A Long 'Dreadful' Road For Samus
The title of Metroid Dread's first look preview may be subjective, but in some parts, it can be objective. Throughout 2021 with several Nintendo Directs, the company had teased many blockbuster titles to be released in the third quarter. Some of Nintendo Switch's exclusive titles that were teased include Shin Megami Tensei 5, Pokemon Shining Pearl, and Brilliant Diamond. Perhaps the biggest surprise of them all was the announcement of Metroid Dread. All four games were planned for release around the same time and Metroid Dread was the first one out the gate.
The story of Dread dates back to the year 2005 when the title was first announced for the Nintendo DS. While the project was eventually canceled for the dual-screen handheld, interest in the project remained. Since then, games such as Metroid Zero Mission and Metroid Prime Hunters graced Nintendo's handheld consoles. However, the last original Metroid title would be Team Ninja's Other M, released in 2010. The latest Metroid game, Samus Returns, was a 3DS remake of the second Metroid game released in 2017. Ultimately, Samus Returns would be a turning point for development studio MercurySteam and a catalyst for Metroid Dread.
Metroid Dread's Light At The Tunnel's End
Before their relationship with Nintendo flourished, MercurySteam developed several titles for Konami in the early 2010s. They were responsible for the development of the Castlevania: Lords of Shadow series, a 3D Castlevania series. Following its success with Konami, MercurySteam caught the attention of Nintendo with the release of Samus Returns. Historically, the Metroid series was no stranger to being developed by third-party developers and MercurySteam had a lot to prove. Due to the success of Samus Returns bringing the Metroid franchise to form again, they were tasked to developing Dread.
Players used to Samus Returns will appreciate and immediately notice the magic touch MercurySteam provided to Dread. A blend of 3D cutscenes and 2D gameplay provides players with an extra layer of immersion. While the cutscenes show Samus dueling with various enemies as they are introduced, they also segue into the game's tutorial system. One of Samus's new abilities, the Melee Counter, is an example of this.
Timing with the enemy's attack, Samus can swat the attacker away and follow up with a blast from her arm cannon. Coincidentally, a similar ability was seen in Blasphemous, a "Metroidvania," showing the number of inspiration games subconsciously have with each other. Other basic abilities include wall jumping, sliding, and aiming, all of which will come naturally for the player.
Metroid Dread Has A Really Good Tutorial, Actually
Part of the appeal for Metroid titles, in general, is how easy they are to grasp. This comes naturally for Nintendo as the series helped birth an entire genre named after the series, "Metroidvania." While Metroid veterans will immediately understand how the game plays, Dread throws a few curveballs to make things interesting. If the curveballs were meteor-sized and came at Samus with the intensity of a fastball, that would be a more accurate comparison.
Shortly after the player is introduced to Samus's Melee Counter, given the chance to use her ability against some lowly enemies, the player is introduced to the game's biggest threat. The E.M.M.I are advanced robotic beasts that tower over Samus, with its introductory cutscene showing how much of a threat they are. Samus's shots from her blaster rifle are ineffective, even her rockets barely lay a scratch on them. It is here that the E.M.M.I will pin Samus to the ground, giving the player one warning. Remember the melee counter you learned seconds ago? Use it here or else you will die.
The E.M.M.I Turns Dread Into A Survival Horror
Samus is unable to defeat the E.M.M.I in the current state she's in. Should she be captured, she has a brief moment to parry their advances identified by a glint in their eye. If she fails, she has one more chance to parry the attack or else the E.M.M.I will stab her in the throat, executing her. The process is frustrating, but Dread does an amazing job at capturing that feeling of, well, dread.
Metroid Dread eases the player into new mechanics, then the player is expected to implement them accordingly. If the player fails, Samus dies a gruesome death, it's Game Over, and they try again. There wasn't a single moment where I felt things were unbearable. It just made me want to try again despite how silly I looked.
It is at this point that I can appreciate Metroid Dread's handling of Game Overs. It's a simple screen and it's quick enough to get back into the action. Another positive is the lack of loading screens. Transitioning from one part of the world to another is seamless. This is something that players won't notice immediately as they are being chased by robot stalkers, however. The inclusion of the E.M.M.I, Samus feeling defenseless, and the player slowly but surely regaining her abilities are all crucial to Metroid Dread's early game.
Getting chased by an E.M.M.I, seeing the environment change from a solid image to a hazy environment, and the ever-lasting fear of death. These all make Metroid Dread feel more of a survival horror title than most survival horror games. But, don't take my word for it. Or rather, do take my word for it right here.
Metroid Dread Is The True 'Return of Samus'
Overall, the graphics, the sound, the gameplay, and the atmosphere all make Metroid Dread a true Metroid experience. The franchise was always one of Nintendo's more mature IPs, without the copious amounts of violence and gore. Some of the earlier Game Over sequences in Metroid Prime was pretty brutal, but, Metroid always survived on the anticipation of exploration.
The self-contained fear of exploring an undiscovered planet, fighting the unknown, and cursing at any loss of progression. These are what makes Metroid Dread the definitive sci-fi 2D platformer in recent years. Samus Aran may not have been given the best treatment, but she remains one of Nintendo's most cherished characters, capturing fans for over a quarter of a century.
Metroid Dread is now available on the Switch.