Metroid Dread (2021)

Metroid was a historic series that had been inexplicably abandoned. The last new 2D Metroid game was Metroid Fusion back in 2002. Nearly 20 years later we get Metroid Dread, a game that was firsts announced in 2005. 3rd party developer MercurySteam was handed the reigns to the series after delivering the successful remake, Metroid: Samus Returns, and man did they deliver with the first original Metroid game in a long time. Metroid Dread is a glorious modernization of the series. While it does have its flaws, Metroid Dread is exactly what was needed to reignite the series.

It’s clear that MercurySteam put a ton of resources into the movement and combat of Metroid Dread. Running and jumping around an alien planet never felt so smooth. Maybe it’s because all the previous Metroid games were from 20 years ago, but Metroid Dread goes a long way to make controlling Samus extremely crisp. Not only are the controls precise, but there a few extra movement options that open up your movement through the world: sliding, ledge grabbing, and countering. Some of these were added in Metroid: Samus Returns, but Metroid Dread incorporates them to the main series.

Combat in Metroid Dread is absolutely glorious. As much as I enjoy the OG Metroid games, they had a tendency of being a little clunky to pilot. A lot of the boss fights ended up being a stat check where you would just standstill and fire at the bosses, hoping that you would kill them before they would kill you. Metroid Dread repeatedly tells you that no attack is unavoidable, and it isn’t lying. Between the more precise controls, expanded movement options, and the telegraphed enemy attacks, avoiding damage is an important skill to master. And Metroid Dread is better for it.

Figuring out how to defeat bosses is one of my favorite aspects of Metroid Dread. Learning their movesets, how to dodge seemingly unavoidable attacks, and discovering openings to deal huge damage is just so satisfying. Many bosses seemed ridiculous and intimidating at first, but after experimenting I learned that many of them could be taken down fairly quickly. And it doesn’t feel like you have to rely on a trial-and-error approach either. Being slow and cautious and dealing incremental damage is a totally valid strategy as well. 

My one gripe with the combat is that while the bosses were engaging affairs, most of the basic enemies were far too easy. The main reason for this is the all-powerful counter attack that the player has access to. Most enemies in the game have attacks which flash before hitting you, indicating that it is counterable. When an attack is countered, the enemy is left vulnerable and will almost always be killed by your very next attack. And if you successfully kill a basic enemy with a counter, they drop bonus resources.

Players will quickly realize that countering is the dominant strategy for dealing with standard enemies. It’s much easier to execute than trying to evade fast moving enemies, it kills enemies faster than just shooting them outright, and it gives extra health and missiles for performing it. Honestly, it’s just too powerful. It’s also not as engaging to dip, duck, dodge, and shoot at aliens. It’s simply a reaction time mini-game where you press the button when the enemy’s attack flashes. Countering should not make enemies so vulnerable, and not let you kill them in a single attack. That way it remains a viable defensive option that lets the player get some free hits in, but doesn’t become the dominant offensive tactic as well.

The unique feature of Metroid Dread that makes it stand out amongst its predecessors is the inclusion of the EMMI robots. In each major area there is an EMMI Zone, a cluster of rooms that are being patrolled by the dread inspiring robot. The EMMIs are invincible robots that lurk in hallways, listening and scanning for you. If one sees you, it will hunt you down. If it catches you, it will instantly kill you with only a miniscule chance to counter it. Ultimately, you are meant to avoid the EMMIs until you can kill them.

The inclusion of the EMMIs has been met with mixed reactions. Some people think they are frustrating to constantly avoid, but I personally enjoyed the switch-up from traditional gameplay. The EMMI Zones invoke a feeling of horror, you have to quickly find your way to the nearest exit or else risk being prey to the indomitable machines. These sections are pretty forgiving, if you die you aren’t brought all the way back to the previous save, but instead you respawn where you entered the EMMI Zone. I enjoyed the frantic chases as I tried to dodge around the EMMIs, and the developers were restrained in making sure these sections were never overly long or frustrating.

 There’s a reason that the Metroid series has spawned an entire genre of games focused on exploration. Metroid has become synonymous with backtracking in the gaming world. Metroid Dread is an odd case because while I do think it has some clever level design, it also has some shortcomings. In the sprawling maze of tunnels that make up most metroidvanias, it can quickly become daunting to find where to go next. Getting lost in these games is almost a given. But the developers of Metroid Dread utilized some intelligent tricks to avoid the player getting too lost.

The core loop of many metroidvanias is acquiring a new power and then finding somewhere to use that newly obtained ability to access a new area. It can often be tricky to find the critical path forward, but Metroid Dread cleverly places opportunities to use your recently acquired upgrade very close to where you acquire it. For example, when you acquire a wall climbing ability, there is sure to be a climbable wall in your vicinity. This subtly guides the player to where to go without blatantly leading them by the nose. There is also some sequence breaking that the developers deliberately created for more advanced players to find. If you do stumble upon a way to deviate from the critical path you are rewarded with unique cutscenes.

Despite there being some subtle guidance when exploring, at times there is some obvious railroading. I found that there was a surprising amount of points-of-no-return, spots at which once you pass them you won’t be able to return to your previous location until much later in the game. This essentially cuts the player off from backtracking, making sure they don’t go too far backwards and get lost in the process. I’m not a fan of this as it felt like the developers were holding my hand and telling me not to explore too much without their permission.

Games like Super Metroid and Metroid Prime are known for their atmosphere if nothing else. The feeling of being isolated on an alien planet is conveyed so well. The visuals and music work in harmony to transport the player to a hostile world. Metroid Dread is just not as successful in this department. The music is entirely forgettable, and the visual backgrounds aren’t much better. Metallic hallway after metallic hallway is not pleasant to look at, and it certainly doesn’t convey that you are on an alien planet. There are a few interesting spots that utilize the 2.5D style of graphics extremely well. I loved seeing little alien creatures scurry about in the background of caves, or watching rain pour down and waves crash on the exterior of an alien base.

An unfortunate side effect of having poor visual design is how it affects player exploration. There are eight different areas in Metroid Dread, and while each one has their own flair, they often blend together. It can be hard to remember where you saw a secret or alternative path when every single room looks exactly the same. It’s especially unfortunate because graphically the game looks solid, it’s just that the art direction is bland.

I’m glad that the Metroid series is making a strong return, and Metroid Dread inspires confidence in the series. While I do think that it is weaker in certain aspects like exploration and atmosphere, it is an undeniably fantastic entry in the historic series. The modernized movement and combat are brilliant, this is the smoothest Metroid game by a long shot. Moreover, MercurySteam didn’t play it too safe by just regurgitating an older Metroid game as the addition of EMMIs was great. It is for these reasons that I give Metroid Dread an 8/10. Metroid Dread is more action focused than its ancestors, and even if it isn’t as atmospheric as Super Metroid or Metroid Prime, it is an entry to the series that nobody should miss.

Metroid Prime 2: Echoes (2004)

Echoes is the second game in the loved Metroid Prime trilogy, and it continues to build upon what is loved about the franchise. Echoes remained true to what the original Metroid Prime was, but at the same time it had plenty of new features and it created a memorable experience. Some of these new features and changes were welcome additions, but others did fall flat. Echoes was a fun game, but unfortunately there were many nagging issues that makes the game so much less enjoyable and inferior to the original Metroid Prime. That being said, there were plenty of enjoyable sections and pieces that make Echoes a game worth playing.

The basic concepts and gameplay of Echoes are the same as the original Metroid Prime. You explore an alien planet, collect upgrades, kill hostiles, defeat bosses, and learn what has been happening on that planet. There is an interesting twist though, the planet of Aether has been split into two forms: the Light Aether which is just the normal planet inhabited by alien Luminoth, and the Dark Aether which a dark and dangerous version of Aether inhabited by the Ing. The Luminoth and the Ing are at war and you must help the last few Luminoth by restoring energy to their temples and defeating the Ing. The split worlds concept was great;  I believe travelling in between these two worlds and seeing how different each room or area was was definitely interesting. I did have some issues with the Dark Aether though. Such a large chunk of the Echoes was spent in the Dark Aether, but it was all the same. Regardless of what part of the world I was in, everything was black and purple, and the same couple of enemies were reused ad nauseum. Another frustrating feature was how the air was toxic so you have to quickly move between protective bubbles. This is meant to show how hostile and dangerous the Dark Aether is, but unfortunately it just gets frustrating after awhile. In a series like Metroid players should not be punished for exploring the world, but the poisonous air does exactly that. Travelling between the Light Aether and Dark Aether was a good concept, as it did allow some extra depth when exploring the world, and it also allowed for some inter-dimensional puzzles; I just wish the Dark Aether was as well fleshed-out as the Light Aether was.

One of the biggest draws to the Metroid Prime series is the atmosphere and the environments that are created. Echoes continues this trend as it had some fantastically unique areas. The game really builds interesting landscapes such as the ruinous and hostile Agon Wastes, or the rainy and dreary Torvus Bog. Sanctuary Fortress is possibly one of my favorite video game areas ever, the autonomous citadel filled with robots and defense systems was really a joy to explore. The music and visuals created cohesive environments that I could just sit back and admire. The logbook entries, the enemies, and the bosses also matched up to what the environment was to further immerse the player in the experience. Seeing a giant broken down robot in the Light Aether become possessed and hostile in the Dark Aether is just an idea of the cohesiveness and how the two worlds were designed with each other in mind. Also, Aether actually feels like a war torn planet. There are dead Luminoth and Federation soldiers strewn across the world. Aether really feels like it is in ruins and you are the one to save it.

My biggest gripe with Echoes was the quality of the enemies. While the original Metroid Prime did have some enemies that were frustrating, they were not near as bad as some of the enemies in Echoes. Rezbits, Grenchlers, Hunter Ing, and the Boost Guardian were all particularly annoying. They had tons of health that took awhile to burn through, but they also frequently went invulnerable and just forced you to wait to shoot them. The worst offender of this however was the Dark Pirate Commandos. They are like the Chozo Ghosts from Metroid Prime but on steroids. They dash around the map, turn invisible, have tons of health, but the worst part is that they lock the doors so you are forced to fight them if you want to progress. In general, most of the enemies in this game just have too much health. Despite the frustrating enemies, I think most of the bosses were fantastic. They are a great mix of standard combat as well as puzzle solving.

With a new world, comes a new set of upgrades for Samus Aran. There a quite a few changes just at the start of the game. The Scanning Visor was made much easier to use, as now all scan-able objects are highlighted colors to show if they are used for progression or just informational, and if the object is green that means that it has been scanned previously. Samus also gets to keep a few things like the Charge Beam and the Morph Ball at the start of the game. I liked this as I had grown accustomed to using these features a lot throughout the first Metroid Prime, so I appreciated the fact that I did not have reacquire them. The new set of beams are the Dark Beam, Light Beam, and Annihilator. I did not get much use out of them as they unfortunately have limited ammo that you need to replenish. I really did not want to play around with them too much in fear that I would not have enough ammo for an enemy or door that required that specific beam.  The ammo system for the different beams was really frustrating as it discouraged using the beams unless it was necessary. The Annihilator was really fun to use but I barely got to use it as it comes at the very end of the game and it is extremely expensive to use.

All in all, I feel Echoes is a good sequel to Metroid Prime as it continues to use most of what made it such a standout game. There were a number of nagging issues that plagued the game like the bullet-sponge enemies, repetitiveness of the Dark Aether, and the restrictive beam ammo system. Despite that, the environments were certainly memorable and fun to explore. Most importantly, Metroid Prime 2: Echoes does attempt to try new things but manages to keep the spirit of the original. While a few of these new ideas did not work out, others worked great. Overall Echoes was a fun game, even if there were a a couple of frustrating issues.

Metroid Prime (2002)

There are very few games that I would consider “must play” titles, and Metroid Prime is included in that group. The game was massively influential to the industry and it still remains one of my favorite games to play to this day. There are not many games that can build an awe inspiring world that is simultaneously so massive that it takes hours to explore and find all of the nooks and crannies which hide secrets, but at the same it is so compact that every room has something interesting in it and it only takes a few minutes to traverse from one corner of the world to the opposite corner. That is probably my favorite aspect of Metroid Prime, the world and its alien atmosphere.

The world of Metroid Prime consists of five major areas that intertwine and entangle to create a cohesive world. Whether I am exploring the destroyed civilization of the Chozo Ruins, the frozen cavities of Phendrana Drifts, the blistering heat of the Magmoor Caverns, the dark and mysterious caves of Phazon Mines, or the rainy and calm surface of the Tallon Overworld, I really feel like I am on the planet of Tallon IV. While the world seems rather large at first glance, it is actually very compact and flows together very well, especially towards the end of the game when all of the items are obtained it is very easy to travel across the planet. The Scanning Visor was a very clever tool that allows the player to “research” all of the different species on Tallon IV to learn about them and also how to defeat them. The Scanning Visor also doubles as a tool to scan the Pirate Logs to learn about the devious plans of the space pirates, or it can scan the walls to read about the Chozo Lore to learn about the species of the Chozo and what happened to them. Also, if I was ever stuck in a room and I did not know how to progress I could scan the room to look for clues on how to proceed forward.

Moving forward always felt natural and quick as I would never spend too long in a single area and I was always acquiring new items. The game is actually deceptively short, but not in a bad way. When I finished the game and saw that I had gotten 100% completion in under fifteen hours of play, I thought to myself “that cannot be right”. There is so much to do in Metroid Prime, whether it is collecting power ups, fighting bosses, battling through hoards of enemies, upgrading Samus’ suit, getting more weapons, solving puzzles, or just exploring the world, it was hard to believe that that was all squeezed into a fifteen hour experience. I felt like I could start up the game and get so much done in only thirty minutes, it was just fantastic. Also, completing the game 100% did not feel like a chore. With some diligent searching in every room as I was progressing through the world I was able to find about 95% of the items. They also are hidden in a variety of ways, some require you to complete a task like double bomb jumping, some need to you to solve a puzzle, and others are just hidden in holes across the world.  Almost every room has an item hidden in it somewhere and it is the player’s duty to sniff it out.  Of course these items are also valuable but not so much so that if you miss out on a couple missile expansions you are severely under-prepared.

The enemy design was also stellar in Metroid Prime. Every enemy was unique and served a purpose. Using the Scanning Visor to learn about how to defeat each enemy also felt satisfying as I would never get stuck on wondering how to beat a certain enemy. All of the minor and major bosses also were very fun to fight and had me on the edge of my seat as I was battling them. All of the different beam weapons also had a distinct purpose and were not just tools to progress in the world. Of course the beams were used to open doors, but they also had very interesting applications during combat. The Power Beam was standard and had no special effects, the Wave Beam tracked enemies and would stun enemies briefly, the Ice Beam shot slowly but it would freeze enemies, and the Plasma Beam was extremely powerful and did a lot of damage. I really enjoyed this aspect as it allowed for some creativity and let the player come up with their own strategy in every room.

I have one exception to the rule that all of the enemies were fun to fight, the Chozo Ghosts. They turn the room pitch black, the game plays extremely loud music, the ghosts teleport around the room very quickly, and they blur the screen if they hit you. They were just really annoying and most of the time I just skipped fighting them and ran through the rooms that they were in. They do not really even do much damage or pose a threat to the player, they are just annoying. I would not mind fighting them occasionally, but in the Chozo Ruins they are very common enemies and often show up in groups of three to bump into me as I was trying to jump from platform to platform. It really says a lot about Metroid Prime that my biggest issue with it was such a minor enemy.

The thing that really shocked me the most about this game were the controls. I originally played this game many years ago on the Gamecube and the controls were great, but this time around I got the full Metroid Prime Trilogy which required me to use the Wii Remote. I have a burning hatred for the Wii Remote and motion controls in general as I feel like they are inaccurate, inconsistent, uncomfortable, and do not add anything to the experience. So I was pretty distraught when I saw that I had to play the Metroid Prime Trilogy using the Wii Remote. To my surprise the Wii Remote and its controls actually worked really well.. Aiming felt natural, and accessing the different beams and visors was easy. Metroid Prime is possibly the only game where I felt like motion controls actually added something interesting that a classic controller could not do.

Overall, Metroid Prime was a fantastic experience in all regards. Tallon IV is one of my favorite worlds in any video game for its atmosphere and alien feel. It may seem daunting and long at first, but the game is actually quite compact has secrets to discover in every room. Metroid Prime is one of my favorite games and I would definitely recommend it to anybody and everybody. I believe that Metroid Prime has cemented itself as one of the greatest games of all time.