For those of you who don’t know what Metroid Dread is. I’ll have to start from the beginning before we begin this review. Nintendo released Metroid for Nintendo Entertainment System (NES for short) in 1986. It sold pretty well, but the game had a mix bag of response. Same for Metroid II, which was released for the original Gameboy, shortly thereafter in 1991. Metroid did not see a new release until Super Metroid in 1994, which did have a stronger reception, and gained a cult following in the years following Super Metroid. Most “Metroidvania” games are inspired strongly by Super Metroid. In 1997, Konami released Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and received a positive reception. Following the release of Symphony of the Night, fans in the “Metroidvania” community coined the term to associate the style of gameplay with the inspiration by Super Metroid and Symphony of the Night. Metroidvania games tend to put you into a castle, or a underground cave that you explore. As you explore this sprawling maze, you earn items to either upgrade your character, allowing you to explore locations you’ve previously been blocked from, or previously did not explore yet. These items also allow you to unlock locations via color-coded doors, icons, or insignias to then acquire an item that allows you to unlock another area. Nintendo did release a few different types of games in between major releases like Metroid Fusion, and Metroid Zero Mission. Some of these releases were good, and some of these releases were controversial, like Metroid Prime Pinball, Metroid: Other M, and Metroid Prime: Federation Force. It has been more than 15 years since the last major Metroid title was released.
Metroid Dread was released on October 8, 2021 for Nintendo Switch. Metroid Dread retains the 2D plane of gameplay, that fans know and love. It is also a 3D title, as well. By 3D, I mean the graphical fidelity gives the perception of realism. There are places when the 3D camera pans and changes the perspective of the player, but it is still very much a 2D title.
As you begin the game, you are stripped of your powers in Metroid Dread. You have no idea why. It is your job to explore the cave to find all your powers. You must remember that you are in a 3D world on a 2D plane. However, this is par for the course of Metroid Dread, because each Metroid title starts you out with beginner weapons, items, and abilities. To be clear: This is NOT an RPG where you level up. The upgrade system works similarly to the Mega Man games. In the Mega Man games, you acquire new weapons by defeating the boss. You acquire upgrades by defeating mini-bosses, or finding a room with the upgrade. But, Mega Man games are very linear. You go from a to z in one stage, you take that item with you to a new stage (one that you choose). Whereas in Metroidvania games, you are basically in a sprawling overarching overworld – some games are in a castle, some games are in a underground cave, some games take you into buildings. Metroidvania games are typically open world, you can go the traditional way, or you can “sequence break” the traditional route. There is an entire community to sequence breaking, because it helps the speedrunning community to beat the game in less time or record time. Super Metroid is iconic because you can explore the game and find all the items to complete the game at 100% or you can also speedrun through the game with a timer running in the background. It’s up to you, the player. For example, to get a true ending in Super Metroid, you must finish the game in less than 3 hours. Metroid games really, really test your muscle memory, this is no different in Metroid Dread.
The game has a happy medium between easy, and hard. Do not misunderstand me: Metroid Dread is difficult. When you first play the game, it will feel like the game is throwing a wrench in your path to the end of the game in every way, but I promise you: It will get easier as you progress the game. Remember: You’ve been stripped of your powers, you must regain the abilities, weapons, items needed to defeat the main villain of the game – which I ain’t spoiling for you. As you progress, you will have many “ah ha” moments, and backtrack to the location that makes sense to you. That’s because you’re unlocking locations that was previously not possible to explore. However, not everything is going to get easier. Boss battles will get tougher every new item, upgrade or weapon acquired. You will find new secrets in your journey, either by mistake or by the map prompts. Moreover, as you obtain all the items on planet ZDR, you will realize that there are some challenges to partake in. These challenges are the Shinespark puzzles. This part will make sense once you get the speed booster. When people say it’s “hard,” THIS is why.
The story of Metroid Dread begins where Metroid Fusion ended. Storywise, Metroid Dread takes place between the events of Metroid Fusion, and Super Metroid. It begins with a climax at the end of Fusion, but you are now in a new planet, and you fought a formidable foe. It begins with a bang, and it has peaks and valleys until it climaxes at the end of the game. The ending has a cliffhanger, but Nintendo says this story arc is wrapped up. It makes sense, because with Super Metroid, we destroyed the offspring of the Chozos. I’m being vague here for a reason.
Most of the time, you’re controlling a character with a super suit. You are traversing the world in a 2D world where you shoot, jump, slide, morph into a ball. If you’ve played a Metroidvania game, you’ll know what to expect, but if you don’t you will wonder how games like this slipped by you. Controlling the character, her name is Samus will feel alien even to the most veteran of the Metroid series, or even Metroidvania players. Because you don’t expect to use the analog stick to freely roam planet ZDR. Most Metroid fans are using the D-pad on their controllers, but with Metroid Dread, the controls feel like home. Especially when you acquire new items. By the end of the game, you will have used every upgrade, every item, and every weapon at least once. And by the end of the game, you will also unlock new locations USING the very item or ability you obtained. You will also use these item or abilities to defeat bosses.
Controlling Samus in Metroid Dread is a dream. I don’t know how MercurySteam managed to perfect the controls after Metroid: Samus Returns. I don’t imagine Metroid going backwards after Metroid Dread. I can go back to Super Metroid, but Metroid Dread perfects the controls in such a way that is sublime.
Especially when you progress later in the game. Every button press, there is a smooth transition to the next move. You run, or walk, but you want to slide? You can do that without any kind of interruption. Just press the button, and it just goes. This is particularly impressive with the shinespark puzzles.
Fun Fact: MercurySteam was working on a version of new Metroid game, and was codenamed “Metroid Dread.” But Nintendo rejected the project. MercurySteam went back, and pitched a remake of Metroid Fusion, it was rejected again, but not because of anything other than their love for Metroid. Nintendo wanted them to do a new game: Metroid 5. Metroid Dread was greenlit, and here we are. It really shows that they love Metroid.
To build on what I said with the controls of Metroid Dread, I must stress how beautiful the animations are. It seems like the developers took the painstaking time to finetune, polish, and perfect each animation to work in tandem with the next button press. Metroid games usually requires a certain level of polish when it comes to controls. Super Metroid’s code is legendary because it does not delay the button input from button a to b, from x to y, from x to a. It just transits animation from 1 to 2 without breaking a sweat.
Most 3D games don’t have the level of polish when it comes to controlling a video game. Much less a 2D game, especially 2D/3D (which is known as 2.5D) games. Every animation in Metroid Dread responds to what you’re doing at the time of movement. There’s even an animation that is triggered when you’re close to a hole that looks like a morph ball belongs there. Samus places her hand on the pavement to “look over” the location, like a real human would. When you “look” with your missile turned on, there is a transition with each movement of the analog stick.
Metroid Dread is the most beautiful game I’ve played in years. And it’s on a weak hardware. Nintendo Switch can only do pre-PlayStation 4 specs. Nintendo Switch is using a CPU from 2015. The GPU is also from 2015, and can only handle 1TFLOPs. [Raw Specs here] So, when I look at Metroid Dread streaming all that asset in a single read, I’m impressed. Because, make no mistake, the game is streaming in the background. When I say streaming, I don’t mean livestreaming or cloud streaming, I mean – asset streaming. Take Grand Theft Auto’s example: The assets are streaming in the draw distance – loading the buildings, loading the cars, loading the characters, and people all at once. In Metroid Dread, the game is streaming not just the backgrounds, it’s trying to compute the actions on screen all at once. Especially when you throw special effects, inputs, background assets, and whatnot. When you’re pushing that much compute, you’re gonna push the game itself. Some people say it’s unoptimized, but we’re talking about a game that’s trying to tell the Tegra X1, “move it!” Metroid Dread is pushing Nintendo Switch’s hardware, and many people don’t realize it. I noticed it, because it’s dropping frames in busy locations. When you get to Dairon, you’re gonna notice the frame drops, and that’s not the only place the frames start to drop.
When you play Metroid Dread, soak in the environments. It’s such a beautiful experience. I love it.
I was playing Metroid Dread on Nintendo Switch’s docked mode, on my 55 inch TV. I also played it in handheld mode, you’ll not notice the shortcomings of the Nintendo Switch hardware. And that’s just it. That’s why I am amazed by the design of Metroid Dread. The developers were able to take the Nintendo Switch hardware and polish the game in such a way that nobody notices the shortcomings.
Oh, and by the way: Every screen I’ve uploaded here, are STRAIGHT from the Nintendo Switch hardware itself.
Music & Sound
Words cannot. Words CANNOT describe how I feel about the music and sound of Metroid Dread. Whatever they got going on at MercurySteam’s sound department? Oh. God. Metroid has always been about atmosphere. Always been about atmosphere. Super Metroid is chock full of atmosphere, a sense of dread. Metroid Dread takes this formula, and ramps it up. The music quality is unmatched. Especially in Berenia. The musical score of Berenia matches exactly the vibe of the map. Other places? They just match the action going on in that map. The sound quality is also unmatched. And they also match what’s on screen, and the button inputs. There is nibble little details that go along with the sounds, like the morph ball. If you imagine a metal dropping, they captured the sound like.. 1 to 1.
My mind is just racing, and mindblown by the Music and Sound of Metroid Dread.
I’ve uploaded an image with “Samus Files,” for a reason. Keep this in mind when reading the next segment, which is the replay value of Metroid Dread…
Since I received Metroid Dread on October 8th, I’ve been actively been playing the game from beginning to end. This review is a story 2 months in the making. I went so far, to even 100% the game.
When you first play Metroid Dread, you feel like the game is a long Metroid game. Especially, when you’re playing for the first time. I’ve played Super Metroid, I understand it’s a challenge series, but I took the time to soak in the environments, enjoy the game, and my heart felt this love… this unwavering love. I almost cried. (No. Fuck that. I cried.) This is the dream game for me. That’s how much I love Metroid. I mean the franchise. If you ask me which is the top 3 franchises in my life? Metroid is up there with Call of Duty.
Why is Call of Duty up there? Well, I spent weeks, months, years, a decade with the franchise. I spent over 10 years with Call of Duty 4. Not the remaster, the original Call of Duty 4. The second most played game in my list? It’s going to be Metroid. I’ve played Super Metroid so many times, I got to the real ending: 3 hours. This is in contrast with spending the least amount of time with Metroid (NES), the gameplay was clunky, until I played Super Metroid. I fell in love with Metroid after that. If you put Metroidvania in front of me, I will play it until I finish it. I almost patinum’ed Strider (2014). I finished Symphony of the Night.
But, saying that… if you have the muscle memory, you will finish it in less than 15 hours (in-game time), and that’s with all items collected. If you have the muscle memory, you want to speedrun, it will take at least 5 hours, and there’s even a world record with 1 hour. That’s the sequence breaking, the speedrunning community coming together to find something new. That’s why “Metroidvania” exists.
Hell, even when I’m writing this article, I discovered new ways to defeat enemies, bosses, and how to sequence break the game. That‘s Metroidvania.
Do not judge Metroid Dread by its 2.5D cover. Metroid Dread is a masterpiece that needs to be experienced by everyone. That is, if they choose to. The gameplay quality is what makes Metroid Dread a game to remember for years to come. The music quality is what makes Metroid Dread an atmospheric masterpiece to experience in the years to come. Despite the shortcomings of the Nintendo Switch hardware, Metroid Dread is a beautiful love letter to Metroid fans worldwide.