Metroid is just one more of the examples of why Nintendo is such a peculiar company. Despite the series’s substantial popularity in the west, and it having enough value to be one of the longstanding representatives of a franchise like Super Smash Bros. Nintendo themselves don’t seem to have that much of a vested interest in doing a whole lot with the Metroid franchise. Which I suppose has been something of a mixed blessing for the storied, yet spaced out adventures of Samus Aran.
Like another of Nitnendo’s more famous franchises, Metroid is a series with a pretty mixed up timeline, although not quite as messed up as the one they needed to put a whole book out to explain it. From what I can gather, there is a mainline story to the Metroid franchise, with a bunch of other games dotted around that act as side stories, almost supplemental to the main narrative arc that’s being made up as they go along.
Games like the Prime trilogy and Other M fit into this category. Which means “main games” are actually pretty far and few between. After some solid detective work, I can only draw the conclusion that Metroid Dread is actually “Metroid 5” in the main continuity, acting as a direct sequel to Metroid Fusion; the 2002 game that, until now, acted as the latest video game in the Metroid timeline.
If it’s any indication as to what Nintendo’s feelings about Metroid are, I’ll also say that Fusion was the last game in the franchise that Nintendo developed themselves in house. Since then handing off the reigns to other developers such as Team Retro and Team Ninja, with mixed results. I’ll be honest, I don’t remember Other M that well, but I do recall thinking that the hate it was getting was pretty overblown.
The latest custodian of the traditional style Metroid franchise is MecurySteam, creators of the 3DS remake of Metroid II from 2017: a well-received game whose biggest failing in my eyes was the simple fact that it was being restrained by the 3DS and giving me carpel tunnel just trying to play it.
But now they’ve been given the keys to the kingdom, so it would seem and have been allowed to make the next game in the Metroid timeline on the Switch; Metroid Dread. A decision that was well-founded so it would seem given the sales and positive reception they have has received upon its release. All well reserved in my eyes too. Because Metroid Dread is a fantastic video game.
Plot: Metroid Fusion 2
In spite of this franchise’s title, the Metroid storyline being told has all but been wrapped up during the events of the first three games in the franchise. Samus Aran, the galaxy’s most dangerous bounty hunter and human-cyborg infused with Chozo DNA had all but made the Metroid species extinct, with the final true member of the species perishing in the final events of Super Metroid.
Following this, Metroid Fusion took the story in a new direction, introducing the X parasite; a dangerous organism that could consume all organic matter it comes in contact with and replicate it perfectly. As it turns out, the Metroid; the generally engineered bioweapons were created by the Chozo for the very purpose of quelling and controlling the X before they could run rampant throughout the galaxy.
But oops, Samus went and exterminated them all.
Samus is nothing if not responsible though, after getting infected by the parasites herself, she is cured by a vaccine made from Metroid DNA, making Samus a sort of human/Chozo/Metroid hybrid herself. Thus the only thing that is immune to the X and the last chance the galaxy has against them. That’s the starting plot of Metroid Fusion and the plot that gets reiterated to us again at the beginning of this game as it kicks off.
Despite containing the X during the events of Fusion, the Galactic Federation get intel that they have been spotted on another planet: ZDR, and so they send super-strong robots to investigate; Extraplanetary Multiform Mobile Identifiers. These EMMI immediately go offline after landing on the planet and the federation is left with no alternative to dig into their pockets and hire Samus Aran again to figure out what the hell is going on.
And most likely deal with the problem by blowing up yet another planet. She has a habit of doing that.
Accompanied by the A.I. based on Adam Malcovich as her contractual C.O. from Metroid Fusion (and Other M) Samus descends upon ZDR and is immediately accosted by the most unlikely of enemies: a Chozo warrior. One who drains her of her suit upgrades and leaves her for dead in the depths of the planet with no hope of escape.
Gameplay: Shootin’ and Ballin’
Mechanically, Metroid Dread uses the gameplay of MercurySteam’s Samus Returns as a basis. With Samus’s counter ability making a return and being the centre of a lot how Samus deals with the countless enemies she encounters over the course of her mission. Along with this, Dread adds a number of new abilities into the mix including a slide manoeuvre that makes the morph ball into a much later game upgrade than it usually is, a dodge/dash and an invisibility cloak.
The common conclusion fans have come to around Metroid Dread is that it is a difficult game. No doubt it’s a trickier experience than previous games in the series. Part of this comes from the much quicker pace of the game in comparison to other games of the past. Abilities like the slide, the dash and the counter mean make it so the game can throw enemies at you at a much quicker pace than they would in past, forcing you to react quickly and internalise these mechanics to use them one after the other in quick succession.
Dread is not shy about using every button on the controller by the end for missiles, grappling, free aiming and the slide. Challenging you constantly all in preparation for the game’s harrowing boss encounters. Which is where, I personally, found to be the most difficult parts of the game. Bosses do a lot of damage and while the game is nice enough to put you right back at the beginning of the encounter after they’re done smearing the walls with you, the game doesn’t pull its punches at all when it comes to forcing you to learn these fights while useing all the powers at your disposal.
For a time I felt like these fights were unbalanced, that bosses should probably do less damage but require more to defeat them. But by the time I had finished the game, I felt more accomplished for having beaten them. The trial by fire approach gave a better sense of accomplishment for having finished them. Much in the same way I imagine people get when they master a boss in a Dark Souls game.
Overall though, Metroid Dread is a pretty terrific example of the series and the genre it would go onto be the namesake for. Levels are designed in such a way that certain routes become bottlenecked after defeating certain bosses and encounters, so the game is always pointing you in the generally right direction. The only times I got lost were times I forgot I was playing a Metroid game and any conspicuous dead-end is generally not that at all.
In this regard, it takes yet another queue from Fusion, although it stops a little bit short of outright leading you around by the nose like that game did. It’s a tricky thing, unlike the days where I was a kid, if I ended up getting lost in a game like this, I would most likely get frustrated and put it down much quicker than any frustrating boss fight could compel me to do. But because the game is kind in leading you around, I ended up finishing the game, with 100% item completion in just shy of 9 hours.
So by the time credits were rolling, I was still not finished playing the game in my mind. Sure, the game gives you a hard mode to play after you finish it, but I feel that’s quite not enough to pad out what I feel is a too brief experience.
Stealth and Emmi
Okay, so I haven’t talked about the EMMI yet. And for many people, this part of the game, not the difficulty, seems to be the real pinch point as to whether they want to continue playing Dread or not. So yeah, this is a Metroid game with a forced stealth section. Which feels very early 2000s video game design. Those big exploratory robots I mentioned during the story segment; they’ve been reprogrammed and seem to have a real issue with Samus.
Each of the game’s many biomes will have an EMMI patrolling it. Albeit restricted to a particular area of the map, and don’t worry the game makes a very clear point of letting you know if you’re entering an EMMI zone. You walk through a pulsing black and white door and the entire screen takes on a grainy filter, at which point your task is to make it to the other side unscathed or fight the core room so that you can fight back.
I’ll admit that these segments of the game aren’t the strongest. In the early game, your best chance is to run and dodge the EMMI before they can make contact with you. Because if they do grab you it’s almost a guaranteed game over. Sure, it does give you the opportunity to counter them and escape, but the timing is so tight and so random that you might as well not even bother. At a certain point the game does give you a stealth ability you can use to avoid the EMMI, but it’s really of very limited use in my opinion.
Using it makes you so much slower and less manoeuvrable that actually using it sneak around an EMMI is super difficult given their size and the tightness of the corridors this entire game takes place in. You’re just going to collide with them and get caught anyway. The only time I found it to be genuinely useful was when I was being pursued and ran into a dead end. Where I could just squat in the corner and allow the robot to turn around and give up the chase.
But all that does is serve to waste some time as it still stands in the way of whatever goal I have to get to. In the end, despite what the game wanted to me to be doing in EMMI encounters, more often than not I would end up just trying to brute force my way through them. Just dodge and outrun them, because when you fail, you’re just plonked outside of the doorway that leads into the EMMI area again.
So it almost makes more sense to use that same time it would take to be sneaky to just charge through a half dozen times and at least feel like you were being a more active participant in the game play. The EMMI segments of the game are really not the strongest, and if MercurySteam are given the freedom to make another, I feel like this is something they should most likely leave on the table for their next outing.
Okay, this next segment is going to be me talking about this game’s ending and the story details of the later game events. So if you’re interested in playing the game yourself and don’t want top get spoiled, I’d recommend you stop reading here.
Ending and Spoilers
Okay, so as a general rule, story in a Metroid game is usually pretty light. It almost all comes from the intro and then a bunch of pieces of environmental storytelling. It was always more of a game about atmosphere than narrative. Fusion was the game that made a change to that by giving us a voiced character in the A.I. Adam as well as some of Samus’s inner monologue during certain elevator rides.
Dread delivers the story in a much similar way, except with the added benefit of some extra cut scenes. Nintendo have said that this is the last game in the series to focus on the “Metroid storyline”, with a new era in the series presumably starting from here. And form the events of this game I can kind of see what angle it might be coming from.
In the games of the past, the Chozo have always been displayed as this almost “precursor race” thing going for them; their ruins are absolutely everywhere, even planets previously thought to be uninhabited not to mention that after raising Samus, they all just seemed to disappear. Dread is the game that decides to put a stop to that and incorporate the Chozo into the story in a big way.
The game’s major antagonist is a Chozo warrior called Raven Beak; leader of the Mawkin tribe. The game retroactively places him into key events from the earliest parts of the Metroid storyline and shows him to be an authoritarian leader, believing he can bring peace and balance to the galaxy through power and control. His introduction into the franchise retroactively makes the Chozo’s creation of the Metroid make a little more sense.
Through the Metroid, Raven Beak saw the power he needed to quell the chaos of the galaxy and bring it under his rule. You know; standard Science Fiction villain fare. Although the big problem is that all of the Metroid are all dead thanks to Samus. Not only that, his encounter with the X have rendered his entire army infected and useless to him now. So his plans change.
Over the course of the game, he guides Samus all in the hopes of unlocking some new ability within her. This is the whole thing about the game that really blew me over. Thanks to the Metroid Vaccine Samus was given at the beginning of Fusion, she has Metroid DNA within her now. And during the later stages of Dread she manifests a whole new power; the ability to drain both power and lifeforce through contact, like the iconic ability of the Metroid themselves.
A power she uses to such an extent that it starts to overcome her to the point that Samus herself Literally Becomes a Metroid! The reveal at the end of the game where she transforms and her suit takes on a bio-organic look of a Metroid in humanoid form is wild. Apparently, it was only the Chozo DNA within her that stopped this transformation from happening to her sooner.
It’s an interesting turn of events because it’s not painted as a positive one for Samus. While she has become much, much more powerful, the implication is that she can’t really control herself in this new form, draining the power or life force from anything she comes into contact with subconsciously. When the prospect of draining her own ship of all of its power makes it seem like she might be stranded on the exploding planet something else weird happens.
There was another Chozo Samus comes into contact with over the course of the game. A more peaceful bird person by the name of Quiet Robe. He is assassinated shortly after his conversation with Samus, only to get infected with the X later on and be reborn as an X zombie. What’s strange is that this X makes its way onto her ship and willingly integrates with her, adding more Chozo to her body and quelling the Metroid transformation.
Does this mean that some of Quiet Robe’s personality remained intact despite being reanimated by the X, or does it mean that the collective X have some level of consciousness not see before now? Questions I’m sure future games will dig into. Not only that, do we now have to deal with a protagonist as a ticking time bomb? While the Metroid in her has been quelled, surely its only a matter of time before the transformation overtakes her again.
It’s funny. People have spent so much time making jokes over the years about Samus’s name being Metroid given the title of the series. Now, after all these years it looks like the jokes have become reality and Samus is a Metroid herself now.
Lets wrap this up
Metroid Dread is a great game, one of my favourite games I’ve played this year. Despite its shortcomings in the stealth segments and the arguable problems with boss difficulty, I feel like that this game, in a time where Metroidvania style platformers are rife, this one stands out amongst the rest and does its own name justice.
Despite Metroid being pretty low on Nintendo’s own priority list, I hope that the wild success and sales of this game, combined with what I hope is a successful reception and release for Metroid Prime 4: whenever that ends up actually coming out, means that the series can really get a shot in the arm.
Metroid has been the Nintendo franchise I’ve always wanted to get more attention. And a 10 hours(ish) game was simply not enough to quench my thirst for the adventures of Metroid/Samus Aran. Given the sales of this game, odds are on that anyone reading this has already picked this game up. But if not; buy Metroid Dread. It’s a great game and one of the few Nintendo have put out this year.