19 years is an absolute age in gaming, but that’s how long we’ve had to wait for Metroid Dread. There's almost a two-decade gap between Nintendo’s latest effort and its predecessor, 2002’s Metroid Fusion on the GBA.
It was worth the wait. Metroid Dread is a tough, imposing, atmospheric side-scrolling platform-adventure. It’s not perfect, but it’s the freshest and meatiest Nintendo game we’ve played in quite some time.
Samus the restAs always, you play the role of Samus Aran - a stoic bounty hunter with huge shoulder pads and the mother of all multi-function cannons strapped to her arm.
Also in keeping with franchise traditions, you start the game mostly stripped of your powers, and proceed to spend the next few hours reassembling your armoury.
Each item regained gives you a new power, and the ability to circumvent more of the glowing roadblocks that have been placed in your way. As always in the Metroidvania genre that gained 50% of its name from this series, power means access.
As with series high point Super Metroid on the SNES, you’re largely left to your own devices to explore here. There are no glowing waypoints showing the way, apart from the ones you yourself lay down on the dauntingly detailed map.
Metroid Dread is fearfully trickyMetroid Dread is a tough game. It’s not so much the potential to get horribly lost - while I sensed that this would be a possibility, I never found myself wandering aimlessly, whether through the skilful level design of developer MercurySteam or my own experience with the genre (probably more of the former).
But the difficulty comes from the enemies you’ll encounter along the way, both large and small. Regular opponents can cause you a real problem, whether through their unpredictable movement, bullet-sponge properties, awkward placement, or tough-to-dodge attacks.
It’s up to you to venture off the beaten track and find the energy tanks and missile power-ups that can make Samus better equipped to take the beating that’s coming her way
The bosses, meanwhile, often provide a stiff challenge. Whether it’s the relentless E.M.M.I. robots that hunt you down in select danger zones or the more traditional screen-filling monstrosities that need to be observed and vanquished with a couple of dozen rockets to the gob, you’ll die an awful lot here.
Indeed, this isn’t the game to play if you’re a complete Metroidvania newbie. It’s bracingly, and sometimes annoyingly punishing in places, though not exactly on Hollow Knight’s level.
Eternal struggleSo far so positive, but Metroid Dread isn’t without its issues. Besides those difficulty spikes, its controls can feel a little overloaded. The finger-gymnastics you have to perform for some of the manoeuvres - I’m thinking the dashing vertical leap in particular - don’t seem properly thought through.
Other moves, like the grapple hook swing, just don’t feel quite as tactile and intuitive as they should, nor does moving between aiming and firing missiles and ducking out of harm's way.
Which is a shame, because, for the most part, the core action of Metroid Dread is extremely slick. Samus has a newfound agility to her movements, sliding through narrow gaps like a futuristic parkour artist, which proves intoxicating.
This is aided by some wonderfully slick 2.5D graphics, which largely stick to a buttery 60fps. True, there’s a certain chunky uniformity to this world, but at least that means it’s cohesive.
Elsewhere, the Switch’s technical limitations seem to be exposed with a few too many extended in-between-world travel cut scenes. I occasionally found myself watching three or four of these in quick succession, due to the free-running nature of this kind of back-and-forth adventure. The pacing of the game can suffer as a result.
All in all, though, Metroid Dread is a triumph. It’s the first Nintendo game in some time that’s really captured and held my attention and marks a successful return to the vibe of the franchise's golden ’90s phase.