Metroid Dread: First gameplay and story details from Nintendo at E3 2021 – Polygon

After Nintendo’s E3 2021 press conference on Tuesday, the company streamed a Nintendo Treehouse Live segment featuring gameplay for Metroid Dread, a brand-new 2D Metroid game coming to Switch on Oct. 8. Metroid: Samus Returns developer MercurySteam is making the game, with Yoshio Sakamoto, who has directed several Metroid games, serving as the game’s producer.

The Treehouse segment opened with a video of Sakamoto describing ’s development journey.

“This is the first new story and new episode for the series in 19 years,” Sakamoto said, according to the video’s translation. He continued, “The series has chronicled the uncanny relationship between these Metroids and the heroine Samus, but this game will mark an end to that story arc.”

According to the chronology of the Metroid series, the game Metroid Fusion is the current last installment in Samus’ story, and Metroid Dread is set after the events of Fusion. As for whether Samus’ story will continue after her “story arc” with the Metroids comes to a close, we’ll just have to wait and see.

Sakamoto said he originally had the idea for Dread’s design 15 years ago, but back then, there wasn’t the technology to develop the gameplay mechanics that he wanted. The idea has had multiple false starts up until Sakamoto worked with MercurySteam on Samus Returns. He explained that the designers there “have an incredible understanding of Metroid games,” so he trusted them to take on Dread.

Sakamoto also explained the game’s title, saying, “It represents a relentless threat that pursues the seemingly invincible Samus Aran.” Here he refers to the EMMI robots, a new kind of foe in the Metroid universe that Samus cannot defeat with her usual arsenal. Instead, she’ll need to be more stealthy and strategic.

The EMMI are research robots owned by the Galactic Federation. During Metroid Fusion, Samus pushed back against Federation orders, so perhaps that’s why their robots are on the lookout for the bounty hunter in Dread. Also, according to a news release about the game from Nintendo, the EMMI were “dispatched to planet ZDR by the Galactic Federation to capture and extract DNA from unknown creatures,” so they may also perceive Samus as a threat because her body was infused with Metroid DNA in a lifesaving operation during Fusion.

Samus runs from an E.M.M.I. in Metroid Dread

Image: Nintendo / MercurySteam

Samus will have to learn to avoid the EMMI in order to stay alive. “Each robot roams within a specific zone,” Sakamoto explained, “And when they sense the sounds Samus makes, they close in. And once it captures Samus on its visual sensor, it starts chasing after Samus at high speed.”

Stealth is always an option, too. “If you can avoid making a sound, the EMMI won’t notice you,” Sakamoto said. “You can also hide behind objects to avoid being visually recognized. And with her new main defensive move, Samus can use the optical camouflage known as the Phantom Cloak to render herself invisible to the EMMI” Sakamoto described the EMMI as adding a “powerful spice” to the universe of Metroid, since this is the first time that Samus will be pursued by enemies that are this relentless.

That said, Samus does appear to have some recourse against the EMMI under certain circumstances, as shown on the Nintendo Treehouse stream of the game. While exploring planet ZDR, Samus will come across “central units” that allow her to temporarily power up her arm cannon, turning it into an “omega cannon.” During the stream, this upgrade gave Samus the ability to destroy just one EMMI, after which point her arm cannon lost its omega power-up.

Samus will also fight against aggressive alien species on planet ZDR, collecting restorative items and missiles from their carcasses. Some of the combat design elements introduced in Samus Returns will make a reappearance in Metroid Dread as well, such as the Free Aim laser sight that gives Samus more precision when targeting her blaster, and the Melee Counter, which lets Samus parry and counterattack her foes.

Samus uses her Melee attack in Metroid Dread

Image: Nintendo / MercurySteam

New to Dread is a Melee Dash attack, which makes it so Samus is no longer limited to only using her Melee as a counterattack, since Melee Dash allows her to use it any time. There’s also a Slide mechanic in Dread that Samus can use to speedily scoot under ledges without going into her Morph Ball form. Metroid Dread also introduces a new upgrade for Samus called the Spider Magnet. In Sakamoto’s words, it “lets you latch onto certain walls or ceilings and move along them.”

Like every other Metroid game before it, Metroid Dread is all about exploration and backtracking. Samus will collect upgrades for her power suit that make her stronger and more capable of traversing certain obstacles and areas that were previously closed off. One of these is the charge beam, a classic Metroid arm cannon upgrade that made an appearance on the Nintendo Treehouse stream of Dread. There are also areas that will require the player to use their own wits to traverse. For example, the Nintendo Treehouse stream showed a water-based puzzle that required Samus to shoot a block in order to empty an area of water, so as to jump up to a higher ledge.

Dread also includes some story elements that were introduced in Fusion, such as Samus’ computer intelligence being named “Adam” after the commanding officer who sacrificed himself to save her. Some players will remember Adam from Other M, a controversial entry in Metroid canon, but this story element was actually first introduced in Metroid Fusion. On the Nintendo Treehouse stream, one of the presenters described Dread as including some “juicy lore,” which may or may not be good news, depending on how you feel about the twists and turns that Samus’ story has taken over the years.

Samus faces off against a boss in Metroid Dread

Image: Nintendo / MercurySteam

Update: Later on during the Nintendo Treehouse stream, the hosts returned to play more Metroid Dread, showing the part of the game when Samus gets the Spider Magnet. She uses it to cling to certain walls while exploring, and eventually, she faces off against a boss that can turn itself invisible. Once Samus defeats that boss, she gains the Phantom Cloak ability that Sakamoto referred to in his description of the game.

Samus cannot use the Phantom Cloak indefinitely. This ability operates on a timer, which counts down faster if she’s moving. Once that timer runs out, the Phantom Cloak starts to use up Samus’ health.

In the course of playing the game on stream, the hosts came across a computer terminal where Samus communicated with her ship’s AI, named Adam after her former commanding officer. At this point, Nintendo staffer Theresa Apolinario paused her playthrough of the game to note the role that Adam plays in this game: “I kind of want to make it clear, too, that Adam is Samus’ ship’s computer … Adam is just a point for lore, does not give any direction to Samus. It is up to the player to choose where they want to navigate and where they want to explore.”

The fact that Adam “does not give any direction to Samus” will likely come as a relief to players who remember the human that inspired the computer’s AI. In Metroid: Other M, Samus could only use her abilities with Adam’s permission. As Abbie Heppe put it in her review of Other M for G4 (archived here): “The woman who in the first five minutes of the game gives the squad access to the ship by using her missiles is restricted from using her abilities — some which could open a path or save her life in the future — until a bland male character dictates it to her. She does this because she likes him, but only as a friend.”

It remains to be seen what the rest of the “juicy lore” will be in Metroid Dread, but at least now we know Samus will be taking orders from the most competent person she’s ever worked with: herself.