I’ve already reviewed Metroid Dread¸ but during that review I attempted to stay away from spoilers. But after ruminating on the game for a week or so after finishing it, I feel I have to talk about Metroid Dread with spoilers aplenty. Metroid Dread is supposed to wrap up the story that began with the original Metroid on the NES, 36 years ago. And its 19 years since the last game in that particular story. The pre-release hype not only centred around the EMMIs, but it centred around the game being the end of the Metroid storyline. So you can’t really talk about Metroid Dread without discussing its story. And you also need to examine whether or not it is s fitting end to the Metroid saga.
(Click here for my review of Metroid Dread)
Let’s think about it; was there any need to end the story that began in 1986? It’s a more cohesive story than, say, any of Nintendo’s big hitters like Super Mario Bros and The Legend of Zelda. You can play the games of those respective franchises in any order, without any knowledge of previous games. My first Legend of Zelda game was Link’s Awakening, and it didn’t matter that I hadn’t played the previous games. However, the first Metroid game I played was Super Metroid, and the opening scroll told me about adventures I’d missed, adventures I needed to play (those being Metroid and Metroid II). This is a franchise that demands familiarity with the previous games.
And with a story that only comprises five games, why did Nintendo see fit to announce that Metroid Dread would be the end? With that announcement, Nintendo were heaving some heavy baggage on the game. Didn’t it have enough pressure on it? Being the first original 2D Metroid game in 19 years? Being a sequel to a franchise that’s regarded as one of the greatest of all time? Why lump another load of pressure onto it? It really bothered me when I heard the announcement. Imagine if they announced the next Legend of Zelda game would be the final confrontation between Link and Ganon? It would feel pretty pointless.
Metroid Dread ends with both the eponymous Metroids and the X parasite wiped out. The X parasites have only been around for two games, and their name isn’t slapped on the title screen or the box. So, if Nintendo publish another Metroid game…what will they call it? Samus Aran’s Space Adventures? Metroid All Dead? It’s like released an Alien film without the Xenomorphs and including Alien in the title. Now, to be fair, you don’t see a Metroid in Metroid Dread, but there is still technically a Metroid in the game, so I can let that one pass by. But where does Nintendo go from here?
The Chozo, the Metroids, the X parasite, all important parts of Metroid lore, are all gone now. We could have Samus Aran doing some bounty hunting (something she’s not done for a while now…strange, considering that’s her day job!). We could have the end of Metroid Fusion really pay off, in terms of Samus’ relationship with the Galactic Federation. They were attempting to recreate Metroids, so Samus blew up their research station. In Metroid Dread¸ there were no consequences to Samus’ actions. She and the Galactic Federation seemed to be on speaking terms. But the tension between them was something that needed to be explored, and hopefully will be in future Metroid titles.
The ‘Fusion’ part of the Metroid Fusion title refers to Samus Aran being injected with a Metroid vaccine to fight off the X parasite. This gave Samus Metroid DNA (just like the Covid vaccines are altering our DNA…!!!), thus turning her into her mortal enemy…That was a plotline that could have led to some weird and wonderful things. Imagine Samus having to cope with changes in her body, or feeling the urge to feed on people’s energy (or whatever the Metroids do)…this plotline is addressed in Metroid Dread…for a couple of minutes. In my view, that’s the true ‘Dread’ of the title. The EMMIs weren’t scary at all, just mere obstructions to the next powerup. In Metroid Fusion, coming across (and hiding from) the SA-X, an X parasite that mimicked Samus, was much more terrifying. A soulless, unstoppable version of the greatest bounty hunter in the galaxy…
But I digress. The true ‘Dread’ of the title, for me, was the dread of Samus facing up to what she could become: a Metroid. The most dangerous lifeform in the galaxy (bar the X parasite, of course), one which she wiped out (twice, if you count Metroid Fusion)…and she’s technically the last Metroid. The final boss of Metroid Dread, the Chozo warrior Raven Beak, reveals that he lured Samus to the planet ZDR to harvest her Metroid DNA. But he had to wait for latent DNA to emerge…or some nonsense like that, anyway. After defeating Raven Beak, Samus’ latent Metroid powers properly emerge…and the costume design is awesome. She becomes an unstoppable beast, easily destroying the Raven Beak/X parasite goliath that tries to kill Samus. This type of body horror is what I wanted from Metroid Dread; a Cronenberg-esque psychological terror. Samus becomes a Metroid, the most dangerous lifeform in the galaxy…
But this isn’t the story Metroid Dread wants to tell. After defeating the goliath, Samus returns to her ship…where the other Chozo, Quiet Robe, is waiting. Quiet Robe was assassinated halfway through the game, and his body was taken over by a X parasite…you know, the evil lifeform that you’ve been trying to exterminate since Metroid Fusion. What does this X parasite do? Absorb the Metroid DNA in Samus, killing itself in the process…thus wiping out both Metroids and X parasites. Samus is returned to normal, and the game ends. There’s no follow-up on this abrupt ending, no explanation as to what actually happened. The game developers had to end the Metroid saga, thus quickly depicted something happening that would end the saga…regardless of if it made sense or not.
Just imagine if they’d left the game on a cliffhanger…Metroid Samus flying out into the unknown, the player unsure of whether she’s a force for good or evil in the galaxy. No silly resolution, no 36 year old story to wrap up. Just Samus’ ship, flying out into the distance as the screen turns to black. Then in the next game, we’d get more time to spend with Metroid Samus. The time we did spend with her was glorious…but really, it was no time at all. It was by far the most interesting and unique aspect of Metroid Dread, the one thing that stands out in my mind when I think about the game. To become what you hate is truly dreadful…but that wasn’t the story the developers wanted to tell us.
It’s a shame, really. Perhaps being super-powerful Metroid Samus wasn’t sustainable in terms of gameplay for more than a few minutes. Perhaps Metroid Samus isn’t as thought-provoking a storyline as I believe it could be. It’s true, being invincible in a videogame is only exciting for short periods of time. Any longer, and the lack of challenge numbs the player. But it could have been worked into the gameplay, allowing the player short bursts of ‘Metroid Samus.’ To achieve ‘Metroid Samus,’ the player would have to absorb the energy of enemies. Once a certain energy level was reached, the player could break out ‘Metroid Samus,’ but only until the energy level expired. It would also deplete Samus’ life energy as well, ensuring a risk/reward aspect of gameplay.
I’ve just realised I’ve described something similar to the ‘Hypermode’ in Metroid Prime 3…and perhaps that’s not a bad thing. In principle, ‘Hypermode’ was a great risk/reward mechanic, but in practise, there was barely any risk. Perhaps the risk of ‘Metroid Samus’ could have been that if you use ‘Metroid Samus’ too much/too often, you risk losing your humanity and becoming a full-on Metroid…or something along those lines. But if you don’t absorb energy for a long period of time, that affects your health negatively. It would be a fine balance, facing the literal dread of becoming a Metroid or dying from not giving into your Metroid instincts. Have cutscenes of Samus examining Metroid-like protrusions on her body. Have her absorbing the life energy of a creature, a look of pure horror on her face. You don’t need dialogue or exposition (unlike the last ten minutes of Metroid Dread), just visual story-telling. You don’t need to wrap up a 36 year old story line.
Metroid gameplay has rarely been about the story. It’s only since Metroid Fusion that the story became an integral part of the gameplay. The first two games (in their original form, not the remakes) limited their story to the video game manual (remember those?!?!?). The third one, Super Metroid, limited it to the opening screens, a quick reminder of Metroid and Metroid II. It did tell a simple story through visuals. Metroid Fusion brought in dialogue and a plot that propelled Samus Aran forward (rather than Samus propelling herself forward, overcoming obstacles). Metroid Dread follows suit, employing dialogue-heavy cutscenes (and even having Samus Aran speak!!!) and telling a (veering on the ridiculous) story.
In principle, there’s nothing wrong with that. Metroid Dread, unlike the linear Metroid Fusion, allows the story to barrel ahead whilst allowing for freedom of exploration. However, it’s the story that falters. It’s not one I particularly cared about, until the last ten minutes where ‘Metroid Samus’ comes into being. Unfortunately, this promising storyline is all too brief, a tale of body horror that’s extinguished before the player can get their teeth into it. It left me unsatisfied, and the ending left me baffled. I’m sure we’ll see more Metroid adventures in the future, thanks to the success of Metroid Dread…but where does the franchise go from here? Can Metroid be Metroid without the titular creatures?
Click here for my review of Metroid (NES)
Click here for my review of Metroid: Zero Mission (GBA)
Click here for my review of Metroid II (Game Boy)
Click here for my review of Metroid : Samus Returns (3DS)
Click here for my review of Super Metroid (SNES)
Click here for my review of Metroid: The Other M (Wii)
Click here for my review of Metroid Fusion (GBA)