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Staff Review: Metroid Prime 2: Echoes


ChoiceStriker
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In the wake of the Fall 2004 release of A-list titles like Halo 2, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, and Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, many other titles got lost in the holiday shuffle. One such overlooked title is the most recent entry in one of Nintendo's flagship series - Metroid Prime 2: Echoes. Despite the game's critical acclaim, it has not received the same attention as other holiday titles, and the LCVG staff would like to stimulate discussion on this rather neglected but excellent addition to the Metroid series. It is certainly deserving of the consideration of anyone looking for a top-drawer experience on the GameCube, and given the system's low price, I feel confident in saying that Metroid Prime and its sequel justify the purchase of the system itself.

 

STAFF REVIEW -- METROID PRIME 2: ECHOES

 

For fans of Nintendo's long-running Metroid series, November 2002 was when everything, and nothing, changed.

 

The release of Metroid Prime took the series in a startling new direction: into the third dimension. For months prior to the game's release, devotees of the series speculated about whether Metroid's transition from an exceptional two-dimensional side-scroller into a seemingly generic first-person shooter would ruin the tradition of the series. Nintendo's entrustment of the beloved series to an untested developer from Austin, Texas known as Retro Studios made many die-hard fans very nervous.

 

When gamers finally got their hands on Metroid Prime, however, all doubts were immediately laid to rest. The game had managed to maintain the classic Metroid magic while bringing the series into the present and the future. The Metroid universe was fully realized in the third dimension. All of heroine Samus Aran's weapons and abilities were retained, including favorites like the morph ball and the grappling beam. This was a safe decision by Retro, and definitely a wise one. The developer undoubtedly had to strike a balance between making something completely revolutionary and remaining faithful to a cherished series.

 

Two years later, Metroid Prime 2: Echoes was released, and the sequel to one of the most highly regarded GameCube games faced a similar conundrum: How to continue to innovate and move the now-3D series forward, while at the same time remaining true to its roots. Echoes succeeds in spades, retaining the phenomenal first-person gameplay of Prime while pushing the series still further with a huge new world and a new barrage of exotic weapons. Metroid Prime 2 should once again please both die-hard fans and Metroid neophytes.

 

This time around, Retro has taken some liberties with the standard Metroid formula, but the deviation from previous games is refreshing. Although the game begins much as others in the series have, with intergalactic bounty hunter Samus Aran losing most of her weapons and abilities, the impact is not as severe and players do not start off in a critically weakened state. Players still must find and recover numerous upgrades to Samus' armor and weapons, but she at least starts off with her charge beam and morph ball. While many of the familiar weapons and gadgets in Samus' arsenal are still present, not all of them have been retained, and two new beam weapons feature prominently in Echoes: The dark and light beams.

 

The dark and light beams are an interesting innovation for the series. Each beam serves a unique purpose and has its advantages and disadvantages, which will be described in further detail below. There are also charge combos to be learned for these beams later in the game, making them even more potent weapons. Whereas Samus' standard power beam has limitless ammunition, the dark and light beams require ammunition to fire. Fortunately there are expansion packs to be found for the beams, increasing the weapons' capacity considerably. Because the beams are also necessary to open doors, it is good to see that Retro considered the possibility that players might find themselves needing to exit a room when their beam ammunition is depleted. Thankfully, it is possible to fire a single round of ammunition when depleted by simply charging the beam, thus allowing the player's exit.

 

The Metroid games have always had cursory storylines about Samus' attempts to eradicate the parasitic Metroids on whatever remote planet they threaten next, but only recently have the games made serious attempts at deep and involving storytelling. Prime and Echoes have somewhat similar storylines, as both games feature quests to help a dying or extinct race defeat the dark forces that are strangling the planet. Echoes goes a step further, however, setting up an intricate plot with several opposing and cooperating sides. Of course there is Samus, who sets out to explore the planet of Aether when it exhibits strange dimensional fluctuations. Then there are the Luminoth, inhabitants of Aether pushed to the brink of extinction by the Ing - the Luminoths' dark counterpart. Throw in Space Pirates, Marines, and a Dark Samus all allying themselves with or battling against each other, and there's plenty going on to keep the story interesting.

 

The most significant aspect of Echoes' gameplay is travel between two mirrored planets - Light and Dark Aether. Samus must travel through dimensional rifts to access various parts of each planet and to perform tasks that have a direct effect on that planet's counterpart. The system's most obvious parallel is the Light and Dark worlds found in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, as the game mechanic is very similar. The puzzles players must solve by accessing these portals are varied and interesting, and the mental challenge presented by the game is one of its most enjoyable aspects. As you may have guessed, the dark and light beams play an important role in traveling between the two worlds, and each beam's strengths and weaknesses must be thoughtfully utilized for maximum effectiveness in dispatching foes from each world.

 

The visor system found in the first Prime still exists, but in a revised form. Gone are the thermal and x-ray visors, and in their place are two new visors, which I will not reveal here. The scan visor still plays an important part in Echoes, as many of the story's intricacies are exposed by scanning NPC logs and computer terminals. Realizing that some players might prefer to focus solely on the game's action, Retro has once again chosen to make these parts of the story completely optional. Players still use the scan visor on items in the game's environment to learn about the planet's back story, mechanisms, and creatures, but the visor has been slightly tweaked to make differentiating between essential and non-essential scans easier. Essential scans are bright red, while non-essential items that have not yet been scanned are blue. Once items have been scanned they turn a recognizable green, eliminating the need for redundant scanning.

 

Echoes' graphics are outstanding, improving marginally on the first Prime's already stellar visuals. Colors are vibrant, the atmosphere feels like a truly organic creation, and enemy animation is wonderful. The art direction in the game is nearly flawless; Retro obviously has some incredibly talented individuals in its team, and the title is a true showcase for the potential of the GameCube's graphical capabilities.

 

The game's sound, on the other hand, is not quite as remarkable. There is certainly nothing wrong with it, and the soundtrack makes excellent use of the GameCube's Dolby Pro Logic II output. But overall the sound effects and music are somewhat forgettable. Of course the customary and much-beloved save-point and item-acquire musical cues are still around, but the game's soundtrack tends to be much more ambient and less melodic than that of the first Prime. It is well-produced, but it's not quite as memorable; there are few themes that stick with you like Magmoor Caverns and Phendrana Drifts did in MP1.

 

Of course, the true meat and bones of the experience is the gameplay. And in this regard, Echoes delivers everything players could have hoped for. The balance of exploration, puzzle-solving and combat is a welcome change of pace from other first-person shooters, and the platform-jumping and targeting systems, which could have been a nightmare if not handled well, are some of the game's best features. Control is incredibly intuitive, making it immediately clear which jumps can be made with the player's current capabilities. The lock-on targeting system works extremely well and allows even FPS novices, or those used to playing such games on a PC with a keyboard and mouse, to make an easy transition to the GameCube's analog control. It should also be noted that manual targeting is still possible for precision shots and viewing the environment easily.

 

Despite everything that Echoes does right, the game is not perfect. There are aspects that could have been improved upon and there are certainly parts of the game that some players may not enjoy. Players looking for a straight-ahead non-stop action game will probably be disappointed, as Echoes places a good deal of emphasis on exploration and puzzle-solving. Of course there is combat in the game, but for much of the game it takes a backseat to the more cerebral parts of the experience. There is a relative shortage of enemies to destroy in many parts of the game world, and there is little incentive to destroy what few enemies players encounter in early parts of the game. Because there is no leveling up or experience gained by fighting enemies, it is often easier and faster to just run right around them and head for the door.

 

Also, even though the map system in Echoes is highly efficient and helpful, it is still easy to get lost in the sheer vastness of the game's universe. It seems that there is less backtracking than in the first Prime, but more frequent objective information could have eliminated this problem entirely. True, Metroid games have never been about too much hand-holding, and part of the challenge lies in figuring out what to do and where to go next. Nevertheless, an optional "destination" marker on the map such as those found in Resident Evil 4 would have been appreciated. Additionally, some players may be frustrated by having to collect so many items in order to progress in the game - at one point players must seek out nine separate keys to gain access to part of the game world. This does admittedly feel a bit excessive, and is somewhat puzzling as the game is already lengthy - and difficult - enough, without needing any padding or filler.

 

Finally, although the game's lock-on targeting system is highly intuitive, some players may find it frustrating that Retro again chose not to implement a true dual-analog control option. The GameCube controller's small C-stick probably wouldn't have been ideal for this purpose, but the option may be seen by some as an oversight.

 

The differences between Echoes and its predecessor are not immediately obvious, but they are there, making for two distinct gameplay experiences. Retro obviously feels comfortable enough with the direction it has taken Metroid that it has earned some license to tinker slightly with the formula. The studio has done an excellent job of recognizing the successful aspects of the first game and incorporating them into the sequel, making for a game that plays similarly but offers enough new components to stand on its own as a unique experience. Metroid Prime and Metroid Prime 2: Echoes are still the gold standard for first-person 3-D platform gaming. Few games have the polish and production values of Echoes, and its quality is apparent in every single second of gameplay. It is easily one of the best titles on GameCube, and is highly recommended.

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Thanks for the excellent review, Eric! I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I should also say that as a hardcore Metroid fan, I pretty much agree with everything you said in that review.

 

It's a damn shame that this game isn't receiving more attention. People complain about the lack of good software on the Cube, but when something as good as this comes out, it gets largely ignored. Go figure.

 

One thing you didn't touch on was the multi-player element. Have you played any of that at all, and if so, what did you think of it?

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Thanks Jeff,

 

Yes, I have experimented with the multiplayer mode in MP2, although only briefly. I had meant to mention it at some point in the review but forgot.

 

My take on it is mixed. It's a fun diversion for a little while, but overall it seems added as more of an afterthought - kind of a concession to all the FPS fans looking for a deathmatch in every game they play. It's obviously not going to be able to compete with the Halo 2's out there, since multiplayer isn't the game's primary focus, but it's done well enough to be entertaining. It also holds the distinction of being the first multiplayer Metroid title (feel free to correct me on this if I'm wrong - I'm not sure the exact release date of the Metroid Prime: Hunters demo on DS).

 

As you may know, all the weapons found in the single-player mode are available in multiplayer, and their usefulness varies depending on certain circumstances. Lock-on targeting is also present, but players may defeat a lock by shifting into morph ball mode and using the boost function. It's actually kind of neat.

 

There are also two maps and some additional music tracks for multiplayer that can be unlocked as players progress through the single-player portion of the game.

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Thanks for the great review. You've inspired me to go back and play some more Metroid: Prime in hopes of one day actually finishing it and being able to move on to Echoes.

 

I don't know what it is about Metroid: Prime, but whenever I play it, I have a lot of fun and am blown away by the incredibly high production values, but I never seem to stick with it. I'll play the shit out of it for a few days and then get distracted. For the first six months that I owned it, every time I went to play I'd re-start from the beginning, not wanting to miss a thing. Unfortunately, this contributed to me never getting anywhere. :wtf

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The GC Metroid games are both really fun and extremely well done but they are hard to stick with.

 

I found that true of the first game. The game was structured much like the old school 2D Metroid games and had moments where if you took an extended break it was very difficult to come back and pick up where you left off. My solution was to not take an extended break. ;) In all seriousness, I restarted the Prime several times over the course of a month or so until I finally gave a few other games I was playing a break. I decided I really wanted to see Prime through to the end and was tired of rescanning the same damn sections :D . I got so involved in it that I beat it within 3-4 days because it got better and better as I moved along.

 

Having said that, I do not think the sequel suffers from the same "problem". The change in how the story progresses and how quickly you are thrown into the situation makes it hard to put down. The art design is utterly impeccable and the puzzles are both well thought out (moreso than the original Prime) and more difficult which I feel makes for a more rewarding experience. Some of the new weapons are underused and the story still takes a bit of a back seat to the action/puzzle element but it's a more compelling game than Prime IMHO.

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The GC Metroid games are both really fun and extremely well done but they are hard to stick with.

I do think there's some truth to this - it is possible to get very stuck and to lose your way, even if you follow a walkthrough. It does make things frustrating when you're not sure what to do next, and at times like that it can seem easier to just move on to something else for a while, and never come back to it.

 

Neither of the Primes is easy, and Echoes is even more challenging than the first. That said, I think it's very rewarding when you finally do overcome the obstacles the game throws at you. For example, I was stuck fairly early on at a mini-boss. Beating him, however, meant unlocking another upgrade and access to new, unexplored parts of Aether, and it was honestly exciting every time something like that happened.

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For example, I was stuck fairly early on at a mini-boss. Beating him, however, meant unlocking another upgrade and access to new, unexplored parts of Aether, and it was honestly exciting every time something like that happened.

 

I can agree with that, having been stuck on the very FIRST mini-boss back when I started. :bh

Now I just hate the forever battle with the Chykra. :bh:bh:bh

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  • 5 months later...

My brother (not a gamer) and I (very much a gamer) both felt the same about this game (my brother is a metroid fan, dispite not being a gamer). This is what we thought about the story:

 

If Retro had just added a half dozen short real-time cut scenes to replace some of the more important story segments that were presented in text, the flow of the game would have been a lot better. When telling a story it is necessary to ebb and flow, and to have transition points. The passive text-based story elements don't do the rest of the game justice. Both my brother and I became numb to the game after playing through 60% of it, sensing no greater purpose for continuing, other than to complete the next task.

 

I can comfortably make this assertion, because there actually were a couple (I think two) cut scenes in the game. They were flashbacks, and I thought they were very cool, and enhanced my perception of the story I was playing through.

 

The other thing, which isn't so much a criticism as a wishlist item. Please oh please could future Metroid games have a more robust way of tracking the things and places you come across? I HATE coming across ten things I can't yet access, with no way of noting my finding on the map for later reference. In this game I imagine that scanning something I can't access should be automatically logged on the map in a useful way. Then I should be able to bring up information about yet-to-be-accessed things via the map. I HATE having write this crap down on a notebook, that is just non-intuitive, or worse, opting not to do that and having a perpetual feeling that I am missing or forgot something. By the end of the game I almost didn't care to search for all that stuff, too much of a hassle. Not worth it.

 

Most Role Playing games should have a similar feature as well.

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I can comfortably make this assertion, because there actually were a couple (I think two) cut scenes in the game.

 

Assert comfortably all you want, I can tell you for a fact that there were a lot more than two cut scenes in this game. Did you even watch any of them?

 

The other thing, which isn't so much a criticism as a wishlist item. Please oh please could future Metroid games have a more robust way of tracking the things and places you come across? I HATE coming across ten things I can't yet access, with no way of noting my finding on the map for later reference.

 

I'm with you on this with one important caveat: In order to mark them on your map, you have to scan them first. Part of what I like about the Metroid series is the satisfaction of discovering something you didn't know was there a moment earlier. I would hate it if that was taken away because the game automatically marked a missile expansion upgrade when you walked past it. That would ruin most of the experience for me, personally.

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Assert comfortably all you want, I can tell you for a fact that there were a lot more than two cut scenes in this game. Did you even watch any of them?
My opinion was that the game would have benefited if more of the important story elements, told through text, were instead told with cut scenes. From your post it is unclear whether you disagree with that opinion. I infer by your negative tone and manner that you disagree, but I'm not sure.

 

Just to clarify, I'm not saying MP needs more scripted cut scenes, I'm saying that the key story elements told via text should have been told more visually, rather than textually. I understand that there were in fact cut scenes in the game. For example, there was the recurring grasshopper guy debriefing you through a text-based speeches. And there were the equivilant of establishing shots and closing shots prior and after boss battles, etc. What I wanted MORE of was the following:

 

The cut scene where marines were ambushed by bugs. It was a flashback that explained "what happened here" prior to Samus showing up. This cut scene was an aberration. I wish there was more like it.

 

I hope it is clear now that I did indeed watch the cut scenes, that there were exactly 48 of them, and that Jesus did indeed have a wife and daughter.

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:confused:

 

Um, I don't know about the whole Jesus thing, but thanks for clarifying that you did notice a few more than two whole cut scenes in the entire game. Your initial estimate threw me for a loop there. :D

 

Just to clarify, I'm not saying MP needs more scripted cut scenes, I'm saying that the key story elements told via text should have been told more visually, rather than textually.

 

As the great Samual L. Jackson would say, "There's were you and I differ." ;) I actually think that the way the story was told in this game -- in other words, with mostly text-based scanning -- worked extremely well considering who you were and why you were on Aether. Essentially, you were an investigator, sent there to discover what happened to a a group of Federation Troopers. I love the fact that most of the major story elements have already occurred by the time Samus arrives, and it's up to her (and the player) to put it all together by reading personal log entries and other historical records. The movie with the Troopers battling the Ing was indeed very cool (although I wish that it was done more in the style of Halo where the entire video played from one soldier's point of view), but I don't think it would have been quite as satisfying to piece everything together with a whole bunch of cut scenes.

 

Again, that's just an area I disagree with you in. I realize that some think the scanning feature was overused in these two games, but I think that it's an extremely cleaver method of making the story a part of the gameplay experience rather than turn it into a passive endeavor in which the player does nothing more than watch it unfold.

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