Platform: Nintendo Switch OLED
Time played: 8 hours
Metroid Dread is the very definition of refinement. Over the last few decades, Nintendo has gradually improved the rock-solid foundations established by the first entry in the series way back in 1986, and, for the most part, it's worked.
Metroid Dread feels like a culmination of everything that we've come to expect. Samus begins her mission stranded on a hostile, labyrinthine alien planet, stripped of her core abilities. You'll need to explore Samus's temporary new home, picking up power-ups and new weaponry as you go that gradually let you access new and previously unreachable areas.
As your arsenal grows over time, new gameplay possibilities arise. You'll be able to morph into a ball that lets you squeeze through tight spaces, temporarily avoid detection by activating a unique ability called the Phantom Cloak and survive in harsher climates. But it's a slow and steady climb until you reach the peak of Samus's potential, and a familiar summit awaits.
Metroid Dread price and release date
- What is it? A 2.5D side-scrolling platformer starring Samus Aran
- Release date? October 8, 2021
- What can I play it on? Nintendo Switch, Nintendo Switch Lite, and Nintendo Switch OLED
- Price? $59.99 / £49.99 / $AU79.95
After receiving an unknown video message from Planet ZDR, bounty hunter Samus Aran embarks on a new mission to discover the transmission's source. Upon arrival, though, it quickly transpires that Samus has been lured to the planet by a formidable foe.
Samus barely survives her confrontation with this mysterious new threat and subsequently finds herself trapped in the depths of the planet's labyrinthine-like world. To make matters worse, she's also lost all of her abilities.
But that's not the only bad news for our protagonist. Not only does she face overwhelming odds in making it back to her ship alive, but she also has to deal with a brand-new and terrifying enemy known as the E.M.M.I.
Once controlled by the Federation, the E.M.M.I. are research robots designed to capture field samples and extract their DNA. They're incredibly mobile, well-protected thanks to their armor plating that's made out of the strongest substance in the universe. But now, they've gone rogue.
These mechanical menaces stalk the many maze-like areas of Planet ZDR and will actively search for Samus should she enter one of their patrol zones. If the E.M.M.I. detects you, your only chance of survival is to high-tail it out of there. If you get caught, you'll have two split-second opportunities to escape, but it usually ends in instant death.
The E.M.M.I. are invulnerable to Samus's attacks, even when you gain new abilities, and can only be overcome when you obtain the Omega Blaster upgrade: a temporary, powerful weapon capable of destroying the E.M.M.I.
Once you have the Omega Blaster to hand, you can melt off the E.M.M.I's protected face-shield via a hail of plasma bullets and expose its weak point. Charge up the Omega Blaster, which changes the player's perspective to an over-the-shoulder camera view, and you can stop the encroaching E.M.M.I for good. Well, one of them, at least.
Escaping the E.M.M.I. is a fun twist on the game's usual formula, and Samus has various means to evade them, such as the Phantom Cloak, which lets her turn invisible for a short period. The E.M.M.I do become less threatening once you've been caught and sent to the 'Game Over' screen more than a few times, but the game would be far weaker without their inclusion.
Defeating the E.M.M.I. is a necessary task if Samus is to reach her ship safely, but you'll also need to search for new abilities and power-ups across Planet ZDR's many rooms and various biomes. Once obtained, specific power-ups and skills can help you reach previously inaccessible areas. Backtracking, marking your map, and checking for secrets are all part of the process. You'll need to scour every nook and cranny for Missile and Energy tank upgrades and ultimately seek out abilities that can help you progress.
Build back better
Even though Samus is relatively weak initially, she's still rocking her usual, trusty Arm Cannon. However, she also has few new tricks up her sleeve that make you far more powerful early on. They also help to make combat feel more responsive and fluid as a result.
First of all, our fearless heroine can now slide under small gaps and underneath enemies without slowing down. She can also melee counter some incoming attacks, signified by a bright yellow flash. Get the timing right, and you'll blast your foes to smithereens. Countering never fails to make you feel like a badass, and it's a crucial skill to learn for some of the more challenging boss fights later on.
Speaking of which, the bosses in Metroid Dread are difficult. Be prepared to die numerous times until you've figured out their attack patterns, as going in gung ho will usually end in a swift death. The game also introduces God of War-style cinematic moments where we get to see Samus flex her combat skills, and it's admittedly great fun to watch.
Samus can also fire her weapons at any angle in Metroid Dread, giving you far more control than previous titles where aiming was strictly restricted to diagonals and shooting forward. As the game progresses, you'll have to switch between various weapon types and abilities to deal with specific challenges ahead, like more formidable enemies and wide, open gaps that you need to get across.
When everything comes together, Metroid Dread can be incredibly gratifying. But those moments are rare, as much of the game is spent focusing on getting past the next obstacle using the right tool for the job.
It's also not uncommon to get lost in the game's deliberately complex world or be unsure where to go next. Markers can be placed to mark specific points of interest, but many of the game's teleporters only allow travel to set areas of each sub-world. When you're stuck running around the same halls and encountering the same enemies as you search for that one room you forgot to check, it can be incredibly frustrating.
Load times are also a slight point of contention. There isn't any loading when you're running around each sub-world, but hop on a teleporter, and you can expect at least a 20-second wait before you're back in action. That might seem insignificant, but it quickly adds up, especially if you find yourself going back and forth.
Don't set your phasers to stun
As superbly polished and refined as it is, Metroid Dread feels like the series has reached a critical juncture. Yes, it's lovely to play another side-scrolling, 2.5D Metroid game again (though Metroid: Samus Returns on Nintendo 3DS arguably filled that desire in 2017). But it's hard not to feel more than a tinge of disappointment that nothing's fundamentally changed since those halcyon days when we first set foot on the planet Zebes on the Nintendo Entertainment System.
That's not to say Metroid's satisfying gameplay loop is broken, per se. Critically-acclaimed titles like Hollow Knight, Batman: Arkham Knight, and Ori and the Will of the Wisps have all successfully followed the 'Metroidvania' blueprint to aplomb. The problem is, those titles did considerably more to further the genre as a whole than everyone's favorite bounty hunter has in recent years.
Metroid Dread may provoke the same sort of reaction as The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword did for many players, then: that the series ultimately requires a Breath of the Wild-like reinvention. Perhaps that's something Metroid Prime 4 will provide.
However, if you've been craving a classic new Metroid title with a couple of pleasing twists, Metroid Dread won't disappoint. For those who are tired of retreading familiar ground, temper your expectations accordingly.
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