By Sean Cabot
“Metroid” should probably be a bigger deal, right?
Here’s a series that both revolutionized 2D action-platforming and featured one of the first major examples of a female protagonist in gaming: Samus Aran. But despite all of this, “Metroid” seems strangely obscure compared to its contemporaries.
Part of this is owed to a massive hiatus, which many attribute to the disastrous reception of 2010’s “Metroid: Other M.” A game panned not merely for its confusing design, but for focus on a cinematic narrative that seemed to take every possible opportunity to remove Samus’ agency.
Thankfully, the revival of “Metroid Dread” from development hell signals that this hiatus is definitively over.
After cutting their teeth on 2017’s “Samus Returns,” a 3DS remake of “Metroid’s” oft-forgotten Game Boy sequel, developer MercurySteam now helms the first fully original mainline “Metroid” game in over a decade.
“Dread” continues Samus’ story where 2003’s “Metroid Fusion” left off with Samus investigating Planet ZDR, where the deadly X Parasite has been sighted. With her Metroid DNA making her the only being capable of stopping them, Samus ventures onto ZDR, only to be attacked by a member of the supposedly extinct species that raised her: the Chozo.
Flung into the planet’s depths after her battle and stripped of most of her armor’s abilities, Samus must fight her way out, regain her power, and confront her legacy once and for all.
What follows is one of the most immaculate gaming experiences you can have on a Nintendo Switch.
Samus boasts a variety of new and improved movement options. This includes sliding, wall climbing, dashing, and a more accessible wall jump, resulting in effortlessly smooth exploration.
Her new running melee attack also provides a quick alternative to her iconic arm cannon, helping to keep her both agile and deadly. As a result, simply moving around in this game is gratifying.
This movement comes especially in handy when confronting Samus’ new enemies. Seven robots called E.M.M.I.s will now pursue Samus through designated areas under threat of instant death until she can find a weapon enhancement capable of bypassing their nigh-indestructible armor.
These sections heavily reminded me of the Tyrant and Nemesis from “Resident Evil 2” and “3,” respectively. I was originally unsure of how to feel about them, but soon realized that they were an excellent way of pressuring players to learn how to quickly navigate the world with all of their abilities.
Thankfully, because “Metroid Dread’s” level design is both fun to navigate and seamlessly guides the player to their goal without excessive hand holding or direction, this pays o, in spades. Even when I was momentarily lost, I was able to course-correct very easily.
And to top it all off “Dread” has some of the series’ best bosses, no contest.
Their attack patterns are very challenging to come to grips with – I died quite a bit on many of them. But the feeling of going from completely overwhelmed to dodging attacks with ease, hits like nothing else I’ve played this year.
With enough effort, one can even acquire upgrades out of the intended order, and this sequence breaking grants unique methods of defeating bosses – an excellent addition for skilled players.
This just leaves the story, and while it’s neither very cinematic nor really paced at all, it sticks its landing by leaning into the perhaps unintentional-at-first interpretation of Samus as a competent, no-nonsense bounty hunter.
Watching Samus walk up to recurring foe Kraid, a lizard the size of a house, and pop a laser into his roaring mouth without any sign of distress put the biggest smile on my face.
“Metroid” deserves to be a big deal. Nintendo has treated it like a big deal by featuring “Metroid” content heavily in games like “Smash Bros.” even when Samus was on her sabbatical.
It’s time we treat it like a big deal, and “Dread” provides an excellent reason to do so.
A+, Samus Aran is finally back