"When Metroid Prime was released in November of 2002, there was no doubt in anyone's mind that a sequel would eventually arrive. The game's huge popularity practically demanded it. But it had been eight years since Super Metroid was released - the last Metroid game released prior to Metroid Prime. Fortunately, it wasn't long before it was announced that a sequel titled Metroid Prime 2: Echoes would be released in November of 2004, roughly two years to the day that we got the original. Everyone wa..."
When Metroid Prime was released in November of 2002, there was no doubt in anyone's mind that a sequel would eventually arrive. The game's huge popularity practically demanded it. But it had been eight years since Super Metroid was released - the last Metroid game released prior to Metroid Prime. Fortunately, it wasn't long before it was announced that a sequel titled Metroid Prime 2: Echoes would be released in November of 2004, roughly two years to the day that we got the original. Everyone was pleased to hear it, but wondered if it could live up to the near-impossible standards set by the original. As it turned out, Echoes did live up to the original, even surpassing it, but there is just something about it which doesn't quite feel the same.
Retro's challenge in the original Metroid Prime was to recreate the old school side scrolling format of the original Metroid in a 3-Dimensional format, which no rational person on the face of the earth is denying they succeeded with considerable success. Almost every one of Samus' abilities reappeared, most functioning in exactly the same way but others changed slightly to accommodate the new environment (most notably in the form of the Spider Ball, which could now only attach to magnetic rails instead of giving Samus free reign of her environment). Doors sealed with color-coded energy locks and blast seals, tiny tunnels accessible only by the Morph Ball, even the rudimentary platforming concepts were adapted from the original and recreated with brilliant execution. The addition of many different visors which changed how Samus perceived her environment in addition to a new First-person perspective and enemy scanning system added new skills to Samus' considerable repertoire.
How could Retro possibly live up to the standard they had set before? Well, the answer at first seems obvious - add a new bag of tricks to compliment her old hat. But then it hits you - if it ain't broke, you shouldn't fix it. And so Retro opted to add just a few new skills and weapons, remove a few others, and change the way many old items and powers are used. They top it all off with absolutely brilliant level design. In fact, add a four letter word in there between “absolutely” and “brilliant” and throw an -ing on the end of it.
When I talk about level design, I'm not referring to the Light World/Dark World concept which has been endlessly duplicated since the Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past was released in the early 90s. Though the treatment of the Light World/Dark World concept is well done in this game, often times tasking Samus with taking a very different route to reach the same room in the Dark World then she would in the Light World, it's not really a new concept that should excite players (unless you're completely new to the concept, which I seriously doubt anyone will be). Instead, it is in the way the environments themselves are crafted that makes for great level design. Mine shafts, Space Pirate bases, an abandoned stronghold ruled by robots, it's all just a wonderful place to be in. Destroying a tower creates a makeshift path for the Morph Ball, which must be carefully navigated. Destroying seals opens more paths below you, but closes those above.
While in the Light World, Samus has free reign to travel where she needs to (for the most part). But the Dark World has a corrosive atmosphere which not even her Power Suit can guard against, and while there Samus is constantly damaged unless she stands in the light of special crystals. This concept seems annoying and pointless at first (and indeed, it is the primary groan of Echoes naysayers), but with a little thought you learn to appreciate it. It just adds to the already deep experience of being trapped, alone on an alien planet surrounded by an enemy nobody has ever seen or knows anything about. Just knowing that the very air around you is toxic, slowly sapping your strength makes each encounter seem all the more deadly.
A few of Samus' old toys from the original Metroid Prime are gone. Her Morph Ball upgrades remain in tact, but two of her visor upgrades (The Thermal and the X-Ray) and all of her Beams (minus the Power Beam) have been replaced. Now we get the Dark Visor, which is essentially the same as the Thermal Visor only it intensifies the “Dark Energy” which makes up the game's main enemy. Also included is the Echo Visor, which lets you see the environment as Sonar and is used to solve many sound based puzzles. These puzzles actually don't have much to do with sound, and are pretty clearly just Point-And-Shoot-The-Button puzzles, but it's a nice twist on the X-Ray visor from the original.
The Wave, Ice and Plasma Beam are gone as well. This was a risky move - The Ice Beam has frequently been cited in Metroid canon (pun unintended) as the most powerful weapon in Samus' armory, thanks mostly to its effectiveness against Metroids (and purists need not worry, Metroids are still in this game, only not the main enemy this time around). Instead, Samus is given the Dark and Light Beams, and later the Annihilator Beam. All three are used to open color coded doors and solve Yin-Yang style puzzles, and are at their core very traditional weapons in comparison to other Metroid beams. But Retro took another risky move, by adding ammo capacities to the game. Samus' beam weapons have never before seen such restrictions, and though the ammo is never very difficult to keep stocked up it is still a strange sight to see in a Metroid game. A new rocket upgrade and the return of the Corkscrew Attack and Wall Jump from Super Metroid round out the list of Samus' new toys.
Though we don't see as many bosses this time around as we did in Metroid Prime, the bosses in Echoes are absolutely brilliant. They are almost (almost, but not quite) to the point of being the best bosses in any game. Period. Almost every boss has many stages you must progress through, each requiring a very different strategy to defeat them. Samus faces everything from a trio of giant sandworms, to a security robot two hundred times her size, to an evil clone of herself created from pure Phazon. In a game as great as this, having a few good bosses would have been the icing on the cake. But these bosses are so awesome they feel like a completely different dessert altogether.
As with Super Metroid and Metroid Prime, Echoes opens with Samus answering a distress call. This time she is following a band of Space Marines who had been sent to investigate reports of a small base of Space Pirates who had appeared on the very edge of Human-controlled space. Contact with the Marines had been lost several days earlier. Samus arrives to find the Marines wiped out, and quickly fingers the blame on a colony of insidious bugs. She is unable to explain why several corpses of the Marines came to life suddenly and attempted to kill her, however.
Exploring the planet more fully, Samus comes across a temple and inside discovers the last of the Luminoth, all the others being dead or cryogenically frozen. The Luminoth, a moth-like race with loose ties to the Chozo (the beetle-like race from Prime and other Metroid titles), are at war with a mysterious menace known as the Ing who first appeared on their planet when it was struck by a 'Great Evil' from the sky.
The Evil split the world into two dimensions, one a light world inhabited by the Luminoth and the other a dark world inhabited by the Ing. Both worlds compete for control of the Planet's life force, and the Ing are winning. If one world gains control of all four sources of the planet's energy, then the other world will be destroyed entirely. Samus arrived just in time to intercept the last attack on the last Energy Controller on the Light World. Impressed by her abilities, the Luminoth enlist her to save their world from the Ing and destroy the Dark World entirely.
Echoes contains a modestly strong story most of which is only found by scanning different places and reading the information downloaded to Samus' database. But while Prime had Samus scanning computers and tablets to reveal the backstory, Echoes takes an entirely more insipid route. Most of what you find comes from the corpses of fallen Marines and Luminoth you come across. The story is very good for those who take the time to find and read it.
The control scheme from Metroid Prime returns here, almost completely unchanged. This was an interesting choice by Retro, since one of the only complaints people had about the original game was its primitive FPS controls. The game really does handle like an old Doom knockoff, requiring the player to come to a complete stop to look around freely, and to lock on to a target to sidestep. As with the original Prime however, all of this is easily overcome with practice and is only a minor gripe in the broad scheme of things. The A Button fires Samus' gun, the B Button jumps, Y fires a missile and X transforms Samus into her trademark morph ball. The D Pad changes visors, the C Stick changes canon types. The Joystick moves, L locks on and R provides manually targeting. Not a perfect control scheme, but not the worst ever seen in an FPS.
The graphics in the original Metroid Prime were among its greatest features (which was saying something). Even today, three years after the fact, they are still quite good. Echoes has basically the same graphics, but they have been touched up to give them a little more shine. In fact, 'More Shiny' is a really good way to describe the difference between Metroid Prime and Echoes' graphics. The Light World appropriately uses many light color palettes, even when you are exploring a destroyed wasteland, while the Dark World uses many blacks, browns and purples. You are never in any doubt about which world you are in. Lastly, Metroid Prime's many ponderous menus have been completely overhauled to make them much easier to navigate quickly. As a side effect, Retro has created one of the coolest menus ever.
You probably won't notice any difference between Echoes and Prime in the sound department. Many of Samus' skills use the same sound effects, which is appropriate since many of them are unchanged. The music is tense and moody, always an underlying score then full-blown in-your-face faire one would normally expect from an Action title (though the game has its share of intense musical themes that compliment boss battles and other, harder encounters). As with the original, each enemy you face has their own unique groans and other noises they utter, never leaving you in any doubt of what foes you will be facing in the room.
When it comes to extras, Echoes once again borrows from its big brother Prime. Finding and scanning everything, destined to become a staple of this franchise and many others, has returned, as has unlocking picture galleries for doing so. Though this time around we don't get connectivity bonuses to the GBA, which got players access to an extra suit model and the original NES game in Prime, in Echoes we do get an absolutely fantastic multiplayer mode.
Though there are not as many maps available as one would like, and no option for a botmatch against CPU controlled opponents, getting together with a few friends creates absolute carnage. Almost all of Samus' toys are available in Multiplayer. Locking onto an enemy allows you to circle them, but rolling into a ball prevents your enemies from locking onto you. The scan visor is even used to hack into your opponent's Power Suit, forcing them to reboot their Power Suits system before they can do anything. The results are obviously hilarious. You can't really know how great it is to blast somebody with a rocket while another person is rolling around dropping bombs everywhere while a fourth is hacking into your own system to wreak havoc until you've experienced it.
Succeeding once again in an area where the original Prime was already more then capable, the game's length is satisfyingly long. The average player can beat it in ten or so hours thanks to an in-game hint system, which literally points you to the right room after a certain amount of time has passed. For the hardcore, this system can be turned off. Prime required a decent amount of backtracking to progress, but the amount of times in Echoes you're sent to an old area and quickly uncover an entirely new wing you had no idea existed is quite frankly astounding. Two difficulty levels are available, and considering the game has its own share of challenges on its 'Normal' setting (Alpha Blogg… shudder…), the Hard difficulty is almost overkill. Almost, but not quite. Thanks to its exquisite gameplay and absolutely brilliant level design, replaying Echoes again never sounds like a bad idea.
Gameplay: 9 out of 10
Story: 4 out of 5
Controls: 7 out of 10
Graphics: 5 out of 5
Sound and Music: 5 out of 5
Extras: 4 out of 5
Game Length, Difficulty and Replay Value: 10 out of 10
Overall Score: 8.8 out of 10
The Good: Updated graphics, giving the game what can only be described as 'More Shine.' Some of the best level design ever puts even the original to shame. The ponderous menus from Prime are gone, and in its place Retro has created one of the coolest and most innovative menus this side of Star Trek.
The Bad: Despite being superior to the original Prime in almost every way, there is just something indescribable about it which doesn't feel as instantly classic. The original Metroid Prime is destined to be a milestone in gaming, while Echoes will only be a footnote on that milestone. Echoes also has the endlessly copied Light World/Dark World concept, which while handled well it still makes Moses come out doing the Macarena with a Dinosaur. Ammunition on the basic weapons, never before seen in a Metroid title, isn't hard to keep stockpiled but is still a hindrance during boss battles.
The Ugly: Multiplayer mode has no optional CPU bots, which in this day and age is practically a standard feature (I'm looking at YOU, Halo). In fact, the lack of a Multiplayer Botmatch cost this game a 9 rating from me. No GCN-GBA connectivity unlocking extra features was sorely missed as well (I had my fingers crossed for a Metroid II: Return of Samus unlockable). In the end, these are only minor gripes. The game's story isn't nearly as strong as the original, but still requires you to find and scan many things to find it.
Metroid Prime 2: Echoes succeeds in almost every way that the original Prime did. Everything about the game is just astounding, and despite a few minor slipups in the handling of the new Beam weapons, the way each area uses old items in new ways is a testament to Retro's great handle on game design. And considering this is only their second title, we can expect great things from Retro in the future. Judging by their first two titles, they could very well become the next Rare.
Community review by mrshotgun (March 15, 2007)
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