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Nintendo announced Metroid Dread during its E3 presentation this week, and we’ve already seen a fair amount of gameplay. The trailer that aired during the Direct showed off quite a few environments, animations, and enemies featured in the new game, and a play session during Nintendo Tree House Live that aired after the showcase gave us an extended look at an early part of the game. We saw tons of new and returning abilities in the game, but in more than 30 minutes of gameplay, we saw exactly one second of morph ball action. As excited as I am for the first mainline Metroid game in 19 years, I’m having a hard time accepting that Samus may have outgrown the morph ball.
The studio behind Metroid Dread, MercurySteam, took its first stab at the series in 2017 with the 3DS Metroid 2 remake called Samus Returns. Samus Returns took huge strides to modernize the series and make the action more fluid with the inclusion of features like manual aiming and melee counters. These abilities allowed Samus to move quickly through the environment and take out any threats she might encounter with efficiency. MecurySteam is taking these improvements even further with new abilities in Metroid Dread like the dash counter, which allows Samus to melee counter without stopping, and the slide, which allows her to sneak past enemies and enter small corridors that previously would have only been accessible with the morph ball.
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In the Tree House Live footage, we can see that the slide is doing a lot of the work that the morph ball would have done in previous entries. Samus moves faster when sliding than she does in the morph ball, and it doesn"t require multiple button inputs to first crouch down then to enter morph ball form. We saw Samus sliding under gaps to move between rooms, but we also saw her sliding down long ramps in small corridors rather than transforming into the morph ball to traverse them. It really helps Samus maintain her momentum and it seems like a good fit for the faster pace of the game, but it also means that her signature morph ball has a lot less utility than it once did.
But that isn’t the only way the morph ball is getting marginalized. We also saw other abilities that used to belong to the morph ball now being repurposed by other tools. One example is a tool called the Spider Magnet, which allows Samus to cling onto walls and ceilings to traverse gaps and reach higher ground. This ability replaces the Spider Ball, an ability first introduced in Metroid 2 that allows Samus to essentially do the same thing, but in morph ball form. Once again, it helps speed up the pace of the game by allowing the player to scale walls without first having to switch to ball form. With all of these mobility improvements, I’m starting to wonder what the point is of having the morph ball at all.
There’s a handful of other morph ball upgrades that might make their way into Metroid Dread. There’s the bomb and the power bomb of course, as well as the spring that allows Samus to jump while in ball form, the boost that gives her super speed, and damage dealing hyper ball from Metroid Prime 3. But when the morph ball becomes a non-essential part of Samus’s kit, it seems that these upgrades will be less like important tools for environmental puzzle-solving and more like one-off keys that open very specific locks.
The morph ball is Samus’s most iconic ability, yet Metroid Dread makes it look like an outdated piece of tech. It’s good to see the series evolving, and the mobility-focused approach seems like a good direction to take. I don’t necessarily think that the morph ball is core to Samus’ or Metroid’s identity, but it’s still pretty weird to see Samus sliding feet first through an air vent rather than shrinking down into a little ball to roll through it.
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