Metroid Dread, Samus from explorer becomes a galactic ninja

Metroid Dread, Samus from explorer becomes a galactic ninja

Metroid Dread

Few, at the beginning of 2021, would have expected the return of Samus Aran and, among those few, even fewer would have bet on a two-dimensional Metroid. After all, despite the problems, Metroid Prime 4 has been announced for more than four years.

In a fairly subdued 2021 as far as Nintendo internal productions are concerned, it received a lot of space EPD 7, the last surviving cell of the old team of Gunpei Yokoi, R & D1. It is a team that has many more brands than it can manage and, in fact, all three works launched this year have been developed in collaboration with other studios: Famicom Detective Club (Mages), WarioWare: Get It Together! (Intelligent Systems) and, of course, Metroid Dread (with the Iberians of MercurySteam).

Before analyzing the latest metamorphosis of Metroid, it is good to delve a little deeper into the topic just introduced. Switch has not only collected all the internal Nintendo productions under a single umbrella, but has also forced some teams, historically linked to the portable world, to make a considerable technological leap. It is one of the reasons why, since the last (unreleased) Metroid of the current EPD7, so many years have passed: the team is not only unfamiliar with HD, but with shooting ranges in general. It is no coincidence that the first portable console in which Miyamoto's teams have had a more important role than those of the former R & D1, it was the first to be designed to manage a polygonal engine: we are referring, of course, to Nintendo DS. Just like in the days of Nintendo 64, and despite the extraordinary sales of the platform, Samus Aran skipped the generational appointment (Western creations excluded, of course).

Finding a suitable collaborator who could help the group on a technological level was not at all easy. Sakamoto had already tried it in 2010, with Metroid: Other M and Team Ninja. It was a highly funded game that had a large advertising budget, but it turned out to be a flop in terms of both critics and sales. However, at least in part, already in that context one could see the desire to deepen the athletic and war skills of Samus Aran. It would have taken another seven years to find the ideal ally: in this sense, Metroid: Samus Returns (2017) - however beautiful - can be considered a kind of dress rehearsal, a test at MercurySteam, to understand if it could be all height of the onerous task. From then on, the Spanish and Japanese creatives of EPD 7 got to work on Metroid Dread: a title that had already emerged in the Nintendo DS era, but that the team lacked the skills, or the budget (or both). , to sculpt with dignity.

The competition of metroidvania

Metroid Dread: one of the first areas of the game Weeks ago we told you about the history of metroidvania and how important the Metroid saga was (together, of course, with Castlevania) in defining what, to all intents and purposes, has become one of the dominant genres of the indie market. In recent years, excellent video games have come out, with painstaking mechanics and elaborate narrative contexts, whose apex, pending the sequel, was probably Hollow Knight. It was not easy for Metroid to confront himself in such a context; the risk of making a fool, of being overwhelmed by independent productions, did exist.

At this point, two elements must be taken into consideration. The first is that, although Metroid was born as a mainly exploratory and non-linear game (the first had traits from two-dimensional open world, actually), in the past it had already oriented itself in more linear terrains. Metroid Fusion, widely praised by critics, had diverged strongly from its predecessors: more guided, more focused on the evolution of history, very little exploratory. At the same time, it was a game that greatly delved into the narrative universe of the series; a narrative universe that was among the most important aspects of the aforementioned Metroid: Other M, a title that tried to give a psychological depth to Samus Aran, but did not obtain great results. Indeed, Metroid's great narrative skills have never been in the plot - despite several attempts - but in the dark atmosphere and menacing music.

In Metroid Dread, Sakamoto has not completely renounced the narrative ambitions of he. The plot has been carried forward with new twists and in a rather coherent way to past revelations. However, it cannot be said to be one of the preponderant aspects of the game, nor one of the most successful.

Revamped historical features

Metroid Dread: one of the best settings in the game Metroid Dread enjoys a good technical realization, however, on a visual level, is not particularly inspired. The memorable settings are few and often conservative: even the hazards, which are infrequent among other things, do not always turn out to be successful. Clearly there are exceptions, such as the conclusion - also remarkable from a narrative point of view - but in general the feeling is to be faced with a game conscious of one's own limits, which in this area refuses to dare.

The real reason why Metroid Dread has managed to satisfy fans and critics, therefore, is neither in the narrative, nor in the settings. Metroid Dread has succeeded in its intent because it has a very clear setting, a setting that refuses to compete with the contemporary metroidvania: if you have played it, you know how much the exploration of Metroid Dread is "fake". It is not necessarily a bad thing, on the contrary: as we have already written, the game focuses on something else. And the level design, from this perspective, is crystal clear: the various areas are composed of very intricate rooms, but which are intertwined so as not to lead the player to be lost. The feeling of being in a labyrinthine environment remains but, in fact, it is just a feeling: if you are stuck, it is probably more for your distraction (or will) than for the need for the game, absolutely inclined to suggest the next "right" area to face.

Metroid Dread: a close encounter with the EMMIs Even the emotional impact of the old Metroids, which often felt uneasiness and loneliness due to the hostile world, has been expertly maintained in an alternative way. We refer, of course, to the areas presided over by the E.M.M.I .: almost indestructible creatures from which, mainly, one must escape (certain death penalty). Despite the relatively repetitive mechanics, the encounters are so anxious and well managed in frequency, that they remain disturbing throughout the adventure. Even the classic emotion of having "conquered an area", which in the past took place through the acquisition of new powers and the consequent understanding of a territory, is here perpetuated by the liberation of an EMMI area: in short, Sakamoto has found three clever expedients to preserve certain sensations without putting them in the foreground.


Metroid Dread: Samus Aran's athletic skills are better than in the past The authentic uniqueness of Metroid Dread in fact, both compared to predecessors that, compared to other metroidvania, resides in its action soul. The control system is precise, smooth and varied as never before: driving Samus Arun is truly a pleasure (try running any two-dimensional Metroid after this, and you will see how "connected" you feel). A deep control system and above all not an end in itself: the huntress has never been so athletic and performing, both in jumps and in shootings.

And here we come to another key feature of the series, also 'it preserved in a "different" way from the past, or rather its difficulty. Metroid Dread's boss fights are memorable and involve learning a precise pattern. Rarely an enemy can be hit in more than one way: a theoretically limiting choice, but done so well that it is never frustrating. In twenty minutes you go from taking sound blows, to understanding and preventing the opponent's moves: in theory, every boss can be defeated, through a perfect execution, without suffering any damage. An approach that would not have been so satisfying - indeed, it would have been limiting - without the excellent control system we were talking about earlier.

Metroid Dread: Samus' parade, useful from the start at the end of the adventure Jumping, moving and shooting in Metroid Dread is extremely rewarding. As satisfying as in very few other games released this year: it is no coincidence that at The Game Awards it was nominated for best title of the year, and awarded as best "action / adventure". He succeeded for the excellence of this component, but also for having wisely declined - as mentioned in the previous paragraph - of the historical characteristics of the series according to the new needs. Exploration is almost irrelevant, unless you want to find all the hidden objects, yet the feeling of being inside a labyrinthine path is preserved through elegant level design choices.

Metroid Dread has various disputable and not very "contemporary" aspects. There is little incentive to replay it and picking up any hidden items is pretty useless. The twists are not particularly shocking, and the resulting reaction of the protagonist is often inadequate. But the work done is remarkable, both in accepting one's limits and in finding a new strength in a historical and prestigious series like this one. Metroid Dread isn't a great metroidvania - it doesn't even try - but it's a great action game, and probably, considering the budget and the long absence, you couldn't expect anything better.

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