Metroid Dread

GOTY 2021: #1 - Metroid Dread

Dread is a glorious return to the series' 2D roots.

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Sony might have taken the crown last year with The Last of Us: Part II, but this year its Nintendo that has scrambled its way to the top. Sure, 2021 with its multiple delays has been a pretty weak year on the whole, but Metroid Dread's excellence would have shined brightly regardless of when it was released. This return to the series' 2D roots is hauntingly tense, and its alien-world feels both massive in scope and intelligently designed.

First of all, one aspect that made us and many other players fall in love with Dread is its survival horror influences. As Samus tries to make her way back to her ship, she is stalked by robots known as E.M.M.I, which are desperate to extract her Metroid DNA. Escaping these strange beasts either requires you to act fast or stealthily using your Phantom Cloak, and the punishment for failure is a pretty steep one, as you have to watch Samus getting brutally impaled. Whilst appearing at regular intervals, these chase sequences never get dull either, as each E.M.M.I has unique abilities that they'll use to hunt you down.

The level design here is also excellent with the planet of ZDR encompassing jungles, frozen regions, and molten lava filled areas for you to explore. The map is sprawling in size, and parts of it will slowly become available as you take down the game's bosses and unlock new powers. Looking at the map, it's easy to feel overwhelmed by its size, but it's designed so intelligently that you're always being guided by your newfound abilities. Even if you do find yourself going around in circles, there are plenty of collectibles and hidden missile containers that you can hunt for, providing that you have the right toolset.

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The amount of powers you have access to exceeds what has been seen before in 2D Metroid titles, and it means you're constantly given new ways to interact with the world. They made combat feel wonderfully diverse too, as you have many different ways to lay the pain on your foes and evade their projectiles. Your mastery of these abilities is put to the test the most within boss encounters. When taking on Experiment Z-57, for example, you need to pinpoint its limbs using your rockets and roll into a ball to avoid waves of projectiles.

Dread also scored top marks for presentation, with its striking visuals being used to promote the capabilities of the Switch OLED model. It might have taken place from a 2D perspective, but the levels of detail displayed within its strange alien backgrounds are just jaw-dropping. Its 3D cutscenes make for some of the best-looking visuals on the Switch too, and it's impressive how Mercury Steam was able to masterfully blend them together with the 2D segments. With the industry pretty much turning its back on 2D titles, it was refreshing to see this style of game developed with a AAA budget on modern-day hardware.

Dread finds itself alongside Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate as another must-have exclusive for the Nintendo Switch. Returning to a retro-inspired style in the era of 4K gaming was a bit of a risk for Mercury Steam, but fortunately, its level design and presentation is up there with some of Samus' greatest adventures. Its level of polish across the board makes it easily worthy of our game of the year spot, and we've got our fingers firmly crossed that Metroid Prime 4 will be equally as special.

Metroid Dread
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