I’ve decided I really don’t like Metroid Dread for the same reason I really didn’t like Metroid: Samus Returns. Aspects of the game implemented to solve a prevalent problem make the game not fun. I am, of course, talking about the aiming problem, and the melee counters.
Enemies can attack from every direction. In past games, the resolution was so low, you didn’t have to aim: if the enemy or weak spot was in the same square as the beam shot, it registered as a hit. But now, the resolution is so high, you can’t get away with that.
Aiming in this game is pretty piss-poor. Because there's really only one usable direction input (while there are two on the Switch, you can't use the second and also fire the gun), you have to press a button to enter "aiming mode", then push the analog control stick in the direction you want to aim. Because it's analog, and because its resolution is ridiculous, it's unbelievably difficult to aim precisely.
Retro Studios already solved this problem, and rather eloquently: locking on. By pressing a button, Samus locks on to the enemy. Even in Metroid Prime 3 / Trilogy, where the controller’s movement was incredibly intuitive to aiming, you could lock on. It worked VERY well. But, I guess Nintendo didn’t want to “rely on a crutch”, so they give the player another crutch, and then force you to use it.
The melee counter is actively the only way to defeat MANY enemies, in both games. Yes, you can use charge or missiles, but… not really.
Melee counter incentivizes you to use it in a number of ways: most enemies against which it works can’t be harmed otherwise, or it would take too long. You get significantly more rewards for killing with a melee counter. But why did they incentivize it so hard?
Because it SUCKS.
Holy crap, does melee countering suck. If there were another way to defeat these enemies, literally everyone would use it, even if it meant taking the time to aim (which is SUPER-awkward).
The way the melee counter works is, an enemy will telegraph an attack with a little sparkle, and if you hit the melee button within the correct time frame, you "counter" the attack and auto-aim on the attacking creature, giving you another brief window in which to fire once, instantly killing said creature (the game explains this off as "the creature's guard is down from being surprised by such an attack")—in other words, an even bigger crutch than just giving the player an auto-aim feature. Hell, even Other M had auto-aim, and it's WIDELY panned!
And the timing is TERRIBLE. This is literally, wait for the enemy to flash then hit X, but only in this brief window because otherwise you could either get hurt (regular enemy), get SEVERELY hurt (boss), or be instantly killed (E.M.M.I.). And yes, the E.M.M.I. are one of the enemies susceptible to the melee counter, although in their case, they aren't killed, simply stunned long enough for you to run away. And that's assuming you nail the timing, because that's the tightest timing in the game. You know, something that's introduced to you within the first ten fucking minutes, because it's THAT important of a mechanic.
But, if that’s how they fixed the aiming problem, doesn’t that still have the problem?
It sure does! Which is why fully three fourths of the enemies in both games (Metroid Dread and Metroid: Samus Returns) can only be attacked with this method.
A method they HAD to incentivize, because it fucking sucks.
Who thought this was a good idea?
This is most exemplified in the first boss fight in Metroid Dread, a creature called Corpius. They really should have just called this fight QuickTime Events: The Boss, because that's all it is.
In the first part of this fight, we see the aiming problem presented whole-hog: You need to hit the bastard in the face, which is a ridiculously small portion of its total body. Any hits registering anywhere else on his body, including missiles and charge shots, are absolutely worthless. Hits to his face MUST be missiles or charge shots to do damage. And, of course, he can move his head around, like literally any creature you'd expect to encounter. So, RARELY is the head at a level where you can just hit it. This means you have to actively stop and aim, and if you're out of missiles you have to PRAY you have enough time to charge a shot. There is exactly one good window for this: Corpius attacks by stabbing down with his tail, which predictably gets stuck in the ground. If you're inside the tail's radius, you have a second or two of free-range to aim and fire at his (still constantly-moving) face. If you're outside the range of his tail, tough titties: You can't shoot through or around it, and while you could use the opportunity to charge up a shot to unload once the tail is free, good luck AIMING.
If you do manage to get through Phase 1, Phase 2 introduces a weak spot on the tail. Corpius is then shown to have a sort of cloaking ability (which, naturally, you obtain upon his defeat), but this weak spot glows even in that state. In this case, it's a simple matter of aiming at the weak spot and firing literally anything—this spot is vulnerable to regular, uncharged shots. In spite of the aiming problem, this is hands-down the easiest part of this fight.
Then, we get a third part: The creature knocks some paneling off the wall, revealing a spot to grab that's elevated from the floor. This is important because this is where Corpius begins breathing a toxic gas along the ground, forcing you to seek refuge higher up. Alas, staying here for very long makes you a sitting duck—you can't move, so while aiming is significantly easier, the boss can easily just wail on you. This phase can't really be damaged; you simply shoot it enough to get it to go into its "vulnerable" state, which allows you to slide under the creature and—you may have guessed it—it telegraphs a stab-down of its tail with a sparkle, meaning you have to melee counter. You do this TWICE to finally, FINALLY defeat this singular first boss of the game.
After I finally beat this boss, which took something on the order of ten tries—for the record, I don't suck at video games, and in fact made it through the entirety of Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, a game notorious for its steep learning curve, in a matter of a few hours on my FIRST playthrough—that was kinda the point where I stopped having fun with the game. Because I saw this aiming problem as the crux of the issue I had with it, and realized that the melee counter was Nintendo's rather shitty way of trying to deal with it.
Several months later, I was watching a Let's Play-er play through the game on YouTube, because at that point I'd basically decided I wasn't going to play it long enough to ever see the story myself.
Something incredibly edifying about watching him play it was, he was having a lot of the same issues I did, and identifying them as such. He correctly pointed out that the overabundance of counter-attack opportunities (something else he pointed out as being the case) was likely due to the fact that aiming sucks, especially while you're trying to play an action segment.
He also encountered a problem I had, that I hadn't thought of as a major issue with the game until I saw him run into it: There are many, MANY multiple points in the game where it feels like you might've soft-locked yourself. (Soft-locking is where you have locked yourself into a situation through software; the alternative is hard-locking, where something in hardware goes horribly wrong and the game stops playing. In both cases, you cannot progress.)
The game plays extremely linearly, to a massive fault in terms of a Metroid game, more so even than Metroid Fusion, a game noted for its problematic linearity. However, the game also wants the player to backtrack and re-traverse large swaths of the map, in order to make the game feel less linear. As a result, there are many points where it is extremely non-obvious what the game expects you to do next, and especially if you wind up in a spot where you can't backtrack—EXTREMELY common in this game—it feels like you've made a massive mis-step and are now proper-fucked.
I got into that state in an early part of the game, where it was not at all obvious I was supposed to break some blocks in the ceiling; the room looks like a pickup room, just with the expected item hidden, so while it's absolutely a dead end, it doesn't FEEL like a dead end. Earlier, the game informs you that, if it ever feels like you're stuck, you should try shooting the walls to see if there's some hidden block; unfortunately, this then means that these shootable blocks are incredibly hidden, and not at all obvious. Because the game tries SO HARD to have realistic, immersive settings (which work, and are absolutely stunning as the game progresses), things like breakaway blocks just blend in with the scenery. This is then made actively WORSE by blocks that can be destroyed with Speed Booster, since those are all incredibly obvious.
In the player I was watching's case, he got stuck because a door he was expected to go through, he'd already been through, but at the time he went into it, the room was super-heated and he couldn't progress without taking massive damage. What wasn't obvious was, a room much much later that dissipated that heat, dissipated it from that specific room. So he spent upwards of half an hour scouring the map, looking for the one little spot he must have missed, because otherwise it felt like he'd soft-locked himself.
NO GAME (least of all one based on exploration) SHOULD EVER, EVER EVER EVER, MAKE THE PLAYER FEEL LIKE THEY'VE IRREPARABLY FUCKED UP FROM SIMPLE MOVEMENT. This, right here, is the BANE of Metroid Dread.