Metroid Dread review: The best Switch-exclusive game of 2021

Thanks to one of Nintendo’s slowest game-release eras in its modern history, this week’s Metroid Dread stands out as arguably the company’s biggest new first-party game of 2021.

Most of the Japanese game maker’s usual suspects arrived this year as ports or undercooked affairs (sorry, New Pokemon Snap, but you know it’s true). This left fans yearning for galactic bounty hunter Samus Aran to redeem Nintendo’s weird game-launch calendar. The best thing I can say about Metroid Dread is that it absolutely stands up to that kind of pressure. This is the 2D sequel anyone who’s played old-school Metroid could have hoped for.

That doesn’t make it a 10/10 game, either for hardened Metroid fans or anyone new to the series. Both sides of that divide will have to make their peace with certain weirdness and concessions. But after decades of so many game makers putting their own stamps on the well-trodden “seek adventure” concept, it’s good to see the series that started it all show up with fresh ideas and improvements that’ll have you giddily back-and-forthing through a substantial and satisfying 2D world.

Meet me at the ZDR

If you are oblivious to all things Metroid, the newest entry to the series (technically Metroid 5) wastes no time strapping you into a Varia Suit full of obtuse lore. As the announced conclusion to the series’s traditional timeline (not the same as the Metroid Prime series, which will continue), Dread opens by recapping years of Samus’ adventures against a variety of Very Evil Aliens. Long after their 1986 debut on Famicom, the series’s titular monsters have seemingly been wiped from the galaxy, as were an even nastier alien species called X that metroids were originally created to kill. Dread opens with a tip: somehow, a single X survived and was seen on a faraway system known as ZDR. (Try saying that sentence out loud on a first date and see where it gets you.)

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