Metroid Dread is tough. While it’s far from the first Metroid game to be challenging, it’s probably the first time it’s been this tough since the first two entries, and it’s certainly more consistently demanding than 2017’s Samus Returns on Nintendo 3DS. Naturally, some people are finding it to be off-putting for that reason, and I can’t blame them. It’s a sharp change from the norm that can be a bit of a shock, especially for the first brand new 2D entry in almost two decades. But while I do understand some of the frustration, I can’t help but feel like the difficulty is a perfect fit for Metroid Dread within the context of the game and the greater Metroid franchise.
It’s time for Samus Aran to show why she’s so special
In every mainline Metroid title, players inhabit Samus Aran as she ventures into a variety of uninhabitable alien planets. There’s an implication that Samus is the only one who’s able to take on these extreme challenges given her skill set as one of the galaxy’s top bounty hunters, so it always rubbed me the wrong way when titles such as Super Metroid and Metroid Prime are relatively lacking in mechanical challenge. Maybe Samus’ dominance over the various hostile terrains and extraterrestrial entities is supposed to signify her unmatched skill and strength, but given that she always ends up being stripped of most of her abilities at the start of each game, I’m skeptical of this being the intention.
Samus Returns was the first Metroid game in a long time to offer me any kind of consistent challenge, and it felt right for this series. In that game, Samus infiltrates the homeworld of the galaxy’s most dangerous life form, the eponymous Metroids. It made sense that a task of that magnitude would provide ample challenge, and developer MercurySteam was able to enforce the threat of the setting through more punishing gameplay. Basic enemies and bosses dealt more damage and had more aggressive attack patterns, but Samus was equipped with a new counter mechanic, which rewarded player precision with massive counter damage, as well as a way to nullify the effects of specific attacks.
Metroid Dread takes this concept further with Samus’ more agile movement. She now has access to a new slide mechanic, as well as the ability to counter while moving, making her feel closer to the likes of the highly mobile Mega Man X than the stiffer Simon Belmont that she once was. Boss fights are ruthless in Metroid Dread, but Samus, and in turn the player, has the tools to effectively deal with the difficulty of each. The same can be said of the aggressive robot enemies, the EMMI, who pace after Samus with an intensity that puts Fusion’s X Parasite stalker enemy to shame. These challenges can all be conquered when the player makes use of Samus’ expanded capabilities to maneuver her out of danger.
Challenge creates tension, and without tension there’s no, for the lack of a better term, dread. With Metroid being a franchise that’s taken many of its cues from 1979’s Alien, omnipresent dread feels like an important piece of its DNA, and it’s one that may have made masterpieces such as Super Metroid and Metroid Prime even more outstanding. As for Dread, would that subtitle even work for a game that didn’t create some degree of discomfort? Besides, it’s not like there’s any shortage of easier Nintendo alternatives. Metroid Dread carries a hefty difficulty, and the difficulty is part of the experience.
For more on Metroid Dread, be sure to check out our full review, the game’s awesome early sales success that is enhancing sales for the whole Metroid franchise, and our latest Metroid Dread theory about Chozo secrets on planet SR388.