Review — Metroid Dread is a Metroid for everyone
Metroid Dread has some big shoes to fill. It’s the conclusion of a story 35 years in the making, starting with the NES original. It’s the direct sequel to the Metroid series since Metroid Fusion, which was released 19 years ago. Perhaps most of all, it’s a game that was in development in some way, shape, or form since 2005. Yet, despite hints left in other Metroid titles and numerous builds being shown to press at events like E3, each and every attempt at making Metroid Dread a reality has failed until now.
Metroid Dread is a practically legendary title, one that most fans had already given up to abandonware. Of course, this means that expectations are high some would say impossibly so. Is there any way the Metroid fanbase would be pleased with Dread after all this time?
Developers, MercurySteam found a way.
And that way, was to create a Metroid game that somehow encompasses every Metroid of the past.
The Metroids are Extinct
Dread picks up after the events of fusion. Samus, now part Metroid herself and sporting a half biological version of her standard Varia suit, flies off into space after crashing the B.S.L. satellite into SR388 and, supposedly, wiping out the terrifying X parasites forever. However, she soon receives a video transmission showing the X alive and well on the planet ZDR. Being that she is the only living being immune to the X due to her Metroid physiology, she heads to the planet to ensure the DNA harvesting scourge is eliminated once and for all.
This is a compelling enough premise to build a new Metroid game around, but Dread goes one step further and constantly throws plot twists at you to keep things fresh. For example, ZDR appears to be ruins of a Chozo outpost of some sort. Even more so, there are still some living Chozo at the outpost, the first we have seen in Metroid history… and some aren’t too happy. In fact, one attacks you before the game even begins, so hard that you pass out and wake up deep in the planet’s underground without your upgrades.
Then there are the E.M.M.I. robots scattered around the planet. Ostensibly sent there for research by the Space Federation, they will instead be playing the role of unstoppable one-hit-kill Alien Isolation-style terrors that hunt Samus at every corner. Why have they gone rogue? Why do they want Samus dead? What’s up with the Mother Brain-looking bio-computers that mysteriously grant Samus powerful beam upgrades?
All mysteries you will have to uncover yourself.
Metroid was never particularly a game you played for the lore (with perhaps the exception of the Prime series), but Dread’s story is very compelling. It’s told through short cutscenes and text boxes, and luckily it keeps Samus silent to avoid another Other M fiasco. It’s just enough to keep you wanting to see more without ever getting in the way of the gameplay. This is exactly the type of storytelling the franchise wants and needs.
Gameplay: Three Games in One
If you’re reading this, you’re probably familiar with the Metroidvania formula: a 2D platformer where new items and upgrades gate progress and exploration. But what kind of Metroidvania is Metroid Dread. Is it a fairly linear one like Metroid Fusion where tutorials and signposts point you toward your next destination? Is it an open one like the original Metroid, where you are left to explore and blaze your own path? Maybe it’s a wonderfully broken one like Super Metroid, one that is somehow designed around finding as many ways to break the game as possible?
It’s all of them. Metroid Dread is all of them. It just depends on what playthrough you are on.
Playthrough One: The Casual Playthrough
When you first step foot on ZDR the atmosphere overtakes you. The alien structures and dangerous enemies keep you focused on the here and now. Everything is trying to kill you. Just get to the next door.
And if you keep playing like that, Dread will happily hold your hand. Your computer, Adam, will give you helpful advice on where to go next. Simply progressing through the nearest door or down the nearest hallway will always get you closer to the next boss or item. Just keep moving forward, don’t die, and you’ll be fine.
The E.M.M.I. really stick out in this playthrough. Their constant threat of one-touch death has you staying on the move. There’s no time to explore. You can die at any moment.
You’ll navigate through dark caves and ancient temples, reroute lava to frozen wastelands, you’ll unlock all of your abilities at a slow and steady rate which is enough to be useful though you do find yourself wishing you could have picked up some key items earlier.
You’ll really get involved using Samus’s new upgrades, like the Flash Shift, which lets you teleport a short distance up to three times, or the Cross Bombs, which turn your bomb’s explosions into Bomberman-style cross patterns.
And by the time you hit the end of the game, you’ll have picked up a little over half the items available, just enough for a nail-bitingly tough final boss fight. The secrets of Metroid Dread’s story will be revealed and you will have had a pleasant Metroid experience, if not a fairly linear one.
… but there is more.
Playthrough Two: The 100% Playthrough
If you get bitten by the Dread bug to come back, maybe to find all the items and unlock all the optional art bonuses, or maybe to challenge the newly unlocked hard more, you start to look at ZDR a little bit different.
You see, at the end of your first playthrough, right before the final boss, the game cleverly shows you how certain abilities can be used in unconventional ways. The Cross Bombs, for example, can propel you horizontally at fast speeds in the morph ball state. Shine Spark tricks can be used to hold a Speed Boost charge over huge areas of the map.
Suddenly, some items that seemed impossible to get are no longer out of your reach. You’ll spend a lot of time finagling with your controls to get certain jumps juuuuust right, but with a little practice you’ll end up plumbing all the depths of ZDR for all of its hidden goodies.
This playthrough grants you a sort of satisfaction in memorization, much like the very first NES Metroid. The map is woefully cluttered, but it doesn’t particularly matter because you’ll start to memorize every area of ZDR like it’s the back of your hand. You’ll find new ways through areas you never thought of before simply because you need to think outside the box to get some of your beloved power-ups.
Then, by the time you hit the final boss, you will confront him with the power of a space god. Even on hard mode, 100-percenting the game makes Samus a force to be reckoned with. You put in the effort and you were rewarded with becoming the most powerful, dangerous, and terrifying bounty hunter on this side of the galaxy.
… but there’s more.
Playthrough Three: The Speedrun
While going through your 100 percent playthrough, something weird happened. While trying to pick up a missile tank, you found yourself on an alternate route that skipped an entire boss. What’s happening?
Welcome to Metroid Dread’s final incarnation, a wide-open totally broken speed fest, much like Super Metroid.
There are a million and one secrets stashed away in Dread that allow you to break the obvious path. It’s just that you didn’t know to look for them your first time through and they are very hard to stumble on.
For example, there is one boss you fight that, if you follow the normal path, you will always fight before you pick up bombs. However, you eventually realize that you can sequence break and face him with early bombs. Mercurysteam actually coded in a hidden quick kill to reward you for finding bombs early. Most bosses have hidden quick kills like this, making fighting them even a third or fourth time a joy. They have stopped being a threat and started being a puzzle.
Now the question is, how much can you break the game? How many bosses can you skip? How many E.M.M.I.s can you bypass? Can you beat the game while skipping those same upgrades that made you feel like a god just one playthrough ago?
And the answers will surprise you! You can pick up items way, WAY earlier than it seems. In fact, one of the ways the game proves this to you is by guiding you to the Pulse Radar, the ability that reveals hidden secrets, early. Use this on some of the early rooms of the game and you’ll find a ton of hidden paths you never noticed before.
At the time of this writing, the speedrun record for Metroid Dread is already a little under an hour and a half, and it’s nowhere near optimized. Players are going to have a wonderful time picking this game apart for years to come. You will too, even if this is your first speedrun ever.
Where does Metroid go next?
Metroid Dread is such a phenomenal game, it’s hard to imagine Nintendo outdoing it. There are very few things to complain about. The only nitpick I have is Nintendo won’t let you remap controls without button swapping in the Switch controller menu. Certain controls, like clicking the stick in to activate the Speed Boost, are just awkward.
But other than that, this is genuinely one of the most perfect Metroid titles I have ever played. It will satisfy everyone, from casual players to completionists, to speedrunners, and everyone in between. It is a satisfying bow to put on Samus Aran’s long story of conflict with Metroids and the Space Pirates.
Only an official Nintendo-developed randomizer mode could make this any better. Maybe future DLC?
Either way, Metroid Dread is flat-out a contender for Game of the Year this year, and you shouldn’t let it pass you by. It was more than worth the 35 years in the making.