A game that feels as though it has been in development hell since the Nintendo DS
Metroid Dread – Nintendo Switch – Released: 10/8/21 – $60
The 2D Metroid series has always been my go-to for short bursts of adventure as a child while not getting completely lost after several days or weeks of not playing it. Metroid’s metroidvania style has been gone and plenty of games have taken its place, Castlevania, Shantae, Ori and the Blind Forest, Axion Verge, SteamWorld Dig, and the list goes on. Where does the 2D Metroid series stand after nearly 20 years of no sequel and four years after a remake? Well, it doesn’t stand well beyond being a clutter of cutscenes that take up a good chunk of the game’s runtime and a game trapped in the Gameboy Advance era of Metroidvanias. The game looks pretty but compared to the remake which took the original, Metroid 2: Return of Samus, expanded on it and presented a game that completely replaces the need for the original, Metroid Dread seems lost.
Metroid Dread is not a bad game but it shows its age as it is short, straight forward, there is a lack of exploration, and crazy enough, dread. The game in its title touts being dreadful but it severely lacks any dread as the EMMI, the robots that “constantly” chase you, are limited to small areas of the map and quickly shown what they do and how they do their attacks. SA-X presented the same type of problems but SA-X was never shown its location. The EMMIs all have their own cutscenes that show what you will encounter or ADAM will inform you of the EMMI in the location and its powers. Having the EMMI tied to a certain location makes their appearances more of an annoyance rather than any challenge. You will die to them a lot but for the most part it is only due to location they spawn and if you have a chance to run or just take the death and re-roll a new spawn location.
For being the big enemy that is suppose to be terrifying, they aren’t much of a threat as you quickly pass them and they can’t chase you beyond select doors that are clearly marked. This is one of the major flaws for me as the EMMI don’t really pose any threat in the adventure and are more a minor inconvenience as you die to them a handful of times. SA-X would be heard in the distance, “earthquakes” would happen as it destroys areas, you would find destruction as you backtrack and you will be hunted from time to time without warning. The EMMI aren’t like that by a long shot and once you receive the blaster that allows you to take them out, it is just a aim shoot then big blast. Some cases I found myself just finding a longer area and waiting for the EMMI to show itself then blast it away with no issues. I wish they weren’t locked behind areas, I would rather have one or two EMMI instead of the handful. Having a smaller number would allow them to come from anywhere and seeing the EMMI passages would make them more of a threat as you aren’t sure when one might drop. This would allow for staged sections as well.
Metroid Dread is fairly short which isn’t really a problem as the timer doesn’t count your deaths so you may find yourself dying several times to an EMMI or boss for several minutes that go uncounted. I don’t mind shorter games but coming from Metroid Samus Returns feels odd as that game seems twice as long, less cutscenes, and much more variety in enemies. The number of cutscenes in Dread makes me feel like I am watching a movie rather than playing a game. This happens more so in the opening few hours but it becomes a bit much at times as it can randomly happen. I don’t mind it for bosses but some things aren’t even explained in the story so why create a complex cutscenes detailing what I am watching then not give any backstory to why something is here. Kraid is the big bad guy in this game and…. he isn’t given a reason as to why he is there. I thought we would see Ridley again but Kraid appears and disappears as fast as possible and swept under the rug like he wasn’t there. I understand that he is likely there because he was captured and held to experiment but I am more interested as to how they moved such a massive monster to ZDR. I did enjoy the other big boss that is teased a handful of times as you pass by it from time to time getting from different locations. Always there taunting you as it is picked on by machines before you eventually fight it toward the end of the game.
Then the big problem for me is the lack of exploration and maps which make the game feel dated if you told me this game released before or around the same time as Metroid Samus Returns, I would have believed you. Metroid Dread has a very long history of delays, rewrites, new management, cancellations, etc. and it feels like it is incomplete. The story is the only thing that feels completely fleshed out but the journey to get to the end feels empty as you aren’t told much about the final boss. Beyond the opening, you know he is testing you and wants you alive but you are never sure why. Then it quickly wraps it up at the end which feels great but not worth the 5-6 hours getting there. The planet design also feels small yet has several staples in the “vania” world like ice place, water place, fire place, overrun by nature place and planet’s surface. The basics are all there but for the most part this is the same stuff we have seen for the last decade. Metroid series is about going to different locations and Samus taking care of things at that location. People complain about Federation Force but at least the game tried to be something different, it may not have been good but it is definitely better than playing as safe as possible. If this is truly the end of the 2D Metroid games than it didn’t leave on a high note.
At the end of the day, Metroid Dread isn’t a bad game, it is just dated and shouldn’t be a full price title. There have been games that did the formula better and there are games that are simply better. The game is still better than the original and even Zero Mission but Fusion and Samus Returns are much better games. Samus Returns inspired a lot of this game and it shows but maybe they should have went with a simpler objection and fleshed out a new gameplay style. The constant use of cutscenes, the lack of massive maps, and the constant need to counter to do any damage makes the whole game feel a bit more like a showpiece rather than a solid experience. I think if it wasn’t for the story and the likely final game in the series, I wouldn’t recommend people play this game or just wait until the game hits deep discounts in a few years. I would rather pay $10-20 for an indie game that is putting in the time and effort with a lower budget and fraction of the team than Nintendo for Metroidvania style games from now on.
While the story is the only saving grace I would still give this game a 7 out of 10. The game isn’t bad just isn’t worth the full price they are asking for it. This is in the same boat as Super Mario Party and Mario Tennis Aces as games that should have baked a bit longer before releasing. Metroid Dread feels dated and is one of the safest Metroid games to release. It is sad to see a series that pioneered an entire genre drop so far over the years. Castlevania didn’t even give up the dream and kept pushing out Metroidvania style games until the 3DS, we haven’t seen a new one in nearly a decade but at least the several they gave us over the years were excellent titles.
My Gameplay Footage: Coming soon!
Been a while but I hope to be reviewing more games over the next few weeks. I’ve been playing a lot of them and Metroid Dread was one of the more recent games I’ve played.
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