Just a few weeks since launch, and Metroid Dread is still getting a lot of love. It might not be the longest game out there, and some newer gamers might lament the lack of a multiplayer feature. But for fans of classic gaming experiences, Dread illustrates modern retro-inspired titles done right. A key part of this success ties into something many developers underestimate, the controls. Metroid Dread is fast, responsive, it’s accurate, and it’s exactly what the title needed to cement it as what will undoubtedly become a classic.
The Need for Precision
As with any challenging form of competition, there are a few big common mistakes that can ruin play. In something like blackjack, as explained here, this idea could be seen in taking insurance. Anyone who knows blackjack understands that, in the long term, taking insurance is only going to hurt your odds at an enjoyable experience. While there are many examples of similar mistakes made by players in a game like roulette, craps, and baccarat, these issues lie in the hand of the player, and so they can be excused. Poor controls in video games, however, are the result of the developer, which makes them all the more difficult to accept.
Controls in a 2D or 3D space demonstrate the connection between a player and character. Even if the game looks amazing, as in Red Dead Redemption 2, a character that moves slowly can pull the player out of the experience, creating an appreciable disconnect. This issue is only exacerbated when a game prides itself on a challenge, where feeling like you’re plodding through the mud to get anything done is never enjoyable.
Tuning for Performance
Though there are a myriad of subtleties in creating a game that feels great in a players’ hands, the two fundamental factors come down to layout and latency. The controller layout is the simple concept of placing each button function in a place that is both comfortable and makes logical sense. In a game like Metroid Dread, players are going to be hitting many buttons quickly, so any uncomfortable positions could quickly manifest as a repetitive stress injury.
In terms of logical sense, this issue only really persists for a short time when players going between different games might keep hitting the wrong buttons until their muscle memory adjusts. Though developers might be tempted to adopt a radical control scheme to set themselves apart, this is often a case of reinventing the wheel. Dread’s layout makes sense, it’s comfortable, even when mashing Shoot, and our thumbs thank us for it.
Lower latency with controls starts with reducing the disconnect of how involved we feel with a title, but it also aids in raising the skill ceiling. The less lag there is, the faster and more accurately a player can input a series of commands, and given how much a game like Dread pushes the player, low latency is an absolute necessity.
In the rush for spectacle and graphics, too often the gaming industry finds itself focussing on the wrong things. A world is only as good as our ability to interact with it, and this is a reality Metroid Dread understands perfectly. Even in a series often regarded as one of the best in gaming, Dread manages to push the envelope, and give players an experience like few others. After years of the series’ future being in doubt, we can only hope that the world and feel of Dread are a sign of things to come.