Metroid Prime 2: Echoes review
Retro does it again
Alternative control system
Dual world system
Beam Ammo system stifles gameplay slightly
Jumping still a little awkward
The first Prime game did what some may have thought impossible - it transferred the Metroid series into a first person 3D world. More importantly it did it so well that Metroid Prime easily became one of the best game's on the Gamecube. That's an awfully hard act to follow, but Retro have returned with the sequel to that game, subtitled Echoes. This game takes the core mechanics of Prime and adds some new ideas to the mix. Here's the result:
Not a lot has really changed between the two Prime games in the visual department. However, that's not really a bad thing, as Metroid Prime was easily a treat for the eyes.
There is a wide variety of areas Samus will be travelling through, and each area has been built up with a high level of care. The environments are very detailed, such as the cracked walls or the computer terminals. Everything manages to give off a very realistic vibe so that you really could believe that Aether could exist.
There is a nice accompaniment of special effects throughout Echoes as well. Some of these will be familiar to fans of the previous game too, so it's nice to see them back here. For example, fire the beam cannon rapidly and it'll end up with some blurry heat effect. Splash into water and droplets will be dotted around the visor.
That's one of the things that makes the visuals so appealing. Special effects aren't just "let's see how big a lightshow we can put on". There are effects that you would expect to be natural given the circumstances but which many developers simply don't bother to implement. It's this extra mile that Retro take that help craft the immersive world we have here.
There are a lot of creatures in the game too, from the mundane wasps and fish to the fierce pirates and tentacle creatures. All of them have been rendered wonderfully and their animations are natural and fluid. These creatures look and act like real life variants would do if they really existed.
The HUD (Heads Up Display) from Prime returns, and is still an ingenious setup. Most of the game is played through a first person perspective, and so the numerous onscreen icons that feed the player vital information comes across as a computer-delivered display on the inside of Samus' helmet. It makes the whole experience a little more natural.
Music in the Metroid series is rarely in-your-face. Loud and dramatic aren't key components in most cases. Echoes follows this style as well. Instead of pumping tunes you get a calmer ambient soundtrack that hums along in the background. The style used is excellent, perfectly fitting the isolated atmosphere that pervades the game. No, it's not music player material, but it does well to enhance the experience, which is really what a game's soundtrack is about.
There are some solid sound effects in use here too, like the charging of her arm cannon and plants exploding. You can even hear the various devices and machines whirring with life.
Creatures will grunt, growl and scream as Samus blasts her way through Aether and its dark counterpart. There is a bit more voice acting in this game that sounds like actual alien dialogue too, which does help offer more depth, but it isn't full voice acting. What few conversations Samus has (yes, she actually talks to people here) are done in a text-based format, and Samus herself has no dialogue.
The events that transpire in Echoes technically follow on from the first Prime game, and yet Echoes makes very little reference to Tallon IV. Playing the first game will indeed give you some background information on some aspects of this game, but it is structured in a way that doesn't require that knowledge to enjoy the plot.
A Federation Starship went down on a planet called Aether, and all contact was subsequently lost. Samus Aran is sent in to find the marines and see what happened.
Of course, this is Samus Aran, and Samus Aran doesn't know what a simple recon mission is. Samus' ship is affected by the atmospheric storms upon entry, causing a crash landing. While her ship begins repair procedures Samus investigates on foot.
On the way she encounters hostile resistance. At first the danger are minor creatures, but she finds herself stepping through a portal to an unknown area. She crosses paths with a dark enemy that resembles her, and barely escapes the dark world before other marauding creatures destroy her.
She soon finds out the problem. The marines are dead, killed by the dark Ing. Aether itself was split into two worlds - the light Aether Samus landed on and a dark version called Dark Aether. Samus is tasked by one of the planet's remaining active inhabitants, U-Mos, to restore energy to their towers.
Echoes differs from MP1 by offering up a central antagonist that appears right at the start and continues to cause problems for you throughout the game. There is also some depth to this character despite the general lack of non-combat interaction between her and Samus, due to the computer entries by the pirates.
The plot progression is only partly handled by interaction with other characters. Much of it is done in the form of log entries and lore entries that Samus must scan to read them. In effective, it is up to the player to discover the details of what is going on.
Echoes may look like a sci-fi first person shooter, but when you play this all the usual FPS conventions are effectively thrown out the window. If it's not the first Prime game then you haven't played anything like this.
The A button is used for your beam cannon, mounted on Samus' right arm. Tapping it offers rapid fire beam fire, while holding A charges up a more powerful blast (and unlike Prime you don't have to regain the charge ability). This is essentially your primary means of combat.
The Y buttons is for your missiles. It doesn't take long before Samus gains these. Missiles are kind of like an instant charged beam attack, except there is no special effects or element. They are designed for swift powerful attacks, although are also used in puzzle solving, as certain materials can only be destroyed by missile fire. Unlike the power beam, missiles are limited in number, so you need to pick up supplies to avoid running out.
Unlike the usual FPS fare that pass through consoles there is no need to adjust your aim on the move. Instead holding down the L button will lock-on to a target instead, allowing you to fire accurately while maintaining the enemy in your sights. This allows for sidestepping and sideways jumping for avoiding counterattacks. This may sound like it oversimplifies things but it works very well.
On the occasion you need to aim manually then you can hold R to go into free-aim mode. Samus won't move while doing this, but it allows you to target whatever you need to. It's also a good idea when needing to look around the place.
So, we spoke of beams, yes? The power beam is the default beam type, and the only one you start with. It's weaker than the others but has unlimited ammo. Other beams are gained later with specific traits and consume ammo.
Yes, the other beams now have ammo, and it's a fairly awkward system. The weapons are indeed better than the power beam, but the way you collect ammo is awkward. You gain light ammo when killing with the dark beam and dark ammo when killing with the light beam. The only problem being that you tend not to have enemies with both weaknesses around, plus Samus uses up more ammo killing enemies than she regains from pickups that might not even appear.
Beam combos have returned too. Once you've picked up the relevant upgrade you can combine a beam type with the missile launcher for a more powerful blast that consumes multiple missiles (and beam ammo if applicable). Doing this is quite simple too - the player just needs to charge their beam weapon and then fire a missile with Y to fire the beam combo blast.
There are four visors in the game too. The combat visor and scan visor return from Prime 1. The combat visor is just the default visor that you do most of the combat and exploring through. The scan visor lets you scan a variety of objects, like enemies, pickups, machines and lore. It is used to gather information, but can also be used to activate objects as well. You can't fire while using it though.
The other two visors are supposedly new, but after using them they feel more like modified variants of the older visors. The dark visor is basically the thermal visor, except it doesn't work off heat. It is used to see things not visible on the normal spectrum. The sonic visor uses sound to detect objects and soundwaves. Aside from detecting soundwaves this is effectively the X-Ray visor.
Switching visor and beam types couldn't be easier. Each visor is assigned a direction on the D-Pad, while each beam is assigned a direction on the C-Stick. Press in that direction to switch to that visor or beam. It makes fast choices possible, so you're not left fumbling for the best weapon during combat.
Jumping is handled via the B button, and while Samus is required to jump around a lot most of it is kept simple so the usual problems associated with first person jumping are kept to a minimal. That's not to say they don't exist, as there are indeed some jumps made awkward by the inability to see your own feet, but rather that it's not a game breaking problem.
One of the more unique traits of the Metroid series has always been the morph ball. Present since the first game in the series this handy ability allows Samus to turn into a small ball that can enter small areas normal Samus can't. The scientific explanation as to how Samus can become a ball without being crushed or how it even manages to move about aren't ever explained, but hey, nobody's playing the game for science lessons, eh?
The X button is used to switch between bipedal and morph ball modes. While in morph ball mode the camera moves into a third person perspective and some of the controls change. The analogue stick still moves Samus about, although the control is decidedly looser to account for being a ball (did you expect a ball to have much traction?), while X will switch Samus back to bipedal mode.
A now offers Samus special bombs that can be used to destroy enemies and objects, as well as execute bomb jumps (the act of planting a bomb and sitting on it so the explosion throws Samus into the air). These are relatively ineffective in fighting most enemies so is more used to destroy objects and bomb jump. Power bombs are gained much later and activated via the Y button. Unlike normal bombs these require an ammo supply and can't be used for bomb jumping but their destructive power is far higher (going so far as to potentially being the strongest weapon against generic enemies) and a certain material can only be destroyed by one.
The Morph Ball also comes with a few tricks too, once the upgrades are found. The boost ball lets you charge up with B and boost forward at a good pace. The spider ball lets you latch onto magnetic rails with R to reach higher places.
It's a refreshing change from the normal first person exploring and deepens the exploration aspect. Just because normal Samus can't go any further doesn't mean there isn't anywhere for her to go.
A lot of these abilities have been returns of Prime 1 abilities, aside from the beams and visors, but there are a few other abilities new to Prime 2. Long time fans of the series may be pleased to see that the screw attack has finally returned. A spinning jumping attack that can both be used to cross long distances and rip through enemies as well.
There are a lot of enemies in this game, and many are quite happy to rip Samus to shreds. At first you only face rather basic foes, like splinters that do relatively little damage and have little defence. Echoes isn't as slow to pick up the pace though as its predecessor, and soon enough you're introduced to some of the darker enemies of this game.
The AI is rather impressive in general. Smaller creatures will choose to attack you in packs to try and catch you off-guard. Pirates will use surrounding objects as cover and snipe you from vantage points.
Various creatures will have their strengths and weaknesses to exploit. Some creatures need a missile blast to destroy, for example. The new light and dark beams take this concept further, as every creature is strong to one and weak to the other. It's not hard to figure out which is which either. Generally, creatures native to Aether will be weak to dark, and vice versa.
Metroid wouldn't be Metroid without some awesome bosses to fight against, and Echoes delivers on that front too. Echoes offers some challenging bosses that start off fairly mundane (for bosses) but become more challenging and screen-filling. It's quite possible to be seeing the game over screen a few times later on as some of these bosses can rip through you.
Exploration is just as important as combat, and Echoes offers much here too. The environments you find yourself in tend to be filled with sprawling passageways, hidden rooms and difficult puzzles. You have to look all around the place and scrutinize every little thing to progress forward.
The scan visor is often important in these situations, as it can reveal clues to help you progress. In case even that isn't enough then Echoes also contains a hint system. After so long the game will throw up a message relating to where they must go and marks the location on the map. This can help getting lost, although it can be switched off if the player feels it intrusive.
However, it is advised to leave it on, as Echoes can be rather confusing as times. It's too easy to have no idea where to go. Even finding the gates to the next area can be difficult. Never to the point of being terrible, but I do think the layout was handled better in Prime 1.
Echoes attempts to further the exploration experience with the dual world system. It's not particularly new to video games (Nintendo's own A Link to the Past did it) but it is a twist on the Metroid series. Aether itself is split into two variants – the light version you start in and the dark version called (uncreatively) Dark Aether.
The two worlds act like distorted mirror images of the other. The layout of both worlds are rather similar but with some structural changes. For example, Dark Aether might have platforms that don't exist in light Aether, or light Aether has a tunnel that is otherwise blocked off in Dark Aether. Moving between the two worlds is key to moving forward.
However, Samus can't skip between worlds at will. At first the only way is via portals managed by portal systems. Scanning to activate them allows her to travel to the other world. Later on, once she has picked up the light and dark beams, Samus can use those beams to blast open rifts that are semi-open and use them. Unlike other portals these rift portals may not be open on the other side.
Travelling through Dark Aether is problematic because the very air is dangerous. Not sure why it affects Samus in her suit, but it does cause her health to drop merely by being in Dark Aether. That is, unless she's within a protective field of a crystal. Crystals and orbs are scattered throughout Dark Aether. Orbs must be shot to activate their fields but crystal fields are always active. These fields protect Samus from Dark Aether's negative effect, meaning Samus has to dash between protective zones.
It does make exploring a bit awkward, as you can't just go anywhere and look around. Instead it heightens the challenge as you need to be aware of how your health is doing. Later on you get suit upgrades that reduce or remove this negative effect.
Echoes also offers something no Metroid game has before - multiplayer. Up to four players can fight it out in deathmatch style gaming, but to be honest Retro would have done better not trying at all.
The problem is that they have a control setup designed for single player gaming in a multiplayer environment, and it just doesn't work. A lot of the skill is removed by being able to lock onto human players, and there's a distinct lack of options as well.
The game does offer bonus powerups and as such, but it's just not the frantic blastfest multiplater FPS should be. It feels too much like it's trying to be Halo.
Some of the new stuff doesn't work quite as they had hoped, but there is no denying that Retro have delivered another fantastic title in the series. Prime 1 might be better, but Echoes is still a game you'd want to play anyway. The changes do make this a relatively fresh experience too.
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