Metroid Prime 2: Echoes (GameCube) review
"The rest of the expectedly excellent bosses pose mighty challenges, too, and reside in their usual "OMG why here?" locations to boot. From Chyakka, a possessed moth that periodically dips into the dark world's ubiquitous poisonous fluids for an immense burst of strength, to the Alpha Blogg, an underwater predator that attempts to ram Samus into oblivion, the only thing more imposing than their visages are the actual methods needed to defeat them."
Make no mistake about it, Metroid Echoes is a very by the books sequel. I certainly don't have a problem with that, but if you weren't a fan of the overdue revival Metroid Prime, you'd do well to steer clear of its successor. Superfluous additions like a multiplayer mode affect nothing, and the whole thing still takes place from the love-it or hate-it first person view that obfuscates everyone's favorite metallic orange bounty huntress from sight. But, see, I've never had a problem with sequels like that. As cool as it is when a game like Symphony of the Night comes along and offers up something completely unprecedented, it's also cool when a game like this comes along and simply offers up more of what you loved the first time, a category Echoes most certainly falls into.
As almost every Metroid game before it, it rigidly adheres to a power-up based progression that works very gradually. Got a massive chasm to cross? No worries, just come back once you can cling to the nearby pipes and head on over. Do you just know that there's an expansion for your missile launcher on that ledge in the flooded reactor? Then just give the jump another crack once you get the gravity booster, which works as an underwater jetpack. Having trouble keeping yourself in one piece? You could always head back to an earlier locale and use your new grappling beam to reach a health expansion. Even the scan visor makes its triumphant return, featuring a vastly improved interface with which to gather information about the world around you.
You'll have ample opportunities to utilize your abilities, too, as Echoes' barren and gloomy world is far more challenging than Prime's, even in early areas such as the Torvus Bog. A desolate swamp comprised of interlocking paths, murky ponds, and dozens of rooms that twist and turn not only horizontally but also vertically, it'd be easy to become lost were it not for the excellent 3D map system. What might appear to be the way probably isn't thanks to the loads of red herrings, and treacherous landmarks such as the Space Pirate fortified bridge in the center make it easy to explore for hours while the persistently falling raindrops accumulate on your visor. Oh, and the indigenous beasts are hungry. Echoes has a very palpable sense of danger, far moreso than the one Prime's overly breezy quest conjured up.
And then you hit the dark world.
As you poke your head deep into the nooks and crannies of the ravaged, hostile planet Aether, you'll begin to realize that the opposing forces working behind the scenes are coming from an entirely different dimension, a so-called dark world where even the atmosphere burns through Samus' suit. You'll be exploring it, of course, and it contains a deadlier equivalent for everything that the light world holds... the rooms, the puzzles, the enemies - even Samus herself! Yes, Fusion did it already, but Echoes does it far better. At a few key points in the game, the menacing and powerful Dark Samus rears her ugly head, always showing up to battle you or otherwise impede your progress while never hanging around to the point of becoming gimmicky.
Another welcome surprise is an enhanced focus on the signature yet criminally underused Metroid staple: the morph ball, which does exactly as its name implies and allows Samus to roll up into a little ball. Unlike in Prime, where items such as the rail-clinging spider-ball were put into use only in a few random switches and docile paths, it's used far more often in Echoes. Areas such as the mechanical passageways of the Sanctuary Fortress are filled with morph ball passages containing a gauntlet of challenges, and the local attack drones can only be conquered by rolling through their legs to throw their balance off. Plus, nothing's cooler than clinging to the sides of a cylindrical arena and using the ball's boosting ability to launch yourself from side to side (and through enemy gun turrets), and one boss battle has you doing exactly that.
The rest of the expectedly excellent bosses pose mighty challenges, too, and reside in their usual "OMG why here?" locations to boot. From Chyakka, a possessed moth that periodically dips into the dark world's ubiquitous poisonous fluids for an immense burst of strength, to the Alpha Blogg, an underwater predator that attempts to ram Samus into oblivion, the only thing more imposing than their visages are the actual methods needed to defeat them. The enormous mechanized spider Quadraxis, for instance, needs to have its head detached before you can even dream of scratching him. After pounding its control antennas with enough artillery to do so, you then need to ascend the crumpled yet still massive body via spider-ball, fling yourself onto the flying head, and drop bombs in its face. Just to scratch him.
Unfortunately, not everything is as keenly designed. For one, there are four key fetching quests in the game, except all the keys are all just lying around in arbitrary places as if they were your average missile expansion. It's even more aggravating than it sounds, and comes off simply as an excuse to move the game along without giving you more sweet items. Sadly, an extreme linearity also rears its ugly head; rather than allowing clever players to break the game sequence like all the good Metroids (thus giving it some extended life), Echoes uses a variety of shitassed psychic barriers and event triggered doors to keep you in line.
Equally frustrating is the untapped potential of certain items, such as the dark visor. Imagine an awesome item that allowed you to see through to the opposite world of yours. Imagine the incredible puzzles that those blokes at Retro could come up with if you had such an item. Well, keep on imagining: all the dark visor does is let you see some invisible platforms.
Finally, while it may seem like a moot point to some, the lazy soundtrack will undoubtedly be a crushing blow to those who've enjoyed the moody, laid back scores of Metroids past. Almost every song is an eight note series repeated over and over, and when you're spending as much as two hours at a time in any given area, the repetitive tunes will drone quite a bit. The dark world songs are also ridiculous, taking their light world equivalent and simply muffling them. Super Metroid gave us the ominous, baleful lower Brinstar track Red Soil Swampy, featuring a menacing choir, an irregular tempo, an unsettling mix of piano and some bass thing. Metroid Echoes gives us the first six seconds of the piano part, except synthesized. Brilliant.
Still, the fact that I'm complaining about stuff like the soundtrack or the replayability is a testament to the overall quality of the game. While some of its flaws do take a mild toll, the experience as a whole is still an excellent one. The dark world concept takes the fun thing from Link to the Past and one-ups it, the planet Aether is even more hostile than your stomping grounds from Prime, and the increased morph ball focus is a blast. And hey, it's still possible to fire missiles at flocks of birds in the distant hills and then watch the smoke rise from the tip of your shiny arm cannon. If detail like that isn't the mark of developers who care, what is? Well, there could have been ostriches, but Metroid Echoes still rules.
Staff review by John L (December 31, 2004)
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