My Complicated Feelings Towards Metroid Dread

To begin, I’d like to highlight that the discourse surrounding Metroid Dead has been an absolute cesspool, and I’d prefer not to contribute to that environment. If you believe that it’s a dumpster fire level failure of game design, or that it’s a holy relic above reproach, this essay will not validate your views. Maybe you don’t need that, but I’m going to be upfront about the matter.

I have a spotty history with the Metroid franchise. I wasn’t alive and playing games in the series’ two-dimensional heyday, and while I played a little Metroid Prime, I wasn’t impressed. Most of the awe the spin-off trilogy inspired came from translating the Metroid formula into a first-person-shooter. I knew about Samus from my obsession with Smash Bros, but it didn’t captivate me as many Nintendo franchises had.

Since then, I’ve poked around with Metroid on occasion. I was one of the three people who snagged an NES Classic Edition when it launched, and boy let me tell you, I will treasure the hour or so I spent looking at games that were not Mario or Zelda. The thing is, NES games are not known for aging well, so when Super Metroid came up on Nintendo Switch Online, I gave it a shot.

It was…fine. I can see why it has the following it does, but modern Metroidvania players are spoiled for choice with titles like Hollow Knight and Ori. If you’re not a Metroid fan, or you don’t appreciate games for their historical significance, you might not see the fuss in Super Metroid or many other SNES games.

But we’re not here to talk about Super Metroid, because for the first time in almost two decades, Nintendo released a brand new 2D Metroid. This take might be glacially slow, but I’ve taken my time to play the game, and let my thoughts age before saying anything rash. Plus, I had a whole fall season of anime to go through, so go easy on me.

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Metroid Dread is a loose sequel to Metroid Fusion, but considering that game’s age, most people playing Dread probably haven’t played Fusion. So, the short version of our story is that Samus has been sent to a new planet to recover the EMMI, advanced scouting robots that were deployed to track X, a dangerous alien lifeform. Samus, as the only person immune to X, goes in to see why the EMMI went dark. Upon arriving, she’s attacked by an alien, loses her powers, and is chased down by the rogue EMMI. Her only mission now is to make it back to her ship alive.

Metroid’s never been huge on story, as most Nintendo franchises tend to be. The story is just context for the new gameplay mechanics, forcing Samus to lose her established abilities so she can reacquire them, and introduce the terrifying EMMI mechanic that defines the game. As such, it’s acceptable and intriguing, simply because it’s cool that they’re willing to throw enemies at Samus she has no hope of defeating, and it’s a neat way to introduce stealth mechanics.

Reviews were positive, and it’s not hard to see why. Metroid is still widely regarded as a flagship Nintendo IP, and they haven’t received a new mainline game in two decades. If they had packed actual garbage into a Switch case, IGN would have given it a 9/10. Despite the warm critical reception, ‘fans’ were decidedly more mixed. I say fan in quotations, primarily because the most vitriolic takes came from people who don’t like video games.

As an expert in terrible takes, these fools give my people a bad name. The worst was probably a Tweet comparing “Nintendo’s $60 game vs Sony’s $60 game”, comparing Dread against God of War. Listen, if you think God of War 2018 is the benchmark for game comparisons, I already don’t take you seriously. Take your bad opinions and your 6/10 game somewhere else.

But I honestly don’t know how to argue with someone who thinks that every game needs to have big action movie set-pieces and hyper-realistic lifelike graphics. They don’t, and while I’m at it, I’ll let you in on a secret; ‘lifelike’ graphics are a scam to bloat file sizes and rarely improve the actual quality of a game. Metroid Dread is a 2D platformer for a portable console, and it is more than adequate.

The other outrageous complaint was that the game doesn’t hold your hand enough. I can attest that there’s some issues with how the game progresses, but when you’re not willing to experiment with the controls, there’s no amount of tutorials in the world to help you. Grown adults should not complain that they had to figure out holding the jump button down makes you jump higher.

There are parts of Metroid that are genuinely obtuse, but those will get ignored if people throw a fit that they couldn’t get past the first area. You have like, four buttons to keep track of, come on.

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Overall, my opinion of Metroid Dread is positive. I’m not finished as of writing this, but I’ve killed most of the EMMI and discovered most of the areas. Across the board, Dread boasts tight platforming, responsive controls, and an engaging atmosphere.

The world and monster designs are fun and creative, though many are not original or groundbreaking for a Metroid game. I suspect that when Metroid Prime 4 got scrapped and restarted, Nintendo moved to publish a classic Metroid game. So, they picked up Dread, which was a famously abandoned project, and pushed it out as quickly as possible.

The most important piece of the Metroidvania puzzle is how its bosses are handled. Most games of the genre are wickedly difficult, but it’s a careful balance between that difficulty and giving players the chance to improve. Metroid Dread handles that well, and I could feel my grip on the controls develop with each failure. I have a few gripes, but my impression of the bosses is almost all positive.

The EMMI are a brilliant addition to Metroid, transforming segments of exploration and discovery into tight, tense races to safe points. They’re so incredibly menacing, the sound design buries itself in your brain, sending my heart rate through the roof the moment those clicks and beeps enter the peripheral. Their application isn’t perfect, but it’s refreshing to see Samus put in this role-reversal. At this point, Samus ought to be this force of nature, but an enemy that makes this formidable Nintendo icon give up on fighting and run? It’s fascinating.

And of course, the exploration isn’t a treat. The game would be a flop if it wasn’t so much fun to discovert secrets, powers, and new areas. Dread might have benefitted from a prologue mission where the player controls Samus at her full power in order to give us a sense of what we had lost, but that’s a nitpick. And, well, I have some more major complaints.

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So yes, the game is obtuse at times. I’m willing to admit that many places where I got stuck are stupid mistakes on my part, but the blame isn’t solely on me. It’s a developers job to make a game intuitive, so that players don’t get stuck at stupid parts. I’m enough of an adult to confess that I didn’t realize Samus can jump while speed boosting without breaking her momentum, but I’m far from the stupidest person playing this game. At least I’m not the guy who thinks it should look like God of War.

And the EMMI parts aren’t all good, either. If you’re unaware, Samus can defeat a mini-boss in each EMMI area to acquire the Omega Cannon, a temporary power-up that enables her to defeat an EMMI. The problem is that this moment should be empowering, but you instead have to blow off this stupid robot’s head armor. Oh, you missed two direct shots in a row, so it healed and now you’re out of luck.

The issue I take with the stealth sections is that they don’t go far enough. The Phantom Cloak allows Samus to hide in corners and another power-up lets her cling to magnetic surfaces, but that’s the only major stealth options you have. Your only option is to hide; sneaking past them isn’t an option. You wait for it to leave, or you make a mad dash for the exit.

Sorry, but that isn’t stealth. You have so few tools to work with: you can’t crouch to lower detection rate, you can’t misdirect or confuse the EMMI, there’s no way of affecting the EMMI’s sensors. They have incredibly sensitive receptors, they pick up on you well before they even appear on screen, and hiding doesn’t work until you manage to lose them again.

These flaws don’t ruin Dread, but they hold it back from being the definitive Metroid that the Switch should have gotten. The Switch has been a powerhouse because it’s home to essential Nintendo experiences, rejuvenating old franchises. Breath of the Wild changed what Zelda can be. Mario Odyssey has the cleanest controls in the series. Smash Ultimate is the pinnacle of a franchise celebrating gaming icons and Nintendo history. Metroid Dread is good, but it doesn’t touch the heights that Switch games are capable of.

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I knew early on that I didn’t want to review Metroid Dread. It’s not that it’s a long game; you’re lucky to squeeze ten hours out of it on your first playthrough. Despite its small size, it has so much going on both in and around it that I’d be doing a disservice by rating it in a brief review.

So I’m glad I took the time to develop my thoughts a little further, and I’ll likely pursue this instead of reviewing games in the future. You’ll know for sure if I talk about Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl before the month is out. By the time this goes up, I’ll likely have finished the game and maybe even start replaying it. This is definitely the kind of game that would be rewarding to replay.

And I’m pleased that Metroid made its way onto the Switch at long last, and I hope it means big things for the franchise. It feels weird that we’ve gone this long without a pillar of Nintendo, but hey, at least it’s no F-Zero.

So whether you loved or hated Metroid Dread, I’d like to hear your respectful, considerate thoughts down in the comments, or over on Twitter @ExhibitionOtaku. Until next time, thanks for reading.

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