There’s a lot of heat directed toward Nintendo these days. From mainstream gaming outlets encouraging pirating their games to a litany of “anti-consumer” issues coming from the peanut gallery, it’d be hard not to believe that Nintendo holds the same spot in the gaming lexicon as supposed villains like EA and Ubisoft. Still, it’s hard to deny the allure of a fresh new first-party Nintendo title.
Metroid Dread, i.e. Metroid 5, for instance, is as polished as you might expect, despite having risen from the dead from a 2000s-era cancellation on 3DS. With developer MercurySteam once again taking the lead, it was a resurrection worth the effort.
After her victory against the X Parasites in Metroid Fusion, Samus Aran is due for some R&R, and…yeah, no, of course not. It’s Samus. She’s always on the job. Today she’s gotten word of some remaining X on the planet ZDR, and as the only person in the galaxy capable of dealing with that particular menace, it’s up to her to head over there and clean house.
When she arrives, however, there’s a few problems. First, she’s beaten to a pulp by what appears to be an enemy Chozo – the alien race that gave her the Power Suit and enhanced abilities she wields. Second, well, the robotic E.M.M.I droids sent to ZDR for recon have been turned against her…and, in a stroke of genius, they were built from the most durable materials in the galaxy. They’re out for Samus’ blood and she’s got no way to stop them.
E.M.M.I segments are a new addition to the series and serve to implement a sort of stealth-action playstyle; when captured by these invulnerable foes, Samus is almost certainly done for, so you’re encouraged to take it slow and figure out ways around the baddies. Thankfully, you’re automatically saved outside of each E.M.M.I segment, ensuring that the instadeaths you’re subjected to are never too much of an issue.
There’s always a way past any obstacle, of course. This is Metroid, after all. A roadblock is just a chance to find another tool you can use later. That’s the case here, and you’ll be collecting tools as you progress, from a stealth field to the classic grappling beam and more. Each offers you another chance to uncover new secrets and delve a little bit more into the mysterious surrounding ZDR. As you’d expect, there’s plenty of goodies to uncover, so you’re encouraged to return to previous areas and dig up new goodies.
This is most satisfying when you take those goodies into combat against Dread’s impressive boss battles, from an aquatic tentacle beast to what amounts to a giant, terrifying version of classic villain Kraid. They’re a memorable time that are sure to keep Dread in series fans’ favorites lists.
Despite being a sequel to Metroid Fusion, Dread owes the most to 2017’s Metroid: Samus Returns, also developed by MercurySteam. This means you’ll see the return of that game’s melee counter system, used to block enemy attacks and deliver critical blows. It’s a little bit less ubiquitous here, and there’s plenty of enemies where smackdowns aren’t necessary. On the other hand, you’ll also feel the crunch of smaller, more compressed rooms; generally speaking, Dread’s area design feels like it was built for a handheld system.
It technically is, of course, and Dread shines as a handheld game when you undock the Switch, but if you primarily play docked you might find your surroundings to be a little cramped.
This isn’t enough to make Dread feel like any less of a premium experience, of course. The presentation and design here are both top notch, as would be expected of a first-party Nintendo game. Samus’ animations are fantastic – note how she has a separate set of frames for targeting behind her when she’s facing a given direction, for instance – and the enemies she battles are all lovely as well, as are the environments in which this takes place. It’s clear that Metroid Dread was a labor of love, even when considering its original status as a cancelled DS game.
Without spoiling too much, Metroid Dread serves as the end of an era for the series. It’s a wonderful sendoff, serving as a victory lap for the series’ 2D iterations. The status of Metroid Prime 4 is up in the air, so far as we know, but Dread ensures that Metroid – and its heroine Samus Aran – remains current in the minds of Nintendo fans everywhere. That, alone makes Metroid Dread worth a look for hardcore fans – but it’s a fantastic gaming experience by itself.