Dreadline: A 2D Metroid Retrospective, Final Chapter

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

(Chapter 2 Excursus)

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

It happened. Like a dream come true, it really happened. Metroid Dread actually came out. And it was good. It was really good.

Metroid 5: Metroid Dread

Ahead of its release, Nintendo was tauting Metroid Dread as the end of the 2D Metroid saga. There is still some debate about what that exactly means, but I think once you finish the game it makes sense: the story of the 2D Metroid series, the one that I've chronicled in these Dreadline blog posts, is coming to a close. That doesn't mean we will never see another 2D Metroid game, but it does mean that the narrative of Metroid cloning, Mother Brain reviving, and X Parasite propagating is over. If there is another game in this series, it will either be a prequel that's earlier in the timeline, or it will feature a new intergalactic conflict that Samus has to bounty hunt her way through. My personal hope is that they do make a new sequel with a new story, and perhaps even re-brand it as Samus Aran or something like that. In the meantime, though, we've got Metroid Prime 4 on the horizon to look forward to.

I bought in on the prerelease press cycle for this game. Sometimes that kind of anticipatory hype can kill a game for you--the higher the expectations, the higher potential for disappointment. As a Detroit Lions fan, I know all about tempering expectations, so you'd think I wouldn't have gotten as excited as I did. But I just couldn't help myself. Metroid is so special to me, and I was hankerin' to replay the games anyway, and every new piece of information that trickled out about Dread just got me more excited. It turns out that all the hype and anticipation payed off in a big way. When you get yourself high on a game before it comes out, and then it actually matches your levels upon release...that's about as euphoric as it gets for a fan.

If there was anything that had me nervous going into the game, it was the EMMIs. Not because I was afraid of them--though that also ended up being the case--but I was worried that Metroid Dread was going to turn into a giant stealth sequence. I don't hate stealth mechanics in games, but if their implementation is even slightly off, it can really drag things down. If the whole game was that way, I would have been disappointed. That's just simply not what I come to Metroid for.

Thankfully, MercurySteam (the Brazil-based developers of Dread) knew not to go overboard with it. EMMIs are limited to specific areas within specific zones, so you always know exactly when and where you will have to avoid them. The stealth isn't perfect, especially at the end when the last two EMMIs are perhaps a little too good at tracking you down for the kill. It ends up not being so bad, though, namely because the checkpoints in this game are far more generous than they've ever been before in the series. Once you accept that death is really only a minor setback, and then further accept that the best way to deal with EMMI zones is to just sprint through them as quickly and intently as possible, the sequences make for a fun set of experiences that break up the gameplay into a more varied, interesting chunks.


Even though you do end up watching Samus die a lot, the game never felt too difficult. Even more remarkably, despite my failings as a player, Samus herself never ceased being an incredibly powerful, awesome, downright badass force of nature. Seriously, it can't be overstated how cool they made Samus in this game. She does superhero landings. She doesn't look at explosions. She blasts killshots directly in bosses' faces. She does this awesome thing where she charges up her beam while it's still pointed down, walking around with all the swagger of someone who has both experienced life-threatening situations and is completely over them. The cool factor of Samus in Dread just furthers serves to solidify that Other M is an abberation and might as well not exist.

I was curious how MercurySteam would handle this game. For as much as I liked Samus Returns mechanically, I think it had some serious missteps in terms of its design. After completing Dread, though, I have full confidence in this studio. They not only have the chops to design a Metroidvania, but they clearly know what it is that fans of the series are looking for. Any of my misgivings left over from Samus Returns were addressed. The controls were smoothed out. The Aeion abilities were handled better. The map, probably my biggest worry, ended up being one of the game's biggest strengths. As you progress through the game, you are funneled almost subconsciously to the exact places you need to go. Backtracking is still integral, but limited by one-way gates and impasses, which I think is a great way to approach Metroidvania exploration in 2021. On top of all that, there are sequence breaks present in the game that the devs not only knew about, but accounted for; one boss has a special kill animation that you can only access if you have gotten to him way out of order.

All of these factors combine to make a game that is eminently speedrun-friendly. I've enjoyed catching the new World Records being achieved by top runners almost daily. I tried my hand at a few runs, clocking in under 3 hours in-game time. I'm not sure what that is in real time, though it may actually be shorter than the in-game time displays, since the game counts all cutscenes into elapsed time even if you skip them. Eventually I may go back and record a run on Twitch and see what my real-time attack is, but I've got some other 2021 gaming goals to knock out of the way first.

Even getting 100% was a blast. The map screen is so detailed and so granular that you can, with the proper effort, pinpoint exactly where all of your missing power-ups are. Far more difficult than finding the power-ups is actually getting them. Instead of an artificial difficulty achieved by bombing every wall and shooting a missile at every nook and/or cranny, MercurySteam followed the Zero Mission model of collectibles: if you want that missile pack, you've got to work for it. They basically present you with a puzzle box and say "Here. Solve it." Not all of the mechanics to get 100% are directly explained, it's true. Shinesparking is still a relatively esoteric mode of transportation. You know what? Good! It's nice to still have to go to the playground to talk with your friends about rumors and game secrets--even if the playground is just Twitter and Discord.

I won't get too much into the story here, in case you haven't played it yet. All I'll say is this: I think it's a fitting conclusion to the 2D Metroid narrative, and I love the new characters introduced in the middle and the end. Quiet Robe is the best new character of 2021. And staying true to the big secret reveal of the original Metroid, it is once again a pleasure to see that Metroid is a Girl.

This game is everything I hoped it would be. It's easily my Game of the Year. I can imagine a world, already 2 or 3 years from now, when people vociferiously argue that this is the best Metroid game in the entire series. For my part, I will never budge from Super's supremacy, but...I will at least understand where such an opinion could come from. I've already heard people say this is their favorite. I understand and respect that. If nothing else, Dread has absolutely smashed the sales numbers of the rest of the series. When the dust settles, I'm basically positive that it will outsell the rest of the entire Metroid series, Prime included, combined.

Thanks for reading along, especially if you checked out my other posts during my series re-play. If you own a Switch, you owe it to yourself to play Metroid Dread. It was a long time coming, but this game delivered. After 20 years of waiting, that's really the highest praise I can give it.

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