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Metroid Dread review — The best 2D Metroid


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Metroid Dread is a worthy revival of one of Nintendo’s more revered franchises. It plays great and is difficult to put down. Dread also earns its place as the fabled Metroid 5 — a continuation of a story that started with Metroid on Nintendo Entertainment System in 1987. Metroid Dread pulls together a decades-old narrative while also re-establishing Samus Aran as one of the coolest characters in the galaxy. And that makes this a cannot-miss entry for devotees, but it should also convert new fans who’ve never played a Metroid before.

Metroid Dread is available now for $60 for Nintendo Switch. Metroid: Samus Returns developer MercurySteam is back, and it learned a lot of lessons from that 3DS remake. And now, thanks to those efforts, Metroid Dread is one of the best games of the year.

It is fun the instant you pick up the controller. That is thanks to its excellent, precise controls and locomotion. You start with a Samus who feels good when running and jumping, but she can also slide beneath overhangs and jump off walls. That ensures exploration and combat are exciting and dynamic from the first minute.

But even as it starts strong, MercurySteam builds on top of that foundation with powerups, boss fights, characterization, and powerful story beats. This creates a scenario where a good game slowly and steadily turns into a great one over the course of 7-to-9 hours. After all of that, I was both desperate to see the conclusion and sad about my time with the game coming an end.

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Above: Samus is cool.

Samus Aran is a terrifying mountain of violence

I do not personally come to Metroid for the story or the narrative. I occasionally like the world building I found while scanning objects in Metroid Prime games, but plot has usually had detrimental effects on my enjoyment like in Metroid: Other M.

But Metroid Dread, like Samus Aran, is cool, collected, and confident when it comes to delivering its narrative. Action seamlessly gives way to cutscenes throughout the game, but they are usually sparse and they always serve a point. Sometimes that point is to convey basic information about the stakes. More often than that, however, the point is to establish that Samus Aran is the toughest bastard anyone in this game has ever met.

And that characterization is so well done. MercurySteam uses body language to great effect. Boss fights are a good example of this. Even if your enemy is larger than the screen, Samus strolls casually into the battle while maybe charging her arm cannon that hangs to her side. It looks like maybe she’s flexing — but she also looks like her natural state is always flexing.

That’s not to say that Samus is emotionless or a blank wall. She’s just better than everyone else, and she knows it. She acts like she’s been through this all before, and canonically she has.

She is so strong and silent, that when she does falter or make a promise to another character, those moments grab the player by the neck.

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Above: That EMMI is about to catch these hands.

It presents itself as more unfriendly than it actually is

Metroid Dread is difficult — or at least that’s what it wants you to think. Another way of saying that is the perception of difficulty serves a purpose. MercurySteam wants players to feel alone and isolated. And one of the ways it accomplishes that is by throwing you into an unforgiving environment with almost zero indication of where to go next.

But the reality is that Metroid Dread is more forgiving than it seems. Enemies are challenging until you learn their patterns. On one boss, I got destroyed twice, and then the third time I knew the pattern so well that I beat it without getting hit. Every enemy is like that. It’s similar to a fight in Punch-Out or even Dark Souls.

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Above: Must make it difficult to wipe.

You are also meant to feel lost, but you are probably not actually lost. If you can’t find out where you’re supposed to go by looking at the map, you probably just need to keep pushing ahead and you’ll end up where you need to be.

In a way, the game is almost too linear in that if you come across an elevator or teleporter, you should go through it. The game is trying to push you forward. And I would almost want to ding the game for that except that it then also rewards you for exploring off the beaten path by enabling you to unlock certain abilities early.

Dread also has a very forgiving autosave system. You’ll usually restart a boss fight right outside the room. Same for the encounters with the EMMI robots that will hunt you down and instantly kill you if they catch you. I never wanted to put the game down in frustration during these reloads, which is to the game’s credit.

 

A beautiful, detailed world

I adore the way Metroid Dread looks. That surprised me as I didn’t find it all that impressive in its original reveal back at E3. I also typically do not like 3D art for 2D games. Metroid Dread, however, plays to its strengths.

Thanks to her 3D model, Samus is extremely expressive in her animations. Whether she’s running or aiming, she always looks fluid and cool.

Dread also has extremely detailed backgrounds and environments. And because they are physical objects, they look like they are part of the world. Those background objects can even sometimes interact with the playfield.

When it comes to sound, Samus’s weapons and the flora and fauna are excellent. This creates a sense of immersion. It’s just a shame that the music is mostly forgettable. The franchise has had some excellent soundtracks, but Metroid Dread does not add anything to that playlist.

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Above: The game’s environments are varied and intricately detailed.

Metroid Dread is a game of the year contender

I am still beaming from my time with Metroid Dread. When I get done writing this, I will probably keep playing it to get a 100% completion. It does for Metroid what A Link Between Worlds did for Zelda. It is the best-playing version of a long-beloved franchise. And like that 3DS Zelda, I think it bests its Super Nintendo counterpart, Super Metroid.

Its playability matched with MercurySteam doing right by Samus Aran has turned me into even more of a fan of Metroid. Even beyond the context of my own affinity toward the character and world, Metroid Dread is some of the most fun I’ve had with a game in 2021. It’s a contender for game of the year.

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Metroid Dread is available now for $60 on Nintendo Switch. Nintendo sent GamesBeat copies of the game for review — but Jeff Grubb purchased the copy that he used for the purpose of this story himself.

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