By Drew D. / February 2nd, 2017
|Title||Metroid Prime 2: Echoes|
|Original Release Date||Nov 15, 2004|
I can’t imagine Metroid Prime 2: Echoes being anything short of an uphill climb for the devs at Retro Studios. The first Metroid Prime was a phenomenal game and a tremendous achievement by Retro, as they reengineered Metroid to the point that it felt like this was how Metroid had always been. The experience was fun, creative, challenging, yet also incredibly natural in how the game played. So, I’m sure the devs felt an extraordinary level of stress and excitement when the task of creating a sequel to such a fantastic game was presented to them.
Continuing after the events of Metroid Prime, Metroid Prime 2 takes place on a new planet, Aether, which has suffered a similar celestial catastrophe to Tallon IV. A Phazon infused meteor has not only impacted the planet, but has caused a dimensional tear. This has resulted in the presence of a “Dark Aether” and the Ing, which threaten to completely envelope everything on Aether. The Luminoth, a sentient species who call Aether their home, failed to repel the Ing Horde and are on the brink of destruction. Meanwhile, a Federation ship crashes on Aether while chasing Space Pirates. Contact with the ship was lost and the Federation called Samus for help. World-saving badassery ensues.
In terms of story, what makes Metroid Prime 2 stand out is its theme of light versus dark. It starts with the Luminoth (the prefix Lum meaning light) a species with a similar backstory to the Chozo, in that they value both peace and knowledge. Having settled on Aether, they set up a colony and established a symbiosis with the planet. The Ing represent darkness and its permeating spread, as they are able to possess and turn creatures “dark,” adding them to their horde. I thought it was clever that light and dark are not only represented through creature affinities or color pallets, but also through this concept that the light is a symbiosis while the dark is parasitic and corrosive in nature. It’s a simple concept, but one that is told amazingly well throughout, from final log entries by deceased Luminoth to the battles themselves. By not limiting the storytelling to text, the light versus dark concept becomes incredibly impactful to the tale, which I appreciated very much.
Because Metroid Prime 2 was built on the same engine as the first game, with the essentials such as movement, platforming, and interaction fundamentally the same. This is a good thing, since Retro got it perfect the first time, so there was no need to reinvent the principal processes of target lock, switching weapons, switching visors, or using a number of the different abilities together. However, the devs had to introduce enough differentiation to the game for it to stand on its own, while also avoiding any repetitiveness. Changes are always necessary, as it directly affects the story that can be told. Also, a carbon copy of Metroid Prime wouldn’t do because even greatness can become stale. So I can understand the choices made by the devs and why. The question is: did these changes work?
As in all of the Prime games, combat is fundamental to gameplay. Just like Metroid Prime, combat is mostly in first-person, utilizing the features and upgrades to the beam cannon. Perhaps the greatest deviation from the norm are the three new beam weapons. They are the Dark, Light, and Annihilator beams and their use is tied to an ammunition system, meaning their use is limited by the ammo available and the expansions collected. So in the beginning of the game, when you acquire the Dark and Light beams, you are limited to 50 rounds of ammo per beam. Also, the beams have their own individual ammo expansions and drops. The Annihilator beam has both Light and Dark properties (and uses both types of ammo) and has additional sonic properties, allowing it to interact with objects through sound waves. All three beams have their uses in gameplay, from opening portals to activating switches, platforms, etc. Strictly in terms of combat, though, there are drawbacks.
One of my biggest complaints for this game is the lack of ammo available, as I typically felt like the more I needed a particular type of ammo, the more elusive it was. We are told that eliminating enemies or containers with either beam causes the corresponding ammo to drop. However, this doesn’t guarantee its appearance. Unlike missile drops, which would appear as plentifully as always, beam ammo was far too sparse, especially when running low. It was such a noticeable issue that I relegated these beams to gameplay mechanics only. It was only after finding a number of expansions that using the Dark or Light beam for combat become feasible. I don’t mind the ammo mechanic; that approach is nothing new and, when executed well, it can add to the excitement and desperation felt during play. Here though, it only adds tedium and it’s far easier to ignore the beams for combat altogether since all enemies are susceptible to the Power beam and missiles.
Fortunately, combat in terms of the engagement with, and dispatch of, enemies is as solid as ever. The Ing make for a fantastic antagonist, since they come in all varieties and because of their parasitic nature. That means any idle creature can become an enemy while any original threat can gain a power boost when infected. The boss battles are especially tremendous, as most take place within Dark Aether’s corrosive atmosphere. So not only are you engaging a boss, dodging its attacks, and targeting vulnerabilities, but you’re also making sure you have adequate means to survive the environment. It all comes together to bring players some of the most memorable and challenging fights in Metroid to date. Plus, the assortment of enemies and the creativity in taking them down all serve to positively differentiate Metroid Prime 2 from its predecessors.
Overall, gameplay and mechanics have also seen some changes in Metroid Prime 2. Exploration in particular is now tied to Samus’s ability to withstand the toxicity to Dark Aether. That toxicity plays a major role in the challenge of the game and upgrades allow for longer durations within Dark Aether. More familiar upgrades, such as the grapple beam and spider ball make a return, but are given some new life through new puzzles. New visors and remodels of past equipment like the Gravity Boost and Screw Attack all add opportunities for fresh puzzle solving and platforming. There is enough familiarity that learning how to use the old with the new favorably adds to the experience.
Having mentioned challenge, the difficulty level of this game compared to Metroid Prime is noticeably higher. However, I personally felt the addition is more on the fun side rather than irritating. Overall, I would say the devs managed to introduce positive challenge that pushes a player and only enhances the sense of victory and accomplishment when overcoming those challenges. The only moment in the game that really comes to mind that I would call annoyingly tough is the Boost Guardian boss battle. It’s invulnerable too often and it hits incredibly hard. It’s not impossible and it may take average gamers a few tries, but it’s doable. I have also seen complaints about the Spider Guardian, since you need accuracy and precise timing while navigating in morph ball mode. Again, this lends itself more towards frustration than appreciable challenge and so I’m inclined to agree with some of the complaints but again, it’s not impossible. Again, my biggest complaint is the ammo issue. The lack of ammo refills is more irksome than anything else. That flaw is an unnecessary burden. Overall though, the experience is one that I enjoyed since the good moments far exceeded and outnumbered the bad and the toughness is mostly rewarding.
Finally, the aesthetics of the game only contribute positively to Metroid Prime 2. As I mentioned before, the color pallets really tell a story of their own, as the devs gave us plenty of detail and creativity. The color swap that enemies undergo as they are transformed is especially poignant, as it visually brings to life the parasitic nature of the Ing. The play on lighting is also impressive, as the color swaps and intensities both demonstrate the palpable danger throughout. As in Metroid Prime, the score for Metroid Prime 2 is equally striking. I’m always fascinated with how the composers manage to produce music that so naturally fits the game’s locales. I also appreciated having both light and dark versions of each area’s soundtrack; it’s a creative way to further diversify the two worlds. The music for the boss fights is as stunning as ever and definitely played on my emotions during those confrontations, especially the final two battles. The visuals and audio together work incredibly well, only adding to the story and overall feel of the game. I am still impressed by them every replay.
Metroid Prime 2 brings a number of new changes that differentiates it from Metroid Prime. Taken in their entirety, I believe the changes worked because we got to see how innovation is further executed by Retro and the result was a fun, challenging game with a story worth experiencing. Personally, if I were asked which I prefer playing, this or the first, I would choose this because of how much I enjoy the story. Despite the few missteps in balancing difficulty and combat, Metroid Prime 2 is an outstanding game on its own and far exceeds expectations as a sequel.
Dark SamusGameCubeLuminothMetroidMetroid Prime 2: EchoesNintendoPhazonRetro StudiosSamus