Metroid Dread officially debuted on October 8, but somehow, copies snuck out into the wild a few days prior. Despite just coming out, the game is already fully playable in 4K via various PC-based Nintendo Switch emulators, raising a uniquely complicated situation for the Japanese publisher.
The MercurySteam-developed Metroid Dread is the long-awaited 2D return of the Metroid series. You can read our full review here, but the short answer: It’s a solid game with some nice-looking visuals and surprisingly tricky boss fights.
It is also a Switch exclusive, as you might expect. But because of the ready availability of Switch emulators, people are able to play Dread on powerful enough PCs. It’s a pretty unusual situation, especially for a marquee triple-A game with features meant to help promote sales of the latest Switch hardware, the OLED console. And it’s the first real Metroid game Nintendo has released in a good while, to boot.
Two popular Nintendo Switch emulators are at the heart of the matter, both of which offer different settings and customization options. But the biggest changes are visual, with support for higher framerates and resolutions. Given how often rumors of a 4K-capable Switch spread around the web, the appetite for such upgrades has been visible for some time now. Reports indicate, however, that the emulated version of the Switch game has graphical and performance issues.
This raises huge issues for Nintendo, which is in the very unusual position of having a current-generation console that’s able to be emulated on PC. Normally console emulation lags a generation or two behind, meaning the scene rarely infringes on release-day sales.
Complicating matters even further here, emulation and Nintendo have a rocky history. Just this year, Nintendo took a major ROM site to court. Throw in the fact that older games, especially those on Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS, aren’t supported very well by modern Nintendo hardware—and the now-astronomical costs for some retro games—and what you get is a dicey situation. Incidentally, most of the Metroid franchise falls into this wobbling bucket, as some fans have expressed difficulty in playing those games through Nintendo-approved means.
That’s not the case for Dread, an obviously hot commodity that is easily accessible to those who can afford it. In fact, the Switch exclusive is already reaching record sales for the franchise just a week after launch. Even so, Nintendo still has to contend with the unusual fact that some emulation efforts have achieved performance parity with their latest hardware.
Editor’s Note: Per a request by Nintendo, we have updated the article to generally reassert that Kotaku does not promote or encourage piracy. Kotaku declined to enact changes that blurred the line between suggestions and aggressive line edits to preserve editorial independence.
Update: 10/10/2021: 2:20 p.m. : An earlier version of this story was understood by many readers to be a direct suggestion to illegally download this just-released game. We regret this interpretation and apologize, as the original article did not meet our editorial standards.
Kotaku believes emulation is a vital part of the world of gaming, not least when it comes to game preservation. Reporting on a phenomenon is not the same as encouraging anyone to break the law and download games they have not purchased. We believe our readers are intelligent adults capable of making such choices for themselves, independently of us.