By: Daniel Kendle
19 years is a long time for a sequel, especially a story-related one. But when your sequel sells the best out of the entire franchise, reinvigorates an entire audience, and wins eight awards… is it okay?
Hello, and welcome to JOYSTiCK, the HPSH serial that enjoys reviewing and exploring video games. Today’s topic is of the Nintendo game Metroid Dread, and how well it was executed, particularly about if it’s worth almost 2 decades of wait.
(This review is story spoiler-free by the way, though if you don’t want to know about the bosses, E.M.M.I’s and/or power ups, then this isn’t for you.)
Metroid Dread began development as a Nintendo DS game, its 2nd prototype being shown off to staff of Nintendo of America, as well as other companies during E3 2009. Reportedly, it wasn’t meeting the standards of Metroid’s producer Yoshio Sakamoto, and the game’s progress was halted because of the DS’s power not being able to handle Yoshio’s vision. It was decided that more powerful hardware would be needed if the game’s full identity was to be created. Fear-based gameplay was Dread’s focus, and a truly-intimidating antagonist for the game required much more demanding hardware. This reason, the antagonist not being able to handle the DS, is widely considered why the game was put on hold for the time being.
But then in 2021, Nintendo’s E3 direct showcased a reveal for the game, now being made by both Nintendo and MercurySteam, a developer on previous Metroid games. Fans were hyped, not just because of it being the first main-line Metroid game in close to 2 decades, but also the fact that it was to be released only months after the reveal.
October 6th, 2021, the game was released to critical acclaim and financial success; nines and tens across the board and becoming the highest-grossing Metroid game, selling at around 3 million units. It satisfied fans of the originals, and also became many’s first experience with Metroid.
In my opinion, the Metroid Dread is hands-down the best Nintendo Switch game ever made. Games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey and Splatoon 2 get thrown around that title, but what I feel Dread succeeds in, that those 3 don’t, is simple: polish. But before I continue, let’s start the review.
PART ONE: GAMEPLAY AND PROGRESSION
If you’re not well-versed in video game vocabulary, then the term ‘Metroidvania’ might not mean anything to you. Metroidvania defines a set of games, of which the word is made up of two games; ‘Metroid’, (obviously) and ‘Castlevania: Symphony of the Night’. These two games basically co-created the genre, whereby games like Hollow Knight, Guacamelee, Ori and the Blind Forest, and Cave Story are part of.
Metroidvanias play as large, normally 2D games that feature one large map instead of multiple regions, connected to one-another via many entrances and passages. The thing that makes Metroidvanias unique is their system towards progression, where the player has to traverse and back-track across the map, finding pickups that act as gaining new powers in order to further progress in the game.
Keeping that in mind, Metroid Dread does something different than other Metroidvanias.
Dread had the conscious decision to have mostly every “lock” (something to use a power up to overcome) and “key” (the power up) not very far away from each other. Things like the Space Jump and Morph Ball each have obstacles now solvable thanks to them, only a few minutes away. And this goes for, again, most items. There are exceptions, but this is Dread’s defining difference from the rest of the pack, and even previous Metroid games.
While this has been seen as a controversial design element, I personally like this WAY more. Prior entries like Super Metroid and Metroid Fusion are fantastic games in their own right, but getting lost, while a cornerstone of this franchise, isn’t much fun for me. I want to be entertained, and while finding your way through vast areas is fun for some, I don’t agree.
In short, I believe that if one of your main gameplay elements has a player backtracking, it’s not very fun in my opinion. I want to be able to experience a rich world full of new discoveries and adventures, not a rich world where half of the game is looking around previously-cleared rooms. It’s something that’ll make some disregard my review entirely, but what are opinions for, hey?
Moving on to how the main character, Samus Aran, plays, a widely agreed upon aspect of Metroid Dread is how gosh-darn smooth she handles! If you’ve never played a Metroid game before, the main weapon and piece of Samus’ moveset is shooting, and this might be the best it’s felt to do that yet.
The game is the first of its prior entries to feature 360o aiming, compared to previous entries’ 8-way shooting (they were on much weaker hardware, so I wont discredit them for that). You can shoot while running, jumping, crouching, and falling, so Samus can have a very versatile array of ways to kill something.
Speaking of ‘array,’ her powerups in this game are great! Some of my favorites include the Screw Attack, which basically turns her into a ball of death when jumping, killing anything touching you, the Ice Missiles, which can freeze things in place to make temporary platforms, and the Morph Ball, which has you curl up into a ball to travel around small passageways with ease. These were all in previous games, but they’ve been tightened and worked to a new level of polish.
The game runs at a slick 60fps, allowing for quick, uninterrupted movement. I can imagine the game feeling a lot worse to control if not, or at least close to, this framerate.
PART 2: GRAPHICS
This is a gorgeous looking game, even with the Nintendo Switch having graphical hardware somewhere between an XBox 360 and PlayStation 4, both consoles releasing years before. All games in the Metroid series range from okay to phenomenal graphics, and Metroid Dread might just take 1st place.
In order to maintain a solid framerate, the game has background elements and animations played at a decreased framerate, around 30fps. This could come off to some as disorienting, but in my experience, it becomes normal at some point.
Since the game is split up into several different areas, we obviously get many different environments as well. The first area, Artaria, doesn’t have much of a theme, as its main purpose is housing the tutorial areas and introductions to the game’s mechanics. However, you eventually reach other parts of the map, places like Cataris, a lava-filled place with blistering heat, Burenia, an oceanic sea laboratory with coral and dark trenches, and Ghavoran (my personal favorite) a rainforest with alien plants and animals spread about, things like giant spiders and meat-eating trees. The game makes sure that each place you head to is distinctive and unique, and that’s a good thing.
Other than that, there isn’t too much else to talk about concerning graphical fidelity. Textures are great, and so are color palettes, color variety, and so on. Metroid Dread is an incredibly polished game in terms of its looks and style, and since I’m not the most qualified person to talk about video game animation and art design, I’ll stop here.
PART 3: BOSSES AND THE E.M.M.I’S
The bosses in Metroid Dread have obviously had lots of love and dedicated time put into them. Metroid has always had memorable boss fights, whether it be Ridley, Kraid, or Nightmare (these three are from previous games). So, when MercurySteam had their hands on an all-new Metroid game, they delivered things on par with the past’s greats.
The first boss, Corpius, involves them turning invisible at scripted moments, having to focus dealing damage to the ends of its tail. Upon defeating him, you gain the Phantom Cloak power up, allowing you to become invisible through charging up a meter. Most bosses in the game follow this design: have a moveset consisting of varied attacks and abilities, then upon defeat drop a pickup that relates to one of said abilities. Corpius is a good way of introducing players to this system.
The next ‘big’ boss you fight is Kraid, a big lizard-thing from previous games. He has similar attacks to prior titles, flinging claws and breathing fire and poison projectiles. Also, if you pick up the Bomb power up before fighting him, there’s a way to insta-kill him during his second phase, allowing speed runners to beat him quicker than normal and move on. Metroid Dread has loads of these skips, allowing those skilled enough to bypass obstacles that would normally be roadblocks to those not in the know. While he doesn’t drop anything directly, a room accessible upon his defeat is nearby. This is also something the game does; having a boss not drop anything when defeated but having a room be stationed on the way out of their arena.
Next is Drogyga, an underwater plant-octopus thing. I have less to say about them, they don’t drop a power up or have a room nearby for one, they’re okay. The fight is similar to plant-creature fights from other games but underwater, so it’s an interesting spin, but not one that I find super fun.
Escue, a beetle that shoots out lightning projectiles, is okay as well. They’re arguably the most forgettable main boss of the game, being in a small room out the way of anything else. You do get a power up this time, the Storm Missile, which let’s you lock-on to many targets and fire out an array of missiles all at once, which is fun.
But going from 2 meh bosses, we have Experiment No. Z-57, my personal favorite boss. This lizard-bug-octopus thing has an incredible fight, involving all the power ups you’ve collected so far. It even has a speed run skip! While it doesn’t drop anything itself, you’re led to Artaria once again to nab the Screw Attack, which I consider a link between the two. Just… excellent work, this one.
Golzuna is a crab-esq boss that attacks using a grid like system of bombs in the air. While considered to be a forgettable encounter by others, I enjoy this one. You gain the Power Bomb upgrade from it, allowing you to place rows of bombs to get to high areas or out of reach places.
And before anyone asks, I’m NOT reviewing the final boss, as this is a spoiler-free review.
There are also many smaller bosses that are encountered, the two main ones being Chozo Warriors and Robot Chozo Warriors, each bird-like Sapiens. The normal Chozo’s are sleek, fast, and nimble, attacking using a spear in two different ways: slashing at you on the ground, or leaping to a wall and slamming down in a general area. At their second phase though, they have their face split open and become these horrifying, animalistic creatures. Before they had very controlled, graceful movements, like a dancer with a sword or something, but now they move wobbly and fluidly, more like some kind of creature than a sentient being. It’s a cool change, and they also now spew out black ink to attack.
The Robot Chozo Warriors, however, move in a more formulaic way. This is something all standard robot enemies do, though seeing as the Robot Chozo’s need more versatile ways of attacking you (they are a mini-boss, after all), they still move a little more smoothly than other ‘bots. They attack you using laser projectiles and ramming moves, which makes them fun to fight against. If you end up fighting 2 of them at once however, it’s just annoying.
But now… the E.M.M.I’s.
E.M.M.I’s are large, spider-like robots that control a large part of each area’s map. While not exactly bosses, killing each one lets you gain another power up. Killing one, however, is extremely hard.
E.M.M.I’s are immune to EVERY weapon you have, even the gear you get at the very end of the game. While you can avoid them, make too many vibrations and noises in their vicinity and they’ll track you down, eventually finding you and killing you. There’s a fraction of a second to react whenever an E.M.M.I finds you; parrying it will let you break free and stun it for a few seconds. But this is extremely hard, and is unlikely to be mastered, keeping gameplay interesting.
E.M.M.I’s can be defeated, however. Within their ‘patrolling area,’ you’ll eventually find a room containing a mini-boss, a giant eyeball. The fights are pretty easy, but upon defeating one you gain access to the Omega Blaster. With this, you can both blast a rapid-fire stream of laser projectiles, along with charging it for a few seconds in order to deliver a powerful, devastating beam that – after breaking it’s face-shield with the flurry of lasers – kills it. This is how you get the power up and free the designated area of the E.M.M.I.
I love the E.M.M.I’s; they’re so fun and rewarding to evade and later conquer! While I do think the SA-X from Metroid Fusion is a little better, these guys are very close to it’s level. I could go on and on about them, but to wrap things up, here’s some more things I think about them.
- While I love most, the two E.M.M.I’s in Artaria are both somewhat forgettable. The first one is a damaged, broken version, which serves as a tutorial for killing one, so I guess that’s fine. But the second one – this time working – doesn’t have any flashy moves or special abilities. They both kind of left my mind the further I went into the game.
- E.M.M.I’s each have different colors for the areas they appear in, though I think having more visual differences would make them stand out more. Maybe the one that drops the Ice Missile could have icicles and permafrost all over it, stuff like that.
- The E.M.M.I’s move in a disturbing, insect-like way, contorting and reforming their bodies to fit whatever surface they have to scale; I love it.
PART 4: CONCLUDING THOUGHTS
As I’ve said before, Metroid Dread is the best Nintendo Switch game yet, beating out Breath of the Wild and other contenders. It’s a masterful look at gameplay, beautiful graphics, and dreadfully-awesome enemies. It’s a game that I’m convinced will go down as an instant classic among many.
But the million dollar question is here: is Metroid Dread really worth 19 years of wait?
Yes. Metroid Dread is one of few games I’ve given a 10/10 score, and by golly it deserves. I cannot recommend this game enough, and if you haven’t played it yet I urge you to do so.
And that’s a wrap for this episode of JOYSTiCK, specifically the pilot episode. Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ll come back for the next episodes. And if your interest in the Plaid Line has grown by this report, then check out others’ works.