Metroid Dread and Nintendo’s new Switch model, which boasts a larger, more vibrant OLED screen, seem made for each other — or at least Nintendo’s latest Metroid game seems intended to showcase what the latest Switch hardware can do.
There are moments in the first hour of Metroid Dread where that seems obvious, like scenes where bounty hunter hero Samus Aran enters a pitch black room with only the glow of her power armor piercing through the darkness. Those deep blacks extend through otherwise well-lit areas as well, with dark negative space in almost every area of Dread’s foreboding new planet. Even the game’s UI stands out on the system’s new screen; Metroid’s familiar branching map pops brilliantly against the blue-black background, as does the vibrant red and white logo of Dread.
While playing the first hour-plus of Metroid Dread during a recent hands-on event in New York City, one thought repeatedly popped into my head as I played on that sharp, 7-inch OLED screen: “Oh no. I want this. I don’t need this. But I want this.”
I couldn’t properly evaluate the other perks of the new Nintendo Switch OLED model, like the improved audio output from the system’s speakers (I opted for the provided headset) and the wired Ethernet port. And I found myself too engrossed in Metroid Dread itself to detach the Joy-Con and futz with the Switch’s new kickstand design — it’s a full-width flap, which would seem more stable than the launch Switch’s 3/4-inch existing kickstand.
Let’s call that a testament to Metroid Dread, which starts off with a compelling mystery and immediately throws players into danger. There’s little downtime; Samus Aran is briefed by the Galactic Federation that the deadly X Parasites, thought to have been eliminated after the events of Metroid Fusion, have survived. She’s dispatched on a rescue mission of sorts; the EMMI security sentries sent to investigate that claim on planet ZDR have gone missing, and it’s up to the properly vaccinated Samus to find out what happened.
Upon arriving on ZDR, Samus finds herself in a familiar situation: drained of her powerful abilities and searching for an escape from the planet. During the first hour of the game, I recovered a few of those skills, including her Charge Beam, the Spider Magnet (which lets her climb on certain walls and ceilings), and the Phantom Cloak (which helps her avoid detection by the now-rogue EMMI ’bots). One early series upgrade doesn’t appear during that first hour: the Morph Ball. Instead, Samus can slide gracefully through waist-high openings in walls.
I didn’t spend much time with that Phantom Cloak. Its stealth features can be employed to bypass some doors that lock shut when proximity detectors sense Samus is nearby, but it will absolutely be even more useful when hunted by EMMI robots. They’re not only relentless, they can be one-hit kills. If one snatches Samus, it’s almost assuredly a game over. There is a last-ditch escape maneuver, but I initially found it tough to reliably pull off. I’m sure when Metroid Dread ships on Oct. 8, I’ll get plenty of practice in.
Early bosses are unforgiving too. I died often, trying to perfect my aim against monsters’ weak points. But the penalties for dying aren’t harsh. The game offers ample save rooms and there’s generous checkpointing. It was more the embarrassment of dying; I didn’t recall previous Metroid games sending me to a game-over state so often.
Some of that can be chalked up to unfamiliarity with Metroid Dread’s map. And there are plenty of moments where an EMMI will be stalking Samus, and I found myself entering a panicked exploration mode, desperately trying to sprint my way beyond the range of an EMMI’s aural detection but having no idea where I was going. Despite my deaths and some stressed-out aimless running around, the fear of getting snatched by an EMMI adds a nice, flavorful spice to Metroid’s familiar formula.
There’s an adrenaline spike that comes with those close EMMI encounters, particularly when Samus gets temporarily charged up with Omega Blaster energy to take one down. This happens a few times in Metroid Dread’s first hour, and it’s about as intense as a Metroid battle gets. Here’s what happens: After defeating a mini-boss, Samus drains its energy and stores a large amount of Omega energy in her Arm Cannon. She’ll soon have to face down an EMMI, using the L button to free aim at its head, slowly charging up the cannon with R, and unleashing the forceful beam with the Y button when it’s ready. Yes, it requires a bit of crab-clawing with your fingers to pull that move off, especially under pressure, but that requirement also adds to the tension of these dangerous encounters.
It’s these moments, and the finely honed gameplay loop that the Metroid creators appear to have delivered on once again, that have me most looking forward to Metroid Dread next month. Of course I want to 100% the map, find every energy tank and missile upgrade, and see the story through (Dread will wrap up with main series’ arc).
But what I’m looking forward to most is becoming an expert EMMI killer, and getting my revenge for Samus during that first, game-over-filled hour. And, if my resolve doesn’t hold, dropping $349.99 on that shiny new Nintendo Switch model.