(I started writing this a month or so ago, then decided it was a silly and unnecessary thing to put on the internet. That may still be true, but here it goes anyway.)
The Metroid series has been a favorite of mine, right from the start. Zelda is more grand, Mario more playful, but no other games get me quite so enthralled. It doesn't look like much now, but young-me's heart pounded guiding action such as this:
The games are light on story, not especially large or long, but the series always provided plenty of exploration and experimentation, mixed with challenging fights against crazy space monsters. What's not to love?
There have been some droughts between mainline Metroid games. Not counting spinoffs (including the also-great Prime games) they were released in 1987, 1991, 1994... then 2002... And that was it, apparently. Around 2005, there were rumors of another one, named "Metroid Dread", but it never materialized. Generations of gaming hardware came and went. Then, just months ago, 19 years after the previous Metroid entry, it was finally real.
This world of ours is full of stuff that's not what it used to be. Everything changes, time moves on, but in some primal way, this new game got its hooks in me just as the originals did. The exploration and experimentation were more detailed and smoother than ever. The boss fights were challenging, occasionally bordering on cruel for a now middle-aged fan with middle-aged reflexes. I enjoyed every moment, including the moments I hated. (I doubt any single game has shown me its "Game Over" screen nearly as many times.)
After my initial adventure, and then diving back in to collect everything, I still wasn't ready to stop playing. "Hard mode" became available after finishing once. That just about made me laugh out loud; the last thing any sane person would do is subject themselves to a harder version of the battles I'd just scraped through. Switching gears, the series has always provided little extra bonuses for finishing the entire game quickly, which I never cared about, because I just like to soak everything in. But this time, I felt like yes, I could probably get through in under 8 hours. Just to say I'd done it, and gotten that little bonus. So, I started another playthrough, aiming for efficiency instead of completeness. By the late game, I realized I might just be able to come in under the 4-hour mark, let alone 8. If I managed that, I'd get two little bonuses. ...And so I did. Another full run completed, in well under 4 hours. (The game mercifully did not count all the failed and retried battles.)
And again, somehow, Metroid Dread wasn't done with me. I'd collected every item in the game, several times, and finished it as quickly as it would reward me for. The only rewards left (truly little things, which anybody can find on the internet) were for finishing hard mode at all, finishing it in under 8 hours, and under 4. So, I started the adventure again. On hard mode. Never mind the boss battles, I got killed just walking around. I knew where I had to go and what I had to do, but getting it done was right up against the boundaries of what skill and patience I could muster. As I got closer and closer to the ending sequence, no video game has made me sweat and shake like that since ... Well, since the original Metroid.
I did finish hard mode. In just over 3 hours by in-game reckoning. I'm not sure I even want to know how long it would have been including all the retries. It's been over a week since then, and at last it seems Metroid Dread is a game I could go back to at any time, but I don't feel compelled to revisit again right this minute.
(I decided not to post after writing this far. The internet has plenty of nerds talking about video games. Since then, a couple more things have happened and I've changed my mind again.)
Well, now it's a little bit later still. An update has been released for Metroid Dread, something none of the previous games on their cartridges could have done. Two new difficulty options were added added, "Rookie Mode" for those who find difficult games to be difficult, and also "Dread Mode". There, getting hit by anything - a fast boss attack or a tiny little gnat, means game over. My initial reaction was the same as to Hard mode. Nope! Who would ever do that to themselves?
You know where this is going. Me. I did that to myself. And now, the game does keep track of how long the failed attempts took, and how many times I got killed. (A few minutes shy of twelve hours, and three hundred thirty-eight times, respectively.) There are parts of the game where you are hunted by indestructible robots, and if they catch you, even on the easiest settings, you're done for. That's where the "Dread" in the title comes from. Those sequences were now the most soothing, relaxing areas of the game.
I will say this. The bits where I got stuck dying and trying over again and again for the longest, were also some of my favorite moments in the game. There's a section where everything's catching fire and falling apart. Touch any mere lick of flame and you're dead. (Naturally, your prize for surviving this sequence is the Varia armor, which protects you against heat for the rest of the game.) Soon after that is Kraid, who launches torrents of projectiles at you (just as he did in 1987!). A few late-game bosses are also very enjoyable, even if they did grind my patience into a fine powder, and the final boss fight is one of my favorite video game encounters full-stop. At some point during my 338 game-overs, I learned just enough from my mistakes to not repeat them ... at least not quite as often.
So why post now? The world is still full of nerds talking about stuff that doesn't matter. But the world is also full of scary, awful things. Russia invaded Ukraine the day I completed Dread mode. That final boss who killed me over and over for an hour before I finally prevailed ... was a stand-in for Vlad, and 45, and all the other villains this world has on offer. The sadly-real evil, those who value power or wealth above basic humanity.
There are many, many challenges before each person on this smallish planet. Some of us have the luxury of accepting entirely optional ones, essentially-trivial challenges of muscle memory and minor problem-solving. But! Anything I can do, anybody can do. For every reckless halfwit whose power eclipses his responsibility, there are millions of us regular people. Some of us get to choose our battles, and some don't. But we can all take on much more than seems plausible at first. Everybody can learn from our mistakes, even the embarrassing or crushing or repeated ones. Anybody can get themselves in over their head, and yet prevail. Not for a reward or a prize, but because we feel a connection. Because something inside us says we should try.
I encourage everybody to take on something that feels impossible. Something that draws you in despite seeming insurmountable. Don't worry about where it falls on some ladder of the most important or urgent problems facing the world. There are billions of us. We can tackle many challenges at once. And once you do tackle one, whether you surprise yourself by succeeding or learn why you couldn't, find another challenge, and another. Don't wait 19 years in between.
Nice message. Keep on knocking down those obstacles!
Good message. Rock on.
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