Review: Metroid Dread

 A game long overdue, E.M.M.I. right?

Console: Nintendo Switch
If you're a Nintendo gamer then I'm certain you've heard of Metroid Dread. It has been the talk of the town ever since its reveal. Quite out of character for the historical niche franchise but very welcoming. Metroid Dread is a game that has been in development in some form for around 20 years. The development of Metroid 5 was started twice but, technical limitations of the Nintendo DS meant that the vision series producer Yoshio Sakamoto had couldn't be realised. All of this definitely contributed to the massive 'OMG!' reaction long-time fans had to the announcement.

But I digress. With the help of Mercury Steam, the Spanish study that brought us the remake Metroid: Samus Returns (which I reviewed as well) Sakamoto's vision could finally be realized. And based on what information we do have, is a sales success. A success that is well deserved as Metroid Dread is a phenomenal game for fans old and new.
Let's dive in.

When the Galactic Federation receives video evidence that an X parasite, a dangerous species of parasite that can mimic any creature it infects, lives on the remote planet ZDR, they dispatch seven Extraplanetary Multiform Mobile Identifiers AKA E.M.M.I. robots to investigate. Shortly after arrival, the Federation loses contact with the E.M.M.I. The Federation sends Samus Aran, the galaxy's most renowned bounty hunter to ZDR with the ability to absorb X parasites due to an infusion of Metroid DNA, to investigate.

Samus after arriving on ZDR.

The story of Metroid: Dread is the closing chapter of the narrative that began all the way back with the original, 1986 NES, Metroid. Don't be alarmed by this 25-year baggage though. The game does an admirable job bringing everybody up to speed in the opening moments of the game. Even better the story never requires a player to have deep knowledge, or have even experienced Metroid before, to understand what is going on.

The Metroid series has always (bar exceptions) used environmental storytelling. This means that there is almost no dialogue in the game. The story is told through the character's movement and details seen in the environment. A very minimalistic way of doing things that can be difficult for new players to pick up on. Fortunately, Metroid Dread has over an hour of well-made cutscenes that makes it all much easier and clearer. This is good because the story of Dread is really cool. It has more twists, turns and layers than I initially thought it would have which keeps you on your toes and engaged. The music is also stellar, it's slow, eery and chilling. Dread certainly gets the series iconic atmosphere of hostility and isolation.

Integral to ZDR is the E.M.M.I. zones. The E.M.M.I.'s hound you only when you are in these specific zones, made clear by the gates, music and the 'grainy' visual effect. When in an E.M.M.I. zone the titular robots will, if they spot you, recently pursue you. If they catch you they will hound you until they catch you and then it's game over. There is a small window to counter an E.M.M.I.'s devastating blow but the emphasis here is on 'small'. The E.M.M.I. were a big focus of Dread's marketing campaign and for good reason. They are a big part of the game, build right into the narrative.

Taking down each zone's E.M.M.I. is usually the way in which that part of the map you really needed to go to progress to the next zone. Entering an E.M.M.I. is like walking on eggshells. It's even more sinister and suspenseful than the rest of the game. You really don't want to get caught and hope, for example, that E.M.M.I. won't walk a step further so it won't bump into you while you're cloaked. However, the more you encounter them the less chilling they become. Each and every one of them is taken out through the same method. Thankfully right when I felt that I was done with the E.M.M.I.'s the game's story shook things up.

Please don´t see me, please don´t see me!

The gameplay is very simple what it has always been for the 2D Metroid series. In the gameplay department, it's still a Metroidvania (or "Search Action" as I've seen it called more and more later). It's a platformer but instead of a linear path, it´s more of a labyrinth. You explore ZDR and all of its different zones with plenty of obstacles and collectables throughout. The more power-ups and special abilities you find, from the iconic morph ball to the new phantom cloak, the more places you can go and the more options you have to traverse the environment and deal with threats.

This is where my biggest gripe with Dread comes into play though. The controls of Dread are sublime. Samus's basic repertoire of running, jumping, gunning and now countering is all here alongside a brand new slide but the abilities leave something to be desired I feel. There are some abilities missing while the newly introduced ones, such as the phantom cloak, don't get much use. The scanning ability is also only available around mid-way through the game, a big mistake.

Metroid has always been about exploring but I've seen a lot of newcomers restart the game or drop it in frustration because, due to how well-hidden a lot of stuff is, they're soft-locked. Dread is welcoming to newcomers so it's a shame to see it drop the ball here by giving an ability that can fix this problem but only giving it to the player far too late.

The levels of Dread are well designed. They have enough of their own identity, are visually appealing thanks to the well-done graphics and have a lot of hidden pathways and routes you can take. The development team put in a lot of detail in the environments and character animations. Above all else, while the game has a high difficulty, the level design is forgiving and flexible enough that the game never feels unfair.

The bosses, most of which are brand-new, are the coolest I've seen in the series to date. They come in many shapes and sizes, from big bosses to mini-bosses, are fun and a true test of your abilities. Of your reaction time, what you´ve thus far learned in the game and your own ingenuity. Some are easier than others but I don´t really see that as a negative. They are great even if I do think that the last 3rd the game puts too much emphasis on one particular type of mini-boss. Do keep in mind that figuring out how to beat the boss is half the battle. Be prepared to die around 5 times or so before getting the boss pattern down.

When I said that some bosses were big I really meant ´BIG´.

Conclusion

Metroid Dread is a very good game. Its production values are top-notch. It´s well designed, looks good, plays good and is a lot of fun. There´s a lot to love here for old fans while the game is welcoming enough that it´s the best spot for newcomers to get into the series. Dread has issues, yes, but aside from that issue scanning ability, they are nothing more than little gripes.

Metroid Dread truly lives up to the hype so if you´re interested in the game, or Metroid in general, then I highly recommend you do so!

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