The Metroid series is largely determined by its haunted atmosphere and ominous tone. Inspired by the alien movie franchise and the works of HR Giger, Metroid has always been steps away from the horror genre. Metroid Dread is getting the series even closer. As soon as Samus enters the planet ZDR, it becomes prey. Every deadly creature – and machine – in the world hungers for Samus’ blood, and it is trapped miles below the surface of the planet, far from its ship. And the only way out is through the barrel of her arm cannon. While Samus’ newest adventure offers the classic, exploration-based platform / action we’ve come to expect, I’ve never shaken off the all-encompassing fear that gives this adventure its name … and I loved every minute of it.
Metroid helped advance the idea of exploring large, nonlinear spaces, so the world of ZDR and its distinct zones are essential for Metroid Dread. The silent subterranean waterfalls of Artaria are in stark contrast to the deadly lava flows of Cataris. Burenia is now home to a vast underground ocean teeming with carnivorous marine life. These environments feel alive; Rainwater runs down the sides of an alien tram system, cool air pours from the sides of frozen platforms, and exotic bugs gather around sources of light, then disperse in the shadows as Samus approaches.
Exploring these strange locations is always worthwhile, thanks to significant improvements that are strewn across the planet ZDR like a trail of breadcrumbs. The handful of new skills are incredibly empowering. I particularly liked Samus’ new assault missiles, which allow her to target multiple targets before firing a volley of explosives. Unfortunately, most of Dread’s upgrades are stale standbys that MercurySteam seemed committed to. I realize that Metroid wouldn’t feel the same without the Morph Ball, which allows Samus to squeeze into tight openings, but finding that upgrade several hours into a new Metroid game isn’t exciting. I wish Samus had started with more of their traditional skills, leaving room for more noticeable upgrades. As it is, the Metroid Dread feels like it’s occasionally refurbishing old flooring, but this is a bit of a disappointment with an otherwise great experience.
Thankfully, Dread is doing a few things to shake up the old formula, and one of the major new additions comes in the form of a new enemy type called EMMI a Starship Blush. EMMIs are so robust that Samus cannot defeat them in a fair fight; she must avoid them or hide using a new cloaking device that provides temporary invisibility. Those tense cat-and-mouse encounters made me sweat, and every time I came across an EMMI, I felt my stomach tumble as I desperately ran to safety.
At certain moments in the story, Samus temporarily upgrades her arm cannon so you can turn the tables on the EMMI. Of course, it is a rewarding triumph to overcome these challenges. Dread’s other boss encounters are also quite challenging. For example, the giant three-eyed green reptile Kraid is returning. This fight takes place in a very small space, and it was incredibly harrowing to dodge the spikes from his stomach and then jump up the sides of the wall to shoot him in the face. Fortunately, every boss has a recognizable pattern so these fights seem fair. Overcoming every battle mountain put me in a heart-pounding euphoric state.
Metroid Dread begins with Samus stranded at the bottom of Planet ZDR’s sprawling unearthly network. This is a reversal of the traditional opening, where Samus often descends into the heart of darkness, meaning MercurySteam (the creators of the 3DS Metroid: Samus Returns) is ready to reorder the Metroid formula. Do not be fooled; Metroid Dread follows Nintendo’s well-known blueprint for better or for worse – but mostly for the better. This trip is not scary in the traditional sense. I never jumped from my seat after turning a corner and facing an alien monstrosity. Even so, Dread’s atmosphere is powerful and his imposing boss encounters are enough to ensure that it deserves its title. Despite a few hiccups in this old-fashioned pattern, Metroid Dread is a white knuckle thrill that you shouldn’t be scared of.
For more great Metroid-like games, check out our list of the Top 10 Metroidvanias To Play Right Now.