While Mario and The Legend of Zelda are Nintendo's most beloved franchises, another well-loved but seldom seen property is the Metroid series. Starting in 1987, the original Metroid popularized the open-ended side-scrolling shooter formula that we've seen with games like Castlevania and Hollow Knight. After a long break, Metroid is finally making a long overdue comeback. The upcoming Metroid Dread is deeply in tune with its old-school roots, while still adding some modern twists, and it'll be launching alongside the Nintendo Switch OLED on Oct. 8.
It feels surreal to see a traditional Metroid game make a return now, especially after so many games have borrowed ideas from it almost wholesale. But after my recent hands-on time with the game and playing it on the new Switch OLED, the next entry in the series is not only a return to the classic 2D Metroid gameplay that the most ardent fans of the series have been yearning for, but it's also got some interesting modern twists to the formula to keep it feeling fresh.
As a continuation of the story following Metroid Fusion on the Game Boy Advance, Dread sees the space bounty hunter Samus Aran travel to a mysterious alien world filled with hostile creatures to uncover hidden secrets and expand her abilities.
In the first hour I played, there was satisfaction to be found in returning to a classic Metroid-style game. What makes this series, and others like it, so engaging is the formula (sometimes called a gameplay loop): gradually unraveling layers of a mysterious world and building up a pool of cool abilities while you do it. Though this all can seem a bit dated, the opening hour of Dread maintains that enticing sense of exploration.
If anything, Metroid Dread is more closely tied to 2017's Samus Returns on the Nintendo 3DS. In that game, Samus could pull off close-range melee strikes that prevent those awkward moments of enemies getting too close for comfort. These abilities help keep your momentum going as you explore, while also pulling some satisfyingly slick instant kill attacks when you land a blow at the right time. It's a fun skill to pull off, and it never got old.
However, this new game focuses on displaying the power dynamics of the world -- and how Samus can be completely outmatched in some situations. Some of the new enemies in Dread are various EMMI droids, once friendly machines which have since gone rogue and now stalk Samus throughout planet ZDR. During the opening of the game, it's very clear that you're better off avoiding them entirely.
The encounters with the EMMIs are tense, and it brings back some familiar feelings of, well, dread from other horror games. You'll have to carefully avoid the droids lurking about, but when they eventually find (and they will), you'll have to make a run for it. Though you'll be able to stand a better chance against them later on, these droids provide a wild card element to different areas of the planet that kept me on my toes. And yes, they will follow you into other rooms to continue the chase.
The newest Metroid game is not only a looker that exudes a crisp visual style, but it's also a nice showpiece for the new Switch OLED. The brighter screen of the device makes the colorful and vibrant sections of Dread pop, while also showing some sharp contrasts of the darker area and more muted areas.
My hands-on with Metroid Dread was about what I expected for a game rekindling a classic formula, and that's OK. The opening section of the game left an impression on me as a Metroid fan, and it also made me more of a believer in what the Switch OLED can do.
Metroid Dread will be released Oct. 8, the same day as the OLED Switch.