While recent impressive entries into the Metroidvania series (Dead Cells, Hollow Knight) may seem to have taken over the mantle, Metroid Dread is a refreshingly brilliant reminder of why Samus is still the queen of the genre.
Nintendo has built the best Metroid to date, blending eerie isolation with a diverse array of enemies, environments, and even background fauna, to make Planet ZDR one of the most engaging adventurous landscapes to date. From the initial moments in the ruins of Ataria, to the wild jungles of Ghavoran, to the eerie underwater base of Burenia, players are constantly uncovering new locales each with their own secrets and hidden histories. Everything is so immersive to the point you’re not sure if you’ll have to fight that figure jumping around in the shadows of the background, or if that lab monster experiment you just passed might come back to bite you (literally and figuratively) later.
And what makes these environments even more exciting to discover is how well the level design works towards letting the player feel that sense of uncovering something hidden themselves, despite it being the game guiding you from place to place. And it’s not always easy to pick up on said path, which can lead to that classic Metroid feeling of being lost, unsure where to head next.
Samus controls better than ever, and while it does start on the cliché moment of her losing all her items at the start of the game, the progression of picking up new items feels so fluid and frequent, and the player is constantly rewarded with new weapons and mechanics. Blending together combos with the grapple hook, morph ball, your latest missile, and the screw attack near the end of the game leads to engaging combat that will have players hurdling over an attack while locking onto five tentacles, all while prepping to slide to safety and then let out a barrage of missiles.
Speaking of tentacles, the bosses are all phenomenal. Whether you’re fighting a horrifying mutilated psycho experimental squid lizard, or in mortal combat with the Metroid classic villain Kraid, each feels like a mythic Samus battle against a kaiju that dwarfs her. Each boss fight relies somewhat heavily on the deflect mechanic made popular in the 3DS’s Metroid Samus Returns remake, but it’s what delivers those heroic jaw-dropping moments, while still requiring the player to deliver in free form combat.
And we haven’t even discussed the unnerving stalking E.M.M.I’s. These predatorial robots will stalk Samus through heightened security zones, making the player run, hide, and pray not to become their prey. It’s all the more satisfying and challenging once you have the tools to take them down, having to play a cat and mouse game to get the right angle without letting them catch you. We’ve seen Samus in dangerous situations, but the desperation and subtle fear in these encounters holds true to the game’s name.
Outside of combat and exploration Dread is a fairly standard Metroid story, but what’s possibly best is the new lore we get on the Chozo, even hearing a stunned Samus speak the language during a heartfelt reunion. It’s refreshing to see Samus up against her greatest challenge yet, fighting not just the monsters around her, but even elements of herself.
Metroid Dread has reminded the world that Nintendo is still the master at creating an immersive, eerie, puzzling and all around perfectly balanced planet to explore. And with the game having just received a nomination for game of the year, the only thing you should dread is missing out on this instant Metroid classic.