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Big wall of text about Metroid Dread

Posted 10 Months ago by FroyBoi

Metroid Dread is a name with over fifteen years of hype and speculation, with stories of alleged development and cancellations. It's little wonder, then, that the reveal for this game make a huge splash, but does the game actually live up to all the hype?

I admittedly had reservations about Mercury Steam being the developer. Their Castlevania game for the 3DS was not a particularly stellar entry in the series. I also had concerns about Samus Returns; although I haven't even played that one so I can't speak to it personally, it did prove to be somewhat polarizing among fans. Despite my concerns, I feel like Mercury Steam ended up turing Metroid Dread into a pretty good game in the end. Not especially amazing, but still pretty good!

Let's get into the nitty gritty.

Gameplay

Buckle up, because I have a lot to say about the gameplay and it is going to make up like half of this review.

I'll get the controls out of the way first: overall I think they are excellent. 360-degree aiming is awesome and legitimately one way that Dread is better than its predecessors. I also love the addition of the slide which feels really smooth and allows you to quickly squeeze through narrow passageways without going through the trouble of morphing and unmorphing. I was apprehensive toward the idea of the melee attacks even back when Samus Returns was revealed - which, again, I've yet to play - but here in Dread I ended up really digging it. I find the counter attacks very satisfying to pull off, although I admit I rarely used the melee outside of counters.

If there's one thing I really despise about the controls, it's the double jump - it's horrible, and it made for some genuinely frustrating and (in my opinion) unfair moments and deaths. The double jump is a very basic feature of most metroidvanias, so I don't understand why it's so bad here. It's been a very long time since I played the older Metroid games, but the double jump might actually work similar to one of them, as was pointed out to me by one of my Twitch viewers - this would not change my stance because as far as I'm concerned it's still bad, even in the older game.

The incorporation of a dash made for some very fun and engaging combat. I definitely felt something of a Hollow Knight vibe from some of the encounters because of the dash, and that's a good thing.

I very much enjoyed the challenge of the shine spark puzzles that I happened to come across. They're entirely optional, and sometimes the reward was a measily +2 missile capacity upgrade, but gosh darn it, feeling awesome over completing the challenge is a reward unto itself.

The boss fights were all really cool. Some bosses were recycled but I didn't mind this because there were enough unique bosses to keep things interesting. I also appreciated a certain throwback:

Also the final battle was tough as nails but really fun, exciting, and extremely satisfying to finish, and furthermore: I wish I had more nice things to say about the ending (more on that later), but gameplay wise I felt like it ended on a very high note.

I feel like the maps were designed well enough, but they definitely streamlined things to the point where the game actually felt linear - most of the time it felt like the path forward was handed to you on a silver platter which reduced the exploration factor tremendously. Example: collect new item, use new item two rooms away to open a path that brings you to a teleport to another map, now start exploring this new area, find new item, the next path again is like two rooms away, and so on and so forth. I guess this is an aspect where the glass is half full or half empty depending on how you look at it - Metroid Fusion was famously linear but still a beloved entry in the series; Dread, on the other hand, gives you a map that feels open but the progression is still very linear, so is it any worse than Fusion? I guess that's completely subjective.

Last, I want to talk about the EMMI, the game's most prominent addition. I actually think they are a cool concept that ended up working really well. I had moments that felt frustrating at the time but in hindsight I ended up appreciating for the sense of dread I felt in these sections, and that sense of dread is literally the whole point! It's also very cathartic to liberate big chunks of the map from EMMI control.

I do have a couple gripes with them. If they catch you, you're instantly dead unless you can pull off a tricky counter with precise timing. I found the timing of this counter to be so frustratingly arbitrary and difficult that I almost wish the counter weren't there at all - just make it instant death without this false hope of survival danging over my head like a carrot. (Maybe I just suck at it, so... take that gripe with a grain of salt). I also feel like the act of dispatching the EMMI got repetitive. I feel like there was a big missed opportunity to make these more fun - even just adding in one more ability toward the end that you had to incorporate into the act of defeating them would have made things feel a lot more fresh. Still a cool concept, just could have been a bit better.

This next point is not a critique of the game itself, but Nintendo claims they kept delaying and cancelling Dread because they didn't have the technology for the concept they were going for. I don't believe this for a second. What about it was too technical? Was it the concept of something stalking you in real time across a chunk of the map? There are plenty of examples of older games that keep track of characters or enemies in real time, such as Star Fox 2 or even literally any Mario Kart game. Nintendo using the "technology not good enough" excuse is almost like an old tradition of theirs, as they made similar comments about omitting Yoshi from the NES Mario games despite there being several NES games that let you ride mounts. Nintendo just doesn't make sense sometimes.

Presentation

From the initial reveal, I wasn't terribly impressed with the graphics. They get the job done, but I would expect something more impressive even on the Switch. They look a little on the budget side and it just feels like, even though we finally got a new 2d Metroid, Nintendo still doesn't take the franchise as seriously as they do with their other IPs.

I will say I loved the set pieces though. The gameplay is 2d, but the environments are 3d and you'll see Samus entering and interacting with them in cutscenes before seamlessly walking back into the playable area and letting you resume control. I really like this a lot.

I can't think of any music that really stands out to me which is kind of telling. I'll have to go on YouTube and listen to the soundtrack just to refresh my memory and see if there are any songs that get me fired up, but the fact that I have to even do that I think is a little sad. During my time with the actual game, I only really got fired up for the title screen music and the moment when they played Samus' theme.

I don't have too much more to say about the presentation, to be honest, just a couple extra thoughts. Samus had some really cool suit designs, and I enjoyed the brief moments of voice acting (well apart from which was just kind of grating).

Story

I hated the ending. It just felt abrupt and empty. Metroid isn't known for having super deep and amazing stories, but there are semblences of story in them and the lore is very intriguing and fans love it. I feel like there's a huge missed opportunity in Dread to give us at least something interesting at the end, but there was basically nothing after the final battle - no payoff. I felt disappointed and underwhelmed and just had to rely on the awesome gameplay climax to feel any kind of closure with the experience. This is especially painful because there are a couple plot points I thought were really cool and they served as really nice rising actions leading up to the climax, but then there's basically no dénouement at the end. There may be some neat things to explore in a future game, but as it stands with Dread, I just felt so underwhelmed. Even the GBA games felt more satisfying in this regard. After waiting more than fifteen years for Dread, we should have gotten a bit more.

High level thoughts on overall game design

I have to admit this is going to be VERY subjective compared to the rest of my review, but for much of the game, I felt like I was playing a generic metroidvania rather than an actual Metroid game. There were definitely moments that felt very "metroid", but overall the design just felt kind of "off" from the rest of the series. It is possible I'm being unfair since new entries in a series are always going to have differences that make the game feel like it's not the same, and it's not like I was expecting a glorified level pack for Fusion or something. It's virtually impossible to quantify something like this, and this sort of opinion will vary from player to player, so make of this what you will. After finishing the game, I feel like my stance for Dread is somewhere in the middle - it partially feels true to the Metroid series but partially feels like generic metroidvania, but still a good game overall regardless.

Also the game was kind of short; I feel like it would have been better if it were twice as long. Hard mode offers would offer some replayability at least. My game time was 10:25 but half an hour of that was on pause, so really I finished in just under 10 hours. Other players were even quicker. Trying to correlate price and game length can sometimes be seen as controversial, but I'm going to do it anyway: this felt like a $40 game to me, not $60.

Final thoughts

The last 2d Metroid we got that wasn't a remake was Fusion all the way back in 2002. Since then, many metroidvanias have come out that either brought the genre forward or just executed the design superbly. Maybe I'm being unfair, but after such a long hiatus, I'd expect one of the genre's namesakes to stand out amongst these other titles, but I honestly don't feel like Dread does this. While I definitely may sound like I'm lukewarm toward the game, especially compared to other people online who are raving about it, I really do think it's a good game and I give it a big ol' recommendation to anyone who likes 2d Metroid games. I'm especially happy that it seems to be a big success because that increases the odds that we'll get another 2d Metroid and maybe it will have a bigger budget next time around.

Now I just have to sit tight and wait for Prime 4 to really (hopefully) blow my socks off.

There are 2 Replies


Metroid Dread is the only nintendo title that has sparked my interest since BOTW.

Really solid write up. Did you watch the recent Adam Sessler video on it? It is a pretty solid break down. And I enjoyed Adam talking about his experience with the game with a super uber fan of the series.



Hoping to pick it up someday along with a 2D metroid collection. (a boy can dream right?)

10 Months ago
sniper of hell

I have not watched Adam Sessler's video on it yet, or anyone's for that matter. I would be curious to hear his take though so I'll try to watch it soon!

A collection of the first four games plus Zero Mission would be amazing, honestly. It would be like the perfect companion to the Castlevania Advance collection. (Who would have thought Konami would be outdoing Nintendo in this department?)

10 Months ago
FroyBoi

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