[floatleft]http://www.snackbar-games.com/images/reviews/metroidprime2/cover.jpg[/floatleft]With the amazing success of [i]Metroid Prime[/i] upon its release in 2002, it seemed natural that Retro Studios and Nintendo would develop a sequel. What gamers got was a sequel to end all sequels. [i]Metroid Prime 2: Echoes[/i] takes everything amazing about [i]Metroid Prime[/i] and expands it to make it better. [i]Echoes[/i] is bigger and better in every single way, proving definitively that Retro Studios and Nintendo do not disappoint.
The story is simple: you play a bounty hunter named Samus Aran who is regularly contracted to do various missions around the galaxy. Samus has been asked to locate and assist a group of Federation Troopers who have chased a group of Space Pirates to the planet Aether. As Samus enters the planet’s atmosphere, her ship is damaged. As she begins to explore Aether, she uncovers information about the Federation Troopers and ultimately finds that the planet is split into two dimensions, the Light World and the Dark World. These two dimensions are also caught in a constant state of war. Samus is asked by the Luminoth (creatures inhabiting the Light World) to help vanquish the evil Ing (Dark World creatures) and restore peace to Aether. This all seems simple enough until you realize that in order to go about helping the Luminoth,, Samus must travel back and forth between the Light and Dark Worlds.
[floatright]http://www.snackbar-games.com/images/reviews/metroidprime2/ss13_thumb.jpg[/floatright]Firstly, this game is aesthetically gorgeous. Instead of simply updating the graphics engine used in [i]Metroid Prime[/i], Retro Studios made the decision to build a new engine from the ground up. The particle effects are better, lighting is exceptional, and character and environment animations are smooth and clean. Cut scenes are rendered using the in-game engine and are simply awe-inspiring. The Light World is lush and diverse with swamps, sandy desert areas, and a very high-tech fortress. All of these different areas are pulled together so well that it really drives home the point that this is a beautiful and diverse planet. The Dark World is caustic and unfriendly and contrasts the Light World so completely. The game runs in Progressive Scan mode, and it is really an amazing visual experience.
The graphics are not the only thing that got a facelift-the sound was also updated. Effects down to the sound of Samus’s power blaster have all been redone, along with a slew of new enemy sounds and a brilliant new soundtrack. I was a bit disappointed that there was no 5.1 surround sound, but the Dolby Pro Logic II still sounds quite impressive.
As we all know, graphics and sound will not a game make. Luckily, the gameplay in [i]Echoes[/i] is just as fantastic as the scenery. The player guides Samus from behind the visor in her power suite, which creates a standard first-person perspective. The controls are exactly the same as those in the first [i]Prime[/i], and the major complaint about them has always been the inability to free look while moving. The controls are tight, responsive, and well-suited for the game despite the need to stand still to free look. The core of the gameplay revolves around exploring this new planet to collect various power-ups for Samus.
The game has a number of new beams, suits, visors, and missile/beam combos to collect as well as some returning favorites. [i]Metroid[/i] veterans may be sad to hear that the Wave beam and the Ice beam have been left out of [i]Echoes[/i] in favor of two new beams. These new beams, properly called the Light and Dark beams, add a very interesting dynamic to the game. Apart from allowing the player to open certain doors, these beams help to open portals so that Samus can move back and forth between the Light and Dark Worlds. In addition, most creatures have a weakness to one beam or the other, which adds yet another level of strategy to the gameplay. My only gripe is that the beams now come with an ammo limit, which has never been done previously in a [i]Metroid[/i] game. I found that I would often forget about the ammo restriction and fire away finding myself out of Light ammo in the worst possible moment. Once you adjust, the ammo limit isn’t really all that big of a problem, and ammo upgrades can be found hidden around the planet.
I would like to avoid spoiling the joy of uncovering new power-ups, so I will avoid disclosing any of the other additions to which Samus will have access. I will say that the new suits are incredible to look at, and the new missile/beam combo attacks are amazing. The number of new items and updated classic items really create a drive to play this game and find that next cool thing that Samus can use. The other driving factor is the abundance of cut scenes that Retro has added. These cut scenes are beautifully rendered using the in game graphics engine, and they are so incredible to watch. They really help to tie the game together nicely.
[floatleft]http://www.snackbar-games.com/images/reviews/metroidprime2/ss06_thumb.jpg[/floatleft]Beyond new power-ups, a new story, and gorgeous graphics and sound, [i]Echoes[/i] also boasts significantly more play time than [i]Prime[/i]. A first play-through of [i]Echoes[/i] will take anywhere from 18 to 20 hours without the use of a guide-possibly less if you are a [i]Metroid[/i] veteran. Even veterans should be warned, though, that this game is significantly harder than [i]Prime[/i]. The best way to describe the ramped-up difficulty is to say that the beginning of [i]Echoes[/i] is about as hard as halfway through [i]Prime[/i]. That is not to say that this game is impossible, but if you really hate playing the same boss over and over again, then you may want to reconsider this game.
There is one final thing to discuss concerning [i]Echoes[/i]: multiplayer. Retro Studios originally intended to include a multiplayer experience in the original [i]Prime[/i], but because of the time factor it was excluded. [i]Echoes[/i] now has a multiplayer mode which boasts the traditional Death Match as well as Bounty mode which entails stealing coins from another player every time you shoot them. Both of these modes are surprisingly fun to play, and using all of your [i]Metroid[/i] power-ups on human opponents is priceless. I found the multiplayer in Echoes to be a very refreshing change from the ridiculous amounts of [i]Halo[/i] that I’ve been playing recently.
The final verdict on this game is simple: buy it now. [i]Metroid Prime 2: Echoes[/i] is easily the best on the Gamecube to date. Every part of [i]Echoes[/i] is polished, beautiful, and engrossing. I was hooked from beginning to end despite the number of horrible deaths that Samus endured due to my inability to destroy certain boss characters. My recommendation is to grab this game, turn off the lights, turn up the volume, and prepare for and amazing experience.