I still can’t quite believe that Metroid Dread actually exists. Seemingly set to be forever remembered as a twice-shelved prototype for Nintendo DS, Nintendo secretly rekindled their relationship with MercurySteam after the Spanish developer had demonstrated their prowess for re-energising Samus Aran’s side-scrolling escapades with Metroid: Samus Returns on Nintendo 3DS.
Revealing that the once scrapped project had received an unexpected revival on Nintendo Switch was a mic drop moment early on in the company’s E3 2021 Nintendo Direct presentation, not least for the fact that we all only had to wait another four months until it was in our hands. For longtime fans, the game also marks the awaited end of a story arc that has been 35 years in the making, spanning the original Metroid (1986), Metroid II: Return of Samus (1991), Super Metroid (1994) and Metroid Fusion (2002).
After a prologue recaps everything from what exactly Metroids are to how Samus became infected with the X Parasite as a refresher for fans and newcomers alike, we learn that the Galactic Federation has received a mysterious video transmission that shows that an X has survived despite her best efforts to destroy them entirely. Traced to a planet called ZDR, the Galactic Federation dispatched seven E.M.M.I. (Extraplanetary Multiform Mobile Identifiers) to investigate. The large research robots were designed to capture field samples and extract their DNA, but not long after their arrival on the planet, all communication has been lost.
As the only person immune to the X Parasites, it is up to Nintendo’s intergalactic bounty hunter to journey to the planet and investigate. However, an unexpected encounter catches her off-guard. After reaching an underground facility, Samus is defeated in a battle with a mysterious Chozo warrior and later awakens to find herself stripped of her suit upgrades. With that familiar sense of isolation starting to return, your curiosity soon leads you to explore your surroundings in an effort to regain your powers and discover the truth behind what is happening on ZDR.
It becomes immediately clear why Nintendo placed so much confidence in MercurySteam. Metroid Dread has been crafted as an experience that represents “the culmination of all the 2D Metroid games that came before it,” and what the developer has achieved – with assistance from Nintendo EPD – is remarkable. From the fluidity of Samus’ movement to the cinematic flair on display in the game’s many cutscenes – which masterfully switch between first and third-person perspectives to marvellous effect – the team is constantly able to showcase their understanding of the genre, going above and beyond to deliver one of the best interpretations of the bounty hunter’s character to date.
While there is much to the experience that will fall in line with expectation – exploring each area in search of weapon and suit upgrades that ultimately open up new pathways to unwaveringly wander into – it is the game’s exhilarating combat mechanics and the boss encounters that bookmark your journey that only serve to elevate your adventure further. Whether that be fleeing from the fear-inducing E.M.M.I. that patrol areas designated as “E.M.M.I. Zones” to using the returning Melee Counter to parry overpowering boss attacks, Metroid Dread delivers thrills frequently enough to keep you transfixed to your Nintendo Switch screen for the duration of the adventure.
The E.M.M.I., in particular, are formidable opponents. Sending out a pulse to sense vibrations in the air, they can hear your movement and give chase as soon as you are detected. Early on, these encounters can feel relentless as you scramble to evade capture – the E.M.M.I. attempting to outsmart your efforts by crawling through every shortcut at their disposal. Fall into their robotic clutches, and you will have an ever-so-small window to counter and stun them before frantically making your escape. If Metroid “Dread” signifies the fear and terror that Nintendo expects you to feel, it is the E.M.M.I. that are the best representation of that being achieved in-game. That ADAM estimates “a 99% probability of death” if an E.M.M.I. captures Samus probably doesn’t help matters.
That perpetual fear will start to dissipate as you sink more hours into Metroid Dread. Not only will your acrobatic dexterity improve as you become more accustomed to the game’s controls, but as your powers are steadily restored you will inevitably start to feel more confident in dealing with the challenges that you are faced with. There’s still little room for error, but even the E.M.M.I.’s seemingly impenetrable armour can be obliterated by absorbing energy from the Central Unit to temporarily transform your Arm Cannon into an Omega Cannon. The shift in perspective as you prepare to deliver your destructive blow never fails to excite, even adding to the tension as the mechanical monstrosities continue to creep towards you.
MercurySteam and Nintendo’s combined experience results in some outstanding boss encounters, easily ranking among the best to have graced the series. Never at risk of becoming exasperating and satisfying to overcome, each underpins the even-handed quality of the experience – adrenaline-fuelled moments that spur you onward towards the game’s climactic conclusion.
It helps that Metroid Dread looks fantastic in action, too, which is an opinion that can be given even more weight thrown behind it when playing in Handheld Mode on the newly launched Nintendo Switch OLED Model. The deeper blacks, vivid colours and high contrast that the revision’s 7-inch OLED screen continues to elevate this as a standout experience that showcases why it’s worth considering upgrading your portable home console, even going as far as to see me now spend less time in TV Mode. That isn’t to say that you will have a lesser experience on the standard Nintendo Switch or Nintendo Switch Lite, but that this is a game that certainly visibly justifies why the upgrade is a worthwhile consideration.
In terms of any problems, as a player who is admittedly not heavily steeped in Metroidvania experience, there were three times that I hit a roadblock and struggled to work out where the game was expecting me to go. I lost a few hours to these moments in my desperate search for progression, and an optional hint or pointer would have steered me in the right direction. I can appreciate that goes against the game’s timer-orientated completion,
Metroid Dread stands as a phenomenal achievement. From project dormancy to becoming a sci-fi spectacle, MercurySteam has delivered a Game of the Year contender that’s quite capable of unleashing a Charge Blast to keep away the competition. A game like this deserves to be celebrated, and I can only hope that it has continued to lay the groundwork for more adventures with the intergalactic bounty hunter to come.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Nintendo