Some may consider Metroid Dread the dark horse of The Game Awards this year, but there isn’t a single doubt in my mind that it deserves Game of the Year. It may not have the budget or curb appeal of triple-A platformers like Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, It Takes Two, and Psychonauts 2, and it isn’t a typical gamer-bait, hyper-violent, first-person shooter like Resident Evil Village or Deathloop, but what makes Metroid Dread different is also what makes it so special. While flashy visuals, expensive cinematics, and blockbuster standing allowed the other contenders to charm their way to the top of the list, Dread stands on its own by being an exceptionally polished, well-designed video game. A win for Metroid Dread will be a win for the art of game design. It’s not the most cutting edge, visually stunning, or technically impressive nominee, but strip away the glitz and glamour and there’s no denying that Metroid Dread is the best game on this list.
Dread is a game that both honors its legacy and brings gaming forward through innovation and refinement. It delivers on all of the qualities that the Metroidvania genre is known for, perfects them, and in many ways surpasses everything that came before it. Through meticulously crafted environments and expert level design, Dread captures the thrill of exploration we all discovered the first time we moved Mario to the right and discovered that the world just kept getting bigger. The standard progression loop of item collection that makes Metroidvanias so satisfying to play is made even better by Dread thanks to its exceptional pace and intense boss fights that make every upgrade feel essential and powerful.
Related: Tomb Raider Is Secretly The Best Metroidvania Game
Just moving through ZDR’s underground facility is a delight thanks to Samus’ incredible mobility tools, her momentum, and the precision and accuracy of the platforming. It does everything a great video game needs to do, but better: it’s challenging but fair, it’s constantly rewarding, it feels great to control, and ultimately, it delivers a satisfying experience. It’s not a perfect game – none of the nominees are – but it’s the best game in its genre, not just of the year, but of all time. None of the other nominees can claim that right.
You can’t argue that one game deserves to win without explaining why its competition deserves to lose, and while I think all of the nominees are good, if not great games, there’s some obvious reasons why Metroid is the only one that deserves the top honor.
It Takes Two is remarkable in many ways, but as a co-op only game it isn’t accessible enough to be Game of the Year. The same goes for Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, which is exclusive to a console that most players don’t have access to. If Half-Life: Alyx is too inaccessible to win Game of the Year, then so are It Takes Two and Rift Apart. Deathloop is a lot like Dread in the ways it modernized a niche genre by making it more approachable, but it didn’t succeed in reaching as wide of an audience as Dread has. Deathloop is a wildly ambitious game, but in the ambition it lost some of the core competencies in design that Dread exhibits masterfully.
Psychonauts 2 is a dream come true for fans of the original, but without the lens of nostalgia it’s hard to see what makes Psychonauts so special. It’s a competent platformer with quirky characters and interesting themes, but it doesn’t do anything particularly noteworthy or special. Finally, Resident Evil Village, I’m sorry to say, just isn’t a Game of the Year-quality game. It’s a fun journey through a handful of disconnected set pieces filled with scary monsters, but its lack of cohesion and poor pacing hurts the experience too much to be considered GOTY.
Metroid Dread is a nearly flawless game that will be remembered for the way it made Metroidvanias more approachable and inclusive through innovative level design and unbelievably satisfying progression. It's the best game in the series, the best game in the genre, and easily the best game of the year. Graphics and art direction are important aspects of any game, but it's the mechanics, the level design, and the progression systems that make games fun to play. If you’re assessing what games are in their most pure form, then you have to give it Metroid Dread – the best game of the year.
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