I’m not going to say much here, as I don’t want to spoil the story. What I will say is this, however, with all the hints in the trailers, I really expected more than we got out of Metroid Dread. There really wasn’t too much added to the lore in terms of additional information about the Chozo, in fact what we learn about them is incredibly generic, rather painfully so. While the ending puts a cap to 35 years of story, leaving Metroid open to new adventures with exciting possibilities, I can’t get over how generic and dull the overall story was. One other thing the we also do not learn is why the hell Kraid was even in the game, except to have a memorable boss. Heck, the main enemy is called Raven Beak because, well…he has a beak like a raven’s, and that pretty much sums up how uninspired the plot is.
This is another area where the game falls flat. The quality of the sound effects are serviceable at best. Given the Switch’s limited hardware it’s somewhat understandable, but the mixing is also sub-par, in my opinion. The soundtrack in Metroid has always been stellar, or at least it was… The remixes of old tunes are great, but the new music is poor, and by far the worst music in the Metroid franchise. It is painfully generic, uninspired, and forgettable. The sombre tones of Metroid are gone, with nothing put in its place to really set the mood. In addition to that, the boss fights which should be dynamic have themes that feel dull and lifeless. The main menu theme is great, but nothing else is remotely staying in my mind. Again, forgettable. Whatever the opposite of an earworm is, that’s what this soundtrack was.
This is a problematic area. Overall, more Metroid is never a bad thing, but at the same time Dread’s general gameplay is very linear and does nothing new. There are cool new powers, but they’re hardly ever used. Seriously, I was highly disappointed at how underutilized powers were. Quite often, you will acquire a new power which you use briefly to access a new area, only to never use it again. Now, this may be true of a number of games in the franchise, but with the sheer number of abilities here, and given that it’s been 20 years since a mainline 2D Metroid, I really expected more. The game also gives out power-ups so fast that they really start to feel meaningless, which is a complaint I never thought I’d have to make about a Metroid game. It would have been nice to at least see them used in boss battles.
On the QoL front, you do now have markers you can place on the map – six in fact; although I found little use for them. Exploration felt like a bit of a chore to me, as there’s a lot of travelling going on and, quite frankly, became very tiresome rather quickly. Also, finding where you need to go can sometimes be very unclear.
The E.M.M.I. units were quite cool at first, with the encounters starting off quite tense and felt reminiscent of the original Resident Evil 3’s Nemesis. It really added to the suspenseful atmosphere. It was, however, short-lived. Like most things in the game, the E.M.M.I. units start feeling inconsequential after a while. Too quickly you find out how to take them down, and avoiding them becomes almost a trivial matter even with their unique abilities. You lose all sense of fear very quickly, and they offer little overall shakeup to the formula. What could have been something defining about Dread ended up being insignificant.
Enemy variety is technically decent, but there are a lot of recycled boss battles and fights. The parry mechanic makes a lot of encounters dull and repetitive. The sheer number of recycled boss fights can be described as nothing less than egregious. Yes, they may occasionally have a shield, but the attack patterns and how you beat them are exactly the same. What unique boss fights there are are not even remotely memorable, quite the opposite in fact. And some rely on the parry mechanic in ways that are not visually obvious, leading to frustrating deaths and repeating the same boss over and over until you get it right. The final boss fight also goes on for far too long and feels incredibly tedious, which isn’t how you want a final boss fight to feel. I can’t help contrasting this to the boss fights in Kena, which has some of the best fights I’ve played in a very long time, and nothing in Dread matches them. On the positive side, the action scenes within the boss fights do make Samus feel more like a beast than ever. In this, at least, they show that they really understand what Samus is and how much of a badass she can be.
Another issue I have with the game is the Unique Biomes, which did not really feel all that unique to me. Also, there are some absolutely jarring transitions, going suddenly from frozen to hot areas with no discernible intent to make the transitions seem organic; they just feel slapped together with very little care. Despite the number of abilities you unlock, traversing these biomes feels slow and painful, and the areas you do need to go to often require you to travel what feels like too long of a distance.
Ultimately there is nothing memorable I can say about Dread’s gameplay or bosses, in stark contrast to previous entries in the franchise.
Now, I know this is a Switch game so I need to put my expectations in check, but visually this game is…awful. It’s jaggy, the textures lack any real detail, and just feels incredibly dated in every way; the animations are solid, however. My main gripe is with the art. This may be due to hardware limitations, but it doesn’t have the same visual tone as previous Metroid games. The geometric detail is also far too basic and ends up feeling incredibly blocky. The result is that it ends up making the game feel somewhat sterile, almost like some sort of stock footage. None of the environments really felt like Metroid to me; they lacked that Metroid flair.
On the other hand, the enemy designs do feel very Metroid-like, with quite a lot of the designs bringing back those fond alien world memories of previous games. Samus’ look could bear to be improved in my opinion, however. I don’t know what inspired Nintendo’s obsession to make Samus look more and more like a cheap Chinese knock-off toy with every iteration, but the number of lights on her and their placements just makes her feel like something you’d find at the bottom of a toy store bargain bin. However, her final design at the end of the game made her look quite badass, as brief as it was, even if it was clearly a DOOM rip-off.
The cutscenes were well done, but again felt visually rough and they drop the framerate from 60 fps to 30, which was jarring. I’d go so far as to say that the cutscenes should have been pre-rendered as opposed to in-game.
Metroid Dread, despite all my complaints, is overall one of the better 2D Metroid games. It, however, feels very derivative; everything in it feels dated, it does nothing new for the franchise, and what it does do for the most part it doesn’t do any better than previous entries like Metroid Fusion. It relies too much on the parry mechanic, its boss fights can be dull, and the plot was very underwhelming, leaving you pining for what could have been. On the other hand, it doesn’t overstay its welcome unlike the majority of metroidvanias, and gets the balance of the Metroid formula better than everything else. It’s not a bad game and is mostly well put-together, but it already feels like an old game, and not in a good way, despite being released in 2021. I am glad we finally got a new Metroid game, but after 20 years Dread is simply not anywhere near as memorable enough as it should be.