This article couldn't start off worse than with this confession: I've never played a Metroid title. Perfect! And with this introductory sentence I can say that I have sent that country that minimum of credibility that I could still have ... or maybe not? It really makes sense to talk about credibility or bring it up But how did you not play it? when mentioning what one could define Nintendo's black sheep? And before you start lighting the pitchforks, no! This definition does not come from pure malice or ignorance, but by the fact that over the course of its 35 years Metroid has been an unfortunate saga.

I am neither the first nor the last to introduce an article on Metroid talking about the thousand thousand hitches that have marked its ascent to the throne of Nintendo blockbusters and frankly I do not feel able to provide you with further info about it, limiting myself to linking one of the many videos that briefly summarize everything, as above. However, many fans of the series might agree with me that Nintendo itself has never pushed that much on the series. Do I need to remind you of Federation Force? Other M? And mind you, the discourse is not limited only to the development of games discussed mainly for their questionable if not ignoble quality, to the point of making them recognizable cases even by those who perhaps like me do not navigate within the fandom, but also from the point of view of the marketing that at least here we have not gone beyond a few trailers on YouTube or an insert in the now defunct official Nintendo magazine.

Yet, 19 years after the release of the last chapter (narratively speaking) of the regular series, Metroid dread he left with the best of wishes, making a comeback during the last E3 2021 after becoming more Abandonware than Abandoned and raising the wait for a Nintendo title even within a more circle casul of his fandom. Because times have changed, titles like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate they managed to miraculously revive Samus Aran's popularity and keep it on life support to use an English language.

And that's when the spark went off in my head. What better way to talk about Metroid Dread than (to make this article something unique) to talk about it from the perspective of the "casul", or even from the point of view of that particular type of player who (not entirely his fault) failed to get in touch with the series and who will most likely have a copy of at least one of the many in their libraries blockbuster of the hybrid console. Because let's be clear, the popularity of Nintendo Switch has brought with it hundreds of newbies who most likely don't know where to start, are unable to buy a Wii U to retrieve the Fusion and Zero Mission chapters on GameBoy Advance or are unwilling to embrace the world of emulation.

Obviously I reassure you right away, this speech from poser it will be applied only during the first part, which will be followed by a real analysis of Metroid Dread. Take it as if you have taken a sharp detour to the normal way leading to Pizzo-ZDR.

SUPER SHOCK!

Therefore, assuming that the potential buyer of Metroid Dread have at least one Nintendo Switch and an active subscription to online services, I chose to start my adventure in the brand starting from Super Metroid for SNES. The reason behind the choice of the third installment of the series over the first or even Metroid: Samus Returns for 3DS is easy to say: its design.

In some ways, Super Metroid's map game design was, is and always will be a timeless masterpiece… Or almost. While it is true that it manages to elevate the concepts already expressed on the first chapter of the series, smoothing out some of the problems related to the exploration of Zebes without "offering the hand" to the player, towards the last part of the game you begin to perceive a feeling of disorientation and confusion at the pursuit of progress, in what - quoting the colleague videogamedunkey - is repeatedly defined as a Metroid moment.

Added to this is a control system that also for 1994 was woody and not very intuitive, especially when the thorny problem of wall jump or, when there was still no wording remotely close to Metroidvania, it was compared to other similar products such as MegaMan X (1993). And the same discourse can and must also be applied to the bosses of Super Metroid, which from my point of view were not alone ugly to deal with (first of all that Ridley pogo-stick), but they promote a style of play that goes against the flow of the entire gameplay experience: Rather than learning the patterns of a boss, you are forced to find as many power ups as possible for tank it while it is riddled with blows, in a battle of friction that is not fun and he does not invite me to play them again to perhaps learn a more effective method to defeat them.

Looks like I'm regurgitating all my ACKTHUALLY as a nerd in game design from this strain, but not really. I know perfectly well how much Super Metroid has contributed to the history of the video game and obviously we are always talking about a game experimental for the time. At the same time, my experience with Metroid has been defined by a continuous swing between absurd cool such as obtaining the Gravity Suit or Samus' signature Spin Attack, e moments of pure frustration like the aforementioned Ridley and those particular areas hidden by a single pixel on the map necessary to move forward in the game. And to be honest, I wasn't thrilled to cover Metroid Dread at all since I proposed for the review.

Still, it happened: It clicked.

The Chilling Adventures of Samus

Since its first start, Metroid Dread tries in every way to make everyone recover the main information related to the lore of the series such as Metroid, i Chozo, Samus itself and above all i Parasites X, parasitic organisms that appeared already in Metroid Fusion able to consume their prey from the inside and replicate its DNA, features and thoughts ... With the exception of Samus who during his mission on the planet SR388 manages to assimilate a part of these organisms inside his Power Suit.

With the end of the events of Fusion, the existence of the Parasites X seems to have been eradicated, until the Galactic Federation identifies a surviving specimen on the as yet unexplored Planet ZDR. Compared to the past, the Federation has learned to deal with this species and has built the EMMI or virtually invincible automata capable of extracting the DNA of parasites. And since also in the galaxy there is never a joy, these automata disconnect shortly after arriving on the planet, thus forcing Samus to investigate.

Metroid dreadAlthough the initial premises of this chapter were not of a high level, and I want to emphasize that this kind of titles DOES NOT NEED in no case of a Nobel plot to be enjoyable, the Metroid Dread campaign amazed me and manages to offer interesting insights into the universe around Samus. Protagonist who in this chapter enhances his figure from badass character and more fond of gestures than words. I'll be cringe, but I still support the parallelism with the Doom Guy / Doom Slayer by Id Software and speaking of him ...

Shoot and Bomb, until it's parriable!

In those of ZDR, Samus will once again suffer from the classic Power Creep Syndrome after a close encounter with Raven Beak, a Chozo warrior who managed to strip the young huntress of all her skills. Adieu Power Bomb, bye bye Spin Attack! It starts from scratch. And starting from scratch, an experienced Metroid player could immediately guess the ideal progression of the game in relation to the various power ups to be recovered, starting from the least powerful to the most devastating.

Metroid dreadAnd this is where Mercury Steam decides to shuffle the cards, removing tunnel exploration through the Morph Ball from the equation, skill gained at the beginning of most titles in the series. Sure, you can make one side slip to overcome the loopholes in front of a passage also blocked and we are not talking about an epochal change, but for a good part of the initial exploration the player is invited to think outside the box and (in the case of more seasoned players) exit the comfort zone.

Metroid dreadThe new stealth element of the Phantom Cloak, an upgrade that allows Samus to become invisible at the cost of her own energy reserve, making it able to go unnoticed and above all through those doors that without this enhancement would close instantly. Unfortunately, I found this to function has been approached too superficially in its design. To say, the reduced speed in the movements and the inability to perform more complex actions is perfectly understandable IF Phantom Cloak is activated during the various stealth sections against EMMI and even there I was forced to use it very few times during gameplay. For the rest, this new skill proves to be highly situational and a hand brake to the pace of gameplay action.

Metroid dreadConversely, other new skills like Spider Magnet, Flash Shift e Storm Missiles not only are they able to advance exploration by overcoming particularly ingenious obstacles, but the latter two also prove to be excellent tools to use in combat. Spider Walk, for example, allows Samus to cling to some walls marked with a specific illuminated and distinguishable panel, in what is a great alternative to the classic wall jump. Flash Shift instead, if in the exploration it proves to be a necessary tool to go through the doors equipped with switches capable of blocking the passage, this snap forward shows its usefulness during the most chaotic boss fights, but we will get there. Finally, what I tell you to do: it is nice to use Storm Missiles to open doors closed by multiple locks scattered around them, BUT DO YOU WANT TO COMPARE THE TURN BOSS TO SIEVE MISSILES ?!

Metroid dreadOf course, the classic skills that everyone loves like the Grapple Beam, Speed ​​booster (and therefore also the devastating Shinespark), the Pulse Radar re-introduced by Samus Returns and the inevitable Screw Attack. Once the Samus structure has been rebuilt and recompiled, then adding the Varies and Gravity Suit to deal with areas characterized by extreme temperatures, the gameplay of Metroid Dread shows all its merits enclosed within a combat system that rewards the frenzy and quick reasoning of the players. Or at least, it does until you walk through that door that leads to… them.

Seven Nights at EMMI's

A while ago I talked about how Phantom Cloak is a situational enhancement and a very powerful handbrake for the overall flow of the gameplay. The encounters against the EMMIs are more or less a very similar phase of play but for the most wrong reasons possible and it is a real shame. But let's get some things straight.

Metroid dreadThe way EMMIs act and react to player actions is applause, every time you enter one of their areas and instead of music there is a rigorous silence interspersed with the sound of the automaton scanner, you shit on yourself (sorry for the Frenchism) and go in search of one way out or at least of a method of not entering their field of vision. Of course, Phantom Cloak is a useful tool for not getting noticed during a close encounter, but as already mentioned several times, the cases in which this ability is interesting are rare and for most of the times. you will prefer a faster style of play, however, increasing the chances of ending their hold. And that's where the problems start.

Metroid dreadOnce imprisoned in the grip, the player has two alternatives: to be pricked by the most powerful sting ever and to go in Game Over and start over from the previous area to the EMMI area or press the key dedicated to counterattack to free Samus e stun the robot for a few seconds, just the time to escape and catch your breath. However, the requirements to land this counterattack are slightly off. The whole thing lies in pressing the button at the exact moment in which the bionic eye of the robot emits a red flash, just before killing the huntress. Surely to land a counterattack in such a situation is fantastic, without a doubt an absurd adrenaline rush… But it is something that happens once every 2 blue moons. Not only is this gaming event divided into ben 4 completely different animations, but the cadence of the red flash needed to hit an effective counter is completely random.

Sometimes it's instant, other times it's slow like molasses and as there are no external factors at play that help predict or at least guess the speed of this quick time event. Basically, the encounters against the EMMIs start off like real puzzles and end with a trial and error little fun and frustrating. From my point of view Mercury Steam made it difficult for the simple sake of it and give a gimmick to exploring these areas.

Fortunately, each zone linked to an EMMI has a special room inside it containing one Control unit, a fairly simple mini boss that once defeated will give Samus the Omega cannon, the only weapon capable of destroying automatons. Personally, every single special zone has the same boss but I would have preferred the presence of different variants connected to the EMMI on duty. Because really, if already in the first fight the player is able to understand the complete pattern of this giant eye, from the third fight one begins to understand them as The Ghidora of Metroid Dread, always present despite the flood of sticks taken 5 minutes earlier.

Metroid dreadOnce you have the Omega Cannon, the EMMI on duty will begin to become more aggressive, sensing the presence of Samus and starting the last chase that will lead to its destruction. And I must say that as a climax it is not bad. It is a puzzle within another puzzle, where it is necessary to guess the suitable distance for riddling with shots the automaton's shield before releasing the charged shot against its core. Between music, atmosphere and perhaps also my aim a bit imprecise with i 360 ° controls (also fished out by Samus Returns) I particularly liked the meetings with EMMI, net of a slight imbalance in their execution.

A test of execution

As anticipated in the introduction, boss fights were the Achilles heel of my Super Metroid experience, to the point of considering them the worst sections of the game. Fortunately Metroid Dread is the opposite and net of some exceptions, the boss fights of this game are and are perceived as real boss fights and not like sponges for damage.

Metroid dreadRight from the first boss serious, Metroid Dread sets a certain pace within the various fights: learn the pattern, hit the boss on the gums hard enough to go to the next stage, repeat. This cycle is interspersed with some short ones choreographic sections activated by pressing the counterattack at the right time, giving the player not only a huge window to inflict damage without repercussions, but also a few seconds to catch their breath and prepare for the next phase.

And I can assure you that these short moments of fresh air serve as cereal in the morning, because these bosses hit hard. As far as I am concerned, Mercury Steam also went too hard with damage output of the most dangerous enemies on the planet ZDR, but not to the point of making the whole experience frustrating. For most players the first encounter with a boss is probably the most faithful recreation of a modern gallows, but for the more seasoned and experienced players these boss fights represent a great challenge that tests not only what has been learned during the exploration, but also its execution.

Metroid dreadHonorable mention for the sub-bosses, which are sometimes even more difficult than traditional bosses. For example, the two Chozo Warriors met within Burenia some bad memories of Gracious & Glorious, two of the most ignoble enemies of the first Bayonetta. Basically, shit yourself.

An exploratory compromise

Going back to my experience in Super Metroid, towards the last 4 hours of the game I began to hear a particular sense of dispersion, a little for the enormity of the map at my disposal (especially after unlocking the devastating Power Bomb) and a little for those entry barriers to a level that can be found by chance, and just to go back to talking about the Power Bomb, raise your hand whoever has managed to open the entrance for Maridia out of pure intuition. Conversely, by talking to a few friends or colleagues about the later chapters of the series, some of their analysis of exploration within those games cast a bad light on attempts to reduce the dispersivity factor through a perhaps too accentuated exposure the most suitable route (we were mainly talking about Metroid Fusion).

Here, in the case of exploration in Metroid Dread I was under the impression that Mercury Steam took the best of both options, creating a map that allows the player to access most of its ramifications right away, putting in some cases stakes linked to the power ups not yet obtained. At the same time, however, have wisely thought of reducing the distance between obtaining a power up and its actual use, greatly reducing the backtracking necessary to reach them.

To this, adds the presence of elevators and teleporters that take the player from one part of the planet to another, further reducing the perceptive cloyingness that could manifest itself after the third hour within a single biome. In short, by giving the player the opportunity to splash from one part of the game world to the other through small crumbs of what is to come, the player is exposed to news and prizes at every corner, leading him to want more and more even after. having finished a game session.

Metroid dreadIn addition, the map itself within the game menu has also been highly improved, offering a more readable visual overview, also against the color coding of the various ports and power ups scattered around it, eventually giving the player a chance to mark points of interest with simple markers, echoing the feature already appeared in Metroid: Samus Returns on 3DS.

Japanese-European pride

Personally I don't think I can give a particular opinion on the technical aspect of Metroid Dread or at least not more in-depth than what more experienced people have already said about it. Yup, the game runs at 60 frames per second (most of the time). Yup, for a 2021 title on Nintendo Switch it's visually awesome and Mercury Steam has shown its muscles not only when it comes to creating the elements that are part of theirs art style, but it has also managed to embellish everything with small details and goodies able to make the whole experience even more enjoyable.

The sum of it all is a great Metroidvania who knows he is a bomb. Mercury Steam's title is literally an absurd flex of one's path, succeeding in the undertaking that not all games remained for too long in the limbo of developement hell they managed to do: be a fun and complete game, from start to finish. I think and I am sure that the next few years will be the beginning of a redemption period for all Metroid fans, especially if we take into account the words of Yoshio Sakamoto, producer of the game and who recently stated that Dread won't be the last stop on Samus' 2D journey and that new adventures are already on the horizon.

And if on the one hand I can't wait to resume the role of the space hunter, perhaps after a few years of running in with other titles of the genre, Dread's Japanese-European project passes the ball to the starry continent. Why now, in the Metroid 35th Anniversary and especially after having lived a stellar experience like the one told here, the question that will flash up to everyone in the coming months will be: but Prime 4?