Back in college, after Metroid Prime: Federation Force was released (weary sigh), I publicly (within my social group in college) declared that I believe the Metroid series is dead. I said at the time that I’d be happy to be convinced otherwise, but that it was going to take convincing. It was a sad stance to take; I unreservedly call myself a Metroid fan—even going so far as to defend SOME aspects of Other M. Some. I’ll need to replay it in order to criticize…the rest of the game accurately and let’s just say I’m putting that off. MP: FF was so far removed from the lonely, atmospheric, tragically beautiful Metroid Prime that, quite frankly, I was a bit insulted that Nintendo thought I’d want to spend money on it. If it had been an MP: Hunters sequel (or even freakin’ starred Samus!), I’d have at least considered it, but we got what we got, and at the time, it felt like a final, decisive nail on a coffin that was already aging.
Then the Metroid II remake came to us, and it wasn’t insulting. It didn’t counteract all the badass character the series had worked so hard to establish and it didn’t include a soccer side game to be played by chibi UNSC rejects. It had tight controls (though the 3DS isn’t exactly ergonomic) and interesting powerups, and it updated the classic Game Boy title both faithfully and appropriately for modern audiences. If ongoing game series can be graphed, it would have represented a directly horizontal advancement had it not come directly after the consecutive Other M and Federation Force declines; as it was it actually felt like an uptick, as it reminded us what a Metroid game could be, though two things held it back for me.
First, the devs were working from a cheat sheet. The story was completely written already (and it comes from a time when Metroid stories were barer than Valentine’s candy shelves on 2/16), so they didn’t really need to do any work there. And second, the only reasons I ever saw to backtrack were collectibles for the sake of collectibles. This quibble is more of a problem in gaming as a whole, if we’re to take the Metroid series as an example, and not with this particular game, but the entrance to the endgame area in Super Metroid is in one of the first areas of the game. Again, we can possibly blame the source material for this, and it doesn’t detract from the quality of the game itself, but we’re discussing why Samus Returns didn’t, in my opinion, do all that much to rejuvenate (or rather, revive) the series.
Then promotional material for Metroid Dread began to drop, and I noticed something. Aspects of movement and combat which came into their own in Samus Returns seem to have carried over into Dread, which is a huge point in its favor. Interestingly, I trace agile, counter-attack-y Samus back to Other M, of all places, as that’s one of the primary things I defend about that game. Samus wasn’t this stiff, lumbering suit of power armor anymore; she suddenly had agility and her charge beam could be reactionary rather than exclusively proactive. It felt like controlling the badass action hero the games had always portrayed but never really grasped how to let us play as. The parry mechanic in Samus Returns felt like an update to that, and it looks like we’re getting it in Dread, so my excitement begins to take shape.
There are things I fear, though. A new Metroid adventure with a similar world layout to Samus Returns, Prime 3, Fusion, or Other M, all of which are noticeably more directed than their predecessors, would represent a step backward to me. Finding one’s way through a winding, interconnected world is what draws me to the Metroid series; most other games don’t really challenge my sense of direction or ability to interpret the limited information on my map screen in the way that this series historically has. Thus, if I never get lost in Dread, I will be disappointed.
Promotional material has already shown us upgrades which we’ve never seen before, so that’s a box ticked right there, but story is something I focus heavily on (for what I hope are obvious reasons). Metroid Prime was my point of entry into the series, so I recognize that I am perhaps spoiled for the potential a Metroid game has to spin an engaging yarn. However, I maintain that there is no reason why a sidescrolling game can’t pull off what Metroid Prime did—that game’s like two steps away from sidescrolling as it is. Part of the beauty of MP’s story was the fact that it left a lot up to the player. We were given snippets of esoteric lore to think about as we wandered the ruins of the civilization which had left them behind. The world around us was part of the story, and bits of lore were rewards for exploring. I’ll be most disappointed if we’re not trusted at all to understand the story for ourselves, that is, if the writers fell into the Fusion or Other M storytelling traps. Conversely, I’ll still be disappointed (albeit significantly less so) if the writers took the safe option and just went for the more understated Super Metroid or Return of Samus route.
All in all, though, I’m unreservedly excited for Metroid Dread. It looks like it will be a solid and memorable entry into its venerable series. All it needs to do is learn from the examples its predecessors have set, and since the release of the Switch, Nintendo has shown, to me at least, that they’re paying attention. If they are, I’ll be overjoyed to announce my incorrectness, but Dread has work to do before its series can be called living once again.
I’ll be streaming my first playthrough of Metroid Dread, starting tonight. That’ll be over on my Twitch channel, and I’ll be posting links and updates on my Facebook page, which is over to the right.