After 19 years since the last original 2D installment in the Metroid series, Metroid Dread has finally landed on the Nintendo Switch. Developed by the team at MercurySteam, primarily known for their previous work on the Castlevania: Lords of Shadow series and the excellent remake of Metroid II Samus Returns for the Nintendo 3DS released in 2017. In this Metroid Dread review, we’ll talk about how this game is a stand-out achievement in the now crowded Metroidvania genre. It’s a game that will absolutely satisfy returning fans while being a fantastic game in its own right that any newcomer can readily appreciate. You just can’t beat Samus Aran at her own game.
Metroid Dread picks up right after 2002’s Metroid Fusion. If Metroid Dread interests you, but you have never played a Metroid game before, don’t worry; the game features a brief recap of Metroid Fusion that should get you up to speed. The central premise of Dread involves the deadly, and once eradicated, X parasite being found on Planet ZDR. Bounty hunter Samus Aran is sent in to investigate after the Galactic Federation’s E.M.M.I. robots went offline during their mission to extract the parasite.
This game features Samus Aran at her absolute best and firing on all cylinders as the badass bounty hunter she is. Metroid Dread conveys Samus’s characterization in a very seen-not-told storytelling manner where you can see her just be cool, calm, and collected in the face of terror at all times. Don't mistake her silence for lack of character, Samus is the best in the galaxy and she knows it. There is also some fantastic expansion on Samus’s story. You can tell that MercurySteam took great care in ensuring that Dread’s story was respectful of the previous game’s lore and built upon it in a logical and meaningful way.
The stand-out enemies that put the dread in Metroid Dread are the sinister E.M.M.I. robots hunting down Samus. Only six of these robots are present throughout the world, and each patrols its own respective E.M.M.I. zones. What makes these guys an absolute horror is the fact that they take no damage from any conventional weapons and have exclusive access to direct routes around their rooms, making their hunt for you much easier compared to how you have to traverse through their labyrinthian rooms.
E.M.M.I.s are only the tip of the iceberg, though. Enemy variety in Metroid Dread is expansive, with common enemy types requiring different approaches from the usual hand cannon spam that you might be used to. Some enemies might need you to slide between their legs so you can shoot at the weak spot on their back, and some may only be vulnerable to rockets. Returning from MercurySteam’s previous remake of Samus Returns is the counter system, and it works amazingly in Dread with better balance and less overall reliance on it in combat. It is up to you to find out what works best when dealing with an enemy, and there is no shortage of options here.
No skill or gameplay mechanic ever goes unused in Metroid Dread, and mechanically, it stays grounded in the foundations established over 20 years ago. It’s not like it is in many games where you unlock a new skill and suddenly it becomes the focal point of gameplay for the next hour. Metroid Dread says, “congrats on the new skill; now use that and everything else you have learned to continue.” Reaching the end credits requires total technical mastery of Metroid Dread’s gameplay systems.
This is a challenging game, and for many folks, that might just be enough to turn them off from playing it altogether. Not since Sekiro Shadows Die Twice did I feel like a video game demanded that I get so intimately acquainted with every gameplay element that it had to offer. Every last nook and cranny regarding movement and technical skill is explored but never feels like a chore. Samus controls amazingly, and nothing ever feels clunky, Samus is responsive, and animations are always crisp. Reaching the end credits of Metroid Dread will require you to become highly technically proficient with every gameplay mechanic it has to offer, and nothing will test you along the way like this game’s boss fights.
Remember when boss fights were really hard? Well, Metroid Dread harkens back to that era big time. Metroid games sometimes have an issue with static and uninteresting boss fights. But in Metroid Dread, that cannot be further from the truth. Bosses are flashy and mechanically dynamic; your fingers will dance around the controller in every battle just to keep up with them.
Success in this game is all about knowing your enemy. You will get destroyed by bosses repeatedly, and many of them seem nigh impossible to defeat at first. However, every defeat is a chance to learn. It is a chance to learn the attack patterns, a chance to learn spacing, a chance to learn how to overcome. As quickly as I would put down my controller after another failed boss run, would I pick it up and try again because this would be the time I got it right—all-around an addictive gameplay loop.
While challenging, Metroid Dread does take steps to ensure that it feels fair and paces itself appropriately. For example, if you die during a boss fight, you end up right at the boss’s door instead of getting sent back to the last save point. The same goes for E.M.M.I. rooms, die to an E.M.M.I., and you respawn right at the beginning of the room. I find this to be an excellent design choice because it takes away one of the most obnoxious aspects of dying in a video game, backtracking and doing boss runs that just eat up the player’s time more than anything. The name of the game is fight, die, and try again, and MercurySteam balanced it perfectly.
Planet ZDR is an absolute joy to explore and only becomes more fun to engage with as you unlock new abilities and traverse the map in new ways. What at the beginning feels like an absolute maze to travel through ends up being Samus’s playground towards the end. You get a tremendous feeling of satisfaction seeing how far you have come since the start.
The world in Metroid Dread is also a visual treat that is surprisingly varied. This series loves its caves, with some entries going all-in on the caves to its detriment (looking at you, Samus Returns). Dread changes it up quite a bit with a stunning and changing world, some of the series’s best. There are buildings, facilities, and even cities that you see in the backdrop, all beautifully realized thanks to the Nintendo Switch. Hands down the prettiest looking 2D Metroid ever released.
My only complaints are minor in the grand scheme of things. As far as Metroidvanias go, this one is a little bit more linear than others in the genre which I found to be a little disappointing. It often made Metroid Dread far more confusing than it actually is because I was expecting more complexity out of the exploration. Still, there is a bounty of sequence-breaking opportunities and backtracking present in this game; MercurySteam leaning towards linearity felt more like a natural way to make Metroid Dread more accessible while staying true to its exploration roots.
And my last minor complaint is that the music in this game is really forgettable and bland. The end credits midi music is a travesty. But that is about all I have to say that is negative about Metroid Dread; it is just a solid package.
Very rarely do I finish a game and say, “Okay, I need to do another playthrough right now.” Still, Metroid Dread is so remarkably engaging, satisfying, and wonderfully challenging that my nine-hour playthrough simply wasn’t enough. MercurySteam has created what is, in my opinion, the best 2D Metroid game ever made, clearly learning and building upon everything that made the series so great in the first place, delivering the Metroid game we deserve after 19 years. If you own a Nintendo Switch, you owe it to yourself to try out Metroid Dread and see why this series is such a landmark achievement in the world of gaming.