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You'll have to allow me to slip my fanboy hat on for a second, because I can't quite believe I'm sat here writing about Metroid Dread.
For those who don't understand why Metroid fans everywhere tore their own eyes out with excitement earlier this week, a little background: This is the first brand-new 2D Metroid in 19 years. It's a sequel to 2002's sublime Metroid Fusion and, according to longtime series producer Yoshio Sakamoto, an end to the story that started all the way back in 1986 with the original NES Metroid. In short, Metroid Dread is an adventure 35 years in the making.
Hardcore fans will have heard the name Metroid Dread before. Sakamoto confirmed the game has been in and out of development for the last 15 years or so. I certainly remember the tantalising reference to "Project Dread" hidden in 2002's Metroid Prime, and even faintly recall reading a small feature about the game (then a planned DS release) in a gaming magazine well over a decade ago.
Metroid fans are used to being starved for content, of course, and far be it from me to look a gift Chozo in the mouth... but I have to ask: why now? Most of us had long since come to terms with the fact that Metroid Dread was... well, dead.
During a developer roundtable, Sakamoto explained that Metroid Dread finally releasing after all this time comes down to two main factors. The first is that he'd always had a very particular vision for the game. With the Nintendo Switch, he felt the technology was finally in place to get it just right. The second is that he found a kindred spirit in MercurySteam, the third-party studio that collaborated with Nintendo on 2017's remake of Metroid II: Samus Returns for 3DS.
Sakamoto added that he'd been sat on a rough concept for some time, but didn't want to commit to fleshing out a story until he had a real sense of what the gameplay would be like.
"With regards to the original concept, it consisted of Samus facing a dreadful opponent, facing this dreadful experience," Sakamoto explained. "We were lucky to find an ideal partner in MercurySteam. We further developed, in detail, the concept and the story."
"For me, it's very important to develop the concept and story together, as I believe that in the end it's one integral set. Thanks to the partnership, the fortune of finding a good partner, we were able to develop that concept and story. The final product surpasses what I had originally envisioned."
Exactly what that story entails is a closely guarded secret for right now. Even the preview session redacted the few scenes of dialogue I saw, so it's pretty hard to get a sense of what's going on. What Metroid fans need to know, is that this will address the ending of Metroid Fusion, and it will, in the words of Sakamoto, bring an end to the "uncanny" relationship between Samus and the Metroid race.
We now know that the "dreadful" opponent Sakamoto originally envisioned years ago has ended up as E.M.M.I, a unit of rogue galactic federation robots that hunt Samus on her journey through planet ZDR. If you've seen the trailer, you'll have noticed the animalistic droid that pursues our hero with a terrifying determination.
As it turns out, Samus will come up against a number of E.M.M.I bots on her adventure. The issue is that they just so happen to be impervious to her weapons and are capable of taking her out in one hit. This is where Metroid Dread's big twist on the traditional Metroid formula comes into play.
Scattered across ZDR are various E.M.M.I zones. Once Samus enters these, she's completely at the mercy of the drones that patrol within. These segments shift Metroid Dread towards the realm of stealth horror as our hero is tasked with making her way through such areas quickly, and quietly.
Naturally stealth doesn't always work out. The E.M.M.I bots are keen listeners, and if Samus makes too much noise, they'll give chase in what look to be properly terrifying sequences that recall the SA-X chases from Metroid Fusion. The E.M.M.I are utterly relentless. The droid we saw in the preview is capable of scuttling up walls and leaping out of nowhere to cut Samus off as she attempts to make her escape, but I'm told there are multiple bots all with their own nasty tricks.
Basically, Samus has two options in these E.M.M.I zones: escape, or die. I know which I'll be choosing. Being caught by a robot usually results in an instant kill and game over, but it's possible with good timing to pull off a counter attack and buy some more time to escape. There are also generous checkpoints, so there's no fear of being sent back to a save station upon death.
Metroid purists needn't worry, however. Metroid Dread isn't all creeping and running away - that's not very on brand for a hero like Samus Aran. The E.M.M.I themselves will only ever patrol their zones, so you'll always know when you're about to enter one of their areas and when you need to stay quiet.
Moreover, those zones are just a small part of a sprawling, interconnected world filled with bosses, unique areas, and upgrades to find that unlock new paths and options. Even better if you're among the many fans that felt Samus Returns was a little too linear; Sakamoto has said that Metroid Dread is far more open in terms of world design, and much more reminiscent of SNES classic Super Metroid.
But while there are plenty of familiar elements in the game's world, Samus herself feels markedly different thanks to a greatly expanded range of movement options. Building on the more aggressive and fluid Samus of MercurySteam's 3DS remake, Metroid Dread has kitted the bounty hunter out with a bevy of new tricks.
Samus is now able to aim freely while on the move, get in close with melee counters, and even slide under enemies to evade attacks and gather speed. It promises to completely change the pace of combat and add fascinating new dimensions to encounters as our hero finds and unlocks more upgrades and weapons throughout her journey. Again, most of these are being kept under wraps to preserve the surprise, but expect plenty of gadgets new and old.
Metroid Dread is quite literally the game fans of the series have been waiting nearly two decades for, and that comes with an incredible level of expectation. As a fan, I will say I'm super impressed and very assured by what I've seen and heard so far. Heck, the fact that it took Sakamoto this long to be happy with the tech to realise his original vision should tell you everything you need to know: This is shaping up to be something special.
We should expect plenty more surprises, scares, and action when Metroid Dread hits Nintendo Switch in October. Still, you have to wonder... does an end to this "five-game arc" mean an end to 2D Metroid games as we know them? Apparently not.
"Obviously, one will need to take on new perspectives to come up with new ideas," Sakamoto said in response to further 2D adventures with Nintendo's iconic bounty hunter. "I can say that Samus' adventure will continue. When you clear Dread, you will have a clearer idea. And beyond that, we will continue to work hard so we can meet expectations and keep surprising you guys with exciting gameplay experiences."
Sounds good to me. Let's just not leave it quite so long next time, eh?
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