All these years later, the classic side-scrolling "Metroid" formula still works just fine. And the ultimate proof of that is Samus’ latest adventure, "Metroid Dread."
It’s been four years since we last saw a "Metroid" game, and that 3DS title, "Samus Returns," was a remake of a Game Boy game. To find a new "Metroid" game, you have to trace things back even farther, to 2010, and the mess of "Metroid: The Other M." That title was supposed to reinvent the franchise, building out "Metroid"’s world with more cutscene and story. It was also the least enjoyable, most hammy "Metroid" title we’d seen.
Eleven years later, though, Nintendo returns to its roots, delivering a 2D side-scrolling "Metroid" that absolutely shines, especially on the Nintendo Switch OLED’s large, lustrous display. It’s a title that seems built to play on the go, though it’s even better when your Switch is docked too. That’s because of little visual touches, and the elegant greenish and yellowish tints of Samus’s suit. Nintendo thinks of everything in building this game, pushing to deliver a modern, evolved version of "Metroid"’s classic gameplay.
It succeeds too, delivering a title that blends flawless pacing with a sense of variety and wonderment that keeps you coming back for more. Everything works together to drive the experience to the next level. The story hones in on Samus exploring the aliens she grew up with, the Chozo, and, in classic "Metroid" fashion, less is more here. It’s a thin tale, with just enough scene-setting to keep you interested, the polar opposite of the disappointment that was "The Other M."
Instead, you focus on discovering the world in front of you, and that’s bolstered by tremendous gameplay. This isn’t your dad’s platformer. Samus faces more than enemies that require button-mashing shooting; you’ll need a bevy of counters and fakes to survive, and the control scheme puts all of this at your fingertips. It’s all that much more important in the boss battles too; these experiences require quick reflexes and push you to use all the tools you develop in your toolbox.
The fantastic boss battles are one of the game’s highlights, but they aren’t alone. What "Dread" does exceptionally well is vary your gameplay experience, pacing out the entire title in a way that keeps any one gameplay style from overstaying its welcome. In between your classic exploration, standard combat, and those boss battles, you’re stalked by an EMMI, a giant, spider-like robot who brings new tension to "Metroid."
And here, the game changes. Your goal isn’t to beat the EMMI; these sections push you to stealth away, or to all-out dash to safety, a race through some platform-powered area. It’s a satisfying break in the action, and a strong complement to the rest of the "Metroid Dread" package.
That package evolves in other ways, too, namely backtracking. As in all "Metroid" games, there’s plenty to re-explore as you push through the action, because of hidden rooms and abilities that let you reach those places. But where once that backtracking felt laborious, in Dread, it feels efficient. You’ll get to older areas faster than ever thanks to new abilities, and it keeps the pace of the action brisk.
The result is one of the finest "Metroid" titles we’ve seen in a very long time and a perfect title to tide us over until "Metroid Prime 4."
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch OLED