Metroid 5 Is Like Super Duper Metroid
For my birthday this year, I received a physical copy of Metroid Dread! I’m four hours into the game and have made it to the third region of the planet. So far, it’s been a fun and challenging game full of classic Metroid features.
Following polished and succinct opening cut-scenes with backstory, players quickly find themselves somewhere deep inside the planet, ready to explore with urgent caution. Like the world in Super Metroid (Metroid 3 for SNES), Planet ZDR is a huge labyrinth of corridors and passageways. Exploration is a constant room-to-room question of “Which way is next?” There are innumerable door types with different locking/unlocking requirements. Early in the game, there is a mostly linear path — yet it doesn’t feel linear — through the planet’s regions despite there being multiple ways to go between each room. Backtracking is present from the start, plus there are a few tricky-to-reach places for the random energy tank or missile expansion. After a few hours, though, Metroid Dread opens up slightly.
As in other Metroid titles, there are many places where players see a room or item that can’t yet be accessed or obtained — teasing. Sometimes these areas clue players into what might be needed before access is available — it’s pretty obvious where the Morph Ball is required — but other times the game surprises players with a special “switch,” such as reversing the flow of magma to open thermal gates, which unblocks a path somewhere.
Due to numerous complex passageways, entrances, exits, doors, locks, and the like, level design is excellent, suggesting countless hours of thorough gameplay testing. Though rooms share a common theme in a particular region, there are enough details and differences to avoid gross monotony. The pristine 2D platforms with 3D-ish backgrounds look gorgeous in both handheld and docked mode, with gameplay on a big TV revealing more fine detail, like motes of dust floating through light shafts. Special effects fit the game engine perfectly: an aura like transparency in the cloaked suit, the subtle pulsating light of Samus’ laser sight, or the electric bolts of the spider magnet.
Music is adequately atmospheric and changes slightly, for example when sneaking or all-out running through an E.M.M.I. area. As in Super Metroid, music also changes for each region. Sound effects are perfectly suited to everything. What’s most fun for veteran players is the nostalgia of music tracks and sound effects slightly revised from Super Metroid.
Looking for the right items at the right time while searching for the right way through each area is a test of patience, a mental puzzle to solve. The E.M.M.I. areas are fun to blitz through, hoping to get lucky and find the next door to race out of before being caught. It doesn’t feel gimmicky at all; there’s fun in being chased. Afterwards, with a quickened pulse, players must consciously slow their pace in regular areas so as to not miss possible entrances, exits, or items. They also must slow down to properly engage each enemy as creatures are very well designed to require slightly different moves for defense or offense. For example, a certain flying creature charges players, then suddenly pauses in a sort of head fake, then rushes in again. Timing is everything, and players must use the parry move before shooting. Other alien-like insects simply require that Samus duck to shoot. However, these change a bit with weapon upgrades.
Metroid Dread’s atmosphere, size, and setting all contribute to a feeling of isolation, except for a handful of initial mission briefings from the in-game A.I. As for dread, players will feel more hesitant caution and sudden urgency. While E.M.M.I.s add appreciable value with their new gameplay element — viscerally annihilate when possible, otherwise avoid like the plague — the classic problem of quickly losing energy when entering a high-heat area without protective armor stokes panic, which then instills apprehension later upon seeing heatwaves emanate from an adjacent area.
The game is quite challenging; I’ve seen the game over screen many times. The first major boss I fought began to frustrate and discourage me after several attempts because it seemed there wasn’t a way to effectively maneuver and fight. Finally, after much trial and error, and with my son’s helpful observation, I figured it out and was able to easily win at that point; it felt really good. Metroid Dread is also difficult to grasp because there are many moves mapped to many buttons; I often press the wrong shoulder button. It takes a lot of practice, but I find that once a bit of proficiency sets in with muscle memory, the game’s control scheme really flows. I have enjoyed several moments of rushing into a room, getting ambushed, but then being able to quickly react, defend, target, and neutralize threats like a pro bounty hunter should. It’s very satisfying.
Overall, Samus’ latest mission is filled with classic Metroid gameplay, and it might be one of the best titles in the series; it’s near the top with Super Metroid. The triple-A game appears to be a highly respectable addition to Nintendo’s trophy case. With several hours left to play, I may have a final verdict when I finish. For those who want a fun Switch game to play, Metroid Dread should be on top of the must-play list.