A lot of developers this generation have not taken big risks with their flagship franchises. When a game becomes a smash hit, no matter what it may be, the developer begins to be afraid of straying from that winning formula. Whether it’s EA with their sports titles, Capcom with Resident or Namco with Soul Calibur, it’s been happening a lot. In 2002, Retro Studios made a huge name for themselves with Metroid Prime. They took a huge risk with that game as they somehow pulled off what everyone thought was impossible. They took Metroid, a franchise known for its excellent 2D roots, into a fully immersive 3D world. Not only did they pull it off almost perfectly, but they made it tough to outdo themselves. Unfortunately with Echoes, they didn’t stray too much from MP’s winning formula, but thankfully still delivered a very enjoyable experience that any action-adventure fan can enjoy.
Let’s get one thing straight though, if you’ve played Metroid Prime, don’t expect much different here. If you loved MP, there isn’t a whole lot of change. If you hated Metroid Prime, there’s nothing really here to appeal to you. Players once again take on the role of intergalactic bounty hunter Samus Aran. She’s on call with the Galactic Federation, as she’s charged to investigate the disappearance of one of the Federation’s elite military squads. This leads her to the planet Aether, which when you first see it, you’ll notice it’s enshrouded in a light and dark mixed atmosphere.
One of the very slight drawbacks of Metroid Prime was that there wasn’t a whole lot of story to it. That was made up with players being thrown into a gigantic world free for them to explore, but stories are always a nice thing to have. Echoes definitely prides itself on being more story driven, but that doesn’t take away from the core play of the game, which is exploration. The story is a little corny though, because it seems like everything in it is either a lame replacement or just stuck in there to keep it Metroid faithful. Metroid Prime featured the demise of the Chozo on Tallon IV due to the Phazon meteor crashing into the planet and the Space Pirates’ presence. The race on Aether is the moth-like Luminoth. They don’t look anything like the Chozo, but their possible fate and culture seem pretty identical to the Chozo’s.
A meteor also crashed into planet Aether, but instead of poisoning it like the one in MP did, it caused a cross-dimensional rift. A race known as the Ing, meaning terror, desire universal domination, and they take refuge in Dark Aether since that is their main power. They are spider-like creatures who are great warriors and have the ability to possess just about anything. Somehow the Space Pirates’ presence has managed to get in this whole ordeal somehow, even though you never know exactly why they’re there in the first place. Then of course with Space Pirates you have to have Metroids, and they are in the game too. But they don’t have a really significant presence or role, so it can leave you wondering why they are even in the game. It also would’ve been nice if the beam designers did something more noticeably different, as each are obvious ripoffs of the ones from MP. The Dark Beam looks just like the Ice Beam; the Light Beam is identical to the Wave Beam and the Annihilator Beam is very similar to the Plasma Beam. What is very nice though, are the brand new visors that have very entertaining and useful purposes.
As stated before, if you’re familiar with Metroid Prime’s gameplay at all, don’t expect a huge change here. The way Echoes controls is virtually identical save some new additions and tweaks. This is that winning formula that was talked about before, but there’s actually nothing wrong with that. The few additions and tweaks makes what made Metroid Prime incredible great in this game as well. You will use the traditional Combat and Scan visors as well as the standard Power Beam. Some of the new features are the implementation of the Screw Attack and Seeker Missile. You’d think the Screw Attack would be strange to use in a 3D environment, but it feels just as natural as using the Morph Ball. The Seeker is very fun to use as well, as you can target up to five enemies or objects at once and launch a series of devastating explosives at them.
Now while Echoes does rely a bit more on the story, the way it’s told is pretty much still the same. You use the Scan Visor to read a handful of text-driven logs which come in various colors on your screen. Logs can be read from both the planet’s creatures and various walls, and they are short and to the point. Although they aren’t quite as interesting to read as the ones in Metroid Prime, they still narrate the story well. Echoes also has a number of great looking cutscenes, and while they never carry dialogue, they’re always nice to see. The new Echo and Dark Visors do their job too. The Dark Visor functions similar to the X-Ray Visor from Metroid Prime, as you can see objects in Dark Aether that you couldn’t normally. The Echo Visor is rather strange, but also very fun to use. It works more or less like a SONAR system that bats use to navigate while flying. When you change to it, you see your entire environment as black and white, with various white waves representing nearby sound travel.
The best part of Echoes is definitely the boss battles. Virtually all the new equipment you have to obtain is guarded by some kind of enemy, and they are all very different and unique. Retro definitely gets props for their job on this, as it does nothing but compliment the overall experience. The challenge of all the bosses is just right, as some aren’t too difficult and some really offer a test of your skills. There is only one recurring boss and that is Dark Samus. Dark Samus is a strange Phazon incarnation of our beloved Metroid heroine, and you encounter it multiple different times during play. You never really know where it came from or what it’s doing on Aether, but it’s very intriguing to see such a strange looking Samus. Dark Samus aside, all the bosses usually require a unique strategy to defeat them, so simply firing your Power Beam at them each time just won’t be enough. Sometimes it won’t do anything at all. You must be on your toes at all times, and pay attention to all available clues.
The audio in Echoes was very well-done, even if it’s also very similar to MP. The same serene, action-oriented and suspenseful themes make their return, but with a different feel. The loveable music themes when grabbing something new makes a welcomed return. It never has really changed much, but it doesn’t need to. Everything does well to help drive whatever you may be doing at the current time, so you won’t find yourself falling asleep playing it. Some of the music can sound downright strange though, especially the final boss part, but it’s all great. The sound effects are awesome just like last time as well. One thing you may notice immediately is the sound effect you hear when you download a new logbook scan. It was rather generic in Metroid Prime, but this time you hear a muffled computerized female voice in the background when you get something new. You don’t ever actually hear anything clearly or different each time you do, but the sound effect is just really cool sounding. The special effects and ambience of your environments don’t disappoint either. All your weapons and the trademark Metroid sounds from causing a special event are prevalent.
The planet of Aether is a great looking one too. It may not be as environmentally varied like Tallon IV from MP’s was, but it still offers awesome looking landscapes. While there is a Light ad Dark world on Aether, the whole game is really made to look a little more gloomy and downtrodden than Metroid Prime’s Tallon IV. Nevertheless, seeing the rainy marshes, sandy deserts and futuristic looking fortress add for some incredible new elements of graphical appeal. Dark Aether is even a spectacle in of itself. It is meant to be a sick and twisted version of the Light World, as each dimension are connected by portals, and you really see just how different everything looks when you go there. The only annoying there here is for two-thirds of the game you can take damage from Dark Aether’s atmosphere and water. Not until you get the final suit can you avoid this, so you will have to constantly take refuge in these predetermined areas of light to regenerate your energy.
Not only do the environments look great, but the enemies do as well. Unfortunately one too many baddies from Metroid Prime have made their return in one form or another, but it’s still nice to see a mix of old an new. Some could be considered blatant copies of Metroid Prime enemies just with a slightly different design, but they’re all satisfying to eliminate nevertheless. Whether you’re in the Light or Dark world, you will encounter countless enemies. Whether it’s the simple, feeble and annoying War Wasp or the leader of the Ing himself, you’ll be fighting a lot. Echoes and Metroid Prime have heavy exploration factors, but the combat is very much a factor as well.
Echoes also carries a great bit of replay value for yourself. Depending on your tastes, you may enjoy playing Metroid Prime over and over again rather than Echoes. It’s still a great experience to return to. The adventure should run those that can play the game well in the neighborhood of 20 hours. Newer players may take longer, and those experienced may take less time. Whatever it may be, it’s a fun game to play no matter what. There are also numerous things to find and unlock just like in Metroid Prime. You have your Energy Tanks, Missile Expansions and various other entertaining goodies. If you want 100% in the game, it could take a while. This is due to the game’s heavy duty backtracking. This could easily be the most annoying part of the game, and may very well put off casual gamers. Especially near the end, you have to search the farthest reaches of Aether to net nine keys for accessing the final temple. This could prove a daunting task for anyone, and can really be frustrating. The backtracking generally isn’t too bad before this point, but this task can be intimidating.
The game also features a brand new multiplayer venue. While this isn’t any kind of special addition to the heavy single player experience, it certainly is a welcome to the package. There are the different modes, including the obvious Deathmatch and an interesting Bounty mode. Each carries a small number of maps, as you and up to three friends can duke it out to see who’s the better Samus. There are no other selectable characters, just a number of different colored Samus suits. It can be something you find worth in if you have nothing else to do, but when it comes down, this is Metroid, a single player game experience.
Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, while it isn’t a stellar sequel, does just enough to offer a new experience that many can find joy in playing. If you’re a Metroid fan and enjoyed Prime, by all means take yourself through this if you haven’t yet. If you’re not, but just a casual action-adventure gamer, you can still find worth in this even if the backtracking can prove boring and tedious. Echoes really just takes most of what Prime did extremely well and tries to refine and polish it up. It didn’t succeed on every level, but it did on enough. The core gameplay is still there, and the new additions are welcome. It was just disappointing that most of the game’s real fun takes place near the end of the game. That’s when you get most of the really fun goodies, but it’s worth the wait. The story may be somewhat lacking in core originality, but still something that should be experienced. If you’re looking for a game to pass the time while you’re waiting for something to release, this is truly a high recommendation.