Every so often a game comes along which worms its way into your brain and sticks there until you see the credits roll, one which has you up late at night in bed, thinking about how you could pass the latest obstacle when you next pick up the controller. Metroid Dread was one of those rarities, demanding me to think not only of how to move from room to room but encounter to encounter, figuring out how to use newly acquired powers to their fullest.
To start, Metroid is one of Nintendo’s older franchises, and despite a long period of dormancy in the series, this game was first announced over ten years ago and fell into quiet irrelevancy until a few months ago, when it was unexpectedly resurrected and announced for release for the Nintendo Switch just a few short months later.
It’s alleged to be the last game in the 2D Metroid series, putting you in control of Samus Aran as she is called to investigate a disturbance on planet ZDR and the disappearance of seven E.M.M.I robots sent by the federation as part of the initial response to the disturbance. There are enough twists and turns in the plot to drive the game along, but mostly they serve as a framing device for the action. It’s standard fare for modern Metroid games and Nintendo games in general.
The game demands you play it to your fullest, too. It’s a side-scrolling labyrinth at its core and requires you to pull off some tricks with high precision, especially on some of the optional power ups hidden across the game’s nine areas. They aren’t all needed to finish the game but later on you’ll feel their absence as you die over and over again.
The game can be tough, but manages to mostly walk the fine line between being tough but fair and housing malice towards the player. The true test of your skill and patience comes from fleeing the E.M.M.I robots and the boss fights in the game which, while varied and thrilling, occasionally took me more than a few tries to beat. (A quick anecdote here—I recently bought a Fitbit complete with heart rate monitor and wore it while fighting the final boss. The fight took dozens of tries before I found what worked and was able to execute on it. After finishing the fight I found that my heart rate had shot up during the fight, peaking at around 130 BPM. Based on this, if you have any heart issues, you might want to steer clear of this game.)
That’s not to say anything about the hidden expansions, which provide you with extra firepower reserves and health. The game peppers a few in low-hanging areas, enough that you won’t be completely out of your depth unless you’re deliberately avoiding them. I found roughly 65% of the items in the game, and towards end I really felt like things were coming down to the wire in the later half of the game. Some require you to simply find where you can sneak into a little crawl space to collect your reward, but others demand that you perform a series of well-timed jumps all while dashing at breakneck speeds across the level. Those proved the most difficult, as even one small error means you’ll be going back to try it all over again.
The newest gimmick to this game is the E.M.M.I robots, corrupted through the X-parasites and now on the hunt for Samus. There are certain areas of the world where the E.M.M.I hole up and hunt you down based on simple stealth mechanics and will frequently kill you in one hit. E.M.M.I are indestructible by normal means and running away is mandatory. While you’re able to break free, I found that it was not reliable and the best way to avoid the frequent Game Over screens was to not be spotted at all. The stealth segments here were a very welcome addition, but occasionally dying too often broke the tension and turned the experience into one of frustration.
If it sounds like I’m trashing the game for being too difficult, that’s only half true. While I was on a first name basis with the Game Over screen, I was mostly okay with how I got there. Instead it was being stuck on one sec- tion or another for untold attempts which I didn’t care for. Metroid Dread is definitely not for everyone but for people that love a challenge, love the franchise, or want something that’ll remind you of how games used to be it’s one I can’t recommend highly enough.