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  • Writer's pictureEthan Godwin

Metroid Dread: Progression Perfected?

Dread has some of the most satisfying progression the franchise has seen.

Image Source: Ars Technica

The Metroidvania is one of the biggest resurgent, still-slightly-niche genres of the past decade. With the rise of indies in particular, the formula of exploring a vast system of areas blocked off by upgrades that are collected to progress has seen an ever-growing rise in popularity. Breakout indie and small-team hits like Axiom Verge, Hollow Knight, and the ever-popular Ori games have both created new fans of the genre and brought old veterans out of the woodwork.

So, as the first new entry in 19 years in the franchise that spawned this now-beloved formula, how well does Metroid Dread handle the genre's signature system of progression through exploration and upgrades?

All things considered, pretty wonderfully; it's debatably the most satisfying Metroid progression has been to date, and it's all thanks to the slight additions it makes to systems that the franchise has had for decades.

Tantalizingly Close

Image Source: NintendoSmash

As I made my way through Dread, working my way to the surface of planet ZDR, something stuck out to me: I found myself desperately wanting to get my next upgrade, never wanting to put the controller down, always investigating the next new area, more than I had in any other Metroid title before. Why?

When I pondered this, I realized the answer: Dread, more than any other Metroid game, loves to taunt you with what you can't have.

Over the course of Dread, I felt like I ran into more random blocks, doors, and pathways I couldn't get through because I lacked the proper upgrade than in any preceding Metroid title. Whether these were blocking off key points of progression or were just for minor additional items; it was something the game was showing me that I couldn't have. In previous titles, this might actually have just been annoying; however, Dread implements a couple wonderful little features that turn a defeating world of denial into an enticing one brimming with potential.

Image Source: VGChartz

The first is that the map now shows the location of every single breakable block in the game. This is an addition that to newcomers might not seem like a big deal, but to veterans is huge. In previous titles, if you encountered a block that you couldn't yet destroy, it meant an annoying amount of effort to return to it later. You would have to either remember where it was amidst the countless other blocked paths in a huge, sprawling map, or take the time to somehow keep track of it outside the game's systems.

With Dread, this is a thing of the past; if you've revealed the block in gameplay, it shows up on your map, and tells you if you have the item you need for it by only being labeled with question marks if you don't. So no matter how many times you encounter a block you can't break yet, it's not nearly as frustrating as it would have been in previous games, because now you have an ever-present, easily referenceable guide for where every single one of those blocks is. And the feeling of finally getting that item you need and immediately pulling up your map to see all the pathways you now have access to? Nothing is as cathartic.

The second of these features is that sections of the map containing a path or item you haven't discovered will now pulse when you hover over them; while this isn't as tied into being teased with key items and tends to apply more to extra collectables, it's still an excellent addition that makes that classic Metroid collection process just a little more bearable. This on top of the returning Pulse Radar ability from Samus Returns makes the item-hunting process more streamlined than it's ever been before.

Image Source: Nintendo Life

So, considering these additions, we come back to the main question: "Why is progression in Dread specifically SO satisfying?" And if you take into account all of these new features, the answer is actually quite simple: information.

All of these additions, from the blocks on the map to the flashing map sections, act to tell the player more and more about what is available to them. Sure, when you don't have the item for a block, it can be a bit frustrating, but once you do get that item, you know every single place you encountered on the map you can now get to instantly; all of that restriction is lifted at once, and the rush of it is truly incredible. When Samus upgrades her suit in an awesome cinematic animation, energy pulsing around her and enveloping her suit as she clenches her fists and rises into the air, that's how you feel: living the ultimate Metroidvania power fantasy.

Image Source: Ars Technica

It's obviously not without its flaws; some upgrades barely get time in the spotlight before being outshined by others, some are too situational to get much use, but on the whole, the excitement of getting a new upgrade is the most fun it's ever been in Metroid, and it always kept me wanting more.

Dread represents a lot of things, but one of the biggest of these is the return of a franchise that spawned a game genre now cherished by more players than ever before, and where it goes next certainly will be an exciting sight to see.

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