Review by MSuskie

Reviewed: 12/19/05 | Updated: 01/04/06

I despise the taste of vomit.

Considering that this is GameFAQs, and that you are reading this review, I think it’s safe to assume that you’re a gamer, and that you’ve had experiences with all sorts of games, good and bad, memorable and forgettable, enjoyable and maddening. That’s why I think you’ll understand, at least to some extent, what I mean when I say I got frustrated with this game. I mean, I got really frustrated. That’s happened to you, right? Don’t you do unusual things when you’re frustrated with a game? I know that’s happened to me all that time, but not like this. In frustration with a game, I have screamed at the top of my lungs. I have shouted numerous obscenities and various names for male and female genitalia, and have even made up my own new expletives in the process. I have thrown controllers and punched pillows. However, frustration has never, ever made me vomit. That is, until now.

I kid you not. Metroid Prime 2: Echoes marks the first time a game has made me vomit.

It was during – get this – a mini-boss. In a somewhat clever setup, the battle took place entirely in a micro-sized maze, and I had to use protagonist Samus’s Morph Ball ability to maneuver through it (if you honestly don’t know, Morph Ball is the ability to change into a tiny ball and fit into small places). The mini-boss (Spider Guardian, I believe his name is) couldn’t be directly damaged – to kill him, I had to open certain hatches and force his stupid pre-pathfinding self to run right into some electrical circuits. During this battle, though, my health was constantly draining (more on that in a moment). Now I had beaten him right down to the last circuit, but this last one was very tricky, as it required incredible timing and the mastering of the game’s admittedly realistic Morph Ball physics. After nearly a half-hour of battling this guy, I had nearly killed him, and when I finally began to understand how to get him to run into that last circuit… I died. And then, I fell to my knees, felt a choking sensational in my throat, and let the puke fly.

So, anyway…

This is an example of just what Echoes can sometimes become. I mean, this isn’t the hardest game I’ve ever played by a long shot. In fact, the majority of this game, while challenging, didn’t even come close to that incident. But once in a great while, Echoes becomes – dare I say it – tedious. Metroid Prime is something of a spin-off series that wasn’t designed with a lot of action in mind. The original Prime is one of my favorite games ever, and that’s because it struck this perfect balance and harmony between all things action/adventure. Echoes occasionally sinks to the level of all-out action, either in one of those intensely unfair boss fights, or just the frequent firefight with a group of Space Pirates. Combine this with the game’s clumsy battle system (which was great in the first game but is starting to show its age), infrequent save points, and the fact that in some cases your health is constantly draining (again, more on that soon), and you’ve got one hell of a frustrating game.

As its name implies, this is pretty much a direct sequel to the first Prime, and despite the fact that you’re on a different planet with a different mission, the whole “direct sequel” thing will make sense more and more as you play through the game. This time, Samus Aran has landed on the planet of Aether, where she is supposed to be investigating the disappearance of a group of federation troopers. You’ll take control and find their ship quickly, only to discover that they’ve all been killed. At that very moment, a dark gateway opens up and releases a sort of dark matter that crawls about and inhabits the bodies of the fallen soldiers, who then rise and start shooting at you. This, as you would guess, is not normal.

It turns out that the world of Aether has been split in two in a very A Link to the Past-like plot device. Aether was once a proud, happy world, populated by the Luminoth, friendly creatures that want nothing more than peace and harmony on their beloved planet. Their enemies are the Ing. These beasts are dark, foul, and uninterested in anything other than the destruction of everything in existence. Recently, the planet of Aether has developed a twin, a dingy, near-lifeless counterpart called – you’re not going to believe this – Dark Aether. The Ing are aiming to push their Dark Aether over the edge to completely consume Light Aether, and the Luminoth are overpowered. So, obviously, they’re dependent on you alone to save their world. Oh, and you’ve also got a new (though extremely unoriginal) antagonist by the name of Dark Samus. Let the fight begin.

Right from the get-go, you can tell that Retro Studios tried to remain fairly true to the design of the original game. Control is essentially the same, and whether or not that’s a good thing is simply a matter of how much you like the original Prime. Though in first-person, all movement is done with a single analog stick, with the shoulder buttons being used to either stop and aim or lock on to a target (similar to Zelda). The game itself is actually very slow-paced in design, and there’s a lot of backtracking, which was a problem for some in the first game. The scan visor – used to scan objects, enemies, computers, doors, etc. for information – is still put to top use here. And while many of the weapons and tools you’ll acquire were either absent from the first Prime or altogether new, there won’t be too many surprises. I know you’ve heard this a lot, but if you didn’t like the first game, Echoes won’t make you change your mind.

The dynamic that Retro must consider to be shockingly new is the light/dark world mechanic, a concept that the aforementioned The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past created, and that has been copied or altered in numerous other games (such as Chrono Cross). You’ll be spending the majority of your play time in Light Aether, which looks and feels much like Tallon IV. Occasionally, though, you’ll have to travel over to Dark Aether, a “shadow world” of Light Aether. All of Dark Aether’s rooms bear an obvious resemblance to their counterparts in Light Aether. The only difference is that Dark Aether is dingy, ragged, unpleasant, and covered with purple. Lots and lots of purple. What’s worse is that Dark Aether is filled with poisonous gas that will slowly drain your health. To prevent that, you’ve got to constantly be jumping between various “light beacons” that act as safe zones. When you’re out of a safe zone, you’re in danger, so it’s an interesting way of challenging you.

The whole “two alternate worlds” thing works exactly as you would expect. You’ll eventually have to scour parts of both versions of Aether, and doing something in one room of Dark Aether may effect something in the same room in Light Aether. The two worlds coexist side by side, and I personally enjoyed exploring areas of Light Aether and then traveling over to the dark side and visiting the same area. But, like many things, there is a downside. While jumping from one light beacon to the next sounds like a captivating gameplay quirk, many of the game’s pivotal boss battles occur in Dark Aether, which means that the whole “health draining down” thing just becomes an annoyance (and many of the Dark Aether boss battles don’t provide you with light beacons, so… yeah). To make things worse, everything in Dark Aether is purple. Everything. Exploring a world devoted entirely to one color gets old rather quickly.

But enough of that. I still haven’t gotten down to the core gameplay, which seemingly remains largely similar to that of the first Prime. While the game still controls the same and is created with that trademark Metroid room-to-room level design in mind, this is far from the masterpiece that Prime ever was. Echoes is slow. In fact, it’s very, very slow. The first hour of the game is very little but walking from room to room, scanning some things and occasionally shooting a slow-moving enemy. The game seems to move faster as it goes along, which works to the game’s advantage since I wanted to stop playing after about fifteen minutes. As with any Metroid game, the world gradually opens up as your inventory expands, but this just takes a long, long time. Unlike the first Prime, which moved along fairly briskly but let the player move at his or her own pace, Echoes drags and doesn’t really get exciting until at least halfway through the adventure.

And then, when the game decides to actually become an enthusiastic, action-packed little bastard of a game, it becomes even more of a drag. I’m talking about battles. A lot of people had problems with the control setup in Prime. They say that the lock-on system doesn’t allow for enough freedom in combat, which is admittedly true. Methinks, though, that this lock-on mechanic can work extremely well when applied to the right situations. In other words, work the game’s action elements around the fact that players have a lock-on system. It worked in Prime because I rarely, if ever, experienced problems. In Echoes, battles can sometimes be a nightmare. You’re often times bombarded with enemies from every angle, and simply don’t have enough freedom to handle them properly. Other enemies simply have too much health, meaning that the battles themselves aren’t necessarily difficult, but go on for too long. My poor index finger has never felt cramps like this.

I can say with some confidence that the Prime series, as a whole, is slowly inching its way out of its own unique shell into the path of a standard, run-of-the-mill first-person shooter (and I’m not even counting that DS Hunters crap). The first Prime didn’t have enough action to be called an FPS, nor did it have the appropriate control scheme. I don’t even consider the first game to be an FPS, simply because, while it was in first-person, it had the structure of a pure action/adventure game. Echoes, though still mostly the action/adventure type, occasionally lowers itself to the level of an all-out firefight, which would be far more interesting if the enemies were actually smart or fun to fight. Going up against a half a dozen Space Pirates that just sort of stand there and shoot mindlessly is not compelling in the least. And apparently, the new Revolution sequel is going to feature sensor control similar to a PC shooter. While you’re cheering, I’m groaning and yearning for the good ol’ days.

Part of the game’s more FPS-like approach is the what-were-they-thinking decision to make three of the game’s four beams run on ammo. What the hell? Every Metroid game ever made has put ammo limits on missiles and power bombs. Nothing else. Here, the only real weapon you have that literally has no limitation is your basic power beam, which means you’ll be using that about 95% of the time. You’ll get both the light and dark beams early on in the game, both of which are used in some extremely unique situations for either puzzles or battles. Each runs on a certain amount of ammo that can only be obtained by defeating enemies with the opposite beam type. Not only is it extremely inconvenient, but it raises the question: Is this even a Metroid game anymore? You’ll be using the power beam for just about every incident in an effort to conserve your ammo for when you “need” it. It sounds strategic but is really just one big pain in the ass.

And I won’t even talk about Echoes’s multiplayer mode. It’s not worth my time or yours.

Not surprisingly, the best parts of Echoes are those when you’re not fighting at all. The original Prime was a game heavy on exploration, and Echoes follows that trend. The worlds themselves are filled with all sorts of secret passages and hidden doors, and actually finding everything – without using a strategy guide – is something that takes a tremendous amount of time, effort, and commitment. Whenever there’s some sort of hidden goody nearby (whether it be an upgrade to your energy tank, missiles, or ammo, or one of a few secret weapons), you can hear a very low humming noise that clues you in on where to find it. I often drove myself crazy scouring a room to find the source of this humming noise, and was always rewarded when I finally scored my prize.

This eventually carries out into one aspect of Echoes that a lot of people hated, but I enjoyed to the point that I found it to be a high point of the game. Towards the end of your adventure, you’ll have to gain access to Dark Aether’s Sky Temple for, you guessed it, your final confrontation. The trouble is that you’ve got to find nine keys in order to get into the temple, and those keys have been hidden throughout the world in some admittedly very tricky locations. You’ve only been left a few clues that give you an idea of where to look, but other than that, you’re on your own to scour the entire world for these pesky keys. I loved this. This sort of scavenger hunt element may feel tedious when you’re carefully scanning over every inch of every world, but becomes incredibly rewarding once you actually find what you’re looking for. Take my advice and don’t use a strategy guide when you come to this section, and I guarantee that in the end you’ll feel good about yourself as a gamer.

At least the world looks pretty. In fact, Echoes is one of the prettiest games not only on GameCube, but on any console. I’m not even really talking about the technical side of things, though Echoes’s lighting effects, models, textures, animation, and so forth all look fantastic and stretch the hardware to its fullest potential. When I say that Echoes is a good-looking game, I mean to say that it is as realistic as an alien world can look. As with Prime’s Tallon IV, Aether has been weathered with time and is decaying, with plant life seeping in through the cracks of pavement and old pieces machinery looking rusty and beaten. Rather than having the first game’s “world cliches” (a jungle world, ice world, lava world, etc.), Echoes’s levels all look unique and feel like nothing else. Agon Wastes is a desert world filled with sandy architecture and abandoned mining equipment. Sanctuary Fortress is an enormous and beautiful tower covered with blinking lights, flashy colors, and bustling robotic machinery. Few games have this much detail in the way they are crafted.

Not faring quite as well is the sound department, which has taken a fall from the admittedly lofty heights that the first Prime set for itself. Though I have no complaints about the effects – everything sounds exactly as it should – I do have issues with the soundtracks. I loved the first game’s score. It was pleasant and fitting for every situation. In Echoes, music is usually either our-of-place (Temple Grounds), nonexistent (Agon Wastes), or extremely repetitive (the mini-boss theme). Props to the team, though, for recycling an old Super Metroid beat for the lower section of Torvus Bog. I’m also amazed that Retro decided not to incorporate voice acting for Echoes. While the first game had no voice acting, that was fine because there was no dialog. In Echoes, the conversations with the Luminoth feel clunky and dated because you’re just reading text.

The good news is that if you really, really enjoy Echoes (and, apparently, most people did), you’ll get your money’s worth in the amount of time you spend playing. By the time I finished Echoes, my in-game timing totaled me for about twenty hours, but that doesn’t count the amount of time I spent checking my logbook entries and map, nor did it count the time I lost every time I died (which happened more frequently than I care to admit, outside of my vomit story). I also completed with only about 83% of the game’s items found, so hardcore Echoes fans will spend a lot more time with the game assuming they don’t cheat and use a strategy guide. The game also has an unlockable hard mode, though I find it surprising that Retro didn’t include any GBA link-up bonuses. After playing through the original Metroid in Prime, I was hoping for an unlockable Super Metroid or something. Oh well.

Pros

+ It’s the sequel to one of the greatest games of all time!
+ Retains the same gameplay that made the first game so great.
+ Amazingly gorgeous graphics and art direction.
+ The light/dark world mechanic, though unoriginal, offers interesting ideas.
+ Some extremely well-designed puzzles.
+ A heavy emphasis on exploration makes for a lot of rewarding moments.
+ A huge world that is filled with detail.
+ Some worthwhile unlockables for hardcore players.

Cons

- It plays identically to the original.
- It can be downright maddeningly hard (to the point of “oral food rejection”).
- Sometimes very slow.
- Too much emphasis on combat and occasional all-out action.
- Why do the beams run on ammo?
- Backtracking may annoy some.
- The soundtrack is a disappointment.

Overall: 6/10

I’ve had very mixed feelings about Metroid Prime 2: Echoes. At times I loved it, and at other times I positively hated it (at the very least, the whole “hated” part gave me a decent story with which to jumpstart this review). The game moves along at an insanely slow pace at times, and when it picks up to convert itself to a generic action game, it becomes even worse. It does have its share of memorable moments, however. Searching the world for various hidden items – required or optional – is the kind of thing that really made the game tick for me, and ended up getting me to play through what was otherwise a drab and even sometimes boring adventure. While it’s definitely worth playing if you’re a fan of the original, be warned that this game does not contain the intelligence, grace or fun that was so abundant in the first Prime. And try not to eat too much before you play.


Rating:   3.0 - Fair

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