Category: Nintendo

Fixing the Weapon Break Mechanic in BOTW/TOTK

The most often criticized feature in Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and its sequel, Tears of the Kingdom, is the weapon breaking system.

I like to put on my game designer hat and come up with ways to improve games, and this is a subject that I’ve thought about a considerable amount off and on since I played through BOTW, and am thinking about more now that I’m playing through TOTK.

So here’s my suggested solution.

I actually like the possibility for weapons to break. I think it does make combat more interesting, and I support Nintendo’s reasoning that the feature gives the player reason to use other weapons than the current best damage weapon in their arsenal, which results in the player experiencing a wider variety of combat mechanics that result from the different properties and behaviors of the different classes of weapons found in the game.

So we’re not ditching the system, we’re going to tune it.

First, let’s recognize that weapon quality should come into play, as it does, but durability should increase much more quickly as weapon quality goes up.

So, at the start of the game, we have what I’ll call “found object” weapons, like the tree branch. These should rightly be very easy to break, in just a few solid hits, as they are.

The next class of weapon above that should be “improvised object”. These are tools, such as brooms, shovels, pitch forks, and so on, which are capable of being used as weapons, and are designed to be durable, but are not intended to be weapons. These should break more easily than a designed weapon, because using them for combat is putting stresses on them that they were not designed for.

The next class of weapon above “improvised” is “crude”. Crude weapons have a primitive look to them, and are built by crude or less skilled means, and won’t hold up as well as a better made weapon. Crude weapons are made of roughly hewn wood, bone, and stone, and not refined metals. Crude weapons can be repaired more frequently, and can be repaired in the field at places similar to the cooking pots found throughout the world. This amounts to “duct tape” level reinforcement of the weapon’s shaft, or the attachment of the weapon’s head to the shaft, for things like stone hammers and stone axes

The next class is “Standard”. Standard weapons are in good condition and should last a long time if properly treated and cared for, but are subject to breaking when abused, neglected, or subjected to abnormal rough treatment. In the game, a Standard quality weapon would be given no “modifier” adjective, eg there would be a “Sword” rather than a “Standard Sword” or “Traveler’s Sword” rather than “Standard Traveler’s Sword.”

Above that is “Quality”. Quality weapons are a bit more durable, and last a bit longer. They are made better, and from better materials. They are rare, and are found only in places like Shrines or stored in chests found in places where they would be well shielded against the elements, such as inside of a cave or building, not out in the open or under water. Quality weapons are often used by enemies of higher status, and can be won through combat against them.

Above that, is “Magical”. Magical weapons are the ones that have special powers, like elemental properties, or the Master Sword. These weapons do not ordinarily break through wearing out, but may break when subjected to extreme damage or misuse.

In BOTW, the Master sword cannot break, but gets “used up” after a certain number of uses and has to recharge. I don’t especially like that solution, as it feels artificial, but we’ll come back to that. I think the Master Sword should be a special case weapon, maybe a level above “magical”. We might call it “Legendary”.

Another factor in durability should be its condition.

The bottom condition is “decrepit”. These are the weapons Link may find laying out in the open environment, which have been neglected and subject to weathering, rust, or rot. These will do in a pinch, but may be at their end of life. Decrepit weapons can be upgraded through repair, one time, taking them to a blacksmith shop or weapon shop in one of the towns or stables (which don’t exist in the game as they are, but could be added with a reasonably small effort) and it should cost materials and rupees to get them fixed. They cannot be restored to anything above Standard quality, regardless of how they started out in life. Fixing is not a skill that Link should devote time into learning, so he relies on skilled tradesmen and women to do this work for him, and he definitely can’t do it in the field. Decrepit bladed weapons do less damage and are weaker against armor than

Above “Decrepit” there is “Worn”. A worn weapon has been used, but is otherwise in good condition and functions as it should. Above “Worn” is “New”. There’s nothing better than “new”. A weapon in New condition remains in New condition until it is used, and then slowly degrades to Worn, and if not cared for, will degrade further to Decrepit and then eventually break in action.

You can check your inventory to see the current condition of the items you have, and the item in hand will visually give an appearance of its condition as well, to make it obvious when it is no longer New, and when it transitions from Worn to Decrepit. The “gonna break any time now” pulsating glow from the game-as-it-is can remain in place, but only happens with weapons in the Decrepit state on their last legs.

Using a weapon will degrade its condition from its current state down to Worn, then Decrepit, and then eventually it will break. There’s a risk of breaking at each condition level, but the risk increases dramatically as the weapon becomes increasingly worn out. As the weapon goes through these stages, it gradually diminishes in the damage it deals, becoming increasingly ineffective toward the end.

Weapons of Standard and Quality quality can be repaired a finite number of times at the places where that service is available, and if maintained (brought in for service before they become Decrepit) they can be restored to their full original quality level.

Weapons of different types will progress through their wear states differently. Bladed weapons will become dull through use, and will do less damage as a result. High condition, high quality bladed weapons will do much more damage than a crude weapon or a weapon in poor condition. Likewise with stabbing weapons such as spears, as their tips become rounded with use, they will likewise do less damage. Blunt weapons, on the other hand, remain just as effective regardless of their condition, which is an advantage that they have over sharp weapons. Offsetting this advantage, blunt weapons are heavier, making them slower to swing, slower to recover, and slower to windup when using a long-press attack move.

Weapon damage doesn’t have to happen every time the weapon is used. When a weapon is used in the intended way, weapon damage should be minimal to nonexistent, with perhaps a small change of something more happening due to an unlucky strike. But when a weapon is misused, or strikes a durable surface like armor, a shield, stone, or wood, some damage may occur.

So if you swing your weapon and connect to do damage, if the enemy is a normal flesh and blood creature, the damage done to a weapon will range from 0-1 durability points, with 1 being a rare unlucky hit.

When you parry with your weapon, or when your attack is parried by the enemy, or when your weapon strikes the enemy’s shield or an armored enemy, or when the enemy is made of something more durable than flesh and blood, such as skeletal enemies, stone enemies, elementally infused enemies, hitting them does more damage to your weapon. Parrying with your weapon does less damage than when your attack is parried by the enemy.

Depending on the material the weapon strikes, and the type of weapon, it will take more or less damage. Hitting rocks with a hammer, pick, or drill will use up very little of that weapon’s durability, while hitting stone with a bladed weapon or spear will do significant damage very quickly.

Hitting wood with an axe blade will cause only slight to no wear, but hitting wood with a blunt weapon or a bladed sword will do more damage to those types of weapons. So misusing weapons, abusing them to hit the wrong type of material than they were designed to be effective against, will cause them to wear out and become damaged or ruined very quickly, but using the right type of weapon for the material being struck will result in slow, gradual wear.

This is already implemented to a degree in BOTW, where weapons like hammers and axes do get a durability attrition bonus when used to chop wood or mine ore, but my proposed solution goes further, and the wear to properly used tools and weapons is reduced, particularly against softer enemies, while abused weapons take greater damage, and most weapon wear happens when the weapon hits a shield, armor, is parried, or is used to parry, or when the player hits a rock or tree in the midst of combat.

This means that your weapon could last a long time, if you know how to use it properly, and are skillful with your aim and don’t make ineffective attacks that hit the shield, or if you only mine ores with hammers and only chop wood with axes.

To adjust the adjacent systems in the game to accommodate for increased weapon life and the ability to repair weapons, weapon drops would be less frequent, and enemy’s weapons would tend to be in worse condition, reflecting that it is in all likelihood a used weapon, as well as any additional wear done to it while wielded by the enemy. It also means that an enemy’s weapon might break in their grasp, which I think would potentially make combat a little more interesting. Special weapons of Quality, and Magical weapons, would be correspondingly higher in rarity, reflecting their increased durability and capability of being repaired. We might also do with fewer inventory slots for carrying weapons. This would have a further advantage of being a bit more reasonable and realistic. When you consider how many things Link is able to carry in his inventory slots, it’s a bit ridiculous. Being forced to choose between 2-3 weapons at most, one of them being a bow, and a shield, would be an interesting constraint and force the player to choose, sometimes opting for a weaker weapon that has a useful ability or property, and storing their other “keeper” weapons back at Link’s House in Hateno Village.

It would definitely be interesting to see how the game feels with these changes. If a weapon broke only once every few fights, it would go a long way toward making me more willing to engage in battle. And by “every few fights” I mean every few encounters, not every few enemies. So if I’m fighting 4-5 bokoblins and a moblin, that is what I would consider a single “fight”. Weapons breaking every 3-4 encounters of that size, I think would be much less annoying, and feel more reasonable, while still providing the types of incentives that Nintendo’s designers were going for, to encourage the use of different types of weapons, rather than reliance on the single best weapon that you’ve found so far. I think I would enjoy combat much more if weapon breaking wasn’t something that happened in nearly every fight, especially with the better weapons you can find later in the game. When the weapons break so frequently, it makes me want to avoid combat in order to preserve my better weapons for use in fights that I want to have.

It’s Zelda Day

Tears of the Kingdom officially releases

It’s May 12, Zelda Day. The official release date for the latest Legend of Zelda title from Nintendo, Tears of the Kingdom. The long awaited sequel to Breath of the Wild.

BOTW Retrospective

I enjoyed Breath of the Wild, and was amazed by its mechanics, but by no means was Breath of the Wild a perfect game.

Recounting the flaws and shortcomings of Breath of the Wild is difficult, given the vastness of the game.

BOTW: The Good

  • Vast, incredibly gorgeous world
  • Diverse landscapes and climates
  • Adaptive procedurally mixed OST soundtrack
  • Game physics systems are extremely well integrated with each other
  • Lots to do. Everywhere you go, there’s something to do, look at, or discover.

BOTW: The Bad

  • Unintentionally existential purposelessness. Everything resetting every Blood Moon makes nearly everything you do in game seem pointless.
  • Weapon breaking system is too unrefined, with weapon durability being too weak to seem realistic. Weapons break all too frequently, and losing a favorite weapon kind of sucks, especially with the very rare or unique weapons which still have only a limited lifespan.
  • Too much sameness. Despite the huge world packed with a huge variety of climates, immense exploration and puzzle solving opportunities and other types of challenges, after a while they all sort of begin to feel too similar and repetitive.
  • Temple challenges are too brief/simple, and offer little replay value. They also offer little in the way of reward, since most items are temporary due to the weapon breaking system.
  • No dungeons a la traditional Zelda games, to offer deeper, more satisfying challenge. This is a frequent complaint, but actually there are numerous areas of the game that feel dungeonlike, but aren’t obviously dungeons per se: the four Divine Beasts, which are perhaps the closest thing to a Zelda Dungeon, but aren’t really very large, the Labyrinths found in several places on the world map, the Yiga Clan hideout, Hyrule Castle, which is very satisfying, and, with a very honorable mention to the Eventide Island challenge, which although not technically a “dungeon” in the traditional sense, has that aspect of being self-contained, and provides an excellent and novel challenge…
  • Enemy variety. The enemy roster is good, but small (albeit with many variations of each major type), with many of the classic Hyrule denizens missing: No Darknuts, Like Likes, Peahats, Tektites, Pols Voice, Gibdos, Goriya, Dodongo, Gleeok, etc., etc. BOTW took a “less is more” approach, focusing on making fewer enemy types excellent, rather than trying to include everyone’s favorites from all the previous Zelda titles. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the lack of variety does contribute to the sense of sameness and repetitive nature due to the vast size of the world.
  • Combat system, while innovative and more advanced than previous games, is rife with exploitable bugs that turn it into a mockery in the hands of a player. Even a low skilled player can spam bombs and exploit the terrain to turn combat into a snorefest. Advanced players can chain together bullet time and combo attacks to make even the toughest enemies trivial.
  • Enemy AI is too dumb, never learns, always falls for the same tricks.
  • Lack of urgency. The mainline quest seems secondary, almost an afterthought, while an ADHD Link constantly diverges from his Mission to perform endless trivial side quests, almost all of which have no actual impact on the world or serve to further the mission. If you forget what you’re supposed to do or get lost, there’s little in game to put you back on track.
  • Final boss is a letdown. If you get to Calamity Ganon after playing through the full game, you’re going to be so overpowered that it’s a piece of cake… but you can walk right up to him without playing any of the game if you want a real challenge. So wouldn’t it have made sense that if you take so much time to build up your power, Ganon would have also gathered his strength and become more challenging as well?

Although my “bad” list is longer, the strengths of the “good” list far outweigh the bad things. Breath of the Wild is a great game. I’m not in any way saying that BOTW sucks. But I’m pointing out that the game was not without its flaws.

I love to just hang out and chill in the beautiful landscapes of Hyrule and gaze at the amazing views. For being on a world saving mission where there is supposedly immanent peril in the form of The Calamity, the game feels completely non-urgent and relaxing, apart from the occasional random wandering monster spawn events.

Due to the vast size of the game and its endless patience for the player to complete it at their leisure, these encounters rapidly become rote and routine, with no real variety or challenge once you learn how the combat system works and how to exploit it so that enemies present no threat whatsoever. And even before you get to that point, you can always run away from enemies and easily evade pursuit, so there’s never really any sense of danger. Only a sense of having to do a mildly annoying chore, or perhaps a mild sense of amusement, like what a bored cat must feel when they manage to find a mouse that can briefly occupy their sadistic attention for a time.

Looking forward to TOTK

I expect more of the same from Tears of the Kingdom, with more features and more polish, and hopefully a lot of these minor complaints about what wasn’t perfect with BOTW addressed.

I’m picking up my copy later today, and looking forward to diving in to the new adventure, blogging my progress, and posting my thoughts.

Retrotainment finally releases Full Quiet on NES after five years of development

Back in early October of 2017, I backed a Kickstarter project for a new game for NES called Full Quiet, by Retrotainment Games.

Today (12/1/22), I received the tracking number for my copy of the game. It’s been a long five years of waiting and pandemic-induced delays, and it’s great to see that the project has come to a successful conclusion.

I got to see an early demo of the game and play it a bit at the Portland Retro Gaming Expo in 2018, and was impressed even then with the quality of the game. Full Quiet is definitely impressive, easily on par with the greatest releases on the system, and reminds me of some of the Konami/Ultra and Capcom games I loved back in the day, reminding me a bit of games like Metroid, Snake’s Revenge, Rush’N Attack, and Trojan, while being distinctly its own thing.

I’m so excited to finally get to play the game, and am really looking forward to it as my Christmas present to myself this year. Look for an update with a review in the near future.

Dungeons and DoomKnights

Dungeons and DoomKnights, a new NES release in 2022, dropped last week. I didn’t kickstart it, but I did pre-order it about a month ago. Unlike just about every other thing I’ve pre-ordered in the last 10 years, this one arrived quickly — not two years later than announced, but just a few weeks after I paid for it.

I put about an hour into it today. I haven’t gotten very far yet, but I’ve made a little bit of progress. So far, I’ve managed to lose and re-gain my Axe, collect two Heart Containers, and befriend an attack Pomeranian, who can reach some areas that I can’t fit into.

I’m not entirely sure what else I’m supposed to do, or where I’m supposed to go next. The level design is non-linear, allows backtracking (to an extent), and doesn’t give you a lot of indication about what you’re supposed to do, or where you’re supposed to go next (although there’s some tantalizing spots where you can see an area that you can’t get to due to some obstacle, and the primary challenge of the game seems to be to find objects that will grant you an ability that you can use to clear the obstacle to get to the next area.

I’ve managed to find two keys, and there’s been a few switches that you can flip to open doors as well. It’s that sort of game. So you have to experiment and figure things out. Oddly, there doesn’t seem to be a pause feature, nor are there any functions to the start or select buttons.

My impressions so far are that it’s decent, if not great. I find the controls feel on the stiff side, not necessarily a good thing. Your primary attack is an overhead axe smash, which can hit slightly behind, above, and in front of you, as the axe passes through its arc. You don’t have a lot of range with it, meaning any time you’re close enough to hit an enemy, it’s also pretty close to you, and if you’re not careful you’re likely to blunder into it and take some damage. Due to the stiff controls, it usually seems like you should have been avoided most of the damage, if only they controls were a bit more fluid. Also, if you’re approaching from above, your attack hitbox will put you at a disadvantage, and so far I haven’t found too many solutions to compensate for this weakness.

Enemy AI is very rudimentary, but very much on par with what you’d expect from a NES game. Enemies basically move around in a simple pattern, not really reacting to your presence. They don’t sense your presence, and don’t deliberately attack you, they just follow a looped set of actions and if you’re in the way, you’ll take damage. Accordingly, although there’s enemies pretty much on every screen, they’re not terribly interesting or challenging to deal with. Certainly they’re no worse than many other games from the original NES era.

The game has a lot of nostalgic cultural references and callbacks to the NES, for laughs. It’s pretty cheesy, but if you grew up in the 80s, you’ll probably appreciate and understand most if not all of the references.

On the plus side, the graphics are really great. For a NES game, they did a excellent job of creating good looking pixel art for the background tiles and character sprites, using the palette limitations of the NES to good effect to create a legible visual language that is fairly easy to pick up. At times you can be fooled by what’s dangerous when touched and what you need to walk up to to talk to, though. And some of the entrances to caves can be a little bit non-obvious – basically if you see a big black hole in the wall, it’s a doorway, unless it’s not. Usually it is though. This was probably more obvious back in the day, but more recent retro games made for modern platforms tend to be a little less ambiguous.

Dungeons and DoomKnights was built with NESMaker, and (as far as I’m aware) it’s the first NESMaker game I’ve played. If you liked games like Wizards & Warriors or Rygar this is probably a worthy pick-up. You can purchase it, while it lasts, at their web site.


Metroid: Dread criticisms

I loved Metroid: Dread, but nothing is perfect, and a way I show my enthusiasm for something good is to analyze it, look for weaknesses, and think about how it could be even better.

Melee counter is OP

Against most enemies, any time you melee counter them, you can one-shot them with a follow-up shot. What’s more, killing them this way dramatically increases the amount of loot dropped as a result of the kill. It’s like the creatures of ZDR are all piñatas. Shoot them and you burn most of the candy inside, but beat them open, and you get a ton of loot.

I get that this is meant to provide the player with incentive to make use of the melee counter. Since it requires getting up close and personal with enemies, and screwing it up will damage you, the game design needs to balance the risk with an increased reward.

But they could have nerfed this, so that when you have a high success rate at pulling off the melee counter move, the game stops dropping quite so much loot. Or maybe wean you into lower quantity loot drops for pulling this move off as your max health goes higher. Arguably, they should have.

I also think that it would have been better to have melee-counters set up a counter-attack that does extra damage, but not always a one-shot kill. This mechanic makes too many of the regular enemies you encounter almost trivial, and not a threat at all. Even if you do manage to screw up a melee counter once in a while, you’ll get so much loot out of them when you’re successful that you’ll rarely if ever be worried about your health level for virtually the entire game.

Enemies drop too much pickups

Maybe this is a sign that I’d appreciate Hard Mode more, and if so, then this isn’t really a valid criticism, but I felt like it was too easy to replenish health and missiles whenever I wanted throughout the game. I never felt like resource management was ever a serious problem. This makes me wonder why have ammo at all. It only seems to matter in boss fights. Regular enemies mostly don’t pose enough of a threat to kill you. They mostly seem to exist to provide you with targets to shoot at, and drop so much life and missile pickups that it’s like an all-you-can-eat buffet at times.

In addition to this, the game provides copious recharge stations and save points, and there’s no limit to how much you can use them, or how often. They’re almost always right there for you both before and after a major challenge. I appreciate that the designers wanted you to reach these challenges at full power and ready to face them. And I appreciate that the designers made the boss fights super challenging, so that you really needed to be at full power before taking them on.

EMMI fights are repetitive, lack variety

I really enjoyed outwitting the EMMIs and having to run and hide from them. I think this is something you don’t often get to do in video games, and I appreciate the EMMIs for being different from most other games.

But while the EMMIs were different from other games, they were too similar to each other. Why must you always defeat them in the same way? The Omega Beam as a temporary power-up that empowers you to kill the last EMMI you met, only to be taken away after each and every fight, feels so contrived, it serves to remove me from immersion in the world of the game, and reminds me that I’m playing a game.

I would have loved to see Samus really have to use her wits to defeat the EMMIs in unique ways, using her ever-expanding move-set, and taking advantage of the level design to use the terrain in various creative ways to trap and kill each EMMI. Sure, getting a super weapon that runs out of juice after you use it would be a great way to dispatch the first EMMI.

But if they told a story that you only got to use it once, and even then it was only because you overcharged it and the super charge Omega blast actually burned it out and left it permanently inoperable, that would have given you so much more of a sense of dread: Oh no, there’s still six of them left! Now how am I going to deal with them? Then you would get to learn that Samus isn’t just a hero because she has amazing weapons, but because she is a survivor, who can adapt and outsmart enemies that are more powerful than she is.

That would have been so much cooler than how they did it.

I’ve already said it a few times, but the Control Room fights are also repetitive, and, worse, provided too little challenge. I guess that they were supposed to serve as callbacks to the classic Mother Brain boss fight, but fighting Mother Brain was pretty hard — mostly because any time you took damage, you’d get knocked back into a position where you couldn’t hit the boss anymore, or into lava where you were taking damage every frame and you couldn’t hit the boss anymore.

Killing Mother Brain didn’t just require that you did a certain amount of damage, but that you did it quickly enough to counter her regeneration. So any time you got knocked out of position and couldn’t continue pouring on the damage, it was prolonging the fight. Those factors made the Mother Brain battles challenging and memorable. Control Room has some superficial similarity: you have to avoid laser turrets and Rinkas while hitting a thing that looks a bit like a brain that doesn’t directly attack you. But there’s none of the other element present that made the Mother Brain fight a classic challenge. So what’s the point? And why do we have to do it six or seven times?

What’s up with all the lame names?

Planet ZDR? Quiet Robe? Raven Beak? Couldn’t they come up with better names than these?

I guess maybe we could blame the English localization for this.

I guess you can name a planet whatever, but ZDR isn’t exactly rolling off my tongue. SR388, the name of the planet in the original Metroid, is obviously a take-off of the planet from the movie Alien, LV-426. So a convention of two letters, three numbers would have been reasonable, fitting, and consistent. Metroid already has a planet starting with the letter Z, Zebes, so why they went with ZDR, I don’t understand.

They could have just translated “Quiet Robe” and Raven Beak into Japanese and it would have felt fine: Shizukana rōbu, Karasu no kuchibashi. Even shortening these to Shizukana and Karasu would have sounded cooler. Many of the names given for enemies in classic NES games were just untranslated Japanese words (or at least Japanese-sounding words, or sometimes japanified or mistranslated English words…)

It’s not a major thing, but I think they could have done better.

Story quibbles

I don’t really play most video games for their story, which is to say I can very easily tolerate a very thin story in an action-heavy game, and I can accept weak storytelling that relies heavily or even exclusively on cliches and tropes that are utterly formulaic and even cheesy.

I do enjoy and want to encourage game story writers to aspire to do more than that and to elevate their craft to an art form, and to tell original stories in creative ways, and not simply apply “The Hero’s Journey” or some other formula again and again.

I found the way the story unfolded in Metroid Dread was satisfying. I always liked finding a new Communications room and getting an update from ADAM to find out what was going on, what I was supposed to do, and what new information he could tell me.

I also was very impressed by the way the cinematic moments in the game were blended seamlessly into the regular action. Everything is rendered in the game in the same 3D engine. Metroid: Dread is “2D” in that the camera is always showing the action from the side view angle that is consistent with 2D games, and that the levels do not make use of depth, even where they have lots of detail in the background. But the game uses 3D models and presents them in a way that looks the same as 2D side scrolling Metroids of the past have looked, with the added flexibility that whenever they want to, they can pop out of that camera angle and continue rendering everything that’s going on in a more cinematic and dramatic way.

This is brilliant, and I love it. It makes the “melee grab” action in boss fights look super cool, and even though they’re just scripted button mashing events, they look fantastic, are fun, and make playing as Samus so much cooler.

This is all preface to say that Dread does so much very well with its storytelling and with the plot and acting generally.

That said, there were things I didn’t much care for, things that didn’t really make sense, or that seemed unnecessary.

  • At the end of the final battle, the cinematic bit where Raven Beak monologues at you, you seem like you’re helpless, and they misdirect you to thinking you just died, when you suddenly revive and life-drain your way to victory, only to then have to face a “final form” of Raven Beak after he gets infected by the X-parasite and mutates into a giant beast for some reason. WTF was that all about?

    I didn’t buy for a second that Samus was really helpless, and when she uses the energy drain ability to win, it was never a surprise. There’s so much that doesn’t work for me in this little scene:

    Raven Beak’s holding her by the throat, but she’s completely encased in an armored exoskeleton, so it’s not like she’s choking in this moment. So how is it that she’s supposedly blacking out? Is the throat section of the armor that flexible? I guess it could be. Is she playing possum? That would make sense and explain how it is that she is able to “miraculously” wake up and lash out. She’s screaming as she unleashes this final power against him, so clearly she’s got air in her lungs, and her throat hasn’t been crushed.

    During the monologue, Samus is shown struggling, and she does use her left hand, which is her energy drain hand, to grab Raven Beak’s arm momentarily as she struggles to… grab him with her left hand so she… so she can apply the energy drain move… which doesn’t make sense: if she could grab his arm, she should have been able to drain him right at that moment. There wasn’t a need for the overly dramatic choke-out/fake-out. move. When Samus does apply the energy drain, she grabs Raven Beak by the side of the head. Raven Beak is roughly twice as tall as Samus, though, so there should be no way her arm can be long enough to reach his head. Not unless he pulls her in very close so that he can look directly into her eyes as she passes out for the final time, or something… But that’s not how it looks during the cutscene. Raven beak has her at nearly arm’s length, the entire time.

    It’s done solely for heightened dramatics, and doesn’t feel right. Samus should have grabbed Raven Beak’s wrist, and drained him, and that should have finished him off, and thus ended the fight.
  • But not only does Samus drain Raven Beak, this somehow causes the Itorash orbital station to lose power and fall out of orbit. This suggests a few things that are implausible and just dumb: that Raven Beak is somehow powering the entire Itorash station, and that its orbit is actively maintained through the expenditure of power, rather than a simple ballistic geosynchronous trajectory that would require no active power usage to maintain.
    Seriously, why did Itorash crash to the surface of ZDR?
  • The “epilogue” final final boss battle was silly. We see that Samus just drained Raven Beak, yet he’s still alive enough to stand up after surviving the crash landing of Itorash station into the planet’s surface. He’s apparently still got more left in the tank and is ready to continue the battle. Samus just acquired the hyper laser that we saw Raven Beak using in the battle, but we don’t know that yet. Then, out of nowhere, Raven Beak is infected with an X-parasite, and mutates, instantly growing to gargantuan size.

    Then we’re given a mostly-pointless final-final boss battle with Raven Beak X, where all we have to do is hold the charge shot and stream ultra laser into the boss’s face until it melts off and it dies.

    It looks cool, I’l give it that. Having a laser that shoots a beam that’s as wide as Samus is tall feels ultra-powerful, particularly during the escape sequence that immediately follows, where it absolutely obliterates anything it comes in contact with.

    But there’s no challenge to defeating Raven Beak X, it’s literally just holding a button down. I get that the point of it is to show that Samus’s Metroid DNA has fully awakened, giving her the ultimate power, such that what should have been the most powerful boss we’ve seen yet is now child’s play to destroy. But that could have been conveyed through cinematic mode, rather than returning control to the player and requiring they press the button.
  • The escape sequence. Why exactly is ZDR exploding? Did the crash of Itorash trigger that? Was Itorash station somehow maintaining planetary stability? Or did the impact with the planet trigger this destruction somehow? Or was there some other process initiated that coincidentally started the planet’s process of destruction?

    I feel like we get an escape sequence because it’s formula. You can’t have a Metroid game and not have it end with a two minute timer countdown where you have to get to your ship before the world you’re on self destructs.

    I mean, we kindof needed to destroy the world to contain the X-parasites and end the threat they represent to galactic peace. But couldn’t we have waited until we were back on the ship and then nuked the site from orbit? I hear that’s usually how it’s done.
  • The whole “Surprise! ADAM is really Raven Beak!” and “Surprise! Raven Beak is kinda-sorta your ‘father'” thing. Samus is somehow always acquiring her power from her enemies. The last Metroid, the one she spared/rescued in Metroid II, comes back to imbue her with a life-saving power boost in Super Metroid; she officially is infused with Metroid DNA in Metroid: Fusion, which in turn gives her the ability to absorb power (and also DNA, maybe?) from the X-parasites; and now apparently she also has some Chozo DNA, or… I don’t get it anymore. It’s a bit much.

    There’s no actual Metroids in Metroid: Dread, until, at the very end, we’re told by Raven Beak-as-ADAM that Samus is now a Metroid, due to her Metroid DNA activating and metamorphizing her. So… ok. That’s pretty cool. I like it. But it’s a little much that she’s also apparently part X-parasite, and also part Mawkin Chozo?

    In storytelling, you can do a cool thing once, and it’s cool. But if you keep doing the cool thing over and over and over again, it becomes less cool each time, until whatever original coolness was there is spoiled. I feel like, OK, getting some Metroid powers is pretty cool. Using the Metroid powers to become immune to X-parasites and instead absorb their powers is pretty cool. Being X-infected on top of that is where it gets to be a bit much, but if we allow that absorbing the X-power sortof integrates X-parasite DNA into Samus’s already overcrowded gamete is probably about where I draw the line. Telling Samus that she also has Chozo DNA from both Thoha and Mawkin tribes is way over the line. How do the writers of Metroid think DNA works?

    I know, I know. It’s a sci-fi fantasy, it can work however they want it to work. I.. just… do the cool thing once, maybe twice, max. Samus doesn’t have to merge genes with every species in the galaxy.
  • The overly elaborate setup to awaken and harness Samus. At the very start of the game, Raven Beak kicks Samus’s ass. He could have easily taken her DNA right then, forced Quiet Robe to do science-y stuff to it to activate the Metroid in Samus, and then cloned that shit to make his army.

    He didn’t need to toy with Samus to get her to gradually restore all her suit’s missing powers, yadda yadda, and then pull a Philip K. Dick move on her at the end, revealing that the “ADAM” she thought she had been talking to since she woke up was really him manipulating her, and then offering a part Faust, part Darth Vader bargain to sell herself out to rule the galaxy side-by-side with Raven Beak as father and daughter.

    The whole game isn’t necessary because the plot self-nullfies when you realize that he could have just taken a sample of DNA at the very beginning, killed Samus, and did the thing he told Samus he was going to do during the final monologue just before you win the game.

    The only way it’s not necessary for the game to have happened is if the adventures you guide Samus through were somehow necessary in order to “awaken” the Metroid DNA.

    Which is silly. Even if it were the only way, Raven Beak could have taken a clone of Samus’s DNA, and raised it in a truly fatherly fashion, and brainwashed it to see him as good and willingly serve him and work for him.

    When you see stuff like this happening in suspense-thriller movies, and I suppose now also video games, it’s because the writers have lost the plot, trying to keep the audience guessing by introducing so many plot twists that stuff no longer makes sense, failing to pass self-consistency checks.

    I’m a big stickler for internal consistency. I can suspend disbelief, but I need for the internal logic to make sense. Otherwise, it just feels like the storytellers are bullshitting you, and it only works if you’re too dumb to see through it. Which is an insult to your intelligence, and so obviously when I’m smart enough to see that, I have to reject it. I have no choice.

    It’s that, or pretend that I’m dumb, in order to placate the storyteller’s ego, or something.

I still love the game, but these story aspects don’t do it for me. It only detracts from the overall game a tiny amount. But when you can make something good, why make it less than it could be?

I could be fine with Raven Beak impersonating ADAM and trying to deceive Samus; that element has a lot of potential. They could have had buried subtle clues that this was going on throughout the game — perhaps some ADAM conversations could have been the real ADAM, and others could have been attempts at misdirection from Raven Beak. This could have created some confusion initially, rising to a level of “OK WTF something is not right here” and then a revelation that at times you’ve been following instructions from Raven Beak who’s been manipulating you into doing his work for him, because (for some reason) only you could have, and now he’s got a planet full of X-parasites that he can use to take over the galaxy with… And at some point you have to figure out that this is what’s been going on, and directly disobey your ADAM instructions in order to advance the game.

  • The very final twist at the end, where Quiet Robe is waiting in Samus’s ship, and is somehow still alive, and is somehow able to revert Samus’s transformation into a Metroid by just touching her, and this is necessary so she can take off without draining all the power out of her own ship, and that Quiet Robe speaks to her in ADAM’s voice, and that this doesn’t immediately turn Samus against Quiet Robe because she just iced the last motherfucker to pull that shit on her, and that this all happens conveniently seconds before ZDR explodes, allowing her just enough time to escape… yeah, it’s straining credulity a lot thin by that point, isn’t it?

I guess you could refute much of the above criticism by saying something like “Come on, you care way too much about all these little details. It’s just a fun story. Just enjoy it.” But, no, telling someone to enjoy a thing more by caring about it less is nonsense. The little things matter. Continuity and internal consistency matters. Good storytelling matters. Feeling like you’re smarter or have better taste than the creators leaves an audience member feeling dissatisfied.

Could I have done Metroid: Dread better myself? Absolutely not. Could I have fixed all of the above story and plot issues if I’d been on the team? I absolutely could have. How much difference would that make really? I dunno. Maybe it turns a 92% score into a 96%?

My point is, the game is really good, and these issues are all minor enough that it doesn’t stop me from loving the game and thinking it’s a triumphant return to form for the franchise. But that doesn’t mean that these things shouldn’t be talked about, either.

Metroid: Dread epilogue

Metroid: Dread is a fantastic return to the 2D Metroid franchise. Nintendo and MercurySteam have succeeded in producing a sequel worthy of the series’ previous highlights, Super Metroid and Metroid Fusion.

Fundamental to its success is the world design. The different areas of Planet ZDR are deeply interconnected, yet each is distinct and has its own feel. The level designers did a fantastic job of providing the player with a defined path, not an easy thing to achieve with an open world design. This is accomplished by ingenious use of one-way points of no return which commit Samus to exploring “forward” when it might become tempting to backtrack.

The game soft-locks from backtracking you frequently, and at first you might feel unready, even trapped, but each step of the way the design ensures that you have the capabilities needed to continue.

Samus’s character design fits hand-in-glove with the world design to provide a move set and tech tree that work with the world design to create these locks. Each ability that Samus acquires is well realized, with multiple applications, in terms of both movement and combat. Your missiles, bombs, and beams aren’t just weapons, they can unlock parts of the world that are blocked by obstacles that these weapons can eradicate. Likewise, your power suit augmentations aren’t just useful because they provide new ways for you to get around the map, but are effective moves to use in combat: the Flash Shift, especially, but also the Space Jump being essential for the later boss fights. I especially like that immediately after obtaining a new power, you can immediately use it (and often need to in order to escape the room you’re in) to make new progress in the “forward” direction.

I started the game feeling clumsy and awkward with the controls, but by the end I had gotten so practiced that I felt fluent in most of the moves, able to pull them off at will, when needed, and improvise reflexively without having to think about which button does what. There’s certain things that I’m not very good at, chief among them the Shine Spark parkour moves that unlock many of the advanced movement puzzles to earn extra Missile Containers and Energy Tanks, but overall I find moving around in Metroid: Dread to be delightful and empowering.

The challenge curve in Metroid: Dead is amazing. You smoothly ramp up in power as you explore and open up new parts of the world, but the game is always right there with you, providing a level of difficulty that matches well with your current power level in the regions where you need to go in order to make further progress. There were times when I’ve felt like the challenge level was a little beneath my current power level, but they were mostly transitory, and seemed to serve a purpose, such as pacing the challenge level so that I could relax a bit between the bigger challenges represented by the boss fights. Mostly, if the game feels like you need to concentrate and take things seriously, you’re moving in the right direction, and if it feels like it’s a walk in the park, you’re backtracking in the wrong direction (although you might be able to find some useful powerups this way.) When it takes one charge shot or less to destroy an enemy, it’s a fairly trivial threat, but in large numbers, or if particularly aggressive, they can still hurt you.

The enemies in the game have the right feel for a 2D Metroid: you’ve got a decent mix of:

  • “wall barnacles” (enemies who attach themselves to the wall and (mostly) don’t move,
  • “perimeter crawlers” (enemies that climb along the walls, floors, and ceiling, patrolling their platform or room along its edge.
  • “flyers” (enemies that fly about the room or hover, presenting a territorial threat to the space they fill)
  • “large animals” (creatures about Samus’s size, which can take a bit more damage to defeat)
  • “swarms” (clouds of tiny creatures, which present mostly a nuissance threat)
  • “respawners” (enemies that keep re-generating in an area, creating a space of constant, if low-level threat, or depending on how you want to look at it, farms for replenishing energy and ammo.)

They run a gamut from low power to high power, and as their power levels increase, their aggression towards Samus likewise increases. Mostly they provide a routine challenge, nothing special, but enough to keep you engaged and wary when you’re entering a new area, especially for the first time.

Most of the enemies are biological organisms, alien fauna, but some are robotic, and a few are intelligent. By “intelligent” I mean that they react situationally to your presence and respond in different ways, using a variety of tactics. Most enemies are not very intelligent, and will only vary between a passive mode where they ignore you, and an active mode where the respond to either your presence, or to being disturbed by you damaging them or getting too close, and always in the same, predictable way. Robotic enemies are resistant to blaster fire, and often missiles work better on them.

The boss fights provide a lot of variety, and each of them is well done and provides an appropriate level of challenge for your current power level. The only boss fights that I felt were disappointing were the Control Rooms where you’d have to blow up an armored robotic eye in order to temporarily obtain the Omega Beam in order to deal with the local EMMI threat. These were entirely too easy, and never seemed to get much more challenging as the game went on, despite being repeated in each world.

EMMI fights are a highlight of the game, and one of the things that makes it stand out as different from a lot of other games. It’s hard to think of another game where you have a similar setup of hunter and hunted, and then turning the tables. These fights remind me of movies, especially the 80’s sci-fi action trinity of Alien, Predator and Terminator — and in a good way. Your opponent is much more powerful than you physically, and you have to use your wits and resources to find a way to turn the tables and overcome it. It’s a little unfortunate that these encounters are so similar to one another — each time they do get a little more challenging, because the environmental obstacles become increasingly a factor, and because each successive EMMI has some additional power that makes them even more of a threat. But otherwise these encounters become repetitive enough to start to seem routine — you build on your knowledge from your previous fights to know how to approach the next one, which is good, but it’d be nice if there were different ways of dealing with them apart from the Omega Beam. Like, couldn’t I dunk one in lava, using a trap door platform that I can manipulate with a recently acquired movement power? Or couldn’t I crush one by caving in the ceiling? Or couldn’t I just trap one, neutralizing its threat, by getting it stuck in a one-way area that it can’t get out of? Or couldn’t I get trapped by one, and rather than it being “Game Over” I’m taken to a new area where I’m imprisoned and have to find a way to break out before it comes back?

There’s a lot of potential variety in the ways they could have employed EMMI, and to have a single basic paradigm for these encounters, with the only variance being that each one is slightly more difficult than the one before, seems less imaginative.

Still, they do have the scene in Ferenia where Quiet Robe intercedes and deactivates the EMMI before it captures you, and the last fight, when your latent Metroid energy-draining power awakens and you defeat it with your bare hands, are here. These are small bits of variety, but hint at what more there could have been.

Otherwise, I found the boss fights to be great. Little room for improvement, no obvious criticisms.

One does wonder why they brought Kraid back again, but not Ridley? I think you can have a Metroid game without re-hashing the original minibosses, and I understand why there usually are callbacks to these classic characters, but to me it seems unnecessary to constrain the series to having the same bosses return again and again, as though they didn’t die in the last battle. So I can accept no Ridley, and no Mother Brain — that’s fine. But why then did they bring Kraid back? I liked the Kraid battle, mind you, I just wonder why, from a story perspective — what was he doing waist deep in lava, chained to a wall on Planet ZDR?

I liked the new Chozo Mawkin tribe soldiers, and found them to be a nice challenge. Fighting them felt like playing a classic 2D fighter game in the arcade, like a Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat. Indeed, these fights had a bit of a Smash Bros. feel to them, I felt. These were really well done, and forced me to put my move set together in creative and agility-based ways, rather than just standing still, taking aim, and dishing out firepower, as I could in many of the other early boss fights.

Given how much skill and knowledge I’ve gained through playing the game, it would be appealing to run through the game a second time to see how much better I can do certain encounters. Most of the difficult spots in the game, I had to learn by playing through them multiple times, failing, trying again, and getting a little better each time, and now that I’ve done that, it seems like I could probably get through them much more readily than on my first run. And this seems like a fun, enjoyable thing to want to do again. So I think that the game has repeatability.

There’s also the fact that I’ve only managed to get a 68% completion so far — there’s a lot of secrets still to be unlocked, and I’m not sure I even know how to tackle them all. Some, the solution may be more or less obvious, just difficult to pull off. Others might require some study to puzzle out the deep mechanics that I’m supposed to understand and be able to use in order to navigate the obstacle keeping me from the secret.

The game also, obviously, offers a lot of replayability for speed runners and sequence breaking. I think it’s a great game and maybe the best 2D Metroid game yet.

One thing that is interesting to note about this Metroid game is that it seems that Samus has become a bit like Mega Man, in that she acquires abilities by defeating bosses who had them. It’s a bit more subtle in this game, but if you look closely, most of the bosses employ a power like the one you get from defeating them. From the EMMI, you obtain ice missiles and wave beam, and those EMMI can freeze you and shoot at you ignoring walls. And so on with most (if not all?) of the other bosses, as well. Even Corpius has a stealth cloak ability that you seem to extract from its corpse as it disintegrates after you defeat it.

Metroid: Dread diary 24

Raven Beak, round two.

On the first encounter with Raven Beak, I got good enough to beat his first form reliably, often with full health and full ammo. But the second form would take me down quickly.

This time, I focus on how to dodge his attacks. Mostly, Raven Beak stays in the air, and sweeps the room with a stream of laser machinegun fire. He sweeps a full 360° arc, and the only way to avoid it seems to be to jump over him using the Space Jump. My problem with this is that ever since I got the Screw Attack, my Space Jump timing seems to be screwed up, and I can’t always reliably chain together jumps in mid-air. So sometimes I end up jumping into Raven Beak when i’m trying to get over him, and this does me damage, disrupts my evasion of the machine gun fire, which does even more damage, and generally messes up my day.

His other attacks aren’t that difficult to avoid. Keep moving, and dash rapidly when he looks like he’s about to rush me, and the only time he really has a chance of hitting me with these attacks is when he’s low to the ground such that my only effective move is to slide or morph ball, which I never do because I’m never thinking of making those moves, and am not prepared.

He also has a super laser charged shot, which I can mostly avoid, just a last second dash after he freezes his aim, and I can avoid it.

While I’m dodging these attacks, it’s important to keep up the offense, and I manage to get good at painting him with the targeting laser in order to hit him with swarms of Storm Missiles every chance I can get. I get good enough at this that every time he’s attacking me, I’m winding up my next volley, and I can ever launch counter attacks at him while he’s got me on the run from that machinegun, or just after he misses with his rush attacks.

I try and try, maybe a dozen fights, and each time I get a little deeper into it. Finally, I manage to blast his wing off, bringing him back to the ground. It takes a lot of damage to bring him down.

Chillingly, Raven Beak looks at his other wing, and then tears it off to continue the fight. Like… that was a part of him, wasn’t it? Holy shit.

This enters a third phase of the boss fight, which I was not expecting. But his attacks in this phase are basically like the first, with the exception of a new attack, which consists of a giant golden-orange orb that shoots fire arcs out in a 360° spread. These are hard to avoid, and while it’s going he continues attacking with his other attack modes. I find that a super bomb will blow up this orb, and more importantly, it drops some missiles and life energy, which I badly need by this point.

I get to the point where I have to do another scripted melee counter, and mistakenly think that this signals that the combat is at an end, and I have won. Wrong! I fail to counter, he hits me, and takes me down. Fuck.

I almost did it, I can do it. I’ve gotten so much better with only a few hours of work.

Another hour and a half, and I manage to defeat the third form. The melee attack comes and I don’t miss the cue this time. The action goes back into cutscene, and Raven Beak monologues that I was a fool for thinking I could ever win. He has me in a strangle hold, and I’m helpless. I try to break free but this is apparently scripted and there’s nothing for me to do but watch. Raven Beak declares that he intends to clone my DNA and doesn’t need me anymore, and prepares to snuff me out, when I rally at the last second and use my Metroid power drain ability to suck the life out of him. Somehow this causes the entire orbital station we’re fighting in to crash.

We both survive impact with the planet, and my suit is again transformed, somehow looking more… Metroid-like? It looks like we’re about to show down for the final time, when an X-parasite suddenly appears, infects Raven Beak, and transforms him into a giant monster. Is this scripted? What am I supposed to do? Charge shot? Too late, I miss my chance and he eats me.

The end.

This is too much. I’m annoyed that the game doesn’t tell me when I have control and need to do something and when I should just watch. Because of this, I’ve ruined my finest performance on the final boss fight, cheaply. I’m pissed.

I almost quit playing.

I decide to give it another shot. I’ve beaten the final boss, I can do it as many times as I want to.

I start again.

The game does not force me to re-fight the Raven Beak boss fight. Instead, I’m right back on the planet just after the crash landing.

This time I know what to do.

I shoot it in the face while it slowly creeps up on me, in a callback to the EMMI fights where I hit it with the Omega Beam. This time I’m shooting what looks like Raven Beak’s super laser. I guess I absorbed the power from him when I broke free of his choke hold.

The giant X-beast finally dies after a sustained barrage. I’m ale to absorb the X-parasite that emerges from it.

Suddenly, there’s a countdown timer and it seems that the planet is getting ready to explode. What caused that? I have no idea, and no time to figure it out. I have to find a way out.

I try scanning, I try shine spark jumping. But the way out of the area is to Space Jump out. Somehow or other we ended up in a deep hole with a ceiling, did we punch through the surface with our impact and fall into a cave or something?

I don’t know. I just start running. It’s hard to find the path, there are walls everywhere, and no obvious direction to take. I just start firing, and wow, that hyper beam shot really destroys everything in its path. It destroys life forms, it destroys walls, it destroys any kind of block you can destroy. It shines a path, it shows me the way.

I run and run, I barely make it to the ship with seconds to spare.

I’m about to take off when the voice of ADAM warns me against touching the control panel in my current state, as I’ll just drain the ship of its energy.

I turn around and see a Chozo standing behind me. It’s Quiet Robe?! He turns into an X-parasite, which merges with me, and my suit transforms again. I look… more normal, now. Does this mean that Quiet Robe somehow fixed my DNA, turning me back into a normal human again?

Clear time 15:05:48. 68% complete. I finish the game with 1099 max health, 195 max missiles, and 5 power bombs.

As the credits roll, I note that apart from a few Japanese names, almost all the names in the production team are Hispanic. I don’t know anything about the studio that Nintendo worked with on the project, so I look them up: MercurySteam, out of Spain. They did an outstanding job producing this game. The design of the levels especially is fantastic, and the boss fights are top notch. They really understood what makes a 2D Metroid adventure great, and executed brilliantly.

Hard Mode unlocked.


Metroid: Dread diary 23

They pretty much get down to it in Itorash. I bomb through a dead end and find an elevator that takes me to the final boss fight.

Big Spoiler: at the top of the elevator, we cutscene into a final(?) comms session with ADAM. ADAM reveals that my Metroid DNA’s activation has triggered a metamorphosis, that I have become a Metroid. I’m now a danger to the Galaxy, but ADAM assures me that I can still bring peace to the Galaxy if I do the right thing and follow his instructions. ADAM lets slip in mentioning “our first encounter” a bit too much information, and I deduce that “ADAM” is not what he seems to be. It turns out that ADAM is really Raven Beak. This whole time, I’ve been tested to see if I’m worthy, and these tests have triggered the activation of my Metroid DNA, transforming me into what Raven Beak wanted — the ultimate weapon.

I blast the communications console, destroying it, and Raven Beak is revealed to be literally behind it.

We fight.

This is a tough boss fight. Raven Beak uses attacks that fill almost the entire screen with a red laser energy. The only safe spot is to get very close, but this puts you at risk of his melee strikes, which are lightning quick, have considerable range, and are thrown at you in volleys of three or four strikes. You can Flash Shift away from these, and if you’ve got enough distance to get a high enough jump you may be able to get over and onto the other side of him — otherwise, he’ll pin you in the corner and hit you hard several times. I’ve tried sliding under and it doesn’t seem to work, but it may be that there’s a very tight window where it will. I can’t be entirely sure. During one of his red laser attacks, you can duck under a massive blast, and if you do so you’re rewarded with an opportunity to get into a melee counter that triggers a sequence where you can pound away at him with your weapons for a few seconds.

Another of Raven Beak’s attacks is a sphere of black energy that slowly homes in on you. You can shoot it down but it takes a full volley of Storm Missiles to do it. If you can’t knock it out before it hits you, it hits you for a lot of damage, but if you manage to disrupt it you can get some missiles and life energy back. But Raven Beak will usually follow up very quickly with a melee rush.

If you can survive long enough, and do enough damage, Raven Beak will beckon for you to come close, another melee counter opportunity, and this time you have to successfully nail two counters, and then you can deal even more damage.

If you do this, it’s still not over. Raven Beak’s wings break free of his armor, and he starts flying above you, shooting at you with the same accuracy as the Golden Chozo soldier with his black energy vomit attack. He has the aerial advantage, and if you jump you’re usually setting yourself up to get hit and knocked out of the sky.

This is as far as I get after fighting him a dozen, perhaps 20 times. Each time I’m getting a little more dialed in on my tactics, my timing, my observation of his patterns. Sometimes I just screw up and get destroyed, other times I last longer. I’ve gotten to his winged flight once, but that was the last time I fought him before taking a break, so it seems like I’m doing a little better each time.

Despite how fast he is and how much damage he can take, I think I can get him if I keep trying.

I keep trying, and I can reliably get through his first phase, but when he breaks his armor and the wings come out, there’s no stopping him. His attacks can’t be avoided, and I can’t deal enough damage on him fast enough. He has a laser machine gun strafe, a charged laser shot, dive attacks, and swoop attacks, and they’re pretty much all impossible to dodge. I hit him a few times with ice missiles, but I can’t get enough time to charge up a Storm Missile volley. I have it in mind to try a power bomb, just on the off chance that it might knock him out of the sky, but I haven’t been able to get one off. When I finally do, it doesn’t do anything special, hopefully some heavy damage but it doesn’t knock his wings off or anything.

The worst thing about it is, to get up to him, I’ve gotten so good that when I beat his first form, I’m still at full health, full missiles, or very close to it. So he’s taking me down quickly from full health, because I can’t dodge his attacks.

Worst of all my right shoulder button on my joycons seem to be intermittently failing to register that I’m pressing it, which prevents me from charging up my Storm Missiles, and I end up shooting a lot of unguided regular ice missiles, one at a time, which is a poor way to deal damage. I might have to dock the Switch and go at it again with the Pro Controller. Up until now, I’ve completed the whole game in handheld mode, with the handicap of having to use the joycons, which just are not as good as they ought to be for the main controllers that come with the Switch.

My battery’s low, and my hands are cramping, so it’s time to take a rest.

Metroid: Dread diary 22

Now that I’ve rid Ferenia of the EMMI threat, I feel like I can go anywhere without fear, and can explore this zone fully. I find a number of secrets, including a few partial E-Tanks, and some Missile Container+, but most of them are very difficult to get to, if I can even figure out how to get to them at all. I do manage to get to a few Missile Containers and I think two of the E-Tank parts, but a lot of these are beyond my skill level, or even my comprehension. Some of them require split second timing with multiple abilities in order to navigate some obstacle. They are almost fiendish in their construction. This is a good challenge for high skilled players, with some nice rewards. But I can’t figure out half of them. The ones I can figure out, I still have to try many times before I manage to get it. It’s tough to drop a bomb while in freefall to destroy a block, then fall through a pitfall block and have to try to get back up to where you fell from so you can try to fall again before the block you destroyed on the first pass regenerates. It requires almost perfect execution, so very difficult indeed.

A few of the Ferenia secrets appear to require Super Bombs, which I don’t have yet.

After getting what I can, I decide the remaining challenges here are too much for me, and decide to head back. I take the elevator back to Hanubia, and wasn’t sure what I’d be able to do here. On my first visit, this area seemed mostly closed off to me, but it seems to have opened up somewhat. Due to my practice with uncovering the more difficult secrets in Ferenia, I find a new way forward, using my Cross Bombs and the Wave Beam. Finding a passageway to the right, I move forward, walking into a cutscene wherein I encounter some sort of science lab full of biological specimens in jars. One of the creatures in a jar is alive and breaks out to attack me, but I fight it off with a melee counter, and notice that my left hand does something strange, glowing purple with some weird energy. Next I come into another room, and then encounter an EMMI, this one orange. It’s a cutscene, and I don’t realize it at first because when an EMMI captures you it looks like a cutscene. I try to fight it off, and then to my surprise my left hand grabs its spike, and I’m fighting the thing. A brief struggle, and I seem to short the thing out and it dies. Again my odd power emanating from my left hand seems to be responsible.

After destroying this EMMI with my armored bare hands, I’m attacked by a Chozo solidier robot, armed with shield and spear. I manage to take him out on the second attempt — on the first run I get hit too many times because the Screw Attack seems to make triggering multiple Space Jumps a little less reliable, resulting in me failing to dodge too many of his attacks. The second fight, I almost die, too, but manage to pull out a victory with just 10 units of life energy remaining. I hit the finishing melee counter grab on the first try and for killing him it gives me so much health back that I’m suddenly back up around 700 again. The defeated EMMI’s wrecked body is still here, and I take from it the Power Bomb ability.

I next come to a communications room and ADAM briefs me, saying that my powers are now complete, and that my newfound ability to absorb energy must mean that my Metroid DNA has fully awakened. Now I am capable of taking on Raven Beak and prevailing.

The Power Bombs unlocks the rest of the map, and I’m able to continue exploring Hanubia.

I probe a bit and find some more places where I can break through walls and continue making my way in a “forward” direction, mostly going up and to the right. I come to another cinematic boss fight with a Chozo soldier in gold armor. This one is tougher than the last one, and it takes me a good dozen tries before I can manage to beat it. It just does a massive amount of damage when it hits, and I can only screw up maybe 5 times. It seems like each time it touches me, I lose two Energy Tanks worth of life energy. It’s a bit faster, but it’s initial attack modes are all familiar and easily dealt with: jump, flash shift, storm missiles to the back before it can bring its shield around, repeat. After I destroy its shield, is when things get more difficult. The thing has the same black vomit attack as the previous X-infested Chozo robot soldiers did, but this one is super accurate with its aim, rather than aiming at the same spot on the floor each time, it aims right at me and I have to move very quickly to get out of the path of its beam. I’m unlucky about half of the time, if not more so, and each time it hits it does so much damage I can afford to maybe take 4-5 hits before I drop.

I just concentrate and practice and learn the pattern and get good. Eventually, I get it into the melee finisher, and in this one I just grab it by the head with my glove hand and drain its energy away. So at the end of the fight, I’m still at full health, and full ammo.

The next thing I come to is a transportation pod that offers to take me to Itorash. Hanubia is on the surface, Itorash is up in the sky. It looks then like I’m about to take it to Raven Beak’s doorstep.

It’s on.

Metroid: Dread diary 21

Artaria is still as easy as ever, no real threats of any kind as I traverse the map at will, barely pausing to kill enemies who happen to get in my way. I find a number of Missile Containers, and perhaps another Energy Tank. It’s getting hard to remember all the details, as I’ve mostly been revisiting old areas and it’s gotten hard to remember what I got before, and what I just unlocked. I scour the map, looking for places I haven’t been able to go to before, and I find a Power Up Ball that is in a corner of the map that I haven’t been able to get to before. I head that way, and it takes a while, it’s clear on the other side of the map. Along the way, I find as many secrets and previously inaccessible power ups that I couldn’t retrieve earlier. By the time I’m done, I’m about 89% complete. I make it to the area where the Item Ball is, and figure out how to get to it. It’s tricky, but I know most of the tricks by now.

The item is the Screw Attack, which enables me to break Screw Attack Blocks, and enables me to damage enemies with spin jumps, including electrified enemies. So that should come in handy sometimes.

There’s a transport pad nearby, which goes to Burenia. I figure there’s not much more that I could hope to find in Ataria, and make the trip.

Upon arrival, I find a Communications room, and get a new message from ADAM. He tells me that since I’ve restored heat to ZDR and obtained the Screw Attack, I can now get to many places I couldn’t reach before, but that I’m still not powerful enough to face Raven Beak yet. There’s not much more power that I can get, according to the status screen in the pause menu which tells me most of my item slots are filled. Still, ADAM does tell me that I stand a slim chance of victory, which I think is more than he had given me previously.

I explore Burenia, and find a tall chimney behind a ceiling made of Screw Attack blocks, and at the top of this, I encounter another twin Chozo Soldier room. I defeat them on the first attempt. The same tactics I devised for the first twin Chozos work against these two: constantly run in a circle around the arena, use Flash Shift to jump over them when surrounded, turn and fire volleys of Storm Missiles at every opportunity. When one goes down, the next one is soon to go as well. I’m proud of myself for successfully handling a boss fight on the first try. I think it’s the first time I’ve done so.

ADAM didn’t really say what my next goal should be, so I guess for now I will continue to explore and try to pick up as many additional Missile Containers as I can find, and try to find all the Energy Tanks I can. And I still haven’t found the Super Bombs, which is the last thing I think there is for me to find to round out my arsenal. I note there are a number of orange blocks that I’m sure must be Super Bomb blocks in this zone, so I hope I can find the Bombs here, and soon.

The next thing of note that I encounter as I explore Burenia looking for things is a Green Transport Pad to take me to Ghavoran, so I mark it on the map, figuring that’s likely where I’m meant to go next, but before I do I want to take a tour around Burenia and see what more items I can find.

I find a Missile Container, and then two or three more, but no Super Bomb power-up ball. I also find another secret, a transport pad that will take me to Ferenia, hidden behind a Storm Missile block.

I take the transport pad to Ghavoran, hoping that this will be the right path to take me to the next piece of the puzzle that will lead me closer to the end of the game.

Immediately upon arrival in Ghavoran, I’m puzzled by two Missile Containers that I can’t seem to get to. One is behind a row of pitfall blocks that I can’t traverse, and the other is behind a Storm Missile block that doesn’t appear to have any target points. I try a few things, but nothing helps me, so I give up and move on, exploring as I go. There’s a lot of Screw Attack blocks that I can bust through, opening new areas of the map to me. I find a number of Missile Containers, and a partial Energy Tank. I now have something like 183 missiles and 1099 maximum health. I explore and quickly come to a “monster door” that, as I’ve come to recognize, heralds an upcoming boss fight.

I go through the door and see a ball-height tunnel, so I slide through it, and end up getting dropped into a boss fight. It’s the most deceptive fight yet. At first, it’s just an ordinary-looking monster, a giant armored crab. I take it down easily with a couple of missiles, and it releases an X-Parasite. But instead of being able to pick it up for health, it turns into another, larger crab monster. This one looks serious and I can tell that this must be the boss fight that the “monster door” warned me about. I take this second crab creature down pretty quickly as well. It’s tougher, and immune to frontal attacks, but when it rears up I can hit it with Storm Missiles, and then I can Space Jump over it and attack it from behind. It doesn’t take too many attacks like this before it’s defeated. Then, the X-Parasite that releases from its body morphs into yet another giant crab monster. This one is huge and nearly as tall as the room. I can’t seem to get over it with the Space Jump, and it pounds me into pulp in short order.

I try several times to defeat it, but it’s too tough. I notice it seems to release a flashing ball that homes on me and does a ton of damage. It feels unfair. I can’t stop it, can’t avoid it, can’t destroy it. It’s like a free attack that does automatic damage to me every second until I die. The best I can seem to do is try to run from it, but there’s not enough room, and while I’m running I can’t get attacks in on the crab. The glowing ball thing still hits me, just maybe half as much as it did when I stood still.

Jumping over the creature just isn’t working, so I try a different tactic, and try to slide under it. I haven’t used slide moves on a boss since Corpius back in Artaria, the very first non-EMMI boss fight I had. The slide move works, and I find that as I’m sliding under, I can still get off a volley of Storm Missiles, at point blank range, and it seems like this is an effective tactic. Once on the back side of the crab beast, I can Flash Shift to get more distance, then whip around and launch a series of missile attacks, hitting it in the vulnerable spot on the rear. Two or three repetitions of this, and it is done. The fourth form of this boss is a giant X-Parasite blob, which I hit with more missiles and quickly take it down.

It drops a power-up for me, which is a new ability called the “Cross Bomb”. I don’t know if this ability is in any other Metroid games, as I haven’t played them all, but it’s new to me. Cross Bombs are like regular morph ball bombs, only they explode in a wide, linear horizontal row of explosions, which can take out a row of Bomb Blocks, or I guess hit enemies from a bit of a ranged distance.

I try to get out of there, and find that I am stuck because the only way out requires traversal of pitfall blocks, and there’s no way to do that. But that can’t be, there’s no way the level designers would do that to me! Turns out, I’m right — they trapped me here with pitfall blocks in order to force me to learn that the Cross Bomb can blow you over a short series of pitfall blocks. Now I know how to handle those spots! I can now collect a few more power-ups that I couldn’t before and probably access a few other areas that were previously unreachable, although I can’t think of any offhand.

Right near by is a new shuttle platform, that takes me to a new world I haven’t been to before: Hanubia. I decide to explore Ghavoran more before I do that, though. I retrieve one of the Missile Containers near the transport pad I entered from, and then discover that the Ghavoran map is bisected by one-ways and walled off areas that I can’t get to from this place, but could only get to if I looped around and came back in through a different entrance. So I guess Hanubia is my next stop, then.

Hanubia turns out to be the surface of ZDR. I’m only here briefly. There’s a communications room, where I get a briefing from ADAM. ADAM tells me that we’ll need to destroy the planet in order to contain and eliminate the X-Parasites, but that Raven Beak won’t just let me do that, and needs to be dealt with. I still don’t have much of a chance against him, according to ADAM, but it must be done.

I try to find my way around Hanubia, but the only way I am able to find takes me directly to a transport platform to take me to Ferenia. So I take it.

There’s still an active EMMI in Ferenia that I haven’t dealt with yet, and I’m immediately put into an EMMI zone where I need to get through while avoiding detection or being caught. It’s the unexplored area that I was trying to get through before, where the ice cold temperatures and the water made it impossible for me to get through. This time, I can do it. I see a save room to the right of this area, and run that way, and once I get to safety, I save my game. Only then do I consult the map to see the route that I should have taken: up and to the right, in the uncharted direction, toward the Control Room where I’ll be able to obtain the Omega cannon again. It takes me a few tries, but with the stealth cloak, gravity suit, and space jump, I’m able to get through the area quickly, even with the EMMI chasing me.

I get into the Control Room and have no problem whatsoever in destroying the Robot Eye. I get the Omega Cannon, and now I just have to find a good spot to ambush the EMMI.

This EMMI is purple, and it launches a circular ring of purple energy which ignores walls and stuns me if it hits. I’m going to need to dodge this attack if I’m going to have any hope of dealing enough damage with the Omega stream to blast the face plate off. This will be tricky, but if I can find the ideal spot in the room to hit the EMMI, I’ll have a chance.

This time the game throws me a curveball, though, and I’m forced to improvise. Rather than going back the way I came into familiar territory, this time I emerge from the Control Room to find that my way is blocked by another door. It seems I have to blast this door with the Omega charge shot, but when I do this, instead of opening the door, it activates an elevator platform, which takes me down. There’s a tunnel to my right, which I have to use, and then it shoots me into a room I’ve never been in before, with the EMMI right behind me. This room is an obstacle course, with blocks that I have to destroy with the Charge Beam, and bombs, and then I have to use Flash Shift to get through two consecutive sensor gates, only to reach a dead end where there’s a Spider Magnet panel on the ceiling that I can use to ride over the EMMI to get around it, but if I screw that up, I’m caught.

This obstacle course puts me into a panic, since I don’t know where I’m going or what to do, and I’m just a few steps behind the EMMI, creeping up on me slowly. My first run through, I barely keep ahead of the EMMI, and end up looping around and try to set up a shot, but I end up getting caught instead. I fail the next two attempts, as well, but on the fourth try I manage to do what is needed. It’s just a matter of knowing what to expect, and being able to deal with each obstacle quickly. I manage to stay well ahead of the EMMI, and get to the end of the long corridor at the end, with plenty of time to turn around and have my shot lined up perfectly. I blast its face off from far enough away that I’m able to charge up the finishing cannon blast without having to use the ceiling rail, which is probably good because after you blow the EMMI’s face shield off, it tends to stand upright rather than crawl low to the ground toward you. I nail it, and it goes down.

The power I gain from defeating this one is the Wave Beam, which has the power to ignore walls. I should have known, based on this EMMI’s attack, that I would gain such a power. I know there’s a few more destructible walls that I’m going to be able to finally open now with this new ability.

I’m eager to complete the game, but I’ve been playing for hours at this point, and I am tired, and the battery is down on the Switch, so I decide to take a break here, just as soon as I get to the nearest save point.