" In 2002, then-unknown developer, Retro Studios, completed the first 3D Metroid game, Metroid Prime. Despite rampant skepticism on the part of critics and series fans alike, Retro succeeded in delivering what was heralded by many as one of the finest entries in the Metroid series and one of the best games of all time. Prime was certainly a tough act to follow, but Retro’s sequel, Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, makes it clear that the quality of the first game was n..."
In 2002, then-unknown developer, Retro Studios, completed the first 3D Metroid game, Metroid Prime. Despite rampant skepticism on the part of critics and series fans alike, Retro succeeded in delivering what was heralded by many as one of the finest entries in the Metroid series and one of the best games of all time. Prime was certainly a tough act to follow, but Retro’s sequel, Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, makes it clear that the quality of the first game was no accident.
Metroid Prime 2 is set mere months after the events of the first game and finds the series’ hero, Samus Aran, crash landing (what a surprise) on a new planet. This new world is called Aether, and is caught up in a war between two species: the peaceful Luminoth, and the evil Ing. The Ing plan to take over the planet forcibly by consuming Aether in darkness, forcing Samus to aid the Luminoth and prevent Dark Aether from destroying Light Aether. Admittedly, Metroid’s stories have never been a big focus, and that certainly hasn’t changed here. While there’s a somewhat in-depth tale told through the logs you uncover by scanning artifacts (as was the case in the last Prime), the plot isn’t earth-shattering, though it is serviceable. In the event you haven’t played the first game, the plot is nowhere near significant enough to be considered a barrier to your enjoyment.
Metroid Prime 2 plays it safe and lifts most of its gameplay mechanics directly from the original Prime. If you missed that game, the important thing to know is that Prime is a first-person adventure. While it may look like a straightforward shooter, it’s actually focused on exploration and platforming while the shooting plays a far less prominent role. The core gameplay hasn’t changed at all in this sequel, so if you weren’t a fan of the original, this won’t appeal to you, either. If you were a fan, though, you’ll love this game for the same reasons you enjoyed the first. The game still puts a large emphasis on scanning objects with your scan visor, both to uncover information about the surrounding area and to activate switches. This is also relatively unchanged, though there’s a variety of colors used now that indicate what type of object you are scanning. Scanning the environment is optional, for the most part, but it’s surprisingly addictive to attempt to scan as many of the world’s objects as possible. Nearly all of the power-ups from the first game return, but Samus also has a few new tricks up her sleeve as she obtains light and dark weapons and an echo visor that allows her to see sound waves. The new weapons become invaluable because using the opposite beam on an inhabitant of the light or dark world will deal a significant amount of damage. The drawback is that, like with missiles, Samus has a limited ammunition supply for these beams that must be replenished from time to time. While it’s nice that the developers wanted to add this strategic touch, it’s somewhat annoying that the ammunition for these beams is as limited as it is. You’ll likely feel as though you’re forced to save your ammo for those few situations where you absolutely require light or dark beams. Every weapon apart from the initial charge beam requires light or dark ammo to use, and the game really would have benefited from providing another powerful weapon that doesn’t require ammo. While the new weapons are the most drastic alteration to Samus' equipment, there are still a few other upgrades to be uncovered, such as the screw attack, and they all feel like well-implemented additions to the gameplay.
The most obvious addition to Metroid Prime 2 is the inclusion of light and dark variants of the world. Dark Aether is, as would seem obvious, a very dark, shadowy reflection of Light Aether, filled with more powerful and bizarre enemies. This world is so sinister, the atmosphere itself causes damage to Samus, so you’ll initially be forced to seek refuge in domes of light scattered throughout Dark Aether to stop taking damage. It’s an interesting idea and one that really ratchets up the tension while you’re exploring the darker side of the planet.
The core gameplay is generally as good as what Prime offered – even better in spots. Combat still consists of locking onto enemies and firing away with a barrage of beam weapons or missiles, and your survival is still dependent on your ability to dodge enemies’ return fire effectively. Combat feels intense and is very polished, making enemy encounters enjoyable rather than a chore. The game is expertly paced, and you always feel like you’re gaining upgrades and gaining access to new areas at a sufficiently brisk rate. The boss encounters are particularly noteworthy – they’re spectacular. The monstrosities that Samus tackles are truly creative and always engaging to battle. The fights are far more memorable than the first game’s and are definitely one of the game’s main attractions. The only potential turn-off is the game’s somewhat unreasonable difficulty level. The game has some very difficult bosses and almost requires you to have some experience with the series to succeed from the get-go. These challenges are far from impossible, but this is a very difficult adventure if you’re a newcomer. Still, the considerable difficulty will be an invitation to some, especially series veterans. Difficulty aside, Metroid Prime 2’s gameplay is very well-executed and often feels even more polished than the first game’s fare.
Unfortunately, all is not quite well in Aether. The most significant issue plaguing Samus' adventuer is the environments that simply pale in comparison to what the original Prime offered. The overworld and Agon Wastes, for example, are difficult to distinguish from one another because they are so similar, and neither one is particularly interesting. While the areas you’ll explore later in the game do become far more inspired, they still don’t feel as well thought-out as the areas the last game presented. What’s more, the light and dark variations of Aether are nearly identical, and considering how much of the game is composed of traveling between the light and dark worlds, the game feels like it has a real lack of variety. It doesn’t help that so much of the game consists of backtracking, because traveling through the same areas in light and dark repeatedly can feel somewhat repetitive at times. The other niggling issue is the somewhat lengthy fetch quest taking place towards the end of the game. This is a simple quest to recover some relics, much like what was in the original Prime, but it’s not very interesting and feels like a poor attempt to make the game longer. These issues are disappointing given how strong Prime 2 is in every other aspect of the gameplay, but luckily, they do little to mar the game overall.
Graphically, Metroid Prime 2 is a beautiful game, though it doesn’t look significantly different from the series’ first entry. Considering how pretty that game was, though, it’s not much of a disappointment. From a technical standpoint, everything is detailed and sharp, and the game runs at a smooth 60 frames per second. What’s truly astounding, though, is the artistic style applied to every facet of the game. The layout and design of Aether’s areas are very meticulous and you never get the impression that you’re running through a series of copied and pasted corridors. The distinct architecture of the areas makes the world feel truly alien, and helps to make the environments stand out a bit more. When Samus enters the dark variation of Aether, the artistry becomes particularly impressive. The world is covered by dark shades of purple and the enemies are given some very creative designs that look significantly different from anything in Light Aether. As in the last game, the subtle details add a lot to the game’s visual appeal. Everything from Samus’ visor to the ominous animation of Dark Aether’s inhabitants really gives the game that extra layer of visual polish. The graphics are crafted with such care and attention to detail that Prime 2 stands out as one of the most impressive looking titles to grace the Gamecube.
The sound design is similarly excellent. Sound effects are what you’d expect for the most part – they’re all spot-on and never sound out of place. What’s truly noteworthy is the fantastic musical score. The songs are all very enjoyable to listen to and fit the area they are played in perfectly. The music goes a long way in setting the mood and making areas that much more interesting to traverse. Like in the first game, there are a number of remixed songs from past Metroid games, which longtime fans will appreciate. The audio is universally superb and really enhances the game rather than feeling like an afterthought.
Metroid Prime 2 is an extremely well-constructed adventure that is a perfectly capable sequel to the original Prime. While the somewhat dull environments and a couple other issues keep it from realizing the glory of the original game, they don't stop Prime 2 from offering gameplay that feels polished and more fleshed-out than before. The game will last a long time, too – around 20 hours on the first playthrough. After that, there’s a hard mode to take on and unlockable art galleries for devoted players who scan enough of the objects in the game. Fans of the original Prime shouldn’t miss this excellent game, and anybody looking for one of the Gamecube’s most refined adventures will absolutely find it in Metroid Prime 2.
Community review by Daisuke02 (September 10, 2007)
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