Review: Metroid Dread (Switch)

Samus is back in a true masterpiece of a game!

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 10/18/2021 00:14 3 Comments     ShareThis
The Final Grade
Editor's Choice
grade/score info
1-Up Mushroom for...
Industry-leading presentation; the art direction, sound design, and score are all some of the best the series has ever produced; large map is fun to explore; controls are tight; new abilities perfectly mesh with what has come before; the E.M.M.I. encounters are gripping
Poison Mushroom for...
The map could possibly stand to be slightly larger;

Note: Mild spoilers ahead for Metroid Dread. Stop reading now if you don’t want to know anything about the plot of the game before playing it!

Metroid Dread took over 15 years to make, but the wait was worth every minute. What began as a DS game that went through multiple prototypes before being shelved, is now one of the finest games ever made by developer Mercury Steam and series creator Yoshio Sakamoto. The game is visually arresting, its gameplay is taught and electric, and the narrative boldly attempts to take the series in a new direction. There are plenty of Metroidvania games to play these days, but Metroid Dread is a firm reminder why Samus is the queen of them all.

Metroid Dread is Metroid 5, or to put it more clearly (because there have been much more than five Metroid games), the fifth chronological entry in Metroid series’ lore. Metroid Fusion saw Samus travel to the planet SR388 where she encountered the X parasites and took on a warped, rampaging version of herself dubbed the SAX. In Fusion, Samus was infected by the X and only managed to survive after an infusion of Metroid DNA. Dread picks up where Fusion left off, with Samus mostly restored to her old self and the Metroid now extinct. As Dread begins, Samus is pulled to planet ZDR where footage of seemingly revived X parasites compels her to investigate.

The game recaps Fusion’s plot before shuttling the player over to ZDR and an epic encounter between Samus and the game’s antagonist, Raven Beak. Raven is a Chozo warrior, marking the first time that a member of the fabled race of interstellar beings has come to blows with Samus during one of her adventures. It’s the perfect way of signaling to fans that things are changing for Samus. At the same time, Dread isn’t a total departure from what’s come before. Anyone who’s played a 2D Metroid game will feel right at home in Dread’s labyrinthine corridors, but there are multiple tweaks and additions that help to position this as the blueprint for the future of the series.

This symbolism extends to many different aspects of the game’s design. Samus’s armor, for example, is a mix of the organic aesthetic of her Fusion suit and the hard, metallic edges of her standard Varia suit. Similarly, elements of past Metroid 2D adventures are fused with mechanics pulled from Metroid Prime and Other M. The introduction of Prime’s grapple means that Samus can now swing across gaps and lasso objects from a distance. As for Other M, don’t worry, as Sakamoto only borrowed the good bits from that game. Namely, Samus’s newfound physicality, represented here by the returning Melee Counter from Samus Returns. Samus has never been more deadly than she is in Dread.

Samus has also never been more agile. Samus swings thanks to her grapple beam, but she also slides across the ground and can burst through the air thanks to another recycled Samus Returns mechanic: Aeion abilities. Aeon Energy is an alternative power source that Samus can tap into in order to rapidly propel herself through the air. Along with favorites like the Space Jump and Speed Booster, Samus’s myriad skills in Dread makes her faster and more athletic than ever before. All of which is facilitated by precise controls that are logically mapped to the controller for maximum fluidity of movement and execution of attacks.

As empowering as Samus’s suite of abilities can be, she’s by no means invincible. The hulking E.M.M.I. enemies are ostensibly probe units sent to ZDR to investigate the presence of the X, but after being taken over by Raven Beak, they’re now hunting for something else: Samus. Similar to the cat and mouse chase sequences in Fusion where the SAX would relentlessly pursue Samus across the screen, the E.M.M.I. torment the bounty hunter as she attempts to make her way off of ZDR. Unlike Fusion, however, the chase sequences in Dread aren’t scripted. E.M.M.I. zones are designated areas within a given region of the planet where the automatons roam and it’s up to the player to navigate their way through them without being seen—or caught.

As Sakamoto has put it in several interviews since the announcement of Dread, he wanted the E.M.M.I. to feel overwhelming to the player and evoke a sense of (you guessed it) dread at the mere sight of them. Mission accomplished, I say, as being chased by an E.M.M.I. is incredibly tense, and once caught the danger ratchets up even higher. This is due to how difficult it is to shake an E.M.M.I. off. Once they’ve gotten a hold of Samus a quick time event begins and, without accurate timing, the E.M.M.I. kills her in a single blow. Since mastering the timing for escaping from the E.M.M.I. is really hard to pull off, these engagements were genuinely stressful and made the sense of danger quite real. Being chased by the SAX was always a thrill, but the E.M.M.I. make those encounters seem quaint. A new mechanic also factors heavily into these encounters: the Phantom Cloak. Using Aeion, Samus can turn herself invisible to evade detection. The feature is smartly implemented and ups the drama whenever the E.M.M.I. come around.

A key element of any Metroid game is exploration. Dread offers a large map stuffed with secrets to discover. ZDR is comprised of eight different regions, all of which containing unique landmarks and terrain. The visual diversity on display in each region is mesmerizing. The typical impediments of past Metroid games are present (hello lava, old friend) but the way they’re broken up in Dread feels different this time around. No one region is entirely dominated by any single specific geologic feature, which keeps exploration unpredictable while also producing some wildly creative backdrops. Some set pieces even feature giant monstrosities that Samus never even interacts with, which helps make ZDR feel like a real, wild place.

Oddly, however, I left the game haunted with the idea that for all the different regions of the map there are to visit, I still wished there was at least one more to go to. ZDR is filled with details to enjoy and as ever there are countless hidden Missile and Energy Tanks to accumulate, but somehow the overworld feels like it’s one or two areas just shy of being properly full. I struggle with this complaint—the map is huge, so maybe I’m being spoiled by asking for more—but overall I think that empty chunk of the map screen was a missed opportunity. My playthrough clocked in around eight hours but was not at 100 percent completion. Those wanting to get everything in Dread will be investing quite a few hours beyond my benchmark. I also haven’t stopped playing, as I’d like to eventually accumulate all the tanks and I’m having so much fun that I’m not quite yet ready to let go. I say this so that no one makes the mistake of thinking this game lacks content—Dread is an experience so engaging that I simply wish there was more of it.

Dread is easily one of the prettiest games on Switch. All of Nintendo’s first-party offerings tend to fall into that category, but even among those gems Dread stands apart. The redesign of Samus’s armor is a highlight, as just staring at the suit as it levels up throughout the adventure is part of the joy of playing. The enemies and creatures are also thoughtfully designed. For instance, there are a couple of enormous whale-like behemoths that appear in Dread, one above water and one below, that seem to serve no other purpose than to be jaw-droppers. There’s also a surprising return for an enemy that series fans will find themselves grinning ear-to-ear at. Meanwhile there was also an omission of an enemy that showed a lot of restraint on the design team’s part, something else that I enjoyed. The cut scenes are gorgeously rendered and really help enhance the narrative. I looked forward to every cinematic and was glad to find there were quite a few of them.

Shout out to Kenji Yamamoto for producing a stirring soundtrack for Dread. It’s moody and atmospheric, perfectly complimenting the world design. The music is also evocative of earlier series installments like Super Metroid. It’s not necessarily a toe-tapper—there isn’t a standout track that I’ve found myself humming in the shower, for example—but it makes its impact felt by heightening the action at every turn. The sound design is also top notch. Beams and crunches and melees and every other noise in the game all sound phenomenal and further cement the player into the world of ZDR.

As a longtime Metroid fan, I think the biggest takeaway for me was that Sakamoto has properly redeemed himself with this game. A lot of damage was done to the series by Other M. Not in terms of gameplay or polish, but to Samus as a character. Which matters quite a lot because Samus is the premier female character in all of gaming as far as I’m concerned. Samus Returns showed me that Sakamoto had seen the error of his ways, but now with Dread I know it. At least, I feel safe in exhaling a bit and looking forward to the next Metroid without (ironically) a sense of dread.

Also of great importance is that Dread seems to legitimately be pivoting Samus away from the Metroids and onto something new. What that is I can’t say, but there’s genuine cause to be excited wondering where the series goes next. Although we have yet to even see Prime 4, I have no trepidations saying that if the series sticks to 2D in the future, this is the mold—the perfect mix of classic and modern mechanics and pacing. You owe yourself the opportunity to play this game. Dread is a powerful reminder of the importance and quality of one of Nintendo’s greatest franchises.

Amiibo Functionality

For those wondering about the amiibo functionality, I’ll say that Dread follows the trend of recent Nintendo amiibo releases: you don’t need them. The Samus figure adds an additional, permanent Energy Tank and refills her health once a day. The E.M.M.I. figure, meanwhile, grants a Missile Tank and refills their stock once per day. Useful, certainly, but despite owning both I couldn’t bring myself to open the packaging and chose to forego using either. I have no regrets and neither should anyone who doesn’t want or couldn’t obtain the figures. Note that older Metroid amiibo can be used to refill energy and missiles, as well, but won’t bestow either tank. I will say it’s idiotic to have permanent unlocks tethered to either amiibo, especially given Nintendo’s refusal to stave off scalpers who buy up all the stock, but as I’ve already noted, the toys aren’t needed in any way.

3 Responses to “Review: Metroid Dread (Switch)”

  • 1540 points
    penduin says...

    Well said. Thanks for another spot-on review!

    As far as the map goes — wishing for more — I entirely agree, but there are a few details which help.

    Any time I thought I knew what would come next, the progression, the powerups, and the combat all surprised me at one moment or another. There is indeed a map screen spot which I guessed would hold an additional location, but that very map screen gave me a fun surprise as well!

    There’s also a simple quality/quantity observation. I can’t think of any area which felt like wasted space. The density is just right, with interconnected paths, some light maze-ish layouts, and many elements serving multiple purposes.

    That’s my two cents, and honestly there could have been twice as much area to explore and I’d still have wanted more. Fortunately for us all, Metroid games have never been about making the journey just once. :^)

  • 1288 points
    Robert Marrujo says...

    Excellent points penduin! Always happy to see you chiming in. I’m crossing my fingers for an HD port of Samur Returns at some point…

  • 1540 points
    penduin says...

    Months later, I still find myself replaying Dread over and over. Its movement and action are just so much fun. I’ve never cared about clearing a Metroid game fast before, but this one got me to go for it. The last thing I expected after finishing was that I would ever care about its “hard mode”, but sure enough, I went through and got a three-hour finish there too. (That was right up against the limits of my middle-aged reflexes and patience, but I did it!)

    I’m not big on DLC to begin with, but I can’t help but imagine a “Master Quest” tweak to Dread. Link up the shuttles and teleportals differently, rearrange the items and enemies, maybe mirror the whole thing, and boom, we could have a whole new take on the game without a huge amount of development time. And any possible way to experience that ending sequence in a more drawn-out manner would just be super-sweet. (Difficult to talk about it while avoiding spoilers. :^)

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