It may have taken almost two decades, but Metroid is finally back. This isn’t a remake or a spin-off, it’s the proper “Metroid 5” that we’ve waited for ever since Metroid Fusion wrapped up back in 2002. I don’t mean to discredit any of the Metroid titles Nintendo has released since Fusion — and there have been a few — but Metroid Dread is truly something else: the series became famous for its 2D games and having that side-scrolling action and exploration back in 2021 still feels surreal.
This isn’t just a new 2D Metroid game, either: Metroid Dread is the revival of the DS title Nintendo conceived back in the mid-2000s that never saw the light of day. With that kind of history, Metroid Dread arrived with hefty expectations to meet — expectations that it has exceeded without difficulty. Simply put, Metroid Dread is an incredible video game thate excels in almost every regard.
MercurySteam proved itself as a fantastic developer with its work on 2017’s Metroid: Samus Returns, but Metroid Dread is on a whole other level. Samus Returns was a remake of 1991’s Game Boy title Metroid II: Return of Samus, so it was understandably limited by the scope of the 26-year-old source material, but Metroid Dread being its own title gave the developer free reign to go as hard as it wanted in creating something new and distinctly its own… and it went well and truly over the top, in the best possible way.
Right from the outset, there’s an abundance of things to love about Metroid Dread. Whether it’s the crisp visuals, the immersive backgrounds, the tight controls or Samus’ sleek new Power Suit, Metroid Dread presents a wholly original take on the 35-year-old franchise that unmistakably respects its past. It may sound superficial, but this is the absolute best a Metroid game has ever looked — the environments are so densely packed with detail and life that they practically overflow with visual splendour.
Of course, Metroid Dread doesn’t just look good — it also plays incredibly well. Expanding upon the modern movement controls introduced in Samus Returns, the bounty hunter moves around with agile and commanding precision. Welcome new additions such as the slide and dash counter and the magnetic grapples for wall climbing help to cut out whatever down time might remain, allowing Samus to plow through enemies and clear missions and obstacles at high speeds.
On top of that, the controls themselves are very tactile. Samus’ animations reinforce your control while also doing an excellent job of highlighting her stoic and determined characterisation. Additionally, where previous Metroid titles had you cycle through different weapon types with a single button, almost all of the Power Suit’s functions are mapped to their own buttons this time around; this will take a moment to get used to for those who binged the Metroid series prior to Dread, but mastering all of those functions gives you an even greater sense of control.
Further speaking to this sense of control, Metroid Dread’s faithful, classic Metroid-style progression system does an excellent job of keeping the player from getting overwhelmed. Of course, the Metroidvania progression style is hardly anything new — it is the series’ identity, after all — but that doesn’t detract from the fact that Metroid Dread pulls it off with flying colours.
When you first set out from the centre of the labyrinthian planet ZDR, Samus only has her arm-cannon and a few basic missile options, but you’ll stumble across a slew of upgrades in your travels — from series staples like the Super Missiles, Charge Beam and Morph Ball, to the new Spider Magnet. The upgrades might weigh more heavily towards the returning side, but MercurySteam has done a fantastic job updating them to make them feel more fresh; the Speed Booster, for instance, has been massively overhauled to require less of a run-up to engage, allow you to maintain your speed in mid-air and also to change directions by pulling off tricky wall-jump combos.
Despite having one of the more complex control schemes, Metroid Dread might just be the most accessible title in the franchise. In the past, the series has dabbled with secret techniques like wall-jumping and Shinesparking. Not only are these techniques more apparent and easier to control, but the game will put your Shinesparking skills to the test given that a handful of its optional collectibles are hidden behind some particularly devilish Shinespark puzzles designed to test your mastery of the controls and exploration.
Samus’ assistive AI, ADAM, is also back to help you out. Unlike its last appearance in Metroid Fusion, ADAM takes a more hands-off approach, informing you that something might be a future objective but never explicitly telling you where to go next. This iteration of Adam strikes a good balance between helping you through Metroid Dread’s story and also letting you explore ZDR at your own pace and in your own order without making you feel like you’re doing it wrong.
In fact, Metroid Dread does an excellent job of balancing directed and open-ended exploration — quite possibly the best of any Metroid release. The game doesn’t seem to mind if you get yourself lost, but it very cleverly guides you around its map as you progress; blocked pathways usually aren’t too far away from the upgrade you’ll need to get through them, but at the same time those upgrades aren’t staring you right in the face. This approach cuts back on massive amounts of frustrating backtracking, and although Metroid Dread isn’t as exploration-heavy as previous standout games, it does satisfy both styles of play.
Metroid Dread also borrows from the series’ past with some good old fashioned “SNES-style” difficulty. That might be a bit of an exaggeration, but this is a game that absolutely doesn’t hold back. The standard enemies and exploration aren’t too tricky to deal with — so long as you’re not playing carelessly, of course — but the bosses are where the challenge really appears.
Fortunately, there was no point during my playthrough where Metroid Dread felt unfairly difficult. Dying often only sends you back a few rooms, and the game is relatively generous with health and missile drops, especially if you’re going out of your way to pick up those extra energy tanks. The only exception to this is the E.M.M.I., a group of predatory humanoid robots that the Galactic Federation deployed to ZDR that have since gone rogue. The newly-reprogrammed E.M.M.I. are hell-bent on hunting down Samus and exterminating her, and it’s this omnipresent threat from which Metroid Dread appears to have derived its title.
Unfortunately, it felt like the E.M.M.I. wasted some potential in certain regards. The closest comparison one could make is to Metroid Fusion’s SA-X, an X Parasite that mimics Samus’ own Power Suit and hunts her down, catching her off guard on numerous occasions wherein her only recourse is to hide. While the SA-X would appear unannounced, each of the seven E.M.M.I. is restricted to its own “E.M.M.I. zone.” You’ll still feel a sense of relief when you make it through an E.M.M.I zone alive, but it’s hard to really fear their surprise attacks when you know exactly what you’re getting into.
Exacerbating this is the fact that there isn’t all that much to avoiding the E.M.M.I. aside from running fast, or using the new Phantom Cloak ability. Fortunately, ZDR’s labyrinthian layout adds a little more challenge into evading the murderous robots. Chances are that you’ll die a few times encountering the E.M.M.I. given that it’s a one-hit KO if they manage to catch you, but just like with Metroid Dread’s boss fights, this isn’t a bad thing; there’s a checkpoint outside of each E.M.M.I. zone, so each death serves as a new piece of information rather than a frustrating setback.
It’s not that the E.M.M.I.’s execution is poor, per se; it just feels like they don’t live up to their full potential like the SA-X did. Aside from my minor gripes with the E.M.M.I., though, I’m genuinely hard-pressed to find anything that I didn’t enjoy about Metroid Dread — it’s just that good. If I absolutely had to complain about something, it’s the fact that the soundtrack isn’t anywhere near as iconic as previous Metroid soundtracks. The tracks are all perfectly fine, but I didn’t find myself remembering any of them when I stepped away from the game. Even this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since beloved composer Kenji Yamamoto and his team took a more atmospheric approach to Metroid Dread’s soundtrack, but you might find yourself missing some of the more defining bangers from games like Super Metroid.
Nintendo and MercurySteam really have something special in Metroid Dread. It does have minor flaws here and there, but I struggle to let them matter because the rest of the game is just that good. Combine that with the fact that the whole thing ends with a stellar conclusion that’s sure to be a treat for long-time series fans — or those who read my recap of the story so far! — and Metroid Dread comes together to be one of the most finely-tuned, thrilling and satisfying games of the year so far.
Delivering some ingenious design bolstered by its incredible art and controls, Metroid Dread proves that MercurySteam is right at home with the Metroid franchise. It does have a couple of minor flaws, but those flaws are so few and far between that they may as well not exist at all.
Ethan reviewed Metroid Dread using a Nintendo Switch code purchased at retail.