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Samus Aran takes aim at an EMMI in Metroid Dread Image: Nintendo / MercurySteam

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Metroid co-creator on why Metroid Dread is all about scary robots

‘It’s really about Samus encountering fear, but she actually stands against that fear and fights it and beats it’

Maddy Myers has run Polygon’s games section since 2020 as deputy editor. She has worked in games journalism since 2007, at Kotaku, The Mary Sue, and the Boston Phoenix.

Metroid Dread, the upcoming 2D platformer for Nintendo Switch, will be stressful to play. Its heroine, Samus Aran, will explore an alien planet and collect her usual arsenal of power armor upgrades, but she’ll have little recourse against the game’s new powerful enemies: super-intelligent robots called EMMI that pursue her with deadly determination.

This new threat comes from the mind of Yoshio Sakamoto, who has directed and produced multiple Metroid games. He first had the idea for Metroid Dread’s enemy design 15 years ago, and now, working with Metroid: Samus Returns developer MercurySteam, it’s become a spine-tingling reality.

As for what inspired Dread’s robot enemies, Sakamoto told reporters on a Zoom call through a translator this week, “That would be Metroid Fusion, and that would be the SA-X gameplay. [...] The whole entire concept hasn’t changed over these 15 years. Really, it was that Samus, this powerful warrior, would be confronted with some overwhelming enemy that would chase her. That was the idea.”

The 2002 Game Boy Advance game Metroid Fusion was the most recent 2D Metroid game with an original story, and it’s also the game that immediately precedes Dread in terms of chronology. SA-X is the main antagonist of that game; it’s an X parasite that imitates Samus and uses her own abilities against her. It pursues her relentlessly, but unlike the EMMI in Dread, it was relatively simple to hide from SA-X in Fusion. Metroid Dread’s EMMI look significantly more difficult to avoid.

One of the EMMI pins Samus Aran down in Metroid Dread Image: Nintendo / MercurySteam

As for the prior technical limitations that limited the creation of Metroid Dread, Sakamoto briefly elaborated on that: “15 years ago, I suppose that was around the time that the Nintendo DS was around. Just speaking in terms of the specs that I had in mind, it was a bit difficult to realize that concept with that hardware. And now, where we are today, the Nintendo Switch is our current system. The specs are what they are, and also the system for development that we have in place is also a bit better.”

The other differentiating factor for Sakamoto was the talent of the team at MercurySteam. “Actually, with Samus Returns — you know that we met with MercurySteam Entertainment to make that game,” said Sakamoto. “And the reason that I actually met with them was in the hopes that they’d be able to realize the concepts that I had for Metroid Dread, and with their ability and their technical knowhow that they’d be able to make what was once a concept an actual reality.”

The results, said Sakomoto, have been a success beyond his own expectations. “As far as my excitement around Metroid Dread is concerned, it has to do with the EMMI gameplay,” Sakamoto said. “It is really better than I imagined those 15 years ago when I had the idea for this, and seeing that realized made me really, really satisfied.”

“With regards to the design or the creation of the EMMI itself,” he continued, “I wanted to create something that was unsettling for players and also would communicate this kind of unfeelingness that is inherent in something that’s robotic, and also the fact that its existence is purely just to chase after and catch Samus as well.”

Samus runs from an E.M.M.I. in Metroid Dread Image: Nintendo / MercurySteam

Because it’s been so long since there’s been a new Metroid game, Sakamoto expects that this will be the first installment for many players. He assured reporters that the game would summarize any relevant backstory, and also expressed hope that people would feel excited about its twist on the old Metroid formula: “Maybe this sense of fear, as I talked about before, younger gamers who have not experienced the series before may look at that fear-based gameplay and want to give it a shot.”

Despite the game’s title and its focus on “fear-based gameplay,” Sakamoto clarified that “this isn’t a game that is part of the horror genre, although it may have seemed that way. It’s really about Samus encountering fear, but she actually stands against that fear and fights it and beats it. And that part of it is important.”

In other words, even if the player feels stressed out, Samus will be shaking off those jitters and getting down to business. “Samus is a professional warrior,” Sakamoto emphasized. “She’s the consummate professional warrior. That’s how she’s being presented in this game.” Those qualities have allowed Samus to endure as a popular character for so many years, he believes. “People enjoy becoming this warrior called Samus — experiencing her adventures, becoming her, thinking the way that she does, as well as feeling her humanity through all those things.”

Samus Aran in Metroid Dread Image: Nintendo / MercurySteam

Although Sakamoto would not reveal any specifics about the game’s plot, he did say that “story is very important in this game,” and that Metroid Dread would make use of occasional cutscenes in a manner similar to Samus Returns, “to maintain a sense of tension and also expressiveness.”

In the promotion for this game, Sakamoto had stated that Metroid Dread would be the conclusion to the story of Samus and the Metroids. When asked for clarification about this, he explained, “The Metroid story until this point has dealt with Samus’ strange fate that’s been intertwined around this being called the Metroid. And until now, that has been the focus of the series. But what this game represents is a bit of a pause, or kind of a new start to something else.

“Nobody wants the Metroid series to end, and we know that. We ourselves don’t want that either,” he continued. “But we just want people to know that there is some kind of new episode that is waiting in the works, and we want you to look forward with what we do with that next — but there are no specifics now.”

Metroid Dread will be released on Oct. 8 for Nintendo Switch.