Metroid Prime 2: Echoes Review

It might not be the franchise’s best moment, but it certainly is its most elaborate and foreboding instance

echoes1Released three years after Metroid Prime had jolted the franchise back to life by turning a series born in the sidescrolling days into a first-person adventure, Metroid Prime 2: Echoes knows how to play the role of a sequel to a game that was universally regarded as a masterpiece. It offers little to no reinvention; after all, a brand new kind of gameplay that had only been implemented once – to great success – did not call for such extreme measures. Its freshness was still palpable and fans claimed for more. Instead, it opts to apply sensible shifts in theme and gameplay in order to build an adventure that has the same look and feel of its predecessor, but that does enough to find characteristics it can claim for its own.

Echoes’ victory lies in the fact that it does achieve the full construction of its own character. As if knowing that those tackling its quest would come in with a bag full of experience acquired during the course of the original Metroid Prime, it ends up playing as a harder and more demanding version of that game from the very start. Moreover, where its predecessor derived its ominous soul from the franchise’s long-established basic premise that Samus stands alone on a huge hostile and mostly unexplored planet where obscure and dangerous threats are looming, Echoes takes that preexisting sinister vibe and builds on it through touches of death and darkness.

Echoes’ failures, however, lie in the fact that most of its additions do not fully work. Metroid Prime, much like Super Metroid before it, was game design perfection; a title that did almost everything as well as it could have possibly done. Echoes, meanwhile, fumbles some of its good ideas. Although none of those bungles completely undermine it thoroughly, they unquestionably hold it back, which makes it blatantly come off as a step back.

echoes2Samus jumps back into action when the Galactic Federation sends her a report on a squad with which they had lost contact a few days earlier; the group of marines had been stationed on planet Aether. When entering the world’s atmosphere, her ship is heavily damaged by an unusual purple storm, forcing her to crash land it. Upon further investigation, she learns that the soldiers were attacked and brutally murdered by dark creatures that seem to be alien to Aether itself, bearing clear biological and visual distinctions to the planet’s other lifeforms.

Soon, she discovers the reason behind the unusual happening: long before her arrival, Aether was hit by a mysterious meteorite of such power that it ripped the world into two, creating a dark alternative dimension filled with Ing. These creatures soon began invading the original planet through portals, waging war on the Luminoth, the original inhabitants of Aether who had built a relatively advanced civilization, which were driven to near-extinction. Samus’ initially straightforward quest, thereby, quickly grows into an impressive narrative that involves two parallel worlds; a peaceful race in such deep mortal danger that its surviving members are held in stasis, waiting for salvation; the inevitably present Space Pirates; and a dark version of herself that wreaks havoc wherever it goes.

Given it holds a plot of higher complexity than that of Metroid Prime, Echoes features a larger number of cutscenes. However, the approach to storytelling remains minimalistic and proactive: the game only gives players basic intel on what is going on, leaving the extra layers of the story – which are intriguing, intricate, and well-developed – to be unearthed by those willing to use the scanner mode of Samus’ visor. As it had happened on Metroid Prime, that feature – which is one of the game’s very best – lets players tackle the story as they see fit, as it can be used to extract extra information from environmental details, catalog enemies, and glimpse into the data stored in the computers of the Space Pirates, which happen to be the source of most of the plot-relevant tidbits.

echoes4All of that plot setup transforms darkness into Echoes’ core theme. Just like the Ing used portals to travel between Aether and Dark Aether, Samus will be forced to do the same in order to recover her missing pieces of equipment, which will allow her to reach new places, and restore the light energy that was stolen from the Luminoth by the Ing. Consequently, since Metroid Prime was a game that took place in one vast world composed of distinct areas and Echoes does the same but in a planet that has been split into two full versions, it can be stated that Echoes features twice the complexity of that title, which is saying quite a bit about its scope and difficulty.

The environmental puzzles, which involve figuring out how in the world Samus is supposed to get to her current destination, are usually stretched between the two dimensions. Although that scenario does cause some of the level design that Retro Studios pulls off to be utterly impressive – reaching levels of intricacy that few other games have touched on, it also raises a few issues. The backtracking, for instance, is taken to new heights, as Samus is dealing with a map that is twice as big. More backtracking, though, is not inherently bad; the problem is that the portals that link Aether to Dark Aether tend to be one-way links, not allowing the hunter to go back the way she came in and forcing players to make trips that seem unnecessarily long.

Moreover, despite the technical prowesses of Echoes, which looks even better than its already beautiful predecessor – fully taking advantage of the Gamecube’s hardware, and which packs an immerssive soundtrack that is just as good, Dark Aether is visually dull. Aether itself is a beautiful world where unique lifeforms live in varied scenarios that mix alien architecture with organic environments that go from simple beauty to extravagant otherworldliness. Dark Aether, on the other hand, is a huge mass of purple and black, a needless move to produce a sinister atmosphere, since Metroid tends to achieve that on its own thanks to its immerssive ways and its overall feeling of isolation.

echoes3The final issue found in Dark Aether lies in the fact that its atmosphere is so poisonous that, while in there, Samus will constantly – albeit slowly – lose energy. Truthfully, the whole planet is filled with numerous and well-placed safe zones where her energy tanks are refilled, but that whole quirk ends up being a bit annoying, as the game already packs a considerable challenge due to its difficult bosses and mini-bosses – which are perhaps even more spectacular and well-designed than those present in Metroid Prime; its demanding and very engaging puzzles and exploration; its enemy encounters, which require Samus to use her brand new, highly effective but limited Light and Dark beams to dispose of foes according to their nature; and its somewhat scarce save points, whose occasional poor placement can be rather frustrating, as gamers will sometimes be forced to walk a whole lot to get to the place where Samus originally fell.

With all of that in mind, Metroid Prime 2: Echoes is, overall, an ambivalent package. While it is impossible not to rank it among the Gamecube’s best efforts, it is also a title whose problems are bound to turn a few people off. It is the original Metroid Prime with the same solid control scheme, the same overwhelming feeling of immersion and tension, the same non-linear structure of exploration, and the same power-ups (with a few new creative visors added for good measure) and extra collectibles (the always present missile, power bomb, and energy tank expansions). However, it is a title that amplifies its predecessor’s complexity, length, difficulty, storytelling degree, level design goodness, and thematic darkness through measures that sometimes work, but that also fail at certain points.

echoes5Including a multiplayer mode that is a brief fun distraction but falters due to the locking mechanism, which turns it into a mindless affair of shooting and jumping around, Metroid Prime 2: Echoes is certainly not an equal to the series’ original installment. However, it is built on such a spectacular basis and it does so many things well that it is hard not to qualify it as an excellent entry on the Metroid franchise. It might not be the property’s best moment, but it certainly is its most elaborate and foreboding instance.

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About Matt

A Brazilian gamer with a great love for playing Nintendo games, and a hobby of writing about his gaming experiences and thoughts. Even though that is what I mainly do for fun, I also love listening to music (especially rock) and watching movies (especially animations), so also expect a few posts on those matters.
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8 Responses to Metroid Prime 2: Echoes Review

  1. Mr. Panda says:

    Very comprehensive review! I enjoyed reading it, especially since I didn’t really remember Metroid Prime 2 so much. It’s definitely the health-depleting dark world ooze that killed the game for me. I couldn’t explore and just felt stressed trying to rush to safe spots. I really wanted to like this more, but it’s not even close to the original Metroid Prime.

    • Matt says:

      Yeah, the Dark World is a big disappointment, but the Light World is excellent – on the same level as the original – and there are some improvements here and there.

      But the fact the Dark World has a myriad of issues does hold the game back quite a bit.

  2. The game certainly has its flaws, but in fact it’s my favorite in the Prime series. Nice review!

    • Matt says:

      Thanks!

      I can understand that. In terms of challenge, boss design, and puzzle complexity, Echoes stands tall over the others.

      • …and while Dark Aether may not be the most diverse and interesting environment, bright Aether in my opinion offers the most original and atmospheric environments throughout the series. I was overwhelmed by all the small details.
        If the game wasn’t so huge and challenging I’d love to play it again, the Wii version this time.

        • Matt says:

          Yeah, Light Aether is magnificent!

          I have never played the Wii version, so if I were to tackle Echoes again it would be on that console as well.

  3. I have played his game, but I am not as familiar with it as other games in the series. I liked the inclusion of other characters in the game as I felt they drove the plot, such as discovering the fate of soldiers, learning about the Luminoth or following Dark Samus. I liked the use of Dark and Light Aether. I found it interesting to move through dark and light versions of the same rooms and navigating both worlds to progress, although I do agree it the one way portals can be annoying and it does make backtracking more laborious. I also enjoyed the contrast between the light and dark worlds, Light Aether seemed to be colourless and empty (with some interesting designs, particularly the Sanctuary level), while Dark Aether used a vivid colour scheme and was filled with danger. I particularly remember escaping through a portal from a menacing Dark Aether into a calm Light Aether. I did feel that the safe zones in Dark Aether did create an interesting effect. The fact they regenerated Samus’ health in a hostile environment did, at times, make Dark Aether easier to travel through than the safety counterpart. I was interested to find a description of the multiplayer, I played it once, but found the gameplay did not really function well for two players.
    I found the Emperor Ing boss too difficult to complete. Did Samus ever enter the meteorite like in the first game? Does the game ever explain where Dark Samus comes from? I remember once of the most annoying enemies in any game was present in this one. In Torvus Bog, I remember there are these aquatic creatures, which, when Samus enters a room with them, will roar loudly and the player will turn to become faced with rows of teeth swimming towards the screen. I remember they were also almost invincible.

    • Matt says:

      The bosses as a whole are quite hard. This is safely the most challenging Metroid game, unless one counts the design limitations of the original as difficulty. The multiplayer is nothing but a distraction; I admire Retro for giving it a shot, but there was not way it would work with the game’s locking mechanism.

      You made a good point about the safe zones of Dark Aether making it somewhat easier to navigate than Light Aether. Too bad the fact you constantly lose energy out of them is annoying.

      She does not enter the meteorite, but I guess the location in which she finds Dark Samus may be the place where the meteorite originally hit. As for Dark Samus’ origin, that is explained during Metroid Prime’s secret ending; Samus defeats Metroid Prime, it absorbs Samus’ suit and DNA before supposedly dying. It, however, regenerates using those assets and becomes Dark Samus. So Dark Samus is Metroid Prime.

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