Genre: First-Person Shooter / Adventure
Reviewer: Jayson Napolitano
Overall: 9 = Must Buy
(Originally published on January 28, 2005)
Following the critical acclaim and moderate commercial success of Metroid Prime, Retro Studios, with the guidance of Nintendo, set out to formulate a sequel that could engage new audiences without alienating long-time fans. While I question some of the additions in Echoes (most notably the multiplayer mode), I believe that the improved single-player experience is more than enough to satisfy new players and returning fans alike.
The first few hours of the game may leave series fans cringing, as the story unfolds in horror-game fashion, complete with undead federation soldiers and suspenseful music. Samus is sent to lend a hand to federation troops who have followed space pirates to the mostly unexplored planet of Aether. Upon her arrival, she encounters an electrical storm that sends her crashing to the planet’s surface. Here the adventure begins. The rooftop door slides open as our hero ascends into view, and then performs an impressive flip from the top of the ship down onto the surface of the planet. As it turns out, the federation hunters have become the hunted and mysterious dark creatures have already massacred their entire unit before Samus’ landing.
Upon her arrival, Samus has all the upgraded gear that she had at the end of the original Prime. Unfortunately, the sudden and wholly unexpected loss of equipment is explained in a most unsatisfactory way: apparently, the baddies on the planet steal Samus’s gear during a scuffle early on in the game. That aside, it’s worth noting that Aether has been split between two dimensions: one light and one dark. The two worlds are at war with one another for dominance, and Samus, of course, is caught in the middle. The Luminoth, an ancient species not too unlike the Chozo, inhabit Aether, while the Ing live on Dark Aether. Samus are asked by the Luminoth to help them in their war against the Ing. Samus explores three majors regions of planet (along with Dark Aether counterparts) to restore the glory that was once Aether.
The first thing Prime players will notice is the vastly improved scan visor. Unscanned objects appear blue while vital objects, such as elevator controls or doors, appear in red, and scanned items appear green. This undoubtedly makes it much easier to tell if objects need attending to nor not. Also immediately noticeable is the improvement in the visuals: lush ambient environs unfold, with motile plant life and foreign technology strewn across the path; birds fly overhead; bubbles sneak up from the water; and sand slowly trickles down the walls in certain areas. Rooms are often vast and open, but still full. Rarely is the realism of the detailed surroundings suspended, save for when new gear appears as an S emblem rather than the actual gear, which was seen in the original Prime.
Playing much like its predecessor, the feel and control scheme are both similar to the original and just as intuitive. Players will enjoy rolling around and sticking to walls with the morph ball and spider ball, respectively, and due to popular demand there are more instances where both are required. The Help feature built into the game proves to be both a drawback and a boon because, needed or not, pop-ups telling players to “Press Z” appear and stay on screen until the player does so. Also, when I got my hands on new gear, I’d often backtrack in order to access areas which were previously blocked off, and I would still get the pop-up even though I already knew where I was headed next. The feature, however, did much to redeem itself by coming in handy quite a few times. Aside from being repeatedly knocked off a few ledges and spider ball tracks, the game plays smoothly and without annoyance for the majority of the 25-hour journey.
Retro also went about enemy encounters differently this around. Instead of small creatures littered about the landscape, each screen has a few larger enemies that deliver a massive punch. Some of the baddies can rip through a couple energy tanks in just a few moments. Many of the enemies are light/dark counterparts, leaving little in the way of variation, but still proving to be more interesting than the different-colored pirates encountered in the original Prime. My personal favorites were Reznits, which players encounter in the Sanctuary Fortress. Reznits perform an attack which crashes Samus’s suit, turning the screen gray and causing it to “lag.” By pressing L, R, and B, the player will be able to reboot the computer system and regain control of the suit. I found myself waiting for Reznits to perform this attack more than once just to gleefully reboot my system and see all the flashy text appear on screen about my gear being enabled once again. Boss battles are much easier in Echoes, but they are definitely more creative and epic. Many bosses force players to make use of several visors and suit modifications (such as the spider ball and the boost ball) to succeed in combat. Don’t worry; you will not have a repeat of the difficult battle at the end of the first Metroid Prime.
Speaking of gear, Echoes provides many series essentials along with some new goodies to add to Samus’s arsenal. A key addition, present in pre-Gamecube Metroid games but absent from the original Prime, is the Screw Attack. In Echoes, this attack is a combination of the space jump and screw attack from earlier games in the series. It allows players to do successive jumps in midair, while damaging any enemies in Samus’s path. I have some complaints about the other gear, however: particularly, the two visors acquired on Aether are not very impressive. The dark visor, although useful, does not make much sense as far as sci-fi gadgets go. The IR and X-ray visors from the original Prime made sense, even if they were ugly. The final visor appears to have been added in at the last minute. It is only necessary in a few instances, and it’s as ugly as the X-ray visor from the original Prime. Players also obtain a dark beam and a light beam, which oddly reminded me of Ikaruga. Kill monsters with the dark beam to get light ammo, and kill with the light beam to get dark ammo. Dark Aether creatures are weak to the light beam, naturally. The final weapon, however, didn’t really do it for me, as it also seemed to have been thrown in last minute, simply to give players another weapon to use. Power bombs return, along with super missiles, and both are required to access certain areas. Another new piece of gear is the seeker launcher, something that feels much like playing Panzer Dragoon. Players can now hold the missile button and lock on to up to five targets, then release to blast five missiles out of Samus’ cannon. I have no complaints about the suits in Echoes, as all three look fantastic and even have their specific benefits.
The music, written once again by series veteran Kenji Yamamoto, has also been greatly improved. Most of the exploration music is ambient with electronic accents. A thin, lonely synth cuts into the ambiance of Torvus Bog, with playful pitch-bends and a catchy melody, similar to the title music. There are also a few arranged tracks from Super Metroid to be found in Echoes, which are quite delightful and made more so by nostalgia, if you’ve got it. The boss battles are accompanied by hard electronic tracks which should help players of the original Prime to feel right at home. The Sanctuary Fortress has a driving beat under the ambient chords, which sounds natural with the mechanical nature of the area. By this point, the end of the game is quickly approaching, and it feels like the music is driving players across the finish line. The sound effects all seem in their right places: there are booms, bangs, metal clatterings, and many splats. Oftentimes, a creature’s specific sound alerted me to its presence in a room. These sounds effects added to the experience of the game, as I would sometimes flee from rooms and hear a monster behind me giving chase and getting closer as I waited for a door to open.
Echoes provides some nifty bonuses for players, as well. Upon scanning specific percentages of scannable objects, players will unlock photo galleries containing concept art and creature designs. People who received the Metroid Bonus Disc will be familiar with much of the bonus gallery’s content. While it’s relatively easy to scan the majority of the objects during the first run-through, most players will have to play the game twice to scan everything. Multiplayer levels are also unlocked as players progress through the single player mode. Lastly, in keeping Metroid tradition, scan percentage and item percentage will be taken into account to determine how much of Samus is exposed at the end of the game.
As far as the multiplayer is concerned, I left it for last because it is barely worth a mention. Based on the great single-player experience that Echoes provides, you can either hope the multi follows or you can ignore it altogether and be satisfied with what you’ve got. Unfortunately, the level designs are small and uninspired, the weapons don’t do enough damage, and there are too many healing items scattered across the battlefield. Most matches consist of rapidly pressing the fire button, due to it being nearly impossible to hit opponents when they’re in morph ball mode, or running away via boost ball to collect healing items. It’s difficult to give pursuit, and the fact that there are so many healing items results in the opponent having no problem returning with full life. The multiplayer mode is a clear example of why Metroid fans were skeptical of a first-person Metroid in the first place.
Despite a few minor flaws, Metroid Prime 2: Echoes is superior to its already stellar predecessor. Even if the multiplayer doesn’t bring players back for Round Two, the greatly improved single-player experience is worth the money and effort. Echoes had a tough act to follow, but it still manages to improve upon the look, sound, and feel of this highly atmospheric series.