Around 15 years ago, Yoshio Sakamoto had an idea for the next mainline Metroid game. Called Dread, the game would feature longtime protagonist Samus Aran constantly pursued by some kind of all-powerful force. The idea was to instill fear in players with an enemy they couldn’t defeat. This was the same time that the Nintendo DS was becoming a breakout hit, but Sakamoto soon realized that the handheld wasn’t powerful enough for his ideas. “It was difficult to realize that concept with that hardware,” he said recently during a meeting with reporters.
Development on Dread stopped and started a few times due to these technical limitations, before eventually being shelved indefinitely. “We had put it on hold,” Sakamoto explains. Which is what made this year’s announcement at E3 such a surprise: not only is Metroid Dread real, it’s coming to the Switch on October 8th.
Dread is the fifth main entry in the franchise — it was initially titled Metroid 5 during the E3 reveal — and the first since Metroid Fusion in 2002. Like its predecessors, it’s a 2D side-scroller that combines action and exploration. Not only will Samus have to fight off hostile aliens but also find her way through a labyrinth-like planet full of secrets.
The main twist are new robots called E.M.M.I., predatory creatures that Samus isn’t strong enough to fight, forcing her to hide. They add an almost horror-like element to the game; Samus will have to be silent around them and can make use of technologies like a cloaking field to remain invisible. “I wanted to create something that was unsettling for players, and also would communicate this unfeeling-ness that’s inherent in something that’s robotic,” Sakamoto says of the machines.
Sakamoto is serving as producer on Dread, and he says that the time was finally right for a few reasons. One was more powerful hardware in the form of the Switch. The other is a partner. In 2017, Nintendo launched Metroid: Samus Returns on the 3DS, a remake of the Game Boy title Metroid II. Development was handled primarily by Spanish studio Mercury Steam. “The reason that I actually met with them was in the hope that they’d be able to realize the concepts that I had for Metroid Dread,” Sakamoto explains. “In meeting with them, I got the sense that they were a team that we could work together with towards a singular concept, and realize this goal that I had in mind for Metroid Dread.”
Like Samus Returns, Dread features 2D gameplay with 3D visuals, as well as much more fluid movement compared to earlier Metroid games. Samus is quick and nimble, able to slide around and use counterattacks. She even has free aim like in Samus Returns. Meanwhile, from the live gameplay demo I watched, the E.M.M.I. robots are appropriately terrifying, hunting down Samus with cold, calculated precision. For Sakamoto, watching it all come together so smoothly has almost made the long wait to realize his vision worth it.
“It’s really better than I imagined those 15 years ago when I had the idea for this,” he says.