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Metroid Dread lands on the Nintendo Switch after nearly 19 years of speculation about the next chapter of the series. At first blush, the Metroid franchise may not seem like a horror game, but the series is rooted in strange, isolated areas and lurking danger. it is the most horror-driven series in Nintendo’s holdings outside of Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem and the chances of a new installment or even re-release of that game are about as thin as the atmospheres of the worlds Samus Aran explores in the Metroid series.

But what about Metroid Dread? Horror-discussion aside, how is the game? Is this a game that was worth waiting nearly two decades for?

What is Metroid Dread?

Metroid Dread is the sixth entry in the classic Metroid franchise. The series spun off in the Gamecube era with Metroid Prime – a first-person series. The classic Metroid style of gameplay is an action survival series where players control the lone, armor-clad Samus Aran as she runs missions for the Galactic Federation and often tangles with dangerous parasitic aliens – initially the Metroids, but later the X parasites. The games are 2D with Samus utilizing a variety of powerful abilities and weapons to fend off hostile environments, technology, and aliens.

Metroid Dread does not stray far from the formula, which is probably for the best as it is a formula that people still very much crave. The Metroidvania genre, a portmanteau of Metroid and Castlevania, is still quite alive and well, with many independent games of the genre, like Hollow Knight, finding critical and commercial success.

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Metroid Dead takes the initially expected gameplay of the series but adds in the wrinkle of more survival-oriented sections where Samus can do little against a nearly invincible enemy. This creates a new flow of gameplay and results in extremely tense moments of gameplay.

Metroid Dread (Switch) screenshot of Samus Aran in a new suit
Samus has never looked cooler… well, wait until later on in the game as she rebuilds her armor.

What Works With Metroid Dread

The shift in gameplay in Metroid Dread is interesting. Moments of exploration and puzzle-solving utilizing Samus’ vast array of abilities tied to her suit are generally the most relaxing aspects of the game. Exploring and back-tracking as the mercy of Samus’ abilities as they are recovered creates a number of environmental puzzles. It is especially fun when you make note of areas you explore to come back to later when you recognize you need a specific ability. The shift, however, comes from the E.M.M.I. zones.

The E.M.M.I. are the most significant figures in the game’s branding outside of Samus Aran, and for good reason, as you see them a lot. Perhaps, more to the point, you hear them a lot. The game creates moments where exploration gives way to stealth in E.M.M.I.-specific chambers where Samus must utilize stealth and acrobatics to avoid a nearly invulnerable enemy. These robots will hunt Samus down at high speed with unnerving movements and make loud, bat-like echolocation chirps. It gets bad enough that even the sound of an E.M.M.I. somewhere in the zone is enough to unnerve you. Raising the tension, these robots are relentless and will result in an instant game over 99% of the time, as the parry window when caught is unnervingly limited. It is a fascinating role reversal in a series where Samus is the defacto badass and warrior and flips the series on its head.

It helps that the controls and genuinely tight for both styles of gameplay. Samus has never controlled better with incredibly cool abilities that showcase her agility, but also capable of illustrating her sheer power. The relatively new parry-system, an upgrade from Samus Returns, works wonderfully here and can be done on the move. If you want to play an aggressive Samus you totally can, and it works. But just as fun can be the defensive and evasive Samus who can use stealth, the morph-ball, and sliding to get around zones while being chased.

The game’s atmosphere and presentation are also the best in the series so far. The attention to detail to Samus’s motion, even on a 2D plane are impressive. When going into aiming mode you can make out her pose changes by the context of the environment and obstacles, such as holding onto walls to steady herself as she aims. The game is also gorgeous. While the Switch is not a powerhouse system, Nintendo’s focus on art design makes up for the technical lack, especially character and creature designs. This may be the coolest Samus has ever looked.

The animal-like E.M.M.I. can be the stuff of nightmares.

What Didn’t Work With Metroid Dread

With the increased functionality afforded to a seemingly more agile Samus Aran, the controls can be confusing in an E.M.M.I. encounter. Between sliding, the morph-ball, and shinesparking you may find yourself inevitably mixing up buttons or triggering the wrong action. Not that it is the fault of the game, per se, but the abundance of options in a high-intensity scenario like an E.M.M.I. chase can prove overwhelming at times, and may be overly punishing given the low chance of an escape once caught. Mercifully, the game helps reduce the frustration by returning Samus just outside of the zone upon a game over, whereas elsewhere returning her to the last save room on a game over. It is a reasonable accommodation for sequences that essentially strip Samus of her power.

One of the more annoying hallmarks of the series continues in Metroid Dread with the destructible walls. While many can be identified by paying close attention to the environment, there are others where the clues are so subtle that you may not be able to detect them without firing missiles all over the place. This is rare, but it still happens. Something things never change. Another issue is somewhat punishing bosses which often feel repetitive within their own fights with not as much variation and differing phases in each encounter. You’ll find yourself pelting a boss with so many missiles you may be asking yourself “how is this thing still not dead?”

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Unfortunately, the music doesn’t live up to the heights of previous titles. While many tunes in Metroid are minimal, fitting the alien environments, there are still some fantastic melodies present. it feels less like the case here. The most iconic tunes still seem to be series staples carried through the series. Nothing that lives to the height of Ganadrayda’s Theme in Metroid Prime 3: Corruption or the classic Brinstar theme.

Samus’ adventure carries shocking revelations for fans of the series.

Bottom Line

An anticipated return to a series that hardcore fans have clamored for close to 20 years that lives up to the hype. This is definitely an evolution in presentation and atmosphere, but it still retains enough classic gameplay that will appeal to fans and more hardcore gamers. Casual players may find themselves a little more challenged compared to most games these days, but that probably makes the rewards all the better.

Now, hopefully, we won’t have to wait another decade or two for a follow-up. At least we know Metroid Prime 4 is on the way. If you have a Switch, get Metroid Dread and play it a couple of times and really take in the love and attention to the franchise developer MercurySteam put into it.

Metroid Dread was developed by MercurySteam and published by Nintendo. You can purchase Metroid Dread wherever video games are sold (note we are an Amazon affiliate, so we may earn money if you purchase through that link) or via the Nintendo eShop. 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Have you had a chance to dive beneath the surface of planet ZDR? What do you think about the latest chapter in the Metroid series? Let us know in the comments.

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David Davis is a writer, cartoonist, and educator in Southern California with an M.A. in literature and writing studies.

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Quest Master @ PAX: A Dungeon-Builder First Look

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Next in my journey of all the cool games I saw at PAX, Quest Master! Quest Master is a love letter to retro dungeon crawlers and level designers. Taking inspiration from both Mario Maker and the Legend of Zelda franchise, Quest Master promises the ability to play and design dungeons with a variety of enemies, traps, and puzzles. 

Check out the Quest Master game announcement here:

I was given a private 30-minute demo, where I got to try out some of the core features in a pre-beta version of Quest Master. This demo was led by one of the developers, Julian Creutz who shared some insight into the game design and user experience. My interview with Julian about Quest Master can be found here.

Quest Master has two main modes, playing dungeons and building them. I got to try out both, though I had a more comprehensive experience playing dungeons. While playing dungeons, the game mechanics were intuitive and simple. However, I was continuously surprised by the complexities offered by the puzzle and logic systems. For example, you can collect a boomerang which is incredibly easy to use. To solve one of the puzzles, I had to throw the boomerang through a torch (which I thought was just decorative) to catch the boomerang on fire and enable it to activate a gem. While the individual mechanics were basic, they combined into a sophisticated puzzle-solving experience.

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Immediately, I was eager to look under the hood and see how the dungeon building mode enables the puzzle solving as previously described. Once again, I was impressed with the sophistication of a system with such simple mechanics. The controls for building weren’t intuitive for me, though I also don’t use a controller for much of my gaming (like I was during the demo). Additionally, I could see how it would be really easy to get accustomed to as you build.

As it was a short demo, I wasn’t able to try any of the multiplayer features (i.e. co-op, online map sharing) so I can’t speak to the success of their implementation. As this is supposed to be a large part of the game, I’m wary of wholeheartedly suggesting Quest Master for those interested in the multiplayer experience. However, I was impressed with Quest Master’s modern take on retro dungeon crawlers like the Legend of Zelda games. The graphics and controls feel like much needed quality of life updates for a system taking inspiration from older classics. 

I recommend wishlisting Quest Master if you are a fan of old Legend of Zelda games or are looking for a fresh take on the dungeon builder genre. If Quest Master interests you, don’t forget to check out my conversation with Julian too!

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)


Check out my other PAX posts here!

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Interview with Game Dev Julian Creutz: Quest Master @ PAX

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As mentioned in previous posts, I had the opportunity to demo a pre-early access version of the game Quest Master alongside the Lead Developer, Julian Creutz. Quest Master is a Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Maker inspired dungeon crawling and building video game. While the other post covers the game itself, this one covers the inspiration and vision for the game as told by Julian.


How did you become involved in video game development?

I’ve been a huge gamer, and especially a Zelda fan, ever since I was a little child when my dad put a GameBoy Advance with “The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past” into my hands. Sometime during elementary school I started dabbling with game development using visual tools like Scratch and GameMaker. I quickly got into making Zelda fan games and had dreamt of the day when I would make my own Zelda game one day. Over the years I’ve honed my game development and programming skills, resulting in where I am today.

What has been the most challenging aspect of the development process?

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Developing Quest Master is essentially like making two games at once – the making and the playing part. Both of these game elements have to be equally as polished to form a cohesive one.

The most difficult thing by far about the game’s development has been to make the maker mode experience intuitive for first-time users and people who know nothing about Zelda-like games, but at the same time powerful and complex enough to allow creating anything you could dream of.

One good example is the gameplay feature to link certain parts to others, like linking a pressure plate to opening a door. We’ve been through countless iterations affecting both the visual, gameplay and user experience aspects of it – I hope that the one we are using right now is the final one!

Quest Master takes a lot of inspiration from classic dungeon-crawlers like the Legend of Zelda franchise. What about these games was so enchanting to you and how does Quest Master try to capture that enchantment?

As described earlier, I’m like the biggest Zelda fan, which I’m sure shows. My gripe with many Zelda-likes on the market is that none perfectly capture the feel of the classic entries… there’s always something missing.

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I confidently believe that Quest Master differs from that greatly. We are trying to make Quest Master feel like an in-house 2D Zelda like Nintendo used to make, just from an indie team like ours. Many people crave the classic 2D entries, just like I do.

What emotions do you hope the player will experience while playing Quest Master? What design choices were made to assist in that desired atmosphere?

A big aspect of Quest Master is its local multiplayer. The game is deliberately designed to work flawlessly with that, and makers can create specialized puzzles in the game that require all players to work together for example. The result is both rewarding, funny, and sometimes infuriating altogether, for example when one of your buddies throws you into a hole.

As a community dungeon maker, what features are you most excited to see implemented in player-made dungeon crawls?

I’ve already been hugely amazed by the creations of the existing Quest Master demo. With all the new features the game will launch into Early Access with, I bet this will be tenfold. I myself always enjoy the brain busting puzzles people come up with. Other things I also like a lot are the unintended mechanics the players find, which dynamically emerge from the many, many gameplay systems working together.

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What’s it been like working with Apogee, an indie publisher who goes back to the early 1990’s and has a long legacy of terrific game releases?

I’ve only had very few interactions with game publishers in the past, and Quest Master is my first large scale commercial game project. There’s preconceived notions floating around everywhere on the internet about how evil game publishers are and how much better you would be off self-publishing your game. Contrary to that, working with Apogee has been nothing short of supportive and family-like. They are very invested in the project, and they have many Zelda fans on the team also helps a lot. They are supercharging the potential of Quest Master and without them the game would not be where it is today.

Is there anything else you would like to plug or that you think is important for people to know about Quest Master or other upcoming projects?

Early Access is just the beginning! Quest Master will be hugely expanded upon during its Early Access phase, with many more themes, dungeon parts and entire new gameplay features coming in short intervals and a rapid update schedule. There are always new things around the corner. For example, things like the singleplayer story campaign and the overworld maker will be most likely not be part of the initial Early Access release, but we will make sure to build anticipation by introducing bits and pieces into the world of Quest Master to build up to that.

I hope you are looking forward to it as much as I am!

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LONESTAR @ PAX: Spaceships and Bounty Hunting

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This past week I had the opportunity to go to my very first PAX East convention! For those who are unfamiliar, PAX East is a large gaming convention in Boston. This year marked its 20th anniversary, which meant an extra layer of celebration and festivities! Courtesy of a HauntedMTL Media Badge, I got to play tons of new games and meet even more interesting people. One of the games I was able to demo was LONESTAR by developer Math Tide. 

LONESTAR is a roguelike spaceship building game reminiscent of FTL and Dicey Dungeons. It was released for early access on Steam in January and has gotten largely positive feedback. In the game, you play as a bounty hunter traveling through various sectors to defeat your bounties. Along the way you can visit a shop, take a breather, or experience other various events. 

I was able to play the early access build for thirty minutes on the showroom floor, and I was pretty instantly hooked. I love roguelike deckbuilders, with Slay the Spire (especially the Downfall fan expansion) being a strong favorite. LONESTAR nails what I love from the genre, with an aesthetic smoothly integrated in its form and function and novel gameplay mechanics.

A screenshot from the LONESTAR Steam Page of game play.

LONESTAR’s ‘deckbuilding’ element takes the form of ship systems. You can collect, buy, and upgrade them as you progress through a run. However, your ship only has so much space on board. As a player, you have to prioritize weapons and utility systems while also ensuring you diversify your damage output/defense across all three sections of your ship. At the beginning of each round, you are randomly given number values that can be input into your ship systems to achieve varied effects. The enemy responds in kind, meaning whoever can get the highest damage output is who overwhelms the other in the round.

I loved the possibilities for synergy and strategy as your pilot explored more dangerous sectors. It was incredibly rewarding to turn a couple of crap numbers into a super powerful attack. I also enjoyed the various options for “vacation” time in between battles, which kept everything feeling fresh. Of note, I only played for thirty minutes. While they were a rewarding thirty minutes, the game was not incredibly difficult. I cannot speak on the general replayability, though I would have been happy to continue playing for at least another hour. My only critique from the whole experience was that some of the vocabulary was unclear. However, that could have been due to starting mid-run during my demo. 

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If you enjoy deckbuilders and are interested in a spaceship game a bit easier than FTL, I think LONESTAR is a great choice. It is still in early access, however, I feel confident that the game is plenty of fun already. It is also only $10, so definitely worth taking a chance on. I’ll continue to watch the development of LONESTAR with great excitement! 4.8 out of 5 stars (4.8 / 5)

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