Metroid Dread – Full Review

Welcome to our Metroid Dread review! To start off, I’ve never been a fan of Metroidvania-style games. That’s not to say I dislike them — I just get lost very easily and more often than not I wind up wandering around for hours, completely stumped. By all means, I thought that would remain the case for Metroid Dread – and I was right – but I wound up very much enjoying this game nonetheless. Please note that this review is directed toward newcomers to the series; those of you who have played a Metroid game will absolutely love this one. We won’t be going over any spoilers, either, so no need to worry!

Introduction

Up until the release of Metroid Dread, I hadn’t played a single game in the series. Well, technically, I had played Metroid Fusion when it came to Nintendo 3DS as part of the Ambassador Program, but I was much younger then and couldn’t figure out what to do. Things are different now, all these years later — I’m a marginally better gamer and I felt ready to try to get into the series again. Dread did just that, and after playing through the game it’s safe to say I’m definitely a Metroid fan now.

To those who don’t know what the Metroid series is about, here’s a brief explanation (that we’ll go more in-depth on later): you play as an intergalactic bounty hunter named Samus and are tasked with exploring a wide area with a huge map. At first, there are many obstacles and items you can’t obtain — but as you progress through the game you’ll unlock new abilities which will let you go back and explore these areas. From what I can tell, the Metroid series is all about progression — increasing Samus’ abilities, mastering the game’s movement options, and memorizing the areas around you. Or maybe I’m totally off-base; after all, this was my first Metroid game!

When the original Metroid game on NES was released, this genre of game was much less common. In 2021, though, Metroidvania-style games are all over the place. There are some incredibly popular ones out there including Hollow Knight and Cave Story. Does Metroid Dread do enough to set itself apart from this newfound competition? Yes, definitely! I mean, this franchise coined half of the phrase Metroidvania, so it makes sense that Dread kind of contains peak Metroidvania-style gameplay.

Story & Presentation

As mentioned previously, Metroid Dread is the first game in the series I’ve ever actually tried to play. This means that I wasn’t familiar with any of the events that occurred in previous Metroid titles. You would think that’d be a problem, but Dread starts off by explaining the context of the game and what happened in previous entries. I found this very helpful (and surprisingly easy to understand, given how many Metroid games I’ve missed out on at this point) and this information alone made Dread’s twists and turns surprising and impactful even to me! I can only imagine how interesting the story was to people who have been fans of this series for a long time.

Right then, story: without getting into too much detail, Samus is sent off to a new planet to eradicate a dangerous parasite. Along the way, she is ambushed by seven E.M.M.I. robots that used to be on her side but were infected by some mysterious force. Now she’s tasked with escaping the planet and destroying the E.M.M.I.s, but of course things go deeper than that later in the game. During the game’s first few hours you won’t have much of an idea of what’s going on – the story is fed to you in bits and pieces – but toward the middle of the game the plot begins to unravel and it was more than enough to keep me playing all the way to the end. And as I’ve stated, even first-time Metroid players should find Dread’s plot interesting.

Metroid Dread has a unique atmosphere about it. The worlds feel lonely, but also lively — but creepily so. As is standard for the series, areas are littered with monsters for you to destroy. You’ll explore abandoned laboratories, fortresses, and volcano-esque areas, among others. Dread includes several different kinds of environments but presents them in a believable way. For more context on what I mean, take The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, for example — you’ve got Clock Town in the center, but then surrounding it is a wasteland, a swamp, a snowy mountain, and an ocean. It seems kind of unlikely for all four of those locations to be so close to each other, right? Metroid Dread’s environments are varied, but they feel like they could co-exist together. It all feels very cohesive and clean.

The graphics look really nice, too — especially in handheld mode, which is the way I played the entire game. From what I could tell, Dread runs at a mostly-consistent 60 frames per second with occasional (and only slightly noticeable) dips depending on how much action is on-screen. I also noticed a drop to somewhere around 30 frames per second during cutscenes, but this is a worthy trade-off to keep gameplay feeling smooth and slick. The presentation here is just really well done overall, and whether you’re a fan of the game or not you can’t deny that the whole thing just screams quality. MercurySteam clearly worked hard on Dread’s visuals and it shows.

There isn’t too much soundtrack to speak of in Dread. Some classic Metroid themes are played on the title screen and ending, but a good chunk of the rest of the game’s “music” is just ambiance. That’s actually not a bad thing; it adds to this game’s vague horror vibe. You may have noticed I said vague horror vibe, and that’s because I never really felt scared or on edge when playing this game — not even when being chased by the E.M.M.I. (although I did get killed by them more times than I can count). I’ve heard from most players that E.M.M.I chase scenes actually do make them a bit frightened, so I suppose it differs on a player-by-player basis. Which is fine!

My only complaint with Metroid Dread’s presentation doesn’t really have anything to do with its graphics or audio. It’s actually the loading times: they’re nothing too bad but they’re certainly noticeably long. Again, if the long loading times were necessary to ensure the game ran at 60 frames per second, it’s a worthy (albeit slightly frustrating) trade-off.

Gameplay

The gameplay is arguably the most important part of this genre, and Metroid Dread absolutely nails it. Even with no abilities unlocked, controlling Samus feels smooth and satisfying, and as you progress through the game you’ll obtain new moves that significantly increase your mobility and firepower. By the end of the game, there are so many movement options and techniques that you’ll have a lot of mastering to do. Fortunately, each of these abilities is easy to pick up and you can pause the game to remind yourself how to use them.

For most of the game, you’ll be wandering around the gigantic Planet ZDR. And if you’re not big into Metroidvanias, you’ll be getting lost a lot, so you’re going to have to study the map and get a feel for where you are. Luckily, Dread’s map system is excellent; it lets you highlight the location of collectibles and places of interest. There’s no fast travel, though, so to make it from one end of the map to another players will need to carefully plan routes through specific rooms. The “make-or-break” of this game is whether or not you like being lost, and thus forced to figure things out for yourself. If you get frustrated when there’s no clear way forward but don’t want to use a guide to help you, then this game might not be for you. But if you like games where you slowly unlock new abilities to help you progress through a big world map, you’re in luck!

Eventually, you’ll come face to face with one of the game’s many bosses, and these are perhaps where the game shines most. Fighting bosses with some of Samus’ abilities unlocked can be immensely satisfying albeit very difficult. I did die to bosses very often, but it never felt unfair because they attack in a predictable pattern. It certainly helps that Dread is incredibly generous with its checkpoints; if you die in a boss room you’re placed right outside it when you respawn so you can jump right back into the action. This gave me the motivation to push through tough battles, and eventually, I did! Almost every boss in Dread gives Samus a neat new ability, which definitely provides an extra incentive to defeating them.

I think my least favorite part of Dread actually are the E.M.M.I. zones, but they weren’t unenjoyable at all either! As you might expect, these locations house the game’s new E.M.M.I. robots, and when they see you they’ll start to chase you. They’re invincible to normal attacks, so you have no choice but to run away (you can defeat them later with a special power-up). If the E.M.M.I manages to catch you, you’re instantly killed — that is, unless you can input what may be a frame-perfect attack window. This may come as a surprise, but I was not very good at this and often died anyway. Oh well.

The main story took me about 9 hours to beat on my first attempt. At the time of writing, I’ve only played through the main story once and I think I’m going to again at some point in the future. There’s not much replay value here, sadly — you do unlock Hard Mode after beating the game and are encouraged to beat it as quickly as possible, but there isn’t anything beyond that. Maybe a boss rush mode or something could have been nice, but perhaps this is grasping at straws.

The Verdict

I didn’t expect to like Metroid Dread as much as I did, and I’ll definitely be playing it over again. It’s a bit on the short side, and players who become frustrated easily might not really “catch on” to what this game is about, but as long as you’re patient and willing to optimize your movement and use of abilities you’ll definitely like this one.

If you’ve browsed much Twitter lately, you may have seen complaints about this game’s $60 price tag. Even as someone who generally isn’t a fan of the genre, I found Metroid Dread to be worth it! Yes, the main story only lasts a few hours, but I’m certainly going to be replaying this game in the future. Plus, expensive games don’t necessarily have to be long to be worth their price tag — the amount of time they last for just has to be good, and Metroid Dread certainly fits that bill.

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