It had been 19 years since the last mainline 2D Metroid game. Released on the Game Boy Advance in 2002, Metroid Fusion took the series in a bold new direction, featuring a more linear approach to game design that bolstered tough-as-nails action and a narrative that questioned the moral fabric of its previous entries. Its direct sequel, Metroid Dread, was released this month on Nintendo Switch.
Backed by a robust marketing campaign, the game was hotly anticipated by fans who have been waiting for the sequel for nearly two decades. How would it follow up on the story? Does it live up to the series’ long legacy? Minor spoilers ahead.
How It Looks
From a visual perspective, 2D Metroid has never looked so slick. From its UI to its inspired art direction, Dread is flashy and futuristic in ways Nintendo games seldom are. On the remote planet of ZDR, Samus explores cold, sterile sci-fi settings overrun by murderous robots and vicious alien lifeforms as well as more natural, vibrant vistas filled with beautiful and horrifying flora and fauna.
Developed by MercurySteam and Nintendo EPD, Dread builds off of the team’s previous collaboration – a remake of Metroid II: Return of Samus released on Nintendo 3DS – by utilizing 3D models to create stunning game environments that evoke depth. And Samus’ in-game model is so well animated, even the smallest of player actions demonstrate great attention to detail.
The perfectly directed cutscenes give Samus lots of additional characterization. The camera pans around to showcase our favorite bounty hunter’s power stances and even occasionally provides a first-person perspective to show us the action through Samus’ visor. When a familiar foe shows up on screen, Samus lowers her weapon, in seeming disbelief – before charging her arm cannon and raising it to meet the alien like a boss.
How It Plays
Samus has never felt more fluid. The new slide ability is a natural addition to her arsonal, and early on is essential to navigating ZDR’s many tight spaces. Thanks to the previously mentioned 3D models, the game also pulls off cool camera tricks, swiftly zooming in when you successfully perform an upgraded counter attack. It feels good.
One of the game’s new features is the E.M.M.I., a group of robots that stalk Samus with an unnerving grace during certain sections of the game. The E.M.M.I. add lots of tension and horror, and they feel like a natural extension of Fusion’s SA-X and Zero Mission’s stealth elements with a twist. Some players may take issue with the all-but-guaranteed game over that results from running into one of these dangerous robots, but thankfully the game offers a generous auto-save feature that ensures you’ll never be set too far back should you be killed. And you will die – many times. Dread is one of the most challenging Nintendo games in decades.
Boss fights are where this game truly shines. In the past, Metroid bosses could simply be defeated by spamming missiles. Not so in Dread. Many of the game's bosses and even the multitude of mini-bosses will push you to your limits, requiring you to study the enemy’s animations, react accordingly to incoming attacks, and put the game’s 360-aiming to full use.
How It Reads
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect about the game is its story. Fusion explores themes like regret and corruption. Near the end of that game, Samus discovers the Galactic Federation is secretly breeding the titular species to exploit as a dangerous bioweapon, capturing the X parasite to harness its powers. Caught up in deceit as a government pawn, Samus grapples with her past, dealing with the repercussions of her previous genocidal missions, and etching out a sense of morality on her own terms. Samus goes against orders and obliterates the metroid and X to secure a chance for peace in the galaxy.
Which leads us to Dread, where we see Samus fully cooperating with the Federation. No mention is made of Samus’ previous rebellion. And while we won’t be going further into it to avoid spoilers, the game’s final moments are bound to be controversial.
The game’s soundtrack doesn’t help. Where past titles eloquently incorporated music to communicate mood and intention, there’s just not much that stands out in Dread. It’s serviceable, but hardly memorable.
Overall, Metroid Dread delivers a solid experience that longtime fans and newcomers alike will enjoy. While it may not reach the glorious heights of its predecessors, the game is a worthy sequel that will test your action and puzzle-solving skills, and it offers lots of quality-of-life updates that make for an accessible – albeit truly difficult – challenge.
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