Developer: Mercury Steam
Release Date: October 8, 2021
Price: $59.99 MSRP
Total Playtime: 10.5 Hours (55% Item Completion)
First and foremost, I am completely brand new to the Metroid series as I never have fully completed any other game so this review will be from that perspective. This game was originally announced back at Nintendo’s E3 Showcase and was one of the many surprises that it had. It recently released alongside of the Nintendo Switch OLED system and that was very smart because it looks absolutely stunning on the OLED. Developed by the same studio that created Metroid: Samus Returns for the 3DS, Mercury Steam is back and has really created something with this experience. Metroid Dread is not a horror game by any means, but it definitely has ways to make you feel scared and panicked at many points throughout. Metroidvania experiences are not something that everyone likes, but this game makes that experience less daunting and more like an adventure game in some ways. Dread is a wonderful name for the game because you are always going to be cautious about what is lurking next door.
The overall story is fairly simple to understand but from my understanding, it connects back to other titles in the series since this is technically “Metroid 5”. The story recaps a lot of what happened for the major points of the other games right at the beginning so I kind of got the jist of what has happened. The Galactic Federation received a transmission from the planet ZDR that showcased what was supposedly an X Parasite, which was thought to be extinct. In order to investigate what happened, 7 machines called EMMI were sent to the planet to report what was happening; however, something happened and there was no contact with these machines after they arrived. So, since Samus Aran was immune to the parasite, she went to explore what was happening on the planet.
When Samus gets to the planet, she runs into a Chozo named Raven Beak. He takes away all of Samus’ powers from her at the beginning of the game and you must get all of those powers back throughout the many areas. You learn more about the connection between this Raven Beak, Samus, and other characters you meet throughout the progression of the story. Throughout these levels, you find yourself face to face with all of the EMMI were originally sent to the planet but had their connection to the Galactic Federation lost. These machines have been programed to hunt you down and kill you. Your “friend”, ADAM, helps you throughout the game by telling you little information tidbits in different areas, which sometimes is helpful but other times ADAM just tells you something you probably already knew. He never will force you to progress the story, which is nice because you can explore as much as you want to. The story takes many different turns and there are some very interesting surprises that will await you; it’s definitely very good overall from a newcomer perspective.
Throughout the game, you will come across a lot of doors. The gameplay is an action-adventure metroidvania and it clearly shows based on how you progress. There are secrets littered throughout the different rooms, with a lot of them you need to come back later to grab. There are lots and lots of tricky areas that contain powerups like more energy or more rockets in which you need to sort of do some platforming skills and be able to enter commands quickly. Some of the doors can be opened easily, while other doors you can’t open until you find an ability that is later in the game. There is a good variety throughout all of the worlds, and the game basically wants you to come back later on. Some doors have black and white checkerboarding around them, and these rooms hold an extremely dangerous enemy, the EMMI.
Once you enter one of these doors, the colors go from a mixture of vibrancy and darkness, to just a very simple black and white gradient with little color. This adds to the overall atmosphere of those areas to make it even creepier, which is a great touch and fantastic style. The EMMI are practically impenetrable and you actually cannot attack them with any of your normal attacks, rather you need to use abilities to play hide and seek where you are always the one hiding. They are able to hear where you are located when you move around if it is near you; so you have to be able to sneak around them. These areas are scattered throughout each of the worlds in the game, but the EMMI can’t leave these areas so that is a plus. When they spot you, they will lock all doors and prevent you from escaping the EMMI area. If they end up catching you, you only have a small opportunity to escape using a counter; however, getting this timing is hard and if you miss, its an instant death.
In order to be able to shut these machines down, the player needs to find a powerful blaster to defeat the EMMIs. In order to find this, you need to progress through the different maps and find a mini boss room that basically contains an eyeball looking type enemy. The mini boss isn’t really hard since it can’t attack you; however, there are rings and lasers that attack you while you are attacking it. Once you take them down, you get access to the Omega Blaster which can be used to take down the EMMI. When you defeat these EMMI machines, you get a new ability. These abilities are absolutely extremely helpful and they help you in battle and explore the areas.
Once these EMMIs are destroyed in these areas, it will act like any other normal room where normal enemies will come in. The gameplay overall is fairly simplistic with you moving from room to room looking for secrets while at the same times as progressing throughout the levels destroying enemies. The enemy variety is actually pretty decent and each of the worlds offer different ones that have different attack styles, counter timing, and more. There are refueling stations, map rooms, save rooms, and more helpful items and interactive machines to make your adventure go more smoothly. Traversal is also nice since there are teleporters and elevators which move you between areas that might not otherwise be near each other. Overall the gameplay is fast, fluid, and fun; with elements of being stealth based and not combat heavy.
Besides these mini bosses and the EMMIs, there are also different bosses that are scattered throughout the different worlds. Some of these bosses may seem like the are optional, but the game does in fact want you to beat them. Some of these bosses hold upgrades for your weapons and movement ability that will come in handy overall. Some of these bosses are actually extremely difficult to figure out the first few times, but once you figure out their weakness and attack patterns, they aren’t too horrible. One of them gave me a huge amount of troubles figuring out its first stage because of how random its attack pattern was, but once I was passed the first stage of it; it was pretty easy. The game offers a very nice balance of easy while also offering tough fights while on the standard normal difficulty which is what I played the game on.
Gameplay is great and fun, but what about the audio design, visuals, voice acting, and the overall package. Well, the game doesn’t have a huge amount of voice acting besides ADAM, Raven Beak, and a couple of moments of Samus and one other character you meet in the game. All of them work and none of them overstay their welcome for too long. I liked all of them, and the fact that Samus actually barely speaks at all, is actually nice since if she was talking in the game, it could seem distracting to the player who is on edge when different rooms appear. The animation of all of the characters is also very good and there is actual heart that appears to be poured into each of the characters designs.
Now let us talk about the visuals for the game. The visuals are not something that is out of this world like a PS4 God of War or Marvel’s Spider-Man or Breath of the Wild on Switch, but honestly not every game needs to have those graphics. It is a 2D game through and through and the gameplay with all of the different colors, animations, and everything with the resolution and frame rate pop and it doesn’t cause any problems. I only saw a couple of moments of bugs where Samus wouldn’t react when I did an input and I don’t think I saw any noticeable moment of visual issues or framerate dips. I don’t play a huge amount of games portably, but I did buy the Nintendo Switch OLED model along side of this game. The darker blacks and the more vibrant colors that the OLED screen gives off make the game look more beautiful than it was in TV mode. I think I played about 6 hours of the game in portable mode and only about 4.25 hours in docked mode since there was a big difference. I normally don’t play much in portable, but that has changed thanks to OLED. Nintendo was smart to release these side by side.
Lastly comes the audio design and really I have no complaints. Firstly, all of the movement of the characters and enemies all work well and they give a nice punch because you can hear when something is around you, especially the EMMIs. The attacks of everything are very noticeable since you can hear the fact that the enemy may be charging or getting ready to attack you. The counter is phenomenal when it comes to the audio design as well which not all games can do well. The overall sounds and ambience of the game is dark and mysterious with a sense of dread, which is definitely a huge highlight of the game for me. There isn’t a huge amount of music that is in the game, it’s more of just sounds mixed together to get that tense feeling; which personally I am happy about but I know not everyone will be. Everything about the audio design in my opinion is fantastic.
When it comes to buying games, we don’t give review scores on the site, rather we tell you whether or not this is a pick up title or if it is a pass. This game, even to the non-metroidvania fans, is an absolute must play for those who love adventure titles. I do not know how other games in the IP will compare to this, since it is my first time, but it has similar flow and vibe to something like an Ori or Hollow Knight which are both metroidvania adventures. This game only took me about 10 hours to beat the main story and collect about 55% of the items scattered throughout. To some, $60 might seem like a steep price for only about 10.5 hours, but honestly this game could be a lot longer depending on how you decide to play it or if you 100% it. Most games, you learn as you play and here is what I can say about Metroid Dread. In the year of a lot of games getting delayed or that have come out but may not have shown full potentials, this one absolutely hits the mark and shows that Nintendo cares about an IP that hasn’t had a new game in almost 2 decades. I wasn’t sure if this game would make my top 10 for this year, but after playing it, it has. I personally have no regrets buying this title and I am glad that I have been introduced to the Metroid franchise.