Reviewed: December 10, 2004
Released: November 15, 2004
Metroid Prime 2: Echoes starts out with the unsinkable Samus Aran heading to the planet Aether, on the edge of Federation space, in order to investigate the disappearance of a troop of space marines and rescue them, if help is needed. As she enters Aether's volatile atmosphere, her ship's systems are disabled by an electric storm and she has to make landfall a ways from her intended target, the space marines' base. As her ship sets about repairing itself, she begins a trek across Aether to reach the marines' base and find out what happened to them.
During her journey, she runs into a surprising being - what is apparently a "dark" version of herself, complete with her own genetic material and Varia Suit, albeit somewhat altered. Curious, she follows Dark Samus through a portal into a nightmare world, where she is set upon by a horde of pitch-black insectoid aliens with glowing eyes and barely manages to escape with her life. Her suit isn't as lucky though; the horde has stripped most of its abilities. For the first time, Samus is truly stranded, on an alien planet, with most of her suit upgrades gone. From here on out, the main story begins. Tell me that ain't cool.
From there on out, our heroine finishes her trek to the space marines' camp, contacts the native sentient species, the Luminoth, and is quickly swept up in a quest to reunite the world she is in, Light Aether, with its shadowy sister world, Dark Aether, the result of a jarring collision of the planet with a strange asteroid. She will travel between both worlds by unlocking portals, searching for her missing suit upgrades as well as trying to help the Luminoth reunite their planet and put an end to the menace of Dark Aether once and for all.
If anything, Echoes has more story to it than any Metroid game to date. The sheer number of story events, the massive number of text files to be scanned and read and a larger cast of sentient characters than in previous titles add up to make Echoes feel like a great storytelling experience, rather than just a great game. Those of you who didn't care for all the scanning and reading of ancient texts utilized in the first Metroid Prime will also be happy to note that most uploadable text is now automatically stored inside Samus's suit, without having to read through it first. The game just tells you when you've finished scanning a data entry, and then you can read it at your leisure by pushing Start and finding the correct submenu.
The interface of Echoes is about as close to perfect as anything I've yet seen. Those of you who read our Metroid Prime review know that one of the things that made that game so great was a unified sense of style, the successful application of a complete science-fiction universe to a video game. In other words, everything fit. This time around, even the menu screens fall into line, using a 360-degree rotatable menu interface. It's hard to describe and takes a couple of minutes to get used to, but it's definitely worth the cool factor.
The rest of the interface is more or less identical to the first Metroid Prime, as is the control scheme. I'm personally glad they kept the system from that game instead of switching to a dual analog style. I have no love for DA - it's shaky and inaccurate, even when well implemented. Echoes is about playing the game, not just mastering the controls, and the shoulder button/analog setup facilitates that for those of us not weaned on FPS and mecha games our entire lives.
At any rate, the identical controls present both a good and a bad point for Echoes. On one hand, there isn't much in the way of new moves or techniques for veteran players to master. Gone is the sense of curiosity we felt the first time we saw a Spider Ball track or a Grapple Beam point.
On the other hand, it makes the game easier to get acquainted with for those same players than if everything had been switched around. This is a good thing because Echoes is tougher than Metroid Prime - much tougher. Make no mistake, you will get more than one Game Over before you've conquered this challenge.
Enemies are all turbocharged in comparison to the last game, except for a few unimportant things (Shriekbats are still around, and so on). The first Space Pirates you run into - yep, they're still screwing around with Metroids - are as tough as the mid-level pirates from Prime, and quickly graduate to the highest-level Elites and flying troops. But they pale in comparison to the Ing, a wildly varied race of dark beings that are wreaking havoc on Aether by invading through portals from its sinister twin, Dark Aether. Most of the Ing, even the little teeny cute ones, are extremely tough, vicious and aggressive. Their only tactical weakness is that they tend to fight by a pattern. Unlock that pattern, and the fight becomes a bit less dangerous.
Most of the bosses are also Ing, in a way. In one of the coolest twists on boss battles... well, ever, all of Samus's stolen tools have been absorbed by various Ing, who are more than happy to use them against her. In Light Aether, the Ing will possess the body of a normal, already somewhat dangerous life form, as a means of remaining there longer. It imbues the form with not only increased strength and resiliency, but the abilities of whatever tool it had absorbed, as well. Who knew Space Jump Boots could be so dangerous? All of the bosses are ingenious in design and implementation, fusing the heroine's own abilities with the powers of previously encountered enemies, who then proceed to show you why you want the power-up they've got by beating the crap out of her.
Samus's Power Beam does negligible damage to most of the Ing, especially bosses. To defeat one normal Ing the size of her foot will take upwards of two-dozen blasts. That's where the series' new ammunition system comes in. Echoes introduces three new types of ammunition, all of which revolve around the concept of limited ammunition - a first for beam weapons. The two basic types are Light and Dark ammo (the third I'll keep a surprise). Early on in the game, Samus acquires these weapons by fusing their Luminoth technology (the "good" race who live on Light Aether) to her suit. They are both much more powerful than the Power Beam, and can be used in a number of different and innovative ways, including the opening of portals between Dark and Light Aether.
The catch here is that Samus can only hold a limited amount of each type of ammo. The limit starts at 50 and works its way up in increments of 50 as she discovers ammo upgrades (and you'll definitely want to be looking for these). Regular crates and enemies never drop either kind of ammo, except when killed by the opposite type.
This "pulley" system is ingenious. When exploring the treacherous toxic wasteland of Dark Aether, Samus takes damage constantly unless she is inside a force bubble generated by a light crystal, set in place by the Luminoth during a failed invasion of the world. However, the force bubble isn't strong enough to hurt most Ing who touch it, or even keep some of them out. Blasting the crystal with the Light beam will change that for a little while. However, the Ing themselves are extremely vulnerable to Light ammo, meaning that it might be a better idea to take a risk and not power it up. And the only way to get more Light ammo is by killing an enemy with Dark ammo, which is nigh impossible given the location.
It sounds clunky at first, but the ammo system is actually very easy to utilize, and the depth of strategy it offers sneaks up on you during play, rather than slapping you in the face. It's another example of why Nintendo lets Retro Studios make these games for them.
The world switching is another new aspect of play. Before, players were treated to five or six game "worlds," each with a different motif and puzzles to complete; the new system creates two copies of each different world, nearly identical but often with critical differences. Initially, I thought this sounded like a cop-out. However, Echoes still has all five expansive and unique worlds, just the same as any of the other games in the series. The Light/Dark Aether switching just adds even more ground to it. It's practically as big a game as Metroid Prime was, land mass wise, even without any Dark World interaction.
The bottom line is that the switching feature adds a lot more playable area to the game, and some of the best and most challenging puzzles I've ever seen in any FPS/FPA game to date. The "same but different" idea fits nicely with the whole feeling of the Metroid series, the feeling of being able to see where you have to (or want to) go, but not being sure whether you can get there yet. Everything stays engaging and fresh this way, and it's just as satisfying to complete a task that involves weaving in-between both worlds as any of the missions from the last game.
In addition to the main single-player mode, up to four people can now sit down together and frag each other in a split-screen deathmatch. This is a very welcome addition to the game. The levels and power-up placements are implemented perfectly, and the action is intense and fun. Unfortunately, in this day and age, such a feature only serves to remind me how much cooler it would be to do this online. Of course, Echoes has no online support. But since it's basically a first-party Nintendo title, I think the blame falls squarely on the Big N for not supporting broadband gaming in the first place. It's not fair to dock a game for something that basically no GameCube games have, so I'll just leave it at this: multiplayer Echoes is so fun that it becomes a painful reminder of why it sometimes sucks to be a Nintendo fan. Hurry up and get with the program, Nintendo.
Metroid Prime 2: Echoes has the same style and sensibilities that made the first Metroid Prime a hit, along with the same control scheme and fine-tuned gameplay. In many ways, I believe Echoes is even more of a crowning achievement than the first, thanks to tougher challenges, subtler puzzles and stronger, cooler bosses. There is nothing wrong with this game whatsoever, except for two things.
One: if you've never played the original, Echoes will take some getting used to. Ridiculous complaints about the fact that the GameCube controller is not, in fact, a keyboard aside (I've actually heard this passed off as a legitimate complaint about the first Metroid Prime), this game is nonetheless difficult to master. Having played through most of Metroid Prime will help greatly. It is obvious that Retro had sequel players in mind when they designed this game, which is great. And half an hour fiddling around with the scheme should familiarize most well enough that they can play decently well until they really get the hang of it. It just doesn't have the sweet difficulty curve of the last game. Be warned.
Two: It's just not all that innovative. Even with a new story, new items and a new world to explore, Echoes still feels and plays like a sequel to Prime. That's what it is, of course, and I wouldn't have it any other way. But an identical control scheme, recurring enemy design and a lot of similar stylistic elements mean that Echoes just can't score a perfect ten in gameplay, because it just isn't revolutionary the way the first game was.
First off, the design of the game worlds at first glance seems very similar to, though a bit less dramatic than, Metroid Prime's (really, how do you top Phendrana Drifts for atmosphere, though?). However, after a while I began to notice just how much had changed in the details. Aether really looks like it could exist somewhere in the universe, and wherever that somewhere might be, it's definitely not Tallon IV.
The things that bring the planet to life are just as wonderful, but actually very different. Clouds of insects flit all over the place. Some of them are attracted to Samus's Morph Ball form and flock around it, which is enchanting. The addition of cliff vistas to many more places really helps to give a sense of the size and natural beauty of the planet, and also provide a bit of a hazard - Samus will walk right over the edge if you make her (it's not a game over, just a bit of health lost). The plants vary more widely than before, and all are interesting and seem well-fit to their environments. Tumbles of rocks, even, seem more natural somehow.
Enemy design is once again a high point, with old and new enemies making appearances at every stage of the game. Some, like Space Pirates and their cuddly little pet Metroids, have just been reconceived and only look slightly different than last time, usually to sinister effect.
The new enemies, including a few Aether-native animals and most of the nefarious Ing, have all been thoughtfully designed and not only look great by themselves, but seem like natural fits for the worlds they hail from. It's hard to imagine anything else living where a particular enemy lives. The point at which that can be said about a game is the point at which the game's character designers could have done no better.
The cutscenes are again rendered in-game, and once again that's nothing to complain about. The quality of the effects has been upgraded as well, so that the shiny metal of Samus's suit, the fog on her visor, and the sun and rain in the sky are all gorgeous and so convincing, you don't realize you're being convinced.
Again, if you've played Metroid Prime, you'll basically know what to expect. Everything is more polished, natural and detailed this time around, though. It's not the kind of jump seen in-between, say, Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance and MK: Deception. It's subtle. And for a series that's all about its own universe on its own terms, that's just how it should be.
I can't get over the soundtrack to this game! It sounds like the same composer who worked on Prime (I hesitantly say Koji Kondo, but I may be wrong). I'll admit that this time, the sound leans even more towards ambient than before, which makes the music perhaps not quite as memorable. However, that hardly means it's anything short of magnificent. In particular, I felt that Echoes actually has a better title screen theme than Prime did. That's definitely a bold statement, but I stand by it. Echoes has music on par with the best on the market today.
The ultra-cool sound effects from the last game make an encore performance, with great results. There are some new effects, too, but what makes Echoes' sound package so great isn't the individual components so much as it is the way in which they create a whole. The feel of the game is expressed so much through sound, and yet it's easy to forget about it, because everything just fits so well. It truly is a feat.
The only really awkward thing in the game, sound-wise, is the voice acting. Perhaps as a reaction to popular demand, or perhaps just because they wanted to, Retro has added some sparse voice acting into Echoes. Mostly, the only voice you'll hear is the Varia Suit's computer saying, "recording to log book." There's also some minimal voice acting during a cutscene or two (though as usual, Samus never utters more than a grunt herself), and some cool voice-like noises (probably voices backwards) that are used a la The Wind Waker to introduce the speech text of an NPC and give the player an idea of what it sounds like when talking.
All of the voice acting is excellent. It's just that now that there's some, I would have liked to see more. I felt that it was somewhat poorly implemented in that there are certain scenes that had me expecting full-on dialog, which ended up not having any, and vice-versa. There aren't a whole lot of opportunities for voice work anyway. I wish that Retro had just gone for broke with it. It could have added a lot more life to the NPCs and the game in general.
Despite what some people might be crowing about, this is arguably the longest Metroid adventure to date. The use of the Light/Dark Aether gimmick has been implemented so well that the extra play time it offers is no less entertaining than if it weren't there. Of course, a great story, the drool-worthy sound and visuals and the fact that Echoes is easily five times as challenging as its predecessor only add to the game's value.
There are hundreds of items and creatures to scan and log and nearly as many objects to collect during your adventure. Depending on how diligent (or obsessive) you are in your observations and acquisitions there are some really cool secrets to unlock including an alternate outfit for Samus.
Probably the single best feature of the game, value-wise, is the multiplayer mode. It just never gets old. It's fairly basic as these things go, but it's still an irresistible opportunity, and the game's tight, smart controls mean that everything else fades into the background while you play. You aren't distracted by not being able to do what the other guy is doing, or worried about your ammunition level (usually). It's a grand hunt, and it adds a lot of replay value to a game that hardly needed it to get a good value score in the first place.
The only real consideration is whether or not you liked the first Metroid Prime. If so, don't waste any time picking Echoes up. If you've never played either game, Echoes is harder to just pick up and run with than Prime was, but it still doesn't take long to get into it (and it has a great story), so I recommend either game equally. However, if for some reason you were underwhelmed by the first game, or if you are looking for a very different experience this time around, the best thing to do is rent it and see for yourself. But whatever you choose to do, don't let Echoes slide by you without at least playing it once.
Echoes is the old, and the new. It is good, in some ways better than Metroid Prime and in some ways not quite at the older game's level. It has tougher gameplay, a compelling story and the coolest boss concepts in the series' history. And hey, it has Space Pirates, too! The only thing better than pirates is space pirates, right?
Metroid Prime 2: Echoes is in every way as great an achievement as its predecessor. It's gorgeous, it plays wonderfully and it creates a game world as convincing as the one we live in. Its only failing is that it's hard to top perfection, and so it ends up basically being the same game at its core, just on a different planet with a bigger challenge.
Personally, I can't get enough Metroid, and I know there are many out there who agree wholeheartedly with me. Whatever your sentiment, though, the game is definitely worth at least one good play-through. Echoes will most likely go down as one of the great classic games for the Nintendo GameCube, and that's how it should be.