It’s a weird thing to play another actual 2D Metroid game again, nearly 10 years since the last one. Sure, there was a bunch of Metroid Prime games, but I was not a fan of the FPS view point. Plus, in that time there was a surge of Metroidvania games that hit the market, each one taking a slightly different approach but maintaining the 2D controls.
And that’s the kicker right. Look at all the amazing games we have had:
- Hollow Knight
- Ori and the Blind Forest
- Axiom Verge
- Dead Cells
Some focus on the controls, some on rogue-like elements, others in the story or quests. Each one has a particular element that just plain shines.
So where does that leave Metroid? Being a Switch exclusive doesn’t help. Anything looks good on a tiny screen, and this game does look good, but in the dock it certainly doesn’t scale. One of those weird things were a Switch emulator is a better deal… welcome to 2021 Nintendo! (*insert thoughts on a 4K Switch being delayed*) It also has a sort of diorama experience, where Samus feels superimposed on the world, which I think works quite well. There are plenty of loading screens (15+ seconds), which is just plain dumb. No, dumb would mean that it wasn’t purposeful. Someone thought this was acceptable and designed around it.
The moment to moment gameplay is good, with decent controls. They are smooth nut not responsive, with better examples in the list above. This gets more challenging the more abilities you unlock… the dash and spin attacks lack precise controls and you’ll have a lot of trail and error to get it down. The skills you do get are more about opening new parts of the map, rather than changing the particular playstyle. Your beam attack gets more powerful over time, but it’s the same point and shoot from start to end. The solution to every problem seems to be to just put more bullets into it.
The enemies are diverse and certainly require you to take different approaches as the game progresses. The difficulty is relatively low, with only a few exceptions, such as bosses. Bosses here are more akin to perfect runs. You either ace the fight or die. There’s very little wiggle room, so you’ll die repeatedly until you learn the move set of the enemy, then feel like a gaming god when you clear it with no hits taken. It never feels overly painful and does increase the sense of progress. Kraid is here for some unknown reason. I will say the last boss is a right mess to learn all the patterns. It felt extremely good to take him down.
The EMMI droids are an interesting experiment. They are restricted to specific areas and if they detect you will kill you 99% of the time. So again, this is about perfecting a run, with some randomization where the EMMI will patrol. Sometimes it just isn’t fair, and other times you wonder where the EMMI is in the zone. You can never improve your ability to survive them, so there’s no sense of progress. If they were not present, and instead replaced with mini-bosses, this would be a better experience. Or more tools to avoid capture/delay them. It doesn’t work and you’ll just brute force your way through those sections.
The metroidvania part of the game is simplified compared to pretty much all competition. Every collectible is shown on the map, so reaching 100% is quite easy. There are no side quests, no currency, no hidden bits. Backtracking is required, and not terribly intuitive – I got lost a few times on the proper next steps. Teleporting around the map is quite painful (see loading screen item above), so the sense of scale/freedom isn’t there. I will say that there are a half dozen ‘puzzles’ in the game that relate to storing a speedboost (spark) and then quickly going somewhere else to use it. Figuring out how to solve those puzzles is a LOT of fun… if only the controls were consistent enough to let you do it.
This is a quite negative review of the game, but it’s only when compared to the rest of the genre. I can sum this up in one sentence – if Metroid Dread was released 10 years ago, then it would be an extremely high bar. But it didn’t. Every game in the list above is better – better controls, better story, better exploration. This feels more like a new coat of paint on Super Metroid than an actual fresh take. It’s not a bad game, far from it. It’s good and will keep you going. But in this case, the students have far surpassed the master.