Metroid Dread Impression

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.

Physical case featuring cool Samus portrait, with E.M.M.I.s photo-bombing the background.

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.

Running-and-gunning action is the name of the gameplay loop on top of constant exploration for key items, which gain access to vital upgrades and new areas.

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.

Maps are indispensable for exploring planet ZDR’s massive maze of interconnected corridors.

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.

An E.M.M.I. (All image credits to Nintendo.)

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.

Renewed Horizons In Animal Crossing

For most of this year, I’ve played RPGs exclusively, one after another. I only dabbled in the arcade racer Asphalt 9: Legends last month. Now there’s another non-RPG in my controller grip. Thanks to last week’s Nintendo Direct for Animal Crossing: New Horizons, my love of the game has been renewed. Like when it was newly released in March 2020, I‘m enjoying island life every single day.

When Nintendo showcased all the upcoming features to ACNH, I was floored. For 25 minutes, it was one thing after another, whether altogether new or returning from previous AC games. For example, Kapp’n will be back!

There are two parts coming to ACNH: a version 2.0 update (free) and Happy Home Paradise (paid). Both add a lot to the gameplay and are well worth investing in. I definitely plan to buy the HHP DLC; my only question is when? Should I first enjoy the free 2.0 content for a while and, once exhausted, then buy the DLC to refresh the game? I don’t think I’ll wait that long.

I’m not waiting for either update really. Since it’s been so long since I played at all, and since I plunged so much into RPGs, the base experience of ACNH’s casual gameplay is fun and refreshing as is. I’m back to terraforming my island, collecting new bugs and fish(es), expanding my house in preparation to fully decorate, breeding new flower colors, and more.

The colorful hi-res graphics, chirpy sound effects, and melodic tunes create a chill atmosphere along with the casual gameplay. And there is no fighting; maybe that’s what’s so relaxing about the game. A recent RPG I’ve been playing has become a big challenge, forcing me to strategize and grind — a lot more than what I think is typical. It wore on me, so Animal Crossing has been laid back relief (this leads to an editorial I have in draft for RPGamer.com, so look for that to publish in the near future). You know how much grinding is in ACNH? None! I think the only tedious thing is paying off debt to Tom Nook.

Anywho, that’s some of what I’ve been up to lately. What games have you been playing lately?

Apple And Gaming Stuff

Well, hello there September blogosphere. While I’ve been somewhat scarce from the blog lately, that must mean I’ve been so busy with life experience that I’ve stockpiled stacks and piles of content in draft to write, right? Sounds good to me, but that’s inaccurate. No doubt, I’ve been mobile computing (iPad!) and gaming (RPGs!), but that’s only the half of it. I’ve also spent energy writing elsewhere and took a week off from everything for a big family vacation. Next thing you know, I’m flipping the page on the wall calendar and yearning for cool Fall temps to finally blow away the Texas Summer heat.

This month is bringing more cool stuff than just the Autumnal Equinox. First, next Tuesday is Apple’s first Fall event where they tell everyone what to spend their money on next, like new iPhones, maybe new iPads, or Apple Watches too. Oh, and how about new AirPods? Mobile tech is getting a boost this Fall for sure. My current iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and AirPods are working well. In fact, just yesterday I had my iPhone 8’s charge port repaired at a local shop. No longer must I wiggle the charging cord in the port and hope it sits securely enough to juice up; now I just set it and forget it. The port is a physical or mechanical point of failure, subject to wear and tear over time, and is probably why Apple rumors suggest future iPhones may be port-less, relying only upon wireless Qi charging. I have my doubts, and I’m pretty sure this month won’t see such ”courageous” advancement when Apple announces iPhone 13 or 12S or Year Model 2021.

The other new nice thing-a-ma-jig coming this month is an RPG. I’m excited to soon buy the physical edition of Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom – Prince’s Edition for Nintendo Switch! While it’s not a direct sequel to the the first game, it still features sublime Studio Ghibli-esque art design, youthful fantasy, and some other differences to earn a hearty play-through. I think the battle system may even be improved – very nice. Of course, the timeless dilemma is ever present with this upcoming release: when to play it. Can I pause life and disrupt the space-time continuum in order to play and finish all the awesome games available, namely the RPGs on my backlog? I wish.

Gaming has been fun lately. I continue to enjoy Fantasian Part Two; it’s become more addictive lately. But I’ve also gotten sucked back into Pokemon TCG. And then another fun game recently grabbed my attention: Asphalt 8 and 9. Ok, that’s two games, but they’re kind of the same thing. Apple Arcade launched Asphalt 8, which my kids enjoyed on vacation. So then we downloaded Asphalt 9 on the Switch, and instead of catching all the Pokemon, we’re now collecting all the exotic sports cars. Yeah, I know, it’s a racing game, not an RPG, but it does have stat boosts when upgrading car parts, and each race is like an action-battle system where you can crash other cars in order to win first place. That’s a stretch, but the Asphalt games are no less fun to play.

Anyways, this blog post is sort of a catch up for things of late. I hope to write more in the near future; I have some draft ideas slated. Here’s to the Fall being more fun and exciting than the Summer of 2021.

Looking Back And Forward On The Backlog

When I was a kid in the 80s and Nintendo became a thing, I knew I wanted to be part of that. Video games were cool. I first had an Atari 2600 and a small set of games that my Dad bought at a yard sale. I think the Atari cartridges sold for $0.25 each. They were arcade-style games — mostly without any real stories — and relied on quick reflexes. I didn’t play them to beat the game or finish a story. I played just to play. And show off a high score in Pac-Man.

One day, I got a Nintendo Entertainment System. Now I was playing with power! The games were a bit more advanced than Atari’s, but I still played for the gameplay experience and not so much to beat a game or finish one. That said, thanks to the Konami code, I managed to totally beat Contra. I think that was my first game I ever beat.

Since video games cost a lot of money and, as a kid, I had the opposite of a lot of money, I didn’t have many games. Back then, I would get one or two a year for Christmas or my birthday. The other games I had were temporary, rented from the local video store. Sometimes I’d play my friends’ games. True story: I pretended to be sick one day in middle school so I could stay home and play my friend’s GameBoy that I had borrowed. I played Tetris for hours.

In those days, there was no backlog. I had few games and a lot of time to play them several times over. I don’t know that backlogs were a thing for anyone back then, but I could be wrong.

Over the years, consoles and games grew in complexity. I got into RPGs with Final Fantasy III (SNES), finding for the first time a game that would last me months to play through. Having a huge story be front and center made finishing the game not just a cool way to brag to my buddies, but it was essential. You can’t NOT finish a sprawling narrative arc and leave the entire game’s world and characters hanging onto life by a thread. I had to save the world. So I did. Besides, those Espers were so dang cool. And Kefka was so bad.

Now that I’m an adult with full-time income (so grateful now after recently being furloughed), I can afford to buy my own video games for myself (and my kids). So these days, yes, I do have a backlog. It’s not huge, but it has hefty sized RPGs on it. In terms of gameplay hours, it’s…epic. I’ll likely be building up the backlog with new unplayed games indefinitely.

Before, there was no backlog. Now, there is always a backlog.

I don’t mind. There’s much gaming to eagerly anticipate. That’s fine as long as I don’t let it distract me from staying immersed in whatever game(s) I’m currently playing. On that note, I finally finished Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch on Sunday. Final clock time was 71:11. I’m now also closer to completing Fantasian. I want to finish some other ongoing games too, like Link’s Awakening and Octopath Traveler. But I’ve got a new epic RPG to dive into soon, Tales of Vesperia.

I would feel better about my backlog since I’m moving the Tales game out of it, but yesterday I added yet another massive JRPG to it, Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age – Definitive Edition. The title alone is hours-long! Well, one game out, one game in. Fun times.

How I Got Into RPGs

OK, so you’ve got your hobbies. But have you ever thought about why you enjoy them or how you got into them? Gaming is one of my “hobbies” in the sense that I enjoy spending time and money on it. Role-Playing is my favorite genre of video game. How or why did I become a fan? Read on.


Act I

My gaming started in the 80’s with Atari and Nintendo. It wasn’t until circa 1994 that I ever played an RPG.

I had a little money saved up and one day was at Walmart browsing the shelves in the Electronics Dept. The hunt: find my next Super Nintendo game to play. Being a teenager then, I didn’t come by money often. So my next game cartridge was a serious purchase; it had to count.

But I didn’t have the internet back then to tell me which game might be worth it. The best I could do was walk over to where the magazines in the store were and hope to find an article on whatever game I might want. I did have a subscription to Nintendo Power at the time, which was my only real guide.

So I was scanning the box art of each SNES game at Walmart. And there was one game that stood out from the rest due to its relatively simple design. It looked serious, refined, and mysterious. It said to me that it was special. That game was Final Fantasy III.

I mean, surely any game that uses roman numerals in the title had to be remarkable. Final Fantasy, The Third.

On top of that, I swear it was priced at a whopping $70. Even now, that’s a high cost for a top-tier video game. So the box art, title, and price convinced me that the game was going to “change my life” or at least make me happy for a while.

Final Fantasy III Box Art
Final Fantasy III Box Art

Act II

After I got home and first tried to play it, I was not happy. Instead, I was totally dismayed. What happened?

I recall the opening screen, the descending view over clouds sparked with lightning, and the ominous 16-bit organ music building up. Then the fancy game title rose, backlit by flames! What an impressive intro!

But then I tried the gameplay. It was like eating vegetables. Bitter. Yuck! This game was supposed to be good for me, but instead it seemed to be a major let-down. What is this thing? I felt robbed. And there was no getting my hard-earned money back.

Like I mentioned, I had never played an RPG before. FFIII (what was truly FFVI) is one of the best JRPGs ever, and it was a pretty hard-core one to start with.

And I just totally didn’t get it.

I was exploring a town with my sprite-based character who couldn’t jump like Mario or shoot like Samus in Super Metriod, and all I could do was talk to people. Boring.

But then, while walking around, sometimes I would suddenly be jolted into a “battle-screen” lined up with enemies. I had to wait my turn to pick an action…from a menu. The choices were weird. And if I won the fight, my sprite-person would dance and I’d get weird point things and money.

And the process would repeat. Random encounters were annoying interruptions. The classic gameplay that traditional JRPGs are known for was too foreign to me.

To make things more frustrating, all the gameplay weirdness was supposedly tied together by an epic unfolding story. But it just seemed out of reach, a story you must play out for hours and hours, sort of solving it like a puzzle.


Act III

Thankfully, I had something more valuable than the $70 dud of a game. I had a friend. He had already been into RPGs. So he told me to bring the game over and he would teach me how to play it. Sure, what did I have to lose?

This is a very fond memory of mine. I sat on the floor with my friend as he walked me through the first part of the game. He explained the basics while showing me how it all worked and was supposed to play out. I watched. I asked questions.

My friend encouraged me and was happy for me to have such a cool game to play. (Later, he let me borrow his copy of EarthBound. Wow! The box had scratch-n-sniff stickers. Such a fun and cool RPG.)

After a while, my understanding of the game grew. The basics were simple enough. You had to level up your character over time with experience. There were many stats you could affect! This wasn’t as simple as growing from small Mario to big Mario in an instant with a mushroom. This was realistic growth!

I also recall being particularly impressed by the freedom to choose a cool magic-based attack instead of a physical attack in battle mode. There were options!

The strategy of battle pulled me in. Not only could I choose magic over sword swinging. I could choose a type of magic, like fire versus ice. And the choice made a difference; it all depended. Then I learned of greater choices like Fire2 versus Fire1. I could do more damage at once, and the magic looked more awesome!

And all that hooked me. The depth, the options, the battle strategy. But then, what reeled me in was the grand story, the world building, the many characters you could play as. You played many roles!

Ah…click! A role-playing game.

I beat my first RPG, Final Fantasy III, many weeks later. It took that long to progress through the story – and what a story! To this day, it remains one of my favorites. Grinding and all.


Begin Final Act

Final Fantasy III was a big investment for me as a kid in several ways. A high purchase cost. Weeks devoted to playing. Pushing through its challenges. What was almost a total let-down turned out to be one of the best game pay-offs ever!

An RPG fan was born.

Final Fantasy was the only RPG franchise I knew back then. I went on to play FFVII, VIII, and IX on the PS1. I also played EarthBound and Super Mario RPG on SNES. DragonQuest wasn’t on my radar.

Over the years, I sought out other RPGs; it’s my favorite genre to this day. As an adult with kids and a full-time job, I don’t get to escape into video games quite like I did in my youth. But I do find time to role-play.

These days, I’m pursuing RPGs more like a hobby, collecting promising titles in my backlog and anticipating new ones as they’re released. At night after the kids are to bed, I like to immerse myself into whatever current RPG I’m playing. As of this writing, I’m 42 hours into Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch on my Nintendo Switch. It’s a gem!

A good RPG might be more important to me now as an adult versus when I was a kid. Why? Because as one with a life full of adult responsibilities and stresses, video gaming is a helpful way to escape into some fun. And the immersive world-building and story-telling of an RPG is one of the best forms of escapism to enjoy.


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