Review by doktorsquidd

Reviewed: 11/27/04 | Updated: 11/29/04

A conservative sophomore effort by Retro, but still a solid game.

By now everyone is familiar with the success story of Retro Studios and Metroid Prime. After nearly a decade on the back burner, Nintendo finally brings back the Metroid franchise, with a new development house under their wing. In spite of internal struggles and the threat of alienating Metroid fans everywhere, Retro somehow succeeded in updating Metroid in 3-D, and from a first-person perspective to boot, something that even I was personally set against until I got to see it in action for the first time.

Now Retro is back with a sequel, but without the benefit of surprise or novelty on their side, the game fails to live up to the high water mark left by the first one. This doesn't mean it's not a good game however, it just means that the freshness is gone.

The storyline is pretty much boilerplate, which is where the game first disappoints. Samus receives a random distress call and heads off to check it out. She ends up on the planet Aether, which has fallen victim to a peculiar dimensional anomaly--where once there was one planet, there are now two sides to Aether which inhabit opposite dimensions. And of course those wacky space pirates and their lovable metroid pals are back in the mix as well, for no clear reason.

Well, okay, I think this is the first problem, and it sets a theme for the review. There really isn't much to surprise you about the game. Samus still doesn't have a single line of dialogue, and aside from a few members of the peaceful Luminoth race, you're still all alone. When the main character doesn't talk and she spends all her time running around shooting things and jumping, it doesn't give you much time to build up a narrative. This doesn't mean the game is plotless, in fact, you spend a great deal of time learning the backstory of the metroid universe by using your Scan Visor on computer terminals and things.

This gameplay mechanic is as interesting as it was in Prime (albeit a little easier to use) but that means that if you hated it in Prime, you'll hate it now too. While it beats half-hour cutscenes or bad japanese voice acting, it doesn't make for a very theatrical experience. What's more, the story problems (or lack thereof) in Prime are plaguing a number of other Nintendo characters as well, and this is a legitimate complaint now that the franchise is almost twenty years old. We've known Samus for nearly two decades and yet we know virtually nothing of her backstory, her emotions, her character, it's all completely blank and I think the narrative is suffering because of it. There are games I won't mention that have come out within the past month that give you a better emotional connection with their character, and Metroid can't do it despite being several years older. This needs to change if they plan on another sequel, but since it's been almost twenty years so far, I don't count on it.

GRAPHICS: An easy ten, at least the art style of Metroid Prime 2 is uncontested by any other game in any other genre on any other system. The new Samus model is completely rebuilt and shinier than ever, and the level design is beyond top-notch with fantastic textures, beautiful lighting, and an utterly absurd number of animated architectural elements that exist for no other reason than to be pretty. The bosses are gorgeous and enormous. The framerate is almost always 60. The Dark world is a bit less pretty than the Light world due to the constant and unending purple fog, but it too has its moments. There's ambience everywhere. The new suit designs really stray from the established formula and they look awesome because of it. The pyrotechnics are sweet. This is a game you show your friends if you want to convince them to buy Gamecubes.

SOUND/MUSIC: Below average. I want to kill the sound guy. WHY WAS IT NECESSARY TO COMPLETELY RAPE THE METROID THEME SONG? Aside from that unforgivable atrocity, all of the music in Prime 2 sounds like a weak, compressed rehash of the first game, only more obtrusive. The boss music lacks emotion and fails to get your blood moving. The Torvus Bog music is ripped out of Metroid Prime but with a melody comprised of entirely random notes. The sound effects are still great, and there's again so much more ambiance in the game world that it throbs with energy, but the musical score has been lame-d beyond all recognition. There are people who hated the soundtrack to the first Prime. I thought it was good, but as a warning to all of those people, the soundtrack in Prime 2 is worse.

GAMEPLAY: Pretty much unchanged from the first game. Locking on seems a bit more difficult, and the layout of some levels makes the exciting firefights of the first game impossible. AI seems dumbed down as well. Space Pirates will periodically dodge your shots, but otherwise stand in one spot while railing at you with heavy weaponry. The play control is tight and jumping is still spot on, but I wish horrid death to all of you who think the game would be better with dual-analog FPS controls. I mean, it's not necessary, the lockon button eliminates the need for the right analog stick, and if you need to look around, you press R. Why are people even whining about this? If you can't adapt to a new control scheme, why are you playing video games at all? Do you whine every time a new video game comes out? Would you rather Tetris have dual-analog FPS controls? Go outside or something, get eaten by bears. The controls are just fine.

Retro was also nice enough to really shake Samus' arsenal up for this outing. TWO WORDS: SCREW ATTACK. Aside from new suits, she also gets Dark and Light beams, and limited ammo for those as well. The dark/light mechanic doesnt' really work as well as advertised, however. For one thing, to get more dark ammo you have to kill enemies with the light beam, and vice-versa. This sounds challenging, but it's dumb because the light world is inhabited primarily by light enemies, and vice versa. In practice, it works like this: You head to the dark world, and use up all your light ammo killing the first thing you see. You are hence rewarded with: tons of dark ammo. Which won't really kill anything in the dark world. Woooo. You see how this can be annoying.

Also, the key-collecting is kind of tedious. YES! in addition to doors, blast doors, dark beam doors, light beam doors, annihilator beam doors, super missile doors, seeker missile doors, hieroglyph doors, doors that are broken so you have to use the stairs, rabid wolverine doors, and doors that need to be painted black, they have to throw KEY COLLECTING at you because evidently in the world of Aether you can never be too concerned about the security in your dark temple.

Aside from that, there are all-new visors to use, the Scan visor is enhanced and easier to use (so stop complaining!) and the new guns and beam combos go boom nicely. The addition of Morph Ball cannons to the level layouts makes for challenging puzzles and entertaining multiplayer. However, there are a few level design kinks where you aren't entirely sure where to go. You'll go where you're supposed to go, or you'll scour every square inch of the level, but there are times when you'll just miss whatever it was you were supposed to be looking for. There's more to keep track of too, so you may want to take notes. On actual paper. I am serious.

As a side note, the bosses are massively entertaining. They're all guaranteed to kill you at least once before you figure out their attack patterns, and even if you die you get treated to what I swear must be the coolest "game over" screen in video game history. Well, okay, I really like it.

MULTIPLAYER: This makes no sense to me.

I mean, when Retro first announced that Prime 2 would feature multiplayer, the hardcore fans were furious. Of course, these same 'hardcore fans' were furious when Nintendo handed the series over to an unproved development studio, and they were enraged when they announced that Metroid Prime would be in first-person. Thinking back, these hardcore gamers were also outraged that Nintendo didn't release a Metroid on the N64, and they were pissed at the final boss of Super Metroid being so lame, and I'm sure a number of them are in denial about Samus having fallopian tubes. Whatever guys, we're not listening anymore.

What I'm getting at is that Metroid Prime 2's multiplayer is essentially a lot of fuss over nothing. It's done in such a half-assed way that you might wonder why Retro bothered in the first place. It could have been much, much more, and that's the part that's frustrating about it.

Of course, it sounds like I'm bagging on the multiplayer. I'm not. It's actually a hell of a lot of fun if you take it for what it is, which is a short, simple distraction and not a full-fledged game mode.

There's obviously no online or LAN play. There are only six levels. You all have to play with the Power Suit, you can't choose from other costumes or skins and you certainly can't use the Fusion suit. You can't use weapons from other games in the series. There are only two game modes. There's no stat-tracking or player profiles, you can't create your own skin or costume color, you can't hold tournaments, and there are no vehicles.

Retro obviously did not set out to create a console UT2k4, but then again, why the hell didn't they? I just find it strange that people put up such a fuss over a game mode that ended up being more of a minigame than a selling point. There's a lot of potential here, but they just didn't take it far enough. I'm saying that it lacks ambition. Why didn't they at least try? Why the hell not? Who's stopping them? I'm going to stop now before I launch into tirade mode.

Ultimately, this is a really conservative, play-it-safe sequel from Retro. They're still capable of cranking out good games, and this is one of them, but now that the wow novelty factor of a 3-D metroid has worn off, they don't really do much with it. They stick to the formula. The "dark world" gameplay they promised really just doubles the amount of backtracking that you have to do, and the multiplayer feature is really embryonic in its simplicity. And another sign that they work for Nintendo, there's really no voice acting to speak of so character development is slim. Do we have a problem when the only thing we know about our protagonist after two decades is how good she looks in a swimsuit at the end of the game?

So what's good about it? It's solid, it's atmospheric, and it's jaw-droppingly gorgeous. You've got a multiplayer mode that's still a lot of fun despite the fact that it's not fully-realized, and you get a slew of high-quality unlockables. The boss battles are vicious, a few minor Metroid Prime 1 problems were fixed, and the game has some really creative puzzles. Furthermore, it's much harder--on Normal mode the game felt for the most part like Hard Mode of Metroid Prime. For those of you who want your money's worth out of a game, this is a godsend. Level design is superb, and there's a certain gratifying feeling you get from obtaining a new power-up and discovering all the fun new areas you can visit with it. The puzzles are outright bastards so solving them carries with it a real sense of accomplishment. The backtracking is there, of course, but never to a point where it gets aggravating. The new suit upgrades are almost universally sweet and the game holds your hand less than it did in Prime, although the in-game optional hint system is still there if you need it. The interfaces and art direction are once again awesome and what we're left with is one of the most polished games for the system.

Metroid Prime 2: Echoes is actually pretty close to a 10. A more fleshed-out multiplayer, a more developed storyline, some more insight into Samus Aran as a heroine, and perhaps tighter, less redundant level design would have garnered this game a perfect score. The formulaic nature of the sequel is what drags it down to a 7.

But so what if it takes the safe route? Retro's building a track record for themselves. Although it delivers absolutely no surprises, Metroid Prime 2: Echoes is a solid gaming experience for the experienced gamer, and it leaves us begging and pleading for a revolutionary sequel on the next Nintendo console. If you enjoyed the first one, and would like another helping, by all means go for it.

Rating:   3.5 - Good

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