Metroid Dread (Switch, 2021) Review

Samus Returns on the 3DS wasn't exactly to my liking. Still the game was popular and considered a success, so it didn't exactly surprise me to learn that Metroid Dread had come out of the same developer hands. But it also surprised me that the new game improved on almost all flaws that I saw in Samus Returns.

The melee counter is still in the game. But Samus can now perform it while moving and enemies using attacks that are counterable can be dealt with in other ways or outright avoided. I still consider the mechanic to be unnecessary, but it no longer feels like a hindrance to the game's pacing.
Dread's game map is almost as huge as the world of Samus Returns and teleporters are seeing a comeback. The game is still considerably shorter and feels less overblown. Thankfully it's also a whole lot linear. Similar to how Zero Mission's design there is an obvious progression route through the game with obscure alternative paths leading to more interesting progression sequences. Interestingly these are even strongly hinted at throughout the game. In this regard Metroid Dread is probably the most well designed game in the franchise to date.

But it's not without it's flaws. Long load times, many cutscenes and trial and error heavy sections and boss fights have a strong influence on the overall run time of a playthrough. Both of my playthroughs took me two times my play time in real time. It's not a game you can casually speedrun for a week so I had to shelve it earlier than I liked. It takes too long to complete even if you roughly know what to do and where to go. Previous games in the franchise were more friendly towards consecutive playthroughs.

Metroid Dread's big gimmick are the E.M.M.I. passages. Personally I'm conflicted on these. In a way they serve their purpose very well and I often found myself enjoying the thrill of making my way through their zones. On the other hand they often also forced a lot of reloads on me. It's a bit overkill that they are almost certain to kill Samus the moment you touch one of them, so these sections often came off requiring too much trial and error to be really fun and thrilling. On my first playthrough I usually just got annoyed with having to deal with this part of the game. It got better when I realized that just running away instead of trying to be careful was almost always the best solution. Overally in terms of design I believe this part of the game could have been pulled off better if the robots just dealt a lot of damage upon touch and if there was no auto save before and after every section. With nothing to lose upon failure but real time the E.M.M.I.s feel less threatening than I believe was intended by the developers.

There isn't much to say on the presentation of Metroid Dread. The visuals look fine for a HD game that's not backed by a triple A budget. Textures lack detail and the backgrounds often look like plastic props, but I suppose the graphics could be worse. The background music fulfills it's purpose in aiding the atmosphere. It doesn't intrude, but because of that also not stand out much. Personally I liked the monster designs, but not that of Samus' new suits. Especially the gravity suit is unfortunately kind of an eye sore. Hopefuly the next game will improve again in this regard.

There's quite an amount of story told in the game, but it's not really worth commenting on. It's probably enough to satisfy the average player but I don't see much value in it. It's probably one of the cheesiest videogame stories I've come across.

Metroid Dread would profit from a separate mode that just turns off all story cutscenes and dialogues completely. The action is fine with a good balance in terms of difficulty. The chase sequences could have been implemented with more grace. The game map is a bit on the larger side and abuses teleporters to make traversel easier to digest, but there is a lot to discover in terms of hidden routes and sequences. All in all this is the best 2D Metroid title since Zero Mission on the Gameboy Advance a long time ago. The developers know and understand what makes a Metroid game and it shows. I just wish it was more tailored towards many consecutive playthroughs.