Still a relative newcome to the world of the Nintendo Switch, I have a bucket list of sorts for the big-name Nintendo franchises that I have completely missed out on with Mario and Zelda right up the top. Another series that I have always wanted to try out for myself and experience has been the METROID series, and when I went searching to see if there was anything I could pick up for my Switch, I was surprised to learn that is has been a staggering 19 years since the last released METROID game, I was therefore extremely excited when the big return was announced for METROID Dread and I immediately placed my pre-order. Full transparency, I was not prepared for the game I have now come to love the most on my Switch console!
All I knew about Metroid was that it was a series of 2D side scrolling shooting with platforming and puzzles and that it created the METROIDvania Genre of gaming. I wanted to dive in and just immerse myself in the world and I was completely taking back by an experience that quickly became one of my favourite Switch experience since picking up my console in the summer and of 2021 overall. I loved how the opening brings newcomers to the series like myself up to speed on the story history of the series, which was very much appreciated by me because Dread gets straight to the point very quickly.
With the X seemingly destroyed, a surprise signal on a new planet ZDR which is possibly a sign of more X, has Samus tasked with investigating this signal but on arrival is somehow knocked out and wakes to find her suit demoted to a basic form and no knowledge of high-level skills or what happened to her that caused it. Quite the opening for a newcomer like me but probably standard story set up for veteran METROID players. Thankfully, the game gives players a little bit of time to get familiar again with the controls and how to navigate the level maps to know how to progress or backstep depending on what is required. I came to really appreciate the level design so much in this game, there is a real depth and intricacy to how the levels are layered in every area the game takes you. There are areas which are obviously designed to be the classic “Come back later when you have this ‘thing or item’” mechanics, something I do appreciate as it lets the player know that this is a level you will be returning to.
The visuals to METROID Dread are exceptional for the switch, the animation is just eye candy for me whether I am playing in handheld mode or docked and through my TV, whilst my Switch is the original model, I have had the chance to see and play it on a friend’s OLED Switch and the vibrance of the colours whilst in handheld is quite something, but that said, it is for me so far, one of the best looking games I have yet to experience on the Switch. The sound scheme and musical score is fantastic with the music just helping to immerse players into the METROID world and the sound, from weapon use to just moving around is incredible. Both combine to help one factor of Dread that truly stands out above all else, the E.M.M.I. threat.
I like the overall 2D side scrolling which essentially uses “Screen Flip” to create the level as you move from one screen to another with left to right as well as up and down traversing to move to a new room or place on the level. One of the aspects I am starting to welcome with Switch games is how the 2D feels very natural to someone who often moves from games on PS5 to Xbox Series X and S then to Switch, Dread just looks so good in either Switch playable modes and I do love it on my TV. The way in which this all comes together when you encounter the E.M.M.I. robots just completely took this game to a whole new level.
Clearly inspired by the early Alien films, the E.M.M.I. serve as that enemy Samus is unable to fight or kill right away with the only tactic available is to either avoid or run away from to fight another day. If caught, Samus will have a small window to carry the E.M.M.I. robot attack but believe me, this is a very small chance to escape their grips and usually if they catch you, you are dead. What is refreshing is that the checkpoint system is very forgiving, often respawning Samus at the point you entered that screen, so you know what to avoid going forward or quickly check the map to see if there is another route. E.M.M.I. robots stalk the levels as well, with a patrol pattern designed to both hinder and unnerve the player. Now this is often a mechanic I find dull and boring, Alien Isolation did not work for me and Resident Evil 7 for example, had characters just designed to make you stop and spend ten minutes waiting for them to leave so you could progress.
There is something fairer about the way in which Dread applies this process however, and I knew when I was caught out by an E.M.M.I. robot, it was down to me making a mistake or not being careful. I never felt punished by this element and genuinely found it to be an exciting gameplay experience knowing I had to sneak by or bait an E.M.M.I. to chase me so I could use abilities to get by it to an area I needed to reach that they were blocking. The game warns the player that E.M.M.I.‘s are to be avoided which makes the moment you can take them out, all the more thrilling.
This moment comes when you defeat a boss and from their carcass you obtain the ability to destroy the E.M.M.I. but once you have, the ability is then lost until you retrieve it from the defeat of another Boss. That degree of payback for all the times you were caught is quite satisfying indeed. The lack of any real hand holding is also something that I enjoyed, once the tutorials are done, you are left in the world to work out what to do, other than an objective, the game leaves you to discover what is needed to progress to the next area. Sometimes you might need something to survive the environment of a new area, should you have missed this, you will need to back track and search for it. The requirement for abilities or suit capabilities which you might not obtain until much later for me makes the levels feel much bigger than when you first explore them. The game quickly sets up the E.M.M.I. robots as a true threat to you whilst other enemies can be put down normally and the boss encounters are a great way to put into practice what you have learned and hone your skills to work out the best way to take them down.
The action can be fast paced which I appreciate whilst learning to navigate the area using the map was rewarding for someone like me who likes to explore and discover rather than have a big marker on the map telling me to “GO HERE”. Since the game launched, it has been interesting to read the thoughts of newcomers like to me the series with Dread and those who are veteran players of the series reacting to a 2021 version of their beloved series. Good or bad, the common agreement is that METROID Dread is exactly what the series needed to feel modern again with plenty to drive it forward so the wait for the next game will not be another 19 years.
METROID Dread is quite simply fantastic and as the gaming year draws to a close, its inclusion on many GOTY Award nomination lists is very much deserved. Nintendo timed this release to compliment the launch of the OLED Switch but this plays fantastically well on the regular Switch of it not to be dismissed, if you have a Switch user in your family and looking for that gift idea this Christmas, METROID Dread is the perfect solution!