By Isaac Espinosa
It’s not easy work. As Samus answers a distress call from planet ZDR, she finds herself undertaking another mission to save the entire galaxy. Metroid Dread is the latest entry in the Metroid series and continues to further the story of the powerful, silent woman protagonist after Metroid Fusion, which came out in 2002. Considering the hype for this new Metroid title, does Samus’ most recent journey fulfill all the high expectations, or does it dreadfully come up short?
Metroid Dread picks up right where Metroid Fusion left off. After fighting the gross X-Parasites on the BSL Research Station and setting it to collide with the planet SR-388, Samus has apparently defeated the X once and for all. However, a video from an unknown sender shows the Galactic Federation that the X is alive and well on an undiscovered planet named ZDR. The GF sends their top drones, the seemingly impenetrable E.M.M.I., to investigate this planet and attempt to bring back any X-Parasites for testing. But not long after the E.M.M.I. set foot on the planet, all communication was lost. As the only one who can fight the X-Parasites, Samus sees it as her duty to find out what’s happening on ZDR and make sure that all is well and good.
Once Samus lands on ZDR, the story unfolds in a marvelous way centering around a bird-likle Chozo foe that Samus runs into upon landing on the planet. Unfortunately, losing the initial battle to this enemy leaves Samus unconscious in the depths of the planet, and in order to survive, she must trek the planet’s depths, explore different areas, and eventually make her way back to the surface. All the while, the secrets of ZDR and this new raptor/human begin to reveal themselves. The story of Dread is one I love, both as a fan of the series and as an author myself. It’s thrilling to finally be able to see the Chozo in action; until this point in the series, we’ve only seen the artifacts of this species, the things they’ve left behind. And the progression of the story is excellent. It’s cohesive and easy to follow due to the environmental details, such as the shuttles and elevators, which are the only way we can access new areas. Like Metroid Fusion, the game creates a linear path that follows the story and opens up more the stronger you become. But unlike Fusion, Dread encourages the player to explore undiscovered areas, and possibly find new ways to reach objectives. It’s this mash-up of linear story progression and non-linear exploration that adds a layer of depth to Metroid Dread that makes the game a beautiful blend of both worlds.
The gameplay is some of the finest I’ve ever seen in the Metroid series. I played with the JoyCon controllers, although some have suggested using a Pro Controller because it’s arguably faster and more accurate. From a movement perspective, everything feels amazingly polished and crisp, allowing for a smooth experience all around. Samus feels wonderful to control, better than she’s felt anywhere else in the entire Metroid series, in my eyes. The best part of Metroid Dread’s gameplay, however, is the abilities and level design. Like all of the prior Metroid games, Dread has many different power-ups to obtain as you look through the game’s nooks and crannies. Some are familiar pick-ups, such as missiles, screw-attack, and speed booster. But others are new toys to experiment with, such as the phantom cloak, the flash shift, and the cross bombs. These new abilities integrate themselves perfectly into the already large family of power-ups, and offer an experience that makes Dread’s gameplay feel unique and fresh.
The only real “flaw” that Metroid Dread has is that the game is not too kind to inexperienced players. Enemies do plentiful damage, they come in large groups, and the bosses are pretty difficult to maneuver around during first-time playthroughs. You’ll be seeing the game-over screen a number of times, especially if you aren’t careful when fighting the other new threat in Dread: the E.M.M.I. These powerful robots relentlessly chase Samus within complex but confined zones, and if they catch you, it’ll be a quick and untimely demise. The game gives you a narrow window to block their attacks, so small that it’s usually not worth the effort. While the E.M.M.I make Dread into a tense and even terrifying experience, it can get frustrating when they make a smart move and take you down. I don’t see Dread being difficult as a real flaw, however. In addition to pushing the player to become better at the game, its difficulty also requires an understanding of the enemy patterns and careful mapping in the case of the E.M.M.I. These factors all contribute to an experience that will leave the player satisfied when their improvement becomes evident.
In conclusion, Metroid Dread is easily one of the best games in the entire Nintendo Switch Console library. From the unyielding tension to the articulate and atmospheric level design and soundtrack, this game embodies all of the core design aspects that the Metroid series is known for and amplifies them. I can say without a shadow of a doubt that Samus is finally back in full glory -and that’s good for the Halloween season, or anytime.
Bronx native Isaac Espinosa is a senior intern at the New York Videogame Critics Circle. Recently, Isaac was named the Circle’s first assistant mentor. He also published his first story in The Verge.