The Metroid saga is celebrating its 35th birthday this year and what better gift for its players – after 15 years of rumors and hope – than the release of Metroid Dread. While for this kind of event a lot of publishers often decide to make a reissue by just changing the graphics and again, Nintendo delights us with this “Metroid 5”. Its development was once again entrusted to the Spanish studio MercurySteam, after the Metroid: Samus Returns remake on 3DS in 2017. Was the wait worth it, that’s what we’ll see right away!
New out of old
For the newbies who are embarking on the Metroid universe or the old ones, a brief summary at the start of the game allows this episode to be put into context.
While the events of Metroid Fusion date back 19 years and we thought the X Parasites were eradicated, the Galactic Federation receives a strange message: these parasites who can take control of any being, would be present on the planet ZDR. Intrigued, the Federation sends EMMI (Multiforme Interplanetary Mobile Explorers), in other words extremely complete and formidable robots, to investigate these famous appearances. But once arrived on ZDR, contact with the EMMI is broken …
It is during this kind of moment that Samus Aran is summoned. His arrival was not without a hitch. She meets a powerful warrior from the ancient Chozo people, in front of whom she will not be able to make the weight, losing, at the same time, all her equipment and her capacities. Left for dead, she will then discover that the robots recently sent, have been altered and transformed into killing machines, determined to hunt her down and eliminate her.
The intrigues of the Metroid have never broken “3 legs to a duck”, this is confirmed again with this new episode. However, halfway through the game, it has a few surprises in store for us and the story turns out to be more complex than expected.
Metroid Dread is built on the gaming system it spawned with the Castlevania series, the Metroidvania. It is a kind of game, very often in 2D, which includes maps or interconnected areas but which can only be unlocked after being sufficiently stuffed or after having learned certain skills. And we used it !! Nine labyrinthine areas will be to explore to recover ammunition and health gains and finish the story. If we can count on a lifespan of 8-9 hours, some recalcitrant bosses or the complexity of our quest to find all the improvements and finish the game at 100%, will be able to extend it to a dozen hours. For my part, I find this lifespan very correct, even if I regret that there is not an area or two more so the universe is so rich and splendid. For a standard edition at 50 €, we can indeed discuss. Metroid Dread retains the side-scrolling gameplay that made it famous, as well as the free aim and melee attacks added in Samus Returns. Its handling is instinctive and Samus’ movement management is smooth and pleasant, making it easier to run, escape and fight.
The map and its various plots are quite large and will force us to come back to it in order to unlock passages allowing the plot to continue. The game is still quite straight and will often leave us with the impression of being fairly guided despite the ease of dispersing in the mazes in search of hidden improvements. These investigations will have the effect of making us think in order to recover these famous bonuses but will spoil the intensity of the sequence of the story despite everything.
Certain passages like those in the evacuation ducts or the evolution of the powers of Samus, made me think of the game Carrion of Phobia Game Studio, largely inspired by Metroid and Metroidvania.
You Won’t Make Yourself All EMMI
The difficulty is there and our nerves are strained. Indeed, like any good Metroid, dying is a must and part of learning. Evaluating the patterns well will be necessary. For my part, my Switch almost ran into a wall due to continually dying during clashes against tough opponents.
But the complexity of the fighting is not the only reason for this primary frustration. We all said, and you were the first ones, “I lost because of the hits”. This bad faith finds a resonance here and does not become a simple excuse. Keys and combinations are not the best suited during combat phases. Several times our fingers will rip preventing us from doing our combo. Already when we are quite tense with the boxer shorts during the fights, the combinations of keys will add a layer.
The presence of EMMIs, numbering 7, scattered in the different areas will be a real source of challenge. The game warns us about the superiority of these opponents and flight will be the best thing to do. We will need a special weapon before we can knock them out, thus establishing a game of hide and seek that will keep us going. This face to face with these fast enemies, almost indestructible and equipped with a radar tracking us relentlessly, will be one of the passages most feared by the players.
The discovery and sequence of newly acquired abilities will give a slight impression of rolling over the game when we return to areas already surveyed. But it will be of very short duration and we will be quickly calmed by the following enemies.
I would like to emphasize two of the major qualities of the game: its atmosphere and its graphics. The word that would come to mind would be: Irreproachable! Although some flaws are to be observed, like the omnipresent aliasing, Metroid Dread is a real graphic gem and totally immerses us in this new adventure. Time and time again, I thought I was in a film, both by the sequence of the story, by the cutscenes and the ultra polished and varied sets. These are rich in detail and quite lively as illustrated by the Ghavoran map or on the contrary, very austere and cold like that of Dairon. Developed on a 3D engine, Metroid Dread can take advantage of a particularly impressive quality of graphics for a 2D game. Even the loading phases between two zones, which are only a fixed plane, enrich our immersion. Unfortunately, jerks during these passages tend to break this effect.
The staging is of the same ilk. Every shot, every pose, every movement is a treat. A cinematographic work has been carefully thought out and applied. I couldn’t remind you, Nintendo’s Metroid and Ridley Scott’s Alien movie share a lot of commonalities and similarities. One was inspired by the other for the design of the universe, the particularly heavy atmosphere and its badass heroine.
It should also be noted the return of composer Kenji Yamamoto, to whom we owe most of the music in Metroid. His collaboration with Soshi Abe and Sayako Doi was fruitful and allowed the conception of this magnificent soundtrack which immerses us perfectly in the anxious and dark atmosphere of the game. The presence and absence of music during certain passages push the intensity of the game at its peak. Those nostalgic for the saga will also recognize some themes from previous episodes, scattered throughout the game.
The game also has, for the more seasoned, a Hardcore mode, unlockable once the story is over. In my case, I have not tested it, not being masochistic enough to inflict even more frustration on me, and I want my console to last.