The first brand new 2D Metroid since 2002? Amazing. So how does it stack up to its forbears? Let’s see in our Metroid Dread – Nintendo Switch Review. For disclosure, this review was based on a copy purchased by the author and is in no way affiliated with Nintendo.
Anyone on the Any Button Gaming team know that the 2D Metroid series is a passion of ours. Super Metroid remains this authors favourite game of all time and we’ve played every other title. You can even check out our rankings of 2D Metroid titles here. So it goes without saying that we were a little excited when Nintendo announced a new offering coming this year – Metroid Dread.
Metroid Dread is the official fifth instalment in terms of chronology and picks up after Metroid Fusion. It’s produced by Nintendo and developer by Spanish Developer, Mercury Steam. This is the same studio that made the 2017 remake of Metroid II: Samus Returns for the 3DS.
Metroidvania is a big thing now…
Metroid, as a franchise is in an interesting position. Other than two rather unpopular titles (Other M for the Wii and Federation Force for the 3DS), there hasn’t really been a well-regarded original Metroid game since Metroid Prime 3: Corruption on the Wii back in 2007. As stated, there hasn’t been a fresh 2D instance since 2002.
In that time, the genre that the Metroid series help birth, (dubbed Metroidvania) has seen a resurgence. Hollow Knight, Dead Cells, Guacamelee, Axiom Verge 1 & 2 plus have come out and done the genre proud. So this is an interesting time to release a new Metroid. Can it both appeal to a past legacy and do something fresh?
The answer is largely… yes. Metroid Dread can stand toe to toe with the latest genre additions, even if it possibly fails to eclipse them. What stands out, for certain, is that there is a clear and pure understanding of what makes a 2D Metroid game. That means, first and foremost, that this is a single player game. None of the Federation Force nonsense on show here.
A sequel to Fusion AND Samus Returns
It’s an interesting blend of design and legacy. This game is a clear sequel to Metroid Fusion and contains elements from that game. At the same time, it is also a successor to Mercury Steam’s 2017 Samus Returns. It contains a narrative structure similar to Fusion and even includes some cut scenes but it stops short at going down the Other M route and making Samus a speaking active protagonist.
The story itself is fine – it does conclude the story strands set up in Fusion and previous 2D titles and also takes the series further, focusing a lot of the nature of the Metroid and X Parisite species and the enigmatic alien Chozo figures that have been a big part of Metroid lore. It isn’t spectacular and there isn’t anything too deep but it does enough to justify its existence.
The biggest improvement we have to mention is just how good Samus feels to control. Her movements are fluid, the game runs a very stable 60 FPS and feels all the more glorious for it. As you master her movement and upgrades, you are going to love the feel of running around the map. Which is important when it comes to navigation and bosses (more on that later)
Upgrade me baby!
Upgrades are an important part of the genre, as each new ability changes up what you can do on the map and who you can fight. Dread does a very good job of subverting some expectations. Shock, horror, the morph ball is NOT your first upgrade! It also gives them at a regular pace so that you can be sure that you are never too far from learning something new. We were quite surprised, in fact, of how many upgrades there were. Some are series favourites but there are some newbies and they are really good.
The game is about the right length, at around 10 hours for a standard playthrough. This is shorter than some of its more modern contemporaries, such as Hollow Knight, but here it feels perfectly paced. Exploration is key here, returning to its Super Metroid style routes as opposed to the more linear Fusion. This is a double edged sword, but when it works for you, it feels good. Backtracking also makes a comeback, which may annoy some but is such a part of the Metroid experience it feels good to have it part of the core design
The big new addition to the series is the inclusion of the E.M.M.I’s. These are, basically, one kill robots that can’t be fought. They patrol certain parts of the map for each area within the world. To progress in the game, you’ll need to navigate these sections.
E.M.M.I.. to you
The E.M.M.I’s stalk the player through this area. Get caught and you get 2 chances to parry but gosh that is next to impossible for an average person to do. Getting caught largely means game over and you start at the nearest entry point to the area. You therefore need to plan, stealth or plain run across these sections.
To be honest, we were most unsure about the E.M.M.I’s section when we saw the pre-release hype. We aren’t a big stealth fan and the insta kill mechanic seemed annoying. However, the traversal is very clever and never too onerous. It breaks up the general exploration and never really dominates the game. It is where the game gets its Dread name and it works. As a one off, this works well and gives a nice level of tension to your level exploration.
So we really liked the game but we did have some niggles. We mentioned earlier that this is a part iteration on Samus Returns for the 3DS and that is both good and bad. That game showed a real understanding for Samus and the game. At the same time, it introduced a few elements that never really gelled with us.
Parry and controls
The timed parry mechanic is back, and while less obtrusive, plays a big part in the game. It turns a lot encounters into mini quick time events, particularly in boss fights. With a Samus that moves so well, it is a shame that it somewhat recommends you stop and wait for a reaction based event to deal with many enemies in the simplest way.
The game also retains the AEION abilities of Samus Returns though they are better implemented. These are moves that can be performed, such as a short dash or a room scan that uses up a sort of stamina called AEION. In Samus Returns you needed to replenish this with enemy kills but now they act far more like a rechargeable resource. In a boss fight, for example, the dash is invaluable but you can’t spam it. You need to choose your moments and wait for a recharge.
It’s a neat mechanic but ties into one of our issues. There are a lot of controls to remember. In a boss fight, you may need to slide using L2, then quickly aim with L1, then hold R1 to charge a missile up before pressing Y and constantly moving before using A to dodge. That may not sound like a lot but the player will need to work hard to get familiar with the constantly evolving move set. For newbies or those that struggle with the joycons on a Switch, it could be problematic.
Big ‘ole bosses
Bosses are another point. The bosses in this game are tough but often repetitive and heavily reliant on quick time events for finishing or phase moves. There are some great stand out boss fights, such as the early Kraid fight, but you will also find a lot of the same enemy type repeated (or simply doubled up). The key to the boss fights are really about learning move sets by heart rather than having complex strategies. We found that typically, we died quickly for a few goes, then just learnt the move set by rote. Such as, that oh that needs a slide, the next move needs a double jump.
Ultimately, you can only beat the boss the way the game wants and the difficulty is in timing than strategy. Again, if you aren’t invested it could prove a barrier to new gamers. The same is also true of getting items. The core upgrades are part of the gameplay loop but getting 100% completion on items means getting all missiles, health tanks and bomb upgrades. You don’t need 100% to be tough enough to complete the game but… how else can be pretend to be cool online?
Unfortunately, a lot of the really hidden upgrades are skill based rather than puzzle based. One example is a missile upgrade that requires perfect use of the speed run, combined with the space jump then warping through some blocks. We had to check online to see how to do it and it took us a LOT of goes to get there. Getting 100% needs a lot of skill.
We do have to comment on the overall atmosphere. The graphics are good, and clean but… there is just something… missing. The game doesn’t exude the same ambience of previous Metroid titles. The music is largely forgettable and generic – it doesn’t tie much into the surroundings of the world. The world itself is functional but again, the only spaces that seemed to tie sound and level design into something coherent was the E.M.M.I zones. Sound design is good but again, nothing exceptional. It does its job.
Finally, we need to talk about level design. This game is well designed and is pretty tight. However, one wrong turn and you could be backtracking for quite some time. We largely felt confident on where we needed to go – it wasn’t linear or mindless but also was clever at giving subtle direction. Until you miss one of those subtleties and you’ll find yourself going back over yourself again and again.
Backtracking can be frustrating too – it is quite a mission to work out the way to get to map areas, even with teleports and lifts to areas. We’ve seen a few complaints on twitter of people wandering for ages to progress. We can see why they feel this way. We also got lost once or twice and it took a long time to find the correct way. From our exception, it was the exception rather than the rule. By golly though, the speedrunning community are going to have a field day with this one.
Metroid Dread – Nintendo Switch Review conclusion
So, in conclusion, Metroid Dread is a good Metroid game. At some points, it is a very very good Metroid game. Not all its choices fully stick and we aren’t as enamoured with the world as previous titles but for a new title in the series, it keeps all the fun of the original series with few compromises.
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- Overall - 9/109/10
Pros – Finally a decent 2D Metroid title that gets it. Superb controls and smooth playing. Well designed and rewarding. Cons – difficult for new starters with some overuse of bosses. Not as atmospheric as other titles. Navigation can be tricky.
Rudy Manchego has been gaming since the days of the BBC Micro Computer and spreads himself thin with a love of retro, indie and mainstream gaming. He’s one half of the Jambags Comedy Gaming podcast and likes nothing better than kicking back with a nice pot of lapsang souchong, a good game and a background podcast on the intricacies of Spanish cheese making.