After 35 years the Nintendo classic is more beautiful and brutal than ever. Metroid Dread brings a new polish to the 2D shooter's killer combo of platforming and gunplay, and you couldn't pick a better game to show off the new screen of the Nintendo Switch OLED.
My hands-on with the game starts from the very beginning, as bounty hunter Samus Aran finds herself stranded somewhere beneath the surface of the planet ZDR. A troop of Extraplanetary Multiform Mobile Identifier - or E.M.M.I. - robots were sent ahead but disappeared, and on her arrival, Samus finds that they're hellbent on killing her. To add insult to injury, she's attacked by a mysterious Chozo - advanced, powerful, rocking a distinctly ancient Egyptian style of armor - and when she wakes us is suffering a "physical amnesia", game speak for losing all her power-ups like Morph Ball.
A to ZDR
Then it's straight into the action, working through the labyrinthine tunnels and chambers of ZDR, looking for a way to the surface. Navigating them is a manic mix of exploration, combat, and problem-solving, and an in-game minimap has never felt like such a blessing. You'll retrace your steps even when you're not looking for secret areas, but the acrobatic dance from platform to platform, wall jumping, sliding through small gaps - a new addition to Samus's skillset - and blasting and parrying enemies makes every round trip a satisfying sci-fi sandwich.
Even if you're not usually one for hunting down hidden items or secret areas in your games - who has the time in this economy? - my time with Metroid Dread made me want to, just because experimenting with the environment was so rewarding. There's a reason this series invented the Metroidvania genre, and Metroid Dread acts as a powerful reminder of why. Exploding walls to drain flooded areas, revealing new paths, was especially fulfilling and showed just how much exploration you can offer even within the confines of a 2D side scroller. There are even areas that you'll need to upgrade your power suit to even set foot in, like icy cold caverns, but I didn't manage to find any of these during my hands-on.
The moments that really impress this old horror fan are those when you're in the territory of an E.M.M.I, and it's chasing you across the map with alarming speed and intelligence. The game gives you a sweet taste of victory by having you encounter a damaged E.M.M.I. first, taking it out with an omega cannon before pulling the rug (and the cannon) out from under you and leaving you to face hearty and healthy E.M.M.I. enemies.
They're sensitive to noise and deliver a one-hit kill that's almost impossible to evade - I didn't manage it even once - so fleeing in as dignified a manner as possible is your best course of action. There's no way to stay cool when you're scrambling to find a route to escape, knowing that one slip or mistimed jump means an almost inevitable death. Someone really wanted to make sure the game lived up to the Dread moniker, and they succeeded.
Metroid Dread also manages to somehow walk the line with maintaining a certain retro flavor while also feeling completely up to date, and a large part of that is the visuals. It's recognizably a Metroid game, but it all just looks so polished. Yes, we were playing on the latest and greatest Nintendo Switch device, but those neons and blacks and shiny suits will pop on any screen.
After 19 years Metroid fans would have been happy with whatever the next side-scrolling Samus adventure delivered, but the challenge was always going to be attracting new players to the series. With killer looks that make the OLED screen update feel like an essential rather than an upgrade, and an even slicker selection of abilities, Metroid Dread marks a new era for the iconic Samus Aran. It's been a while since I dusted off the power suit, but Metroid Dread got me ready to hop back onto the Metroidvania hype train. The game will be released alongside the new Nintendo Switch OLED on October 8.