My Thoughts on Metroid Dread #011
I was two years old when the first Metroid game came out on the NES. However, the first Metroid game I played was Super Metroid on the SNES and while I loved it, I struggled to complete the game. This was before the internet and most of my friends in elementary school did not play video games. It wasn’t till I found a guide in the Navy Exchange that I convinced my mom to buy for me that I was able to beat the game. I remember the feeling of accomplishment to this day!
So when Nintendo announced Dread to say I was excited would be an understatement. It’s been 19 years since the last 2D Metroid game and we’ve had either some subpar games like Other M or incredible side stories like Prime since. There was never closure regarding the main storyline so being able to find out what happens to Samus felt like revisiting all of those memories of my childhood.
My digital download of the game arrived on the Switch at midnight on Friday and I took off the rest of the day to play. I finally beat the game last night (Tuesday) with a pretty pathetic 12 in-game hour completion time and after sleeping on it I have some thoughts regarding the incredible experience I had over the weekend playing it. Spoilers Ahead!
Dread is a beautiful game. I think many of us are prone to believe 2D games can’t be beautiful but Hollow Knight and DKC should have shown us what these types of games could be. After the opening cut scene, I was dropped into beautiful ancient ruins with water falling from an unseen ceiling and purple trees swaying from some type of wind underground. Immediately I knew this wasn’t like any other 2D Metroid I have played.
I’ve seen a lot of discussions online regarding the full game price of Dread. Many arguing that 2D games are not worth the $60 price tag. Why pay that much for 10 hours or so of gameplay when you can buy a 3D game that could give you 60-100 hours of gameplay? I get the argument, but I disagree. First, Nintendo understands that gamers like me will buy the game simply based on nostalgia. The nostalgia factor can be manipulated more often than not by developers, but Nintendo, for the most part, does not. I knew I would be rewarded and Nintendo has shown 30 years of quality in the series so I wasn’t worried I’d regret it. Second, Metroid is insanely replayable. No Metroid game has even been a button-basher. One has to be strategic in combat and learn enemies patterns and attacks - sometimes for hours! Going back and replaying the game with that experience makes one feel like a god in-game. Finally, after you beat the final boss you want to go back and figure out puzzles and explore the map for hidden areas to get a 100% completion percentage, or in Dread’s case try your luck at the insane hard mode that’s unlocked after completing the game. I feel like many making the argument either didn’t play the game or might not understand the appeal of these types of games.
When I was growing up, one thing that stopped me from playing the original NES version of Metroid was the controls. Only being able to shoot up or forward was so jarring after the beautiful handling of Samus in Super Metroid. Now, after completing Dread I am worried it’s ruined going back to the other 2D games because the control of Samus is so sharp that it will be jarring once again to go back to the other ones. By the time I reached Raven Beak, I was barely touching the ground as I launched tons of missiles and plasma beams into Beak avoiding his ridiculous movesets. It’s incredible to compare that to where I was at the start of the game. Struggling to free aim properly! The progression and the reward from the progression are so satisfying.
Now let’s talk boss battles. Good lord these bosses are punishing. Right after the cut scene ends (which wow! I love me a 2D Metroid with fully animated and voiced cut scenes!) the boss is attacking. There is only one boss in the game I beat on the first try and that was with 5 health left. I got punished by every boss. Incredibly though, I never felt like I was unfairly punished. I just didn’t know how to counter, what the moves were, and how to counter them. That again is a strength of Dread, you can’t just button mash your way through it. You have to learn, you have to be strategic, and you have to be smart. And thankfully, they don’t make you sit through each cut scene again after you die, as they did in Fusion, and your respawn is always right outside the boss area so you don’t have to go far to get back to it.
My only complaint about the bosses is that you can’t really tell how much damage they have left or I did not notice any visual marker to show they were low on health. Each boss usually has 3 different forms to it with each having its own cut scene, but it would have been nice to have some sort of visual indicator you were close to the boss’s next form. I also love the counter mechanic in boss battles. The interactive animations were amazing! The only real boss I got annoyed with was the multiple battles against the Chozo warriors. It would have been nice to have different forms of warriors. Maybe they had different weapons for example?
I also count the EMMI encounters as boss battles and man were they a blast! What a great break they were from normal gameplay and my backseat gamer wife would stop what she was doing to watch me play these encounters because of how intense they were. My only complaint with the EMMI’s is I found the aiming mechanic to be a bit off? It took me a while to get the aiming down.
Exploration in this game is so much fun! Metroid’s exploration helped create an entire category of gaming (Metroidvania) and Dread is one of the best in this category. One of the ingenious aspects of the game is how it naturally prevents you from moving forward. Causing you to double back to see what secret you had missed. Early in the game, I got stuck in an area that I could not go forward or backward in. I spent at least 30 mins trying to figure out what I had missed? I finally gave up and went to Reddit and quickly found this area was becoming notorious for people getting locked. But, I also realized I had been missing in-game cues for my exit. That’s great game design and it helped me later on in areas where something similar occurred. That’s rewarding game design.
Finally, I loved this story. Metroid games are not necessarily known for their in-depth stories as the focus has mostly always been about exploring and discovery. However, I found this game to be a satisfying ending to 35 years of storytelling that we did get. Raven Beak was a formidable foe and had a motivation that makes sense if one played the previous games. And Samus’s Metroid form at the end was just eye-dropping! From hunter and exterminator of Metroids to becoming a form of them was very exciting. And it makes me wonder if the next adventure will show her struggling to keep the Metroid inside her at bay. Or maybe make her the hunted now? She is after all the last Metroid!
My final verdict on this game is 4.5 out of 5 Bells. Great storytelling, awesome locations and worlds, and Samus is simply a joy to play as. The aiming mechanic in the EMMI encounters was a bit janky and I experienced multiple game crashes and FPS drops - especially with the Mega Bomb.
Super Metroid still remains my favorite Metroid game but Dread is easily competing with Prime as my second favorite in the series. Will take some time to figure that out!