(Pocket-lint) - It's been a staggering 19 years since we last had a 2D Metroid game - Metroid Fusion for the Game Boy Advance - and while we've had plenty of offshoots and the superb Metroid Prime titles since, it's good to see the series return to its roots at last.
Metroid Dread is, in fact, a direct sequel to that 2002 GBA outing, but don't worry if you've never had a chance to play it. While it's also the end to a five-part story arc that started with the 1986 original, newcomers will find it easy to jump onboard, even at this late stage. Well, they will if they're not expecting this game to be a walk in the park...
Dawn of the Dread
Indeed, the plot is largely hokum and you get a fairly lengthy explanation at the start anyway. Our hero Samus travels to planet ZDR after reports point to the villains of Fusion - the X parasite - are reemerging there. However, things take a turn for the worse, and she ends up trapped inside a labyrinthian base with most of her power-ups and weapons stripped back to basics.
The game essentially tasks you with escaping the base, while finding out why you were summoned in the first place. And you have to replenish your arsenal along the way - standard action-platformer fare, you'd think. Except it's far from standard - this is Metroid, one-half of the Metroidvania tag given to many that lie in the series' shadow. It has rock-hard bosses, cunning puzzles, and more than one big, new surprise along the way.
The Walking Dread
One of those comes in the form of the E.M.M.I. - robots sent to ZDR ahead of you to also discover what's going on. Unfortunately, they seem to have become corrupted after arriving and have turned into deadly guardians ready to turn you into a Samus kebab.
You can't kill them with standard weaponry - only one-shot power-ups that you have to discover - so must avoid them where possible, and run from them when not. You can deflect a direct attack with a superbly timed button press, but it's so split second that it's extremely difficult.
This adds a sense of stealth to the game that reminds us of Alien: Isolation somewhat. If an E.M.M.I. sees or hears you - i.e. when jumping or firing a weapon - it will chase you around the map. Luckily, each of the robots is trapped within a certain zone, so you can evade them, but that in itself is a puzzle to be solved.
Also new to Metroid Dread are a couple of new abilities for Samus. She can now slide, to get through small gaps and under enemies. She can also point her gun to any angle, which aims through the left thumbstick.
This means you'll initially have a lot of controls to get used to, but the gameplay is all the better for it in the end. Youngsters might struggle with the complexity, though, so that PEGI 'Teen' rating isn't just there for the heck of it.
Day of the Dread
To be honest, the first few hours of play are likely to fox you generally. As well as Samus' new moves, developer Mercury Steam hides some important aspects of progression behind shootable blocks that aren't always obvious. In addition, a lot of room navigation relies on retreading the same path over and over, and with enemies regenerating each visit it can get a little frustrating.
But, once you start to pick up new abilities and powers, the game picks up pace somewhat and, we have to admit, there's no better feeling than finally finding a new room or floor switch that unlocks your path. Until you discover one of the bosses, that is.
The combat system is excellent in Metroid Dread, with Samus' new directional aim and the option to adjust ammo type (from blasts to rockets) by simply holding down the right bumper. It works well, is fluid and, even in handheld mode, feels intuitive. However, like most Metroidvania games, boss battles in this instance are rock hard.
Dread or Alive
The bosses generally require everything you've learned so far, plus every newfound ability, and a close study of attack patterns and vulnerabilities. Get all of these right at the same time and you'll win. Don't and you'll die. The latter will happen a lot, especially as you get to grips with the sequence of events, but is par for the course really. It certainly adds to the gameplay time.
We do recommend that, if you continually suffer, it might be worth trying again in TV mode (unless you have a Switch Lite, of course, as then you can't). We played the game on a brand new Switch OLED model, with its 7-inch display, but even then some of a boss' subtle movements were easier to counter on a bigger screen and with a wireless controller.
Either way, don't go into Metroid Dread thinking it'll be a cakewalk. And, make sure your tolerance levels are fine, otherwise that new Switch OLED may become an expensive paperweight.
The House of the Dread
For a 2D game, Metroid Dread looks beautiful. Animation on the main character and larger enemies is great, while backdrops can often be stunning. It particularly shines on the Switch OLED, thanks to the extra colour saturation, but still looks great on a standard Switch or even the smaller Lite's display.
The game runs in 60 frames per second in handheld and TV modes, at 720p and 1080p respectively, although it does seem that cut scenes are rendered in 30fps. They transition perfectly with the action though, so you don't really mind that much.
Audio is great, especially the suitably cinematic score. There's little talking throughout, so you need the music to lift and lower to set the tone of each segment. You can also have the controller rumble turned on for extra immersion, and Amiibo use is included.
Metroid Dread is a much-welcome return to the spirit of the original series, with the chops to do it proud for both newcomers and fans alike.
It can be frustrating, especially with progression paths not always clear, but the reward is more often than not worth the hours of head-scratching.
Yes, the game can be fiendishly tough, especially with later boss battles, but that's the attraction of the genre in the first place. And, the clue's rather in the name really.
It isn't for everyone, but those with a hankering for a challenge will lap it up for sure. It is, in that especially English expression, dreadfully good.