Consider the opening minutes of Super Metroid if you want to know what makes Metroid so amazing after all these years. Samus Aran arrives on Zebes to examine the remnants of the pirate base she destroyed in the first game after narrowly fleeing an exploding space station. It’s a fantastic example of Super Metroid’s minimalist storytelling, portraying the claustrophobic tension of exploring Mother Brain’s old Tourian headquarters amid rain and pounding thunder without using words.
In these moments, Metroid is at its best, vividly capturing the series’ driving force of terror and mystery. With its own opening, Metroid Dread tries to mimic that mood, with Samus falling toward an unknown planet to investigate the mystery below.
The first few minutes of Metroid Dread offer me the most hope that it will live up to its legendary moniker. While Metroid Dread’s production quality isn’t exactly AAA, the first few shots manage to be stunning in their own right, evoking the series’ signature sense of tense wonder. As Samus delves into the mysteries of Planet ZDR, which fill with aliens, robots, and possibly even Metroids (after all, what is a Metroid game without Metroids? ), wordless combat sets the tone.
The End of the Journey
Metroid Dread is the first new 2D Metroid adventure since Metroid Fusion in 2002 and is billed as the climax to the Metroid story arc. Since then, further games have been released, although they’ve all been remakes, such as Metroid: Zero Mission, or first-person adventures, such as Metroid Prime. That makes Metroid Dread a memorable event for Metroid aficionados, not least because series producer Yoshio Sakamoto has been working on it for nearly 15 years.
Metroid Dread follows in the footsteps of Metroid: Samus Returns, which release on the Nintendo 3DS in 2017 and was a recreation of the Game Boy game Metroid 2. Metroid Dread, like Samus Returns, is developing in part by MercurySteam, the Spanish studio behind Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. Visually, it’s an obvious step forward from the 3DS, with a vibrant color palette that allows it to stand out despite its generally plain presentation.
It’s helped along by the Switch OLED’s better screen, which helps bring Metroid Dread’s otherwise sparse environs to life. Metroid Dread is considering as a showcase game for Nintendo’s new console, as it will be releasing on the same day as the Switch OLED. And, to be honest, It appears to be fantastic. The Switch OLED’s brighter hues make it stand out more on the screen.
Its map is huge once more, with a plethora of alien-infested nooks and crannies to discover. The fact that Samus takes up far less screen real estate this time around adds to the feeling of scale, making the tunnels and passageways feel huge in comparison. In my hands-on with Metroid Dread, I was turning around a few times due to the lack of a Morph Ball (Samus, as always, is bereft of her powers to start the game). The map appears to be more intricate than previously, making it much more difficult to “just walk to the spot you haven’t explored yet.” In this game, traversal necessitates some thought, which I appreciate.
This type of exploration is a key part of the Metroid experience, and there’s plenty of it in Metroid Dread. Its emphasis on combat is where it differs from the rest of the series. When a broken E.M.M.I — one of the robots that persistently hunts Samus — shudders to life and gives chase, moving with the slow but inexorable gait of a Terminator, it’s the archetypal Metroid Dread moment. As Samus sights and fires her Omega Cannon, the camera moves to a more over-the-shoulder perspective. For better or worse, Metroid Dread is chock-full of these “cinematic” moments, which meant to break up the action in a way that resembles bigger-budget action games like God of war
The E.M.M.I. rooms, which dot the map and serve as bottlenecks where Samus is pursuing by droids who solely want her DNA, feed into this strategy. Despite being at the heart of Sakamoto’s initial design for Metroid Dread, these areas are my least favorite part of the game. They want to expand on the iconic Metroid Fusion encounters, which Samus is pursuing by a terrifying doppelganger known as the SA-X. But, if such encounters are terrifying in the manner that they might arrive out of nowhere — I’ll never forget the picture of the SA-X gliding slowly through a tunnel while Samus hunkers down in a vent below — a series tradition that dates back to Super Metroid. In that regard, Metroid Dread follows in the footsteps of its predecessors.
The Unique Atmosphere of Metroid
My hope is that this is just the start and that Metroid Dread will continue to come up with new ways to use its robotic adversaries while leveraging the game’s fantastic mobility mechanics. I’m also hoping that Metroid Dread won’t be as bloated as Samus Returns, which went a little too far in substantially increasing the number of Metroids and the map’s scope. Most importantly, I’m curious to see what Sakamoto and MercurySteam can accomplish when they aren’t bound by a pre-existing structure like they were in Samus Returns.
Metroid Dread will be the grand climax of the Metroid arc, and it will be up to it to bring one of the most beloved tales in gaming history to an end. That’s a hefty order, and Metroid’s storytelling track record over the last decade has been decidedly uneven (Metroid fans would definitely prefer to forget Metroid: Other M). However, it’s difficult not to be drawn in by Metroid Dread’s opening scenes, which so brilliantly establish the mystery at the heart of the plot. They’re a lovely reminder that the atmosphere that has made Metroid so remarkable for so long is still alive and well.