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Metroid Dread review


Metroid Dread is a side-scrolling action-adventure title released for Nintendo Switch in October 2021. Developed by Mercury Steam and published by Nintendo, this is the second Metroid title by the developer following 2017's Metroid: Samus Returns. Featuring side-scrolling platform action mixed with a large map, divided into multiple sections  Metroid Dread brings the series to the Switch with redefined combat, agility, and the looming threat of the E.M.M.I. units.

In Metroid Dread, you'll take control of elite galactic bounty hunter, Samus Aran. Called into action on Planet ZDR, the title follows the eradication of the X-Parasite threat from 2002's Metroid Fusion. Coming off of the gameplay of Metroid: Samus Returns, Samus can use close-ranged melee abilities, solve puzzles, and use Aeion Abilities to enhance her suit with new upgrades. Featuring intimidating boss battles, a haunting atmosphere, and a story that changes the complexion of the series, Metroid Dread embraces a new era.

However, in spite of its perfectly polished shine and good intent, Metroid Dread suffers from an abrupt ending. While it's not the first time the series ended on a weird note, Metroid Dread's ending's lack of exposition fails to explain many of the occurrences that happened suddenly in the game's last hour. Despite that, it's a magnificent, genre-defining experience that goes above and beyond expectations.


Story
Metroid Dread immediately follows the events of Metroid Fusion. Samus picks up a distress signal from Planet ZDR indicating the threat of the X-Parasites. This signal follows the shipment of the E.M.M.I. robots to observe and confirm their existence. However, the Galactic Federation end sup losing the communication signal. In Metroid Dread, Samus will fight to survive against overwhelming odds on ZDR while also learning the truth about her past and the Metroid DNA she harbors within.

The mysterious Chozo, later known as Raven Beak, first appeared in the unlockable Chozo Memories gallery of Metroid: Samus Returns. This powerful traitor to the Chozo tribe easily defeats Samus in the beginning of the game. Having waited four years after first viewing the Chozo Memories, it felt satisfying to finally witness this story unfold.

However, it is in this final stretch that the game finally suffers from its Achilles heel. A missing Core-X, a character thought dead, the transformation of the final boss, and little explanation for all of it ends the game on an abrupt note. It paces itself too quickly in the game's last hour. As such, it feels like it doesn't wrap the story up in a nice little package like Metroid Fusion or even Super Metroid did.

Another issue I had came from certain events leading up to the ending. One boss fight even has an enemy's Core-X sinking into the lava. What ability did it carry? Yet hardly any of this is explained why and seems to happen abruptly. A little exposition would have solved some of these issues.


Audiovisual
One of the problems I had with Metroid: Samus Returns was how the colors looked oversaturated. Despite its detailed animations, the 3DS' system limitations might have contributed to why Samus Returns' visual aesthetic fell short of its potential. Thankfully, Metroid Dread solves that and then some. Its gorgeous visual style offers both the animations across the game as well as gorgeous background art that successfully separates each world with its own living, breathing atmosphere.

Likewise, Metroid Dread creates atmosphere in the best way possible. Foreshadowing boss fights with background elements, such as tentacles or moving figures, set the stage. The eerie music that follows these encounters fills you with tension for what's around the corner. I especially enjoyed the tense music in Ferenia.

As per series standard, Metroid Dread presents you with a fine soundtrack to include the series' familiar jingles. The title theme, item music, Samus' Theme, and appearance fanfare all come with fresh new remixes. I'm a little sad that the Metroid Prime Missile upgrade jingle didn't return. Granted, I can personally say that Metroid Fusion still features the best soundtrack. Minako Hamano's compositions set the stage for some incredible tension throughout the game and its sudden crises. 


Gameplay
Now here is where Metroid Dread shines. Take the controls of Samus Returns and use the Switch's extra two shoulder buttons to easily switch across various weapons and upgrades. In addition to Samus' standard beams, the Ice Missile returns from Fusion. As with Fusion, Metroid Dread seeks to optimize and streamline the performance of the game without making you switch between Missiles or Beams. I feel in terms of controls, the developers did a fantastic job.

As for combat, Metroid Dread also excels across the series. Samus has an Aeion ability allowing her to dash quickly for evasion. She also has a new Melee Dash strike which she can use while moving. In contrast to the Melee Counter, she does not have to sit still and wait for an enemy pattern to defensively strike. 

Moreover, the incredible and varied boss battles match these new abilities to provide you with a challenge. This includes your Aeion Abilities and weapons new to the 2D Metroid series like the Storm Missile. Indeed, I would say it's the most difficult 2D Metroid along with Samus Returns. If you're a series newcomer, keep in mind much of this is relegated to pattern memory and optimizing your abilities. It's a worth challenge for veteran players but sits in just the right plane for newcomers to experience as well!


Exploration
As with combat, exploration remains a plus in the game. You're rewarded for taking the scenic route to obtain Missile Expansions and Energy Tanks. My only gripe here is that, like with Metroid: Zero Mission, you're given the Power Bomb and final beam abilities right at the end of the game. You don't get to take the time explore with them as you would in Super, Fusion, or Samus Returns.

I'll also mention that Grappling Beam puzzles from Metroid: Samus Returns also return here. You'll use the Grappling Beam to pull blocks, swing across gaps, and even use it to attach to magnetized walls and ceilings. Yet again, I find this level of depth to help evolve the series' structure with its challenge and variety.


Extra
I just want you to know straight up that Ridley is dead and gone. While I had considered the possibilities of how they would possibly shoehorn Samus' eternal archnemesis into Dread despite his many previous deaths, Ridley is in fact nowhere to be seen. However, another familiar foe returns and it's one you may have seen in one of Metroid Dread's trailers.

I found Adam's voice to be a little off-putting. I didn't expect him to sound like an actual robot. When I played through Metroid Fusion, I still heard a male voice instead of a neutral robot. Moreover, in the era Metroid takes place in, you would think voice modulation has made waves even beyond what we hear from GPS and voice apps like Siri and Google Assistant. This is by no means a dealbreaker and just a nitpick on my end so take it as you will.

The E.M.M.I. weren't as creepy as you might expect. The stealth involved certainly involved a challenge. But I don't think it was as tense as evading a threat like Tyrant in Resident Evil or SA-X in Metroid Fusion. I daresay Fusion's tension remains unmatched both in the series as well as compared to most games. This might also be due to the E.M.M.I. being restricted to certain zones and not liable to appear suddenly while you're exploring.

Finally, it's clear that the Central Units were designed as homages to Mother Brain. The antagonist of Metroid and Super Metroid was a giant brain with an eyeball and protected by laser beams and energy rings called Rinkas. However, the Central Unit boss fights were all the exact same and never offered any storyline connection to Mother Brain itself. It sits among Metroid Dread's numerous unanswered questions.


Final Verdict: Recommended
Aside from the ending feeling abrupt over the course of the game's last hour, I found Metroid Dread to be potentially the best entry of the series. Rest assured, the Metroid series is by no means perfect in its writing. However, Metroid isn't a story-driven series and, as such, I don't find it to be a flaw harmful enough to ward you from playing the game. Even then, I enjoyed the story elements greatly to include one instance when all hell breaks loose.

All things considered, the exceptional combat abilities, boss battles, and mix of stealth, adrenaline, and melee combat meld together to create an unforgettable experience. If you're a fan of side-scrolling titles, like Nintendo's Mario, Kirby, and Yoshi series, you will absolutely adore Metroid Dread. If this is your first entry in the series, it will make a fine addition to your Nintendo Switch. Consider this essential if you enjoy side-scrollers or want to try the Metroid series.

I clocked in the game's end time at 6 hours and 30 minutes. Despite already being longer than the previous games, I feel like I was playing it for longer than that. It does not feel like a short game. Additionally, you can unlock Hard Mode as well as various art galleries. 

Finally, whether you're a veteran fan of Metroid or a series newcomer, I encourage you to try Metroid Dread. It's fun, engaging, offers an incredible atmosphere, and allows you to explore at your own pace. It offers a challenge but not one so bone-crushing that newcomers would feel turned off. With that said, I hope Mercury Steam and Nintendo will continue working together to create more amazing titles like Metroid Dread in the future!

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