Metroid Dread and I did not get off on the right foot (as evidenced by the conversation we had on our last podcast). And yet, now that I’ve finished it, it’s one of my favorite games of the year.
I’m not well versed in the Metroid/Vania genre. I am not familiar with the Metroid franchise. So I wasn’t exactly sure what I was in for with Metroid Dread.
In the opening hours, I was frustrated by the way the game constantly walls off areas of the map and forces you down more linear pathways.
I’m the kind of gamer that, when the game says “go right,” I always go left first, because I know that’s where all the secrets are hidden. I’m the kind of gamer that will explore an area to try to find everything in the level before moving on to the next area. So I found it frustrating that Metroid Dread refuses to let you play the game that way.
And yet, I when I got onboard with what the game was doing, I came around on it in a big way. I learned that what was initially frustrating to me, was actually clever design to teach you how to “Metroid.”
At the beginning, I was walking around, unsure of where to go, but later on, I ran into every new room, shooting every fire method at my disposal at every wall, ceiling and floor panel like a crazy person, looking for hidden pathways.
Metroid has a way of teaching you how to get through the game without holding your hand. And while I initially would have welcomed a little more hand-holding, by the end I realized, it’s completely unneeded. For the first hour or two I consulted a guide when I wasn’t sure where to go, but a few hours later I realized I didn’t really need it anymore.
That tells me that the game is designed so well that your progression is tied as much in the powers you acquire along the way as it is to your understanding of the game’s mechanics and your ability to handle them all.
Metroid Dread is tough, but rewarding. Each failure during a boss fight is frustrating, but there are few things in gaming that matches the satisfaction of success.
More than once I noticed I was building such adrenaline, such anxiety, that I was literally shaking while playing this game, especially during the final boss fight. It was tense, but tremendously satisfying to complete. Few games in recent memory have gotten the juices flowing quite like this one.
You begin the game a shell of your former glory. There’s a lot you can’t do. But by the end, there is no obstacle that can stand in your way. The power fantasy here is pretty satisfying.
The game balances moments of vulnerability along with that power fantasy. In fact, using Samus’ invisibility to hide from the EMMI’s (the game’s nearly unkillable murder-bots that stalk you when you enter certain sections of the map) is a bit like that nail-biting scene in Jurassic Park where two characters hold still and hold their breath as they wait for the T-Rex, with its motion-based vision, to give up and move on.
The EMMI are somewhat easily evaded in the early going, but they become much harder to dodge late in the game, especially as you move slowly in water, or the spaces they patrol become more compact.
Nevertheless, the EMMI zones provide a true sense of dread (pun intended) to try to navigate because you know you have to be careful, or you’ll die. Getting the Omega Cannon and killing one of the EMMI is extremely satisfying, not just because you’re now free to explore the EMMI zone at your leisure, but they give you another power-up that makes you stronger.
Fortunately, when you do die (which I did fairly often at different points), the game doesn’t punish you by making you replay long sections of the game. Even though I feared that I would have to restart from a manual save point, the game seems to have an auto-save system that lets you restart from just outside the EMMI zone doorway, or the door to the boss fight.
However, the game is not without its annoyances.
The most annoying thing about the game is easily its inconsistent double jump mechanics. My inability to pull off the double jump clashes with the game’s otherwise excellent controls that feel great.
That double jump, though. Occasionally, I felt like I had finally nailed down the mechanics of it, but boss fights (in particular the last one) continually showed me I had more learning to do to master it.
It’s not like double jumps in most games that just require you to hit the jump button twice. There’s a timing element to the button presses, and you have to angle the thumbstick to give some sort of directional input for the game to know where you want Samus to go. It’s the kind of double jump that is annoying to learn in general exploration, but devastatingly frustrating during intense boss fights. But even that, I was eventually able to learn well enough to complete the game.
Another thing I found frustrating was one particular mini boss fight that felt like an unnecessary distraction that hurt the pacing for me a bit.
Along the way, you’ll fight several Chozo Warriors. They’re tough mini bosses that attack you with a spear, and eventually spew black fluid at you as they enter phase two of the fight. Along the way, you end up having to fight at least three of them.
However, the third Chozo Warrior, an Elite Chozo Soldier with golden armor and a shield pops up, out of nowhere right before the end of the game that felt awkwardly, and needlessly, tacked on.
It comes after Samus has an interaction with Adam in which he basically comes out and says, “well, you’ve reached the final boss fight, let’s wrap this thing up.” And then, for reasons unknown, yet another Chozo Warrior comes out of nowhere. And I thought to myself, haven’t I already taken out two of these guys? I thought it was final boss fight time, why am I fighting another mini-boss first? Was there a quota to hit?
It broke the pace of the game and tacked on an additional hard fight, and had me frustrated.
Nevertheless, once I got past him, I moved on to the final boss and wrapped up my journey with Metroid Dread at just over 8 and a half hours. And it’s some of the most memorable hours of gaming I’ve had so far this year. I didn’t do very much exploration to gather suit upgrades, so that play time could easily be expanded. But what I’m more interested in, is seeing speed runners flawlessly knock this game out in a significantly shorter amount of time.