Rewind Review - Metroid Prime 2: Echoes
As we finally reach Day 7 we mark the half-way point of my Metroid Rewind Review series, as well as the half-way point in the Metroid Prime canon. That's right, we are returning to the Metroid Prime series with Metroid Prime 2: Echoes for the Nintendo Gamecube and Wii.
Metroid Prime 2 marks the second time that we have joined Samus Aran in the 3D realm, exploring a universe under threat from a creature known as - if you haven't guessed - Metroid Prime, as well as the phazon corruption it brings along wherever it goes. While the game received mostly positive reviews from critics, user reviews tend to be a lot more mixed with the negative reviews claiming that the game is "more of the same" or has "terrible controls with a bland story". Some reviews even go so far as to say that "the backtracking takes away from the fun and the multiplayer is worthless". With a 92 critic score on Metacritic, do the fans know better, or is this the beginning of Metroid fans claiming to know the series better than Nintendo does? Here at Rewind Reviews, I think it's time to sort this out.
As we return to Metroid Prime 2: Echoes we will not only analyze the game as a member of the Metroid series, but also as a member of the standalone Prime series. As with all Rewind Reviews, Metroid Prime 2: Echoes will undergo a review process through the eyes of a modern critic. No nostalgia glasses, no excuses, no rationalizing hardware limitations, and no sparing myself from angry fans and readers. Nothing will excuse the game from anything that we - as modern gamers - would expect to see in the genre today. With that said, let's return to the Prime universe and venture to the torn world of Aether in Metroid Prime 2: Echoes.
Metroid Prime 2: Echoes takes place after the events of the original Metroid Prime, as well as the spin-off title Metroid Prime: Hunters. While venturing through space in her gunship, Samus receives the following mission file from the Galactic Federation:
--- Mission File 02546 ---
8 days ago, contact with Galactic
Federation trooper squad Bravo was lost.
--- Contract Agreement ---
Locate Federation troopers and render
--- Data Confirmation ---
Last transmission received from a rogue
planet located in the Dasha region called
Uploading last known coordinates now_
The game begins immediately after this introduction with Samus's gunship crashing toward Aether after being rendered uncontrollable due to the planet's purple storm clouds. After a quick search of her surroundings, Samus finds the Galactic Federation troopers' abandoned base, a number of said troopers lying dead on the ground after being attacked by some unknown entity. After restoring power to the gate leading toward their landing site, the dead are ressurected by some strange dark clouds, bringing them back as "Dark Troopers".
I first played this game in the 7th grade. Had nightmares of these guys ever since.
It is not long after her encounter with the Dark Troopers that Samus discovers a black portal to a world known as Dark Aether. There, Samus finds a shadowy figure in armor that looks almost identical to Samus's own Power Suit, and upon detecting Samus's arrival it destroys a nearby crystal that acts as a barrier in this strange dark world. As the barrier begins to shrink, Samus is attacked by strange black creatures that tear at her armor, stealing her suit upgrades until the only functional systems remaining are her morph ball and her power beam.
Poor troopers didn't stand a chance against the forces of Dark Aether...
Samus continues on until she finds the G.F.S. Tyr, Bravo Team's ship. After watching the commander's last entry log, Samus learns that all troopers have been killed by the same shadow creatures that stole her suit upgrades. With little other option left, Samus continues forward to explore both Aether and Dark Aether in an attempt to not only escape the planet's dark clouds, but also save the planet from yet another Leviathan and its phazon corruption.
Start of Spoilers
After finding a survivor of the planet's native Luminoth race, Samus begins searching for devices known as "Energy Transfer Modules" that host the "Light of Aether", a source of energy from within the planet that is necessary for their survival. After several encounters with the shadowy figure now known as "Dark Samus", Samus eventually destroys not only the Emperor Ing that is responsible for the attacks on the Luminoth, but also Dark Samus who is revealed to be none other than Metroid Prime - the same creature that stole her Phazon Suit in the previous game.
Barely escaping the dying world of Dark Aether, Samus returns to the Main Energy Controller to return all suit upgrades she received from the Luminoth temples. As Samus leaves Aether, however, a mist of blue particles combine into an unknown figure that pursues her...
End of Spoilers
Prime 2: Echoes marks the first solid plot in the Metroid Prime series. Not only does the game use a lot more cutscenes than its predecessor, it also relies more heavily on conversations with dead Luminoth and the Prime-exclusive Scan Visor lore. Once again, Retro Studios provides a deep - albeit somewhat contrived - story that uses a lot more fantasy elements than previous Metroid titles. While the introduction of a "Dark Samus" seems a bit cliché for a title based in a Japanese universe, the American take on the series once again shows that they know what Metroid players want: story when they want it, action when they don't.
I would praise Retro Studios again in this review for its use of lore scans, however, it is simply a waste of time. If players want to read up more on the story, look up a Metroid wikia page or play the game for yourself.
The Beautiful: (Wii/Wii U Version only)
For more information on this, revisit my Metroid Prime Rewind Review.
The Beautiful: (Both Versions)
In a previous Rewind Review I stated that one of the reasons Metroid: Fusion deserved a beautiful score was because of the difficulty. Due to the amount of damage that enemies hit Samus with, as well as the Ice Beam being limited through the use of Ice Missiles, Fusion was able to curb the difficulty of the late game in such a way that it never seemed as though Samus became too powerful.
Charge combos such as the Sonic Boom are useful against many bosses, unlike Metroid Prime's combos that only wasted missile ammo.
While Metroid Prime 2 does require you to play on harder difficulties before Samus takes a fair amount of damage, the Normal Mode of Echoes is no pushover. There are two reasons for this: the suit upgrades no longer offer Samus damage reduction, and the "Ice Beam" and "Plasma Beam" are limited in ammo through the "Dark Beam" and "Light Beam" respectively.
Earlier in this review I stated that I would judge this game as a Prime game, as well as a Metroid game, and there is a very good reason for this. While Metroid Prime was not in some ways a good "Metroid" game, it was a good action game. However, due to the fact that it was trying to be more of a Metroid game than an action platformer the game suffered from a near-invincible Samus by the end of the game.
Weapon ammo forces players to think twice about freezing enemies with a charged Dark Beam
Echoes does not have this problem. Instead it changes its formula to match that of most first person shooters. By giving the player limited ammunition on their missiles and beams, Retro has started a shift in the Prime series that will ultimately turn it into an action-adventure Metroid series as opposed to one that is focused on exploration and platforming. As such, Metroid Prime 2: Echoes receives a "beautiful" section for doing something different. It does not want to be a character-driven space exploration game, and instead decides to be a game that is more inspired by the action of fighting engaging enemies and taking in the environment you are placed in. As a result we no longer have Super Metroid 3D and instead have a truly unique experience in the Metroid universe.
The Good: (Both Versions)
All of the features that made the original Metroid Prime good are present in Echoes as well. This means that the tight first-person platforming, the scan visor loveliness, multi-beam functionality, and so on (more details can - once again - be found in my Metroid Prime review).
Bosses in Echoes both look and feel like they could do serious damage to Samus's energy tanks. They do.
Echoes also reintroduces the concept of multiple methods of killing bosses. While many bosses still rely on the player striking at a single weak point in order to defeat them the terrain itself changes the style of battle. This is for two reasons: the first being that bosses most bosses do not have a "Third Time's the Charm" formula, and the second being the scarcity of light crystals on Dark Aether. Light crystals scattered about boss battlefields serve as the only protection against the atmosphere of Dark Aether. Without them Samus will always take damage, even after acquiring the Dark Suit since it only prevents 80% of damage, and the Light Suit is only acquired in the last 10% of the game. As a result the player must decide if they wish to stay within the protective auras of the light crystals (which usually limit the player's ability to deal damage) or to exit the barriers to do more damage at the risk of losing precious amounts of energy. Furthermore, many larger bosses will destroy or corrupt the light crystals if the player decides to "camp" inside of them. This can lead to players having no safe haven for the rest of the boss battle in certain cases - and even death if a player is too low on health after defeating a boss.
Being at half health is worrying when fighting bosses as you could very likely die to Dark Aether's atmosphere after battle
While this could be seen as a "cheap shot" by some players who are accustomed to not dying outside of boss battles, it actually improves the immersion a lot. Dark Aether - in the lore - is supposed to be completely inhospitable when compared to its counterpart. This means that every second spent on its surface is supposed to be a trial, that every moment that you are not in the barriers or otherwise on Aether itself, you are at risk. Add on to that the previously mentioned requirement of ammunition to power the light, dark, and annihilator beams and players are setting off into a world that will test players in ways that the other Prime games will not - especially in the hard difficulty or hypermode.
The Bad: (Both Versions)
There are only a few minor complaints I could make about Echoes as a member of the Prime series.
The first is that the game slows down during early sections until you get the Dark Suit. Traveling through Dark Aether while in the Varia Suit is a pain in the neck as you will probably spend 30% of your time in the first "dungeon" waiting in light barriers for your health to recover.
The second is that the beam system - while improving the game's difficulty - can sometimes stall you in the game since many doors need light, dark, or (Light of Aether forbid) annihilator beams to open. While you will never be "trapped" in an area, you will sometimes have your progression ground to a halt if you wasted your beams elsewhere.
Also, the multiplayer is kind of bad as a result of terrible balance issues with the Dark Beam. The Wii version is only more fun than the Gamecube version on the grounds that you can say "I'm better at being Samus than you!" while waggling your Wii Remote around while drunk.
Ultimately these issues do not affect the game's playability in the slightest, it simply takes some minor adjustment to the game's mechanics.
The Bad: (Gamecube Version)
For more information on this, revisit my Metroid Prime Rewind Review.
Oh yeah, I mentioned there were only a few minor complaints, right? Well... I half-lied. There's also a bit of a rant for the very big complaints.
These keys... these game-ruining, tedious, unforgiving, time-wasting keys!
I apologize immediately for anyone who loves this game over the other Prime games, or who loves it at all, but there is one completely unforgivable feature that completely ruined this game for me that warrants this first-time "hideous" section. While I believe that this game did a lot of things better than Metroid Prime, Echoes completely ruins the pacing with the Temple Keys. This is not Zelda. In fact, even The Legend of Zelda does not make you finish a temple, only for the temple boss to tell you to bug off and fetch it not 1, not 3, but 9 bloody Sky Temple keys with no questions asked before you fight Emperor Ing. The other temples make you find keys as well, but the replay value of the game turns to zero once you do this once. Even Prime only made you do a fetch-quest at the end, and by then you had half of the keys anyway.
I spent almost 2 hours trying to find this negligible and impractical weapon upgrade.
While I would excuse the keys if they were the only backtracking in the game, the other issue is the backtracking in general. Not only are you backtracking for keys, but you're backtracking all the time for every single powerup in the game, the most annoying for me being the seeker missiles. As if the seeker missiles' impractical use outside of puzzles and boss fights was not insulting enough, the backtracking in Echoes does not feel natural at all. Unlike the first Prime game, none of the areas are interconnected, and so half of the time you are going back to the central area so that you can reach the other area on the other side of the map. If I had to make an analogy it would go as follows.
Not a single area on Aether links to anything but the central area where you start
Metroid Prime makes you backtrack by taking you through loops. It is much like seeing an old friend that you meant to talk to while on your way to the grocery store. You kill two birds with one stone, then you move on.
Metroid Prime 2: Echoes is like waking up to go to the grocery store, stepping out the door only to realize you forgot your pants. So you go back upstairs, get dressed, and head out the door. Only, this time you forgot your keys. So you get your keys, lock the door, get in the car, then realize you forgot your wallet. So you get out, unlock the door, get your wallet, go to the car, get out of the driveway, and realize you forgot to lock the door, and so on.
It is so tedious that it completely ruins everything that the game does right, so much so that despite having fun with the game during the "good" times, I never want to touch it ever again.
I have mixed feelings about the graphics in Metroid Prime 2: Echoes. While the game looks about the same design-wise as Metroid Prime, the game feels... off? The graphics are objectively better as anti-aliasing has been improved, the shaders are better than ever, and the textures are clear. However, something was just off-putting about Dark Aether's endlessly reused textures and colour scheme. While it is effective in immersing the player in the world, it also shoved me out - personally - since I got rather sick of all the purple. I love purple, so that's saying something.
I could probably tell Echoes veterans that this is a screenshot of Dark Agon Wastes and half of them would believe me. Then again, I can't even tell what area this is a screenshot of...
This gets confusing when there are many items under one a single directory
One issue I had with the presentation for certain, however, was the new user interface. That weird... nucleus... spinning... thingy... The UI is just not user friendly at all. It took me longer than it should have to figure out how to use, and I should not have to "learn" how to use a menu. I get it, Retro Studios wanted to make something artsy and cool-looking. I'd rather have my original Prime UI. Thanks.
Music in the game is also perhaps some of the worst in the series. Yes, I mean worse than the beep-boops of Metroid II: Return of Samus. At least Metroid II has the excuse that it was a Gameboy game. Echoes literally has half of its tracks as nothing more than groans and heartbeats. Don't believe me? Check out the original soundtrack on the left. While it certainly immerses you in the "post-apocalyptic" theme of Echoes, it is just so downright droning that if not for my girlfriend sitting beside me and talking about anime I would have fallen asleep. Sure, a few battle themes have some "oomph" in them, but otherwise it's beeps, groans, or heartbeats. Sorry Echoes, but I'd rather listen to Samus's voice in Other M than your soundtrack. At least it grabs my attention - even if it is in a bad way (but we'll talk about that later).
I had a rough time deciding on a score for this game. Honestly, I did. When I started playing through the game it felt like a solid 10/10. Everything played so well, and the changes really made the game feel more like an action game which the FPS genre is more suited for, instead of a wannabe Metroid 2D title. The game also makes the 3D Metroid games feel as though there is more at risk than simply my game time since enemies are actually capable of doing a good amount of damage, this being the second Metroid title that has successfully killed me while simultaneously giving me a serious challenge - the other being Metroid: Fusion.
But the keys... those damn keys... they were just completely inexcusable, earning the first "hideous" section I've ever written. While the game certainly isn't "more of the same" or "terrible controls with a bland story", it is terrible for backtracking. If this were a Metroid 2D title, I might have been able to forgive it. However, the way that Metroid Prime 2: Echoes is laid out, it seems as though Retro Studios could not decide what they wanted to do with the game, and ultimately the lack of commitment to either an action-based Metroid or an exploration based Metroid resulted in this mess of a game.
I cannot recommend this game for any Metroid fan aside for the story elements. Even then I would recommend that players watch a "Let's Play" or something. I cannot for the sake of my honour recommend this game without serious considerations. Everything that this game does right is almost completely negated by what it does wrong.
As such, I give the game an undecided 5/10. The reason is that I cannot decide whether to give it a 10/10 for being perhaps the best 3D Metroid on paper, but also giving it a 1/10 for the backtracking being so counter intuitive that it literally ruins the game. I am seriously at a loss. For the first time on Rewind Reviews I don't know what to think about a game.
What are your opinions on Metroid Prime 2: Echoes? Do you think that the backtracking doesn't hurt the game nearly as much as I did? Is the multiplayer actually fun? Voice your opinions in the comments section below!
Be sure to check back on this article, or the GameSkinny front page for future reviews as we make our way from the original 1986 Metroid on the NES to the 2010 release of Metroid: Other M. See you next mission!
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