Last Updated: November 13, 2021
Metroid Dread unearthed something in me that I genuinely didn’t think would ever get pulled out of the murky depths of my soul. A foul rage followed me from the very beginning to the closing credits, where I promptly closed the game and uninstalled it from my Switch.
Samus Aran has seen evidence of the parasites, X, on a far distant planet and now seeks to eradicate them once and for all. The story is barely sprinkled in, choosing to keep you in the dark as to how an entire planet has fallen apart. It dumps you after an encounter with what will be the final boss back with nothing and then sets you loose to recoup your missing skills and survive.
Dread is Nintendo’s first actually new Metroid game since 2012, where Other M was shunned for attempting something new with the series and is the fifth in the mainline series, following directly on from Metroid Fusion released way back on Gameboy Advance in 2004.
It should have stayed dormant.
This isn’t to say that Metroid Dread is a poorly built game, the combat and moment-to-moment action is smooth, with very minimal dips in any performance. Essentially, where it mattered, the game held its own. However, what it continually does is waste your time and fail to build any suspense in its titular “Dread”, leading to my apathetic mindset.
Samus has always been a bit flimsy, the nature of Metroid is something that has persisted throughout the entire genre it helped manifest. You start weak and eventually begin to wipe the floor with the earlier zones you’ll have to venture back to.
However, Metroid Dread seems determined to annoy rather than actually provide any meaningful challenge. Enemies litter the different areas you’ll go through, providing nothing more than a small bump at every moment.
While you’ll eventually blast your way through the vermin that infest the planet with relative ease, consistently being hindered by something just enough in the way to spoil the fun of digging deep into a segment of the map, it began to grate on my nerves.
This time around, instead of collecting an item and then beating the boss with the said item or beating a boss and then collecting an item, there are these disasters of stealth sections where the “Dread” is supposed to creep in.
Bump in the dark
These particular areas are guarded by EMMIs, which are hunting Samus for nefarious reasons. EMMIs will instantly kill you unless you can master the randomization of timing to counter their attack, but it’s so futile to do so, that it was just easier to give in and reload from the game over screen.
At some point, you’ll acquire a cloak to make yourself invisible, but outside of a few seconds of respite, it is still easier to just run for the exit – or die.
I’m not sure what the point of the EMMIs is, other than to slightly delay the player from rushing through the game or a failed attempt to mix up the exploration in a Metroid game without going too far like Other M and too little change to avoid feeling ‘the same.
Any horror elements that are supposed to come from the EMMIs are completely thrown out the way once I realized that they were just a nuisance that effectively became a longer loading time on the already hefty amount of time you’ll spend staring into the incredibly rude hints in the loading screens.
You’ll know where they are at all times due to the incessant beeps and map highlighting them, furthering the reduction in any dread stemming from them. It’s not even like Alien, where they know there’s something in the walls because of the sensor, because you’ll almost always know that the EMMI will come out of one or two designated entrances once you’ve had to repeat the same area multiple times.
These sections are just irritating, with little skill actually involved in successfully making it through alive. As long as you know basic traversal skills and have a vague sense of direction, you’ll eventually grind against them long enough to beat them.
The EMMIs are just part of the same issue I have with a majority of the bosses in Metroid Dread. Continuous repetition of the same fights with slight variations dot the game’s many intervals, with my eyes rolling as I had to beat the fifth or sixth brain in armor to absorb its energy to finally blow away the EMMI in a game of cat and mouse, where you need to try put enough distance between you and the EMMI to melt its face, then blow it away with a charged laser. These sequences just prolonged the annoyance, but learning the map layouts to best optimize robot murder was a neat challenge.
You’ll also face the same mini-bosses multiple times during your adventure, with maybe one or two differences between them that I realized if I just dealt with them the same way as I did the others (shoot it until its dead), instead of engaging in its obvious “counter this to do a thing” mechanic they sometimes display. It just felt like padding for padding sake, like they didn’t know what to do with a large open space, so they just threw two sword-wielding aliens at me.
This doesn’t count the very small selection of deviations from the boss formula, as much as I have my issues with things surrounding them, the actual boss fights themselves were mostly thrilling – the first few times.
See, Metroid Dread is heavily reliant on smooth transitions between entering the boss room and the cutscene. While I thought at multiple instances that I’d be able to retreat to find new items to fend off different bosses, it turns out that I was entirely boxed in, yet would not be immediately spawned at the start of the boss fight and had to travel each time back to the boss room, skip the cutscene’s transition to the game and then start the fight.
This doesn’t happen with the EMMIs – which thankfully put you outside the door – but is egregious during the final fight, as you have to not only travel up the elevator, accept the prompt and then travel up, as well as skip the first cutscene.
I understand why this particular fight is fine with you travelling back – it’s difficult at certain intervals – but why doesn’t the game recognize that I have already seen the cutscene seven times already and just skip the faff? This constantly happens. There’s a boss fight that follows on from a massive exposition dump and instead of just starting up there, continues as if it’s your first time. Thankfully, skipping cutscenes is relatively quick.
I think Metroid Dread is a victim of the hardware it’s limited to being available on. The Switch clearly is struggling to load this game in a snappy fashion, especially being relegated to either living on a relatively slow SD card or the eMMC storage onboard the Switch. I wouldn’t mind the excessive load times if it was smart about where it would place me after the many, many deaths that the game insists on handing out at every chance it has in the guise of “challenge” and “horror”.
Metroid Dread does clearly show that the hardware is in desperate need of a revision.
Who is this for?
There’s also the question of… who is this for? Metroid Dread does nothing that other contemporaries in the genre of Metroidvanias have crawled out the woodwork while waiting for both Nintendo and Konami to revitalize their long-standing franchises with new entries. Chair’s Shadow Complex remains an excellent example of tight execution on the genre without wasting time, while Hollow Knight provides a poignant tale and challenge so desired.
Even Shutaro Iida, director of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and the spiritual successor Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, managed to make a heavily classic game with tonnes of new features that provided a fresh experience amongst a familiar coat. It provided the fan service needed while experimenting with the formula in ways that were quite unexpected.
Metroid Dread does nothing new. It provides nothing to the conversation, which would be fine if it weren’t so infuriatingly dull. Nothing in the various areas it has you explore are remotely interesting, large square hallways that you’ve seen before and no major mix up in formula – even at the end. The EMMIs could have been intriguing, had they been a challenge and not an elaborate pitfall.
I don’t know. After the last five years of the Switch providing games that reinvent themselves, especially from Nintendo, who somehow managed to completely alter Zelda while still keeping its heart or providing a freeform Mario game or even going back to the drawing board on their entire stance of how they handle their properties (mobile, free-to-play titles), Metroid Dread stands out as a relic, one that should only be looked at and not touched.