Stranded in Metroid Dread – Review

The Metroid franchise has been around for decades, and its iconography and concepts are still instantly recognizable. With the name of the franchise having become the very name that encapsulates an entire genre of videogames, it’s obviously impactful. Though somehow, Metroid Dread is the first game in the series I’ve beaten.

Maybe it’s just a region thing, maybe I’m just a bit silly, but I’d never been very aware of the Metroid games when I was younger. Nintendo was synonymous with Mario, Pokémon and Mii’s in airplanes flying into volcanoes at the time. Honestly, not even Zelda was a name that really meant anything to me at the time – so yes, definitely me being silly.

Now, cut to recent years and I’ve fortunately been getting educated. I’ve been playing more Zelda games, started learning more about the history of gaming in general, and part of that has obviously been learning about metroidvanias and the franchise these types of games are based on. Having played Ori and the Blind Forest – one of my favourite games ever – and Animal Well, with elements of the genre coming up in games like Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order and Survivor, it was time to tackle Metroid Dread.

Metroid Dread

Fuck around and find out

I’d started Metroid Dread multiple times in the past. After the hype of its announcement and learning about the history of the development, it seemed like an intriguing experience, even though I hadn’t played any other game in the series. The first few runs played out pretty similarly: start the game, have a blast running around, shooting monsters, exploring and inevitably getting stuck. It’s part of the process, right? At that point I’d just move on to other games with the intent of those being a temporary distraction – turns out Baldur’s Gate 3 is quite a long one of those -, but it was never because of the game itself. I’ve always meant to beat it, and to unravel the secrets of this alien planet.

The gameplay loop in Metroid Dread is pretty simple. You enter an area, have to figure out where to go and figure out how to get around the obstacles on your way. Be it a door you can’t open, or a wall you’re incapable of breaking: you’re gonna have to seek out upgrades and come back to this location later to progress. In the meantime, you’re going to be using the tools that you do have at your disposal to get to said upgrades, and defeat the enemies on your path.

Metroid Dread

Running, jumping and blasting your way through the planet is very fluid, and the more upgrades you gather, the smoother it becomes. Once you hit the unavoidable roadblocks though, that flow is broken, which only motivates me more to seek out the right tools. Maybe you actually have what you need too, and you need to figure out how to use your abilities in a new way! For example, sticky patches on the wall that Samus can climb on might be just out of reach for a jump, but with a shiny new upgrade you get a mode on your arm cannon that just pulls you towards the pad. It’s a great feeling to ‘outsmart’ the levels, even though you’re just taking the intended path.

Stranded

As far as plot goes, Metroid Dread actually does a surprisingly good job of telling an intriguing story. Without knowing why, I never really took Metroid for a series with as much of a story as it does, but I’ve found myself to be very invested. Intergalactic hero and bounty hunter Samus Aran is stranded on the unknown planet named ZDR, where an X Parasite – an organism that copies its hosts powers, bad stuff – seems to have been sighted. Samus goes down to investigate but gets stuck on the planet, which leads to a couple of interesting revelations for the iconic character. Apparently Dread is the last game in the timeline as of now, so I’m very interested to see what that will mean for the future of the series.

Pretty much about Metroid Dread’s presentation is incredible. Animations during gameplay are fluid and flow together seamlessly, backgrounds feel lively and detailed, and in both cutscenes as quick-time events Samus kicks bugbutt constantly. It’s consistent with the gameplay too, because when everything aligns, you feel as cool as Samus looks in said cutscenes. Shooting, jumping around, parrying incoming bugs and stabs from bosses, it’s all so sleek and satisfying.

Though I’m not trying to say the game is an easy one. Maybe it’s the soulsborne loving part of my brain that just got a lot enjoyment out of trying to perfect the bosses and learning their attack patterns – because lord knows the game could’ve been a lot simpler if I spent more time seeking out upgrades for extra health and missiles. It’s not that seeking these things out is a hassle, or boring: far from it. The pillar of exploration is essential to Metroid Dread and it’s amazing. The slightly more limited amount of resources simply appealed to me.

Metroid Dread

Dark side of the ZDR

I love the Nintendo Switch to hell and back, but there were a few times during my playthrough where the console seemed to struggle with keeping track of everything happening on screen. Not really that big of an issue usually, except for the few times where it would happen during a (mini-)boss, where timing is really important and missing a parry due to missing frames feels unfair in an otherwise fairly well balanced game.

I say fairly because there are a couple of attacks that aren’t telegraphed quite as clearly as others, with animations that look like one thing but turn out to be another. It’s one of those things that feels easier to point out due to how amazing and clear the animations in the game usually are.

Metroid Dread

Another thing I need to mention are the E.M.M.I sections. There are parts of every area that are inhabited by a four legged robot that creepily crawls around and starts chasing Samus whenever it notices her. Wondering why the subtitle Dread is applicable to this game? Well there you have it. These are tense and exhilarating sections that also serve as a great way of showing the player their increase in skill, though the last two felt a little bit unnecessary. Again, they’re great sections, but they lose some of their touch later on in the game, which is a shame.

Upgrade unlocked: brainrot

Playing Metroid Dread is a blast, even if it’s your entry point into this long lasting series. It combines smooth platforming, combat and general traversal with even more incredible presentation and an intriguing story that will get you more and more invested, until you’re suddenly on the Fandom Wiki and adding Lore Explained video’s to your watchlist. Okay, that might just be me, but I’m quite sure nevertheless that if you give Metroid Dread the chance to show you around, and start exploring its rich world on your own, you’re going to find yourself on an adventure you will look back on very fondly.

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Posted by Dunke

An easily obsessed nerd with a particular fixation on Star Wars, comic-adjacent projects and fantasy. But honestly? Interested in anything. Always up to watch The Empire Strikes Back, or play some Undertale.