needed to get right. It’s exhausting – but maybe I’m just getting old.
You’ll need to be on your toes in almost every instance. Every boss fight and mini-boss fight requires perfection to succeed – and if you’re not perfect, you die. You die a lot. The game is not just challenging, but brutal and punishing. Metroid fans will no doubt love it, but this difficulty could also make the game inaccessible to others who want to join in on Samus’ adventures. There are no aids, no help, no accessibility options or difficulty settings – everyone will have to play Dread the same.
One place where Metroid doesn’t disappoint is how the game look and runs. Planet ZDR is just a collection of beautiful environments one after the other. Yes, it’s all underground for the most part, but each section has its own feeling. The lighting bounces off the walls, the characters, and Samus herself. The game zips between the 2D perspective and into cutscenes flawlessly. Up close, you can tell it’s not the highest fidelity graphics – but the game runs at a silky 60fps the majority of the time. Playing the game on the new OLED model, Samus and the backgrounds of the planet look impressive. Don’t get me wrong, it’ll still look great on the older model and looks fine on the TV as well – but the OLED screen makes it even better.
It’s a cliché, but Metroid Dread won’t be a game for everyone. If you like a game that doesn’t hold your hand at all, is brutally difficult, requires precision from every movement and busts your back, you’ll love Samus’ latest mission. If not, your experience will vary depending on how much you can put up with the genre’s pitfalls and what might be considered obtuse design decisions. Metroid Dread almost broke me several times, but it might just be what you’re after. It took a while, but Samus is back, and hopefully not going away for so long this time.
+ Lives up to the Dread name but making you fear going anywhere
+ Planet ZDR is forboding and moody, exactly what you want from a Metroid game
+ Combat with the addition of the slide is fluid and fun
- Way too many repeated boss fights, one after the other after the other…
- Get blocked and lost way too often, resulting in what feels like poor acing
- Not friendly to newcomers at all, no accessibility or difficulty options either, the game is hard
- If any of these negatives sound like a positive to you, you'll enjoy the game even more