Metroid Dread: How Nintendo Gets Horror Right

Nintendo isn't known for horror games, but Metroid Dread expertly combines claustrophobia, anxiety, and fear to make any playthrough truly terrifying.

Published: October 18, 2021 11:30 AM /


Samus Aran in Metroid Dread

The newest Nintendo Metroid game to be released on Nintendo Switch, Metroid Dread, has quickly become more than just something to tide fans over while we wait for the Metroid Prime 4 trailer and release date. Not only has Metroid Dread already outsold every other Metroid game in Japan, but worldwide sales data shows that Nintendo fans all over the globe are clawing at the chance for more Samus. The 2D, side-scrolling environment doesn't seem to have dissuaded fans from picking up the latest game, and it's looking like for many, this may be their first Metroid experience ever. This game couldn't have come at a better time either, as its spooky and unsettling setting make this the perfect game for the spooky energy of October.

Metroid may not be a traditional survival horror series like Resident Evil or Silent Hill, but the concept of trying to survive on an alien planet as you're being hunted by extraterrestrial creatures is an evergreen recipe for frights. Metroid Dread especially makes you feel helpless, lost, and afraid as you attempt to make contact with the outside world.

Samus Aran: How a Powerful Bounty Hunter Becomes the Hunted

Samus the Bounty Hunter in Metroid Dread

The cadence of Metroid Dread is a familiar one: You lose your powers, Samus is the weakest she'll ever be at the very beginning, and you must explore a branching labyrinth for upgrades, new weapons, and a way to defeat the indigenous (or, in some cases, invasive) creatures so you can escape. Backtracking is a key component, and with the addition of E.M.M.I. in Metroid Dread, this is as stressful as it has ever been. Which makes sense. I mean… you can't have Metroid Dread without an ever-present sense of dread, right?

The Extraplanetary Multiform Mobile Identifier, or E.M.M.I., is a virtually invincible killbot that inhabits specific areas of the Metroid Dread overworld (er, underworld?). When spotted, Samus has no choice but to run, and the twisting nature of the levels and one-way design of many of the doors make this a much more anxiety-inducing prospect. Instead of being a powerful bounty hunter that's ready for any fight, Samus is reduced to prey, simply another helpless creature that's not dissimilar to the native insects and aliens that she finds on the planet.

Over time you can find some upgrades to help you deal with the E.M.M.I. zones, from concealment perks that can help you hide to the ultra-powerful Omega Cannon, which is capable of destroying an E.M.M.I. once and for all. Omega Cannon upgrades are temporary though, and they're only available at key story moments, meaning E.M.M.I. drones are something players will need to deal with as they traverse Planet ZDR.

The fear of being chased is a primal one, a rush of adrenaline leftover from the days when any number of animals would chase down humans for a quick meal. It's this ancient fear that Metroid Dread taps into so well, interrupting systematic exploration and forcing you to run for your life. When the hunter becomes the hunted, no number of Samus' regular upgrades can keep her safe in the expertly designed maze of Planet ZDR. 

Darkness & the Twisting Labyrinth of Metroid Dread Level Design

Metroid Dread - Samus in Darkness

The massive subterranean world that Samus must navigate may have even the most tenured player be looking for a Metroid Dread level walkthrough. The levels themselves are separated into individual sections (each one impressively large on its own), but it's the constant need for backtracking that can make getting lost so easy. By the time the game is completed, don't be surprised if a decent portion of that playtime is just studying the map to find a way forward (or, in some cases, the right way back).

Each area brings Samus to unique environments, from flooded chambers to fiery hot zones to dark and shadowy chasms. The art direction in each area brilliantly highlights both the beauty and terror that Samus must face while exploring the underground. One-way corridors will have you thinking twice before blindly sliding into a chamber, uncertain if you can easily make it back, and the map icons will serve as your lifeline as you search for just one more door that remains unopened, leading to a new unexplored area.

Of all the iconic environments in Metroid Dread, nothing had quite the visceral effect as those quiet areas where the lights were low and you could clearly see the eerie green glow of Samus' suit in the dark caverns. At times only the shadowy outline of the cavern is visible, and you'll need to shoot blindly into the darkness to uncover what secrets may be there. This wouldn't be the first comparison of Samus to Sigourney Weaver's Ripley in Alien, but navigating the darkness while it feels like you're being hunted in Metroid Dread draws a clear and terrifying parallel to the 1979 film.

So as a bounty hunter navigating a seemingly endless labyrinth of dark and twisting caverns who is also occasionally hunted by a near-invincible robot, what other parts of Metroid Dread make it a true horror game for the Nintendo Switch? Well, sometimes the scariest things are also the most human.

The Anxiety of Isolation in Metroid Dread

Samus Alone in Metroid Dread

There are those (myself included) who enjoy time alone, but only when it's chosen and not forced. When isolation is forced, it can wreak havoc on a person's psyche and make something as innocuous as an innocent walk through the woods into a living nightmare. In many Metroid titles, the concept of isolation isn't a foreign one. Occasionally Samus has allies or contact with others, but primarily she explores these planets on her own, facing off against Metroids and aliens and any other threats that come her way.

With Samus' career, she's better equipped than most to deal with the isolation, but Metroid Dread particularly takes a toll. Players will spend hours navigating tight hallways and unlocking door after door after door while seeking a way out. Occasionally Samus will talk to Adam to get advice over how to proceed, or threats to watch out for, but she is primarily alone. This can be cathartic, in a strange way similar to insomniac Animal Crossing players who terraform their islands at 3 a.m. instead of sleeping. Only instead of making an island paradise more beautiful for villagers, players in Metroid Dread are blasting enemies and on a seemingly endless quest for upgrades with little to no interaction with friendly entities.

Samus and an enemy in Metroid Dread

And those moments you aren't alone? Well, hopefully, you'll be able to escape the clutches of an E.M.M.I. before you're grabbed and brutally destroyed.

Have you picked up a copy of Metroid Dread yet? How does it compare to other Metroid games, and how do you feel about your time exploring the depths of Planet ZDR? Let us know in the comments!

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Me holding a Nintendo Switch next to a Reggie Fils-Aime poster
| Staff Writer

Dan is a Boston-based writer who has been with TechRaptor since the end of 2020. He has been working in the online writing, editing and SEO space for nearly… More about Dan

More Info About This Game
Learn More About Metroid Dread
Game Page Metroid Dread
Mercury Steam
Nintendo Switch
Release Date
October 8, 2021 (Calendar)
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