Metroid Dread

Release Date: October 8, 2021
Developer: Mercury Steam / Nintendo
Director: Fumihiko Hayashi

Rating: 3/5

Metroid is everything.

Presentation – Trailer – Boxart – Intro

First looking at the game, at its game trailer, I saw a mix of things I liked and things of concern. What I was most impressed with was the cinematic view where the camera shifts closely behind Samus over-the-shoulder style. For the major concern: the numerous cutscene use. Everything I expected from the trailer was fully realized within the game. The somewhat crude boldness of the boxart, menu screen, and intro movie all further contributed to my skeptical view. 

Movement – Samus Abilities – Parry – Enemies

Samus in this game is super slick to control. This is the best controlling Samus yet! The abilities you get in this game and how you can intertwine them are marvelous. Slide, free-aim shoot or grapple, etc. Old favorites like getting the morphball — mid-game! — are satisfying and worthwhile. Now, the problem, and there is going to be a lot of contrasting sentences like this in this review, is that parry move. This parry move is really at odds with intelligent design of Metroid games. Parry lets you knock away charging / diving / quick-attacking enemies who flash white before attacking. Moveset-wise, there is little reason not to parry these attacks as parried hits reward more health and more safety due to a generous timing window and deal more damage than missiles on everything that isn’t a tank. But the major issue is psyche-wise: everything juts out at you to be parried is exhausting and just straight up unpleasant.

When almost all enemies are dumb like this it make your world traversal the equivalent of being on the move deluged by activated spike traps. There is no attempt at a good synergy with common ‘enemies’ and their environment. Samus isn’t going to get bumped into lava by a Zoomer here. All the energy towards something like that has been relocated entirely to the EMMI sections, which I’ll discuss later on. Unimaginatively, the ability gain is accompanied by a showcased footage of the move before you even get to try it out yourself. Moves are enjoyed in an action-oriented maneuvers than real exploration. 

Exploration – Crunched space – Anti-sparsity – Collect-a-mania

Exploration in this game is forward-oriented. Run through a circuit, get the item, don’t turn bother turning back because the door (s) you came through are now blocked off, and repeat. Because Samus moves so fast I entered a similar state as in Super Mario Odyssey where it’s about an amnesiastic collect-a-mania gained through rapid item acquisition rather than a sparse remembrance of challenging acrobatics beforehand. As such exploration has a ‘block’ routinely placed to it. Getting items comes too fast to enjoy the ability before you move on to the next one. No serious point exploring for missile upgrades in fighting through levels as ammo refill ‘booths’ are plentiful and missiles are either useless in escape rooms or replenishable in boss fights.

The levels are 2.5 D and their designs are attritionally mechanical. The glorious Chozo Statues are stuffed under a relatively tame looking place gives the world a feeling that it’s crunched for space in that there probably, and are, a lot more instances of this fighting between generic and non-descript secretive and specially-raised. Only the absolutely serene water level stands out. This water sector is very enjoyable since it feels like real exploration where the newly slowed down speed is appreciated. The area transition footage is great, although minor stuttering; the teleporter ‘load screen’, iconic.

Escape – Trial and Error – Limited Success – Cinematic View

The biggest anticipation from the game trailer I had were towards the spiderly stalker enemy, the EMMI, and the new experience they could provide being advanced 2D chase sequences. The EMMIs don’t covey fearsomeness showcased at a standstill as an Amiibo toy; the contradistinction, they are excellent-looking in game both design-wise and their movement animations. EMMI encounters are all over the place in terms of fun but a constant is how they coolly ‘evolve’ making me look forward to each encounter. I was insanely frustrated by the first ‘wild’ one because the game environment places you in a way that they absolutely cannot be closely stealthed away from; you have to run, run, run. No run, no fun. So I died a lot and cursed the development team.

Low music ambiance is appropriated properly to the game and provides a deadly air and sparsity. The EMMI is essentially a moving spike pit. Starts at 2 star aggro level -> 3 star aggro level (i.e. Haunting Ground‘s final scene – brilliant in retrospect kinda way but frustrating and fun). OHKO is often lazy/cheap/exacting bad game design. The issue is visually I am looking for an access point that’s functionality is not particularly well-expressed and also I have to then know to shoot ‘random’ floor blocks all under pressure. After such a horrendous start the Phantom Cloak ability gave me renewed interest in the EMMI encounters.

Green EMMI is a much better encounter due to Samus actually having a more complex interaction than just running. Using the Phantom Cloak to march out or cling onto a spot to avoid detection is real cool. Even more so because more despairing moments may require you to drain your HP to maintain a non-detection state, which synergizes well with collecting energy tanks. Despite numerous deaths, but not at such a high frequency, to this EMMI I felt that it was a lot more fun and reasonable than frustrating. The way their chasing ability improves off the last variants inability is impressive. One big goal is to finally experienced the one try joy – I was able to beat the blue EMMI decisively (record:1/7). Purple EMMI has good stage design but poor confrontation stage space. The later abilities of the EMMI are very surprising and impressive because I thought I was gonna get bored of new color EMMIs. A major highlight is the water use in the later ‘escape rooms’. And countering them is ultra-satisfying after mass deaths sacrificial to a rare successful moment.

Boss – Contra – Cut-ins / cutscenes –  Preparedness

Bosses are a mixed bag. Their visual designs are great. Their moves are pretty well-thought out in how Samus must dodge them and judge what pattern of attack may follow. The big issue is that these fights are Contra: Hard Corps levels of difficult when you come from a good 15 minutes of pushover enemies in the common areas. Sort-of like going from 3 buttons to a 6 button controller in regards to all of a sudden having to do a bunch of moves under pressure. It’s very abrupt and punishing, but in a way that undermines the smoothness of speed immersion at play in the regular moments. Instead of keeling over and dying to then resurrecting costing you 1 of your few lifes, this game bosses hit the equivalent of a life off your energy tank. 4-5 good hits = Game Over.

The next big issue is that most boss fights are miniaturized by a cutscene phase. This isn’t good as it places a ‘block’ routinely into what should be a wholly felt event and it’s far too dignified for a freak alien encounter. So Kraid despite his massive size is miniaturized by “splitting him in half” with cutscene phases. (And I don’t think health + missile items should be produced in boss fights cause it adds a fortuitous grindy-element.) Then there are finisher ‘mini cutscenes’ that last too long diminishing the blending effect that the player is responsible and shifting it to a consumer watched-over footage. Cutscenes have a quality of being ‘grabbed’ even though you initiate them.

A big highlight showing off a NEO METROID / Contra x Metroid new-type of radical heights action is the second to last boss: Experiment No. Z-57. This is a considerable jump from an okayish boss fight of Kraid to this superb boss fight where Samus uses her jumps to clear screen-devouring attacks. While a lot of the attempts to properly showcase 3D models and movement via QTE scenes were choppily executed lowering the pace in the boss fights, now it works here and it has a big rollercoaster effect. This greatly inspired an expectation of what I hoped the final boss would be of. Such hope and anticipation.

The big reveal is fun on the final boss, Raven Beak. This encounter is not a huge difficulty spike as I was expecting from reading forum posts from people who beat the game 24-48 hours from its release date, although I died enough times. His encounter is miniaturized by cut-in footage (aka cutscenes). Attacking his 1st phase (ugh, phases) is very limited relying exclusively on dodging and the parry. The extended and easily-obeyed QTE sequence gets rehashed and doesn’t cohere a synced action well of Samus as she both auto-dodging while you only control shooting. 2nd phase is cool, Contra stuff, although it lasts a bit too long. It’s the real meat of the boss fight. 3rd phase is 1st phase with additional super attacks but my playthrough I was cool enough to beat (!) this part on my first try than get a dreaded restart.

Conclusion – Summary – New Reality

The massive moment of what lies in the end for the player really stands out. Mega break from the past stuff. I’m talking transcending the feeling of the ESRB rating scale. And it really leaves a big impression on the mind of what this ‘new reality’ means. The escape sequence is pretty nuts (not as well-designed as Metroid: Other M’s). The story resolves itself — that aforementioned moment is cut down by the last 15 seconds — cutting off the idea of a new bizarre reality. . . I still have a head canon / imagination where the last 15 seconds I have cut down. And what a bizarre world Samus has become in that moment.


GAME COMPARISON LIST

Haunting Ground, Metroid, Metroid Fusion, Metroid Other M, Super Mario Odyssey, Contra: Hard Corps, Yoshi’s Story, Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat, Alien Quest: EVE

 

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