Review: Metroid Dread - Quite Possibly The Best Metroid Game Ever Made
After absolutely nailing its first shot at a Metroid adventure with 2017's Metroid II 3DS remake Samus Returns, Nintendo has given MercurySteam another bite at the cherry in which they've chosen to retain many of the unique gameplay elements of their last outing whilst adding a bunch of stealth. It's a risky manoeuvre, adding a completely new mechanic like this to such a well-loved and heavily scrutinised franchise but, we're pleased to report, the Spanish developer has handed in a phenomenal new entry in the series that we just cannot stop playing. Metroid Dread is fantastic.
Of course, one of the most exciting things in the build up to this brand new outing for Samus Aran has been that it's the first game we're getting a chance to play on Nintendo's fancy new OLED Switch, and we really can't think of a better title with which to introduce that amazing screen. This is a properly gorgeous adventure, with each of the various biomes of the planet ZDR that you puzzle and blast your way through coming with its own with unique and wonderfully detailed enemy types, flora and fauna, some truly stunning lighting effects and other fancy graphical bells and whistles.
There's so much detail here, from the prehistoric creatures you'll spot wandering around in the background, to creepy little terrors who flash by in vents and the mist-filled E.M.M.I areas, drained as they are of colour in an effort to ramp up the tension until you've finally taken the residing robotic terror down. Samus herself has also never looked better and the exquisite amount of detail in her animations make her feel better than ever to control around the game's labyrinthine structures. As her abilities and weapon collection expand exponentially throughout the campaign, Samus finds herself clambering around on magnetised pads with her brand new Spider Magnet, swinging around with a grappling hook, dodging through enemy attacks with a fancy new Flash Shift capability and much more. We really don't want to spoil anything of the story or much of the unlockable abilities for you here (the surprise of finding all this stuff for yourself is half the fun after all), but rest assured everything you do in Metroid Dread — every enemy you parry into oblivion, every dodge, slide, grapple and rocket round — looks and feels fantastic. It's slick, fast-paced stuff that never drops a frame as it delivers breathlessly exciting encounters, including some properly screen-shaking boss battles that do a great line in pretty revolting, OTT body horror. There are some real grotesqueries to take out here.
In terms of returning mechanics, MercurySteam has brought back the excellent parry from Samus Returns and it feels more robust here. Moving through rooms packed full of bugs and beasties and using this parry to devastate every last one of them with a single overcharged riposte is glorious stuff, too, properly satisfying action that makes you feel like a truly badass space ranger. The Aeion power source also makes a reappearance from 2017's game and you'll need to juggle your gauge in order to make use of all of your defensive and offensive capabilities when you need them most. With this heady mix of brand new abilities and returning stalwarts, Metroid Dread feels like the most feature-packed entry in the series to date, Samus now has a huge array of moves at her disposal and it always feels as though you've got a ton of choice in how to explore and move around your richly detailed surroundings.
And that's all before we even mention the all-new stealth side of things. In all honesty, we weren't 100% sure how this aspect of Metroid Dread was going to work out. There was definite potential for it to be a little frustrating, but the tense face-offs and encounters you have with E.M.M.I. robots are standout moments in the game. Each of ZDR's zones has a designated E.M.M.I. area that you'll repeatedly have to manoeuvre through, but you need to be quiet, use your cloaking ability, watch your Aeion gauge and creep carefully. It's hugely atmospheric as the large red glowing signature of a nearby hunter turns up on your in-game map, as your hear doors open behind you with robotic bleeps and bloops, or dodge desperately out of the way of the E.M.M.I.'s ever-searching motion tracker.
There's also a really nice sense of catharsis after having been locked in these drawn out cat-and-mouse games — and after dying countless times because you got caught — when you finally get to temporarily supercharge your lasers and return to each of the seven E.M.M.I. areas fully equipped and more than ready to blast the plate armour of their heads and kill them once and for all.
Once Metroid Dread enters its final stages it goes ahead and throws a procession of pretty tough boss foes your way. We won't go into any detail for fear of spoilers, but some of these can take a fair few replays to get right, and it speaks to the quality of the combat here that we never really got annoyed with dying. As the game itself explains, all attacks can be avoided, no matter how impossible it seems, so digging in and watching and learning and anticipating how bosses attack and move around will get you there in the end. It all feels so beautifully well-balanced; tough but not impossible, satisfying as hell when you pull off a kill and oh-so super-slick to look at that it's quite simply a joy to hit restart and go again and again.
With regards to secrets and collectibles and all that good old Metroid stuff, it's all present and correct, and you'll find you may need to replay this one multiple times if you're to pick up each and every one of the upgrades that await you in the various regions of your adventure. There's some nice surprises in store for fans of the franchise, an interesting story that very cleverly doesn't get in the way of the action at any point and an absolutely superb soundtrack underscoring the whole thing. All of the classic Metroid sounds that you expect are here, now tweaked and modernised and accompanied by some cracking new audio.
In both docked and handheld modes on the new OLED Switch, we didn't suffer any frame rate issues whatsoever, no matter how hectic some of the boss fights got later in the game, and that new screen really does just make everything pop here. The contrast between colourfully rich and vibrant areas and the dark and fuzzy E.M.M.I. gauntlets in this game is outstanding when played on this new hardware, making for a visually rich, sumptuous and highly detailed experience that's complimented even further by the console's enhanced audio and some great use of rumble support.
We haven't played Dread on a regular Switch yet, but even if the screen doesn't pop as much on a non-OLED screen, it'll still remain a handsome and supremely smooth experience regardless. We didn't run into a single bug or technical snafu across the entirety of its roughly 12-hour running time; the whole package just reeks of that top Nintendo quality you expect from the company's tent pole releases.
Overall then, Metroid Dread really does feel like a hugely successful modernisation of the franchise. It's everything we love about the older games, all of the good stuff from MercurySteam's last outing and a bunch of new mechanics that make for an incredibly exciting, absorbing, fun and challenging romp across ZDR. This is an incredibly sleek and satisfying return for one of video games' true greats and one of the very, very best action games you can buy for your Switch.