Still in its prime.
Good and evil. Yin and yang. Vanilla and chocolate. History and philosophy have long split the world into binary code, and it's this very principle on which Metroid Prime 2: Echoes has been built.
While searching for a missing Federation Ship, Samus Aran, galactic bounty hunter and beloved Nintendo mascot, winds up on Planet Aether. The local inhabitants, the Luminoths, are nearly extinct after being persecuted by their dark counterparts, the Ings. The Ings exist because the planet is unstably divided in two planes of existence – Light Aether and Dark Aether. So Samus must jump between light and dark worlds to save the Luminoths from the Ings, thwart the machinations of those pesky space pirates, and deal with her own, ominous dark half.
The concept of polar opposites isn't a new theme for Nintendo. Games like Zelda: A Link to the Past and Super Mario Sunshine have touched upon it, and it's quite overt in characters like Mario, Wario, Luigi and Waluigi. Despite this not being very new terrain, it makes for an interesting backdrop for the hugely anticipated Metroid Prime 2.
But can a tale about Samus helping out giant moths adequately follow up one of the best and most immersive games for the Gamecube? New guns and weapons alone won't do; everything has to be bigger, badder and more innovative. Metroid Prime 2 indeed takes this route by giving us more of everything from the original, plus some classic old-school abilities like the screw attack and wall jump. Unfortunately, more does not necessarily mean better.
Metroid Prime 2 flows just like all the past Metroid games. Samus starts off with the total package - jump boots, multiple visors, premium cables – when suddenly, she loses everything in some weird accident. Pretty clumsy for an uber-heroine. Bit by bit, Samus must recover each of her groovy items, which in turn help her explore and unlock more of the strange alien world on which she is marooned.
And it's definitely stranger than before thanks to its dual-world design. Samus hops back and forth between the light and dark worlds using portals; her actions committed on one plane affecting the state of affairs on the other. Both have similar layouts but are polar opposites, the light world a forested utopia and the dark world a dreary nightmare.
Like the first game, Metroid Prime 2 features a unique control system. Instead of the familiar system used in most first-person shooters, the game utilizes a lock-on aiming system. Other games let you control movement and pitch at the same time, while Echoes lets you toggle your aiming, motion and pitch. Locking-on to enemies and items allow you to circle-strafe relative to your selection. This system isn't as conducive to fighting loads of enemies at once, but is a little more intuitive for the casual gamer.
The many enemies and bosses obey the classic Metroid rules of location, timing, and patterned movement. Larger enemies always have weak spots to target and reaching them either depends on timing or location. Beating bosses requires figuring out their distinct patterns, mostly through trial and error.
The enemies also come in light and dark flavors, and the best way to deal with them is using light and dark weapons. Light weapons work especially well against dark enemies, obviously, and dark is effective against light. By shooting crates (which are as prevalent on other worlds as they are on ours, apparently) and certain plant-life with these special weapons, you can recoup ammo. Shoot using a dark weapon to regain light ammo, and vice-versa.
Though some old classics like the ice-beam are gone, Metroid Prime 2 makes up for that with plenty of other cool gear. The return of the screw attack lets you dish out damage while in ball form, and a few new visors help you scope out enemies in new ways.
In what has become a staple of the Metroid series, many weapons serve double duty as keys to certain doorways; you need a super missile to open up super missile doors, for instance. The folks at Retro Studios really went to town with the concept. There are normal gates, gates that require weapons as keys, gates that require several collectible keys, and even objects or enemies acting as gates. Gates, gates, gates. You will begin to fear every door your come across because you'll know right off the bat there's no easy way past it.
Metroid Prime 2 continues the technical brilliance of its predecessor by completely eliminating loading screens. Once you're in the game, you will not be yanked out to stare at a load bar. A minor side-effect is that some doors take a few seconds longer than others to open. This was a nitpicky detail in the originalPrime, but it's a little more annoying this time. This is particularly true when Samus is in the dark world because she slowly leaks energy. Wasting precious energy just because of a slow door is a nuisance.
The game also sees the return of the active hint system. This can be turned on and off as needed; if you want to keep your game "untainted," just flip it off. However, the world is so utterly huge, it's pretty easy to get lost without occasionally using the hints. These mostly just nudge you along the right path and are a nice alternative to looking up a walkthrough when you're stuck.
Brand new to the Metroid franchise is Echoes' multiplayer. There are only two modes here: basic Deathmatch and Bounty mode, in which players drop money when shot or killed; he with the most cash, wins. There are plenty of power-ups scattered about, the best of which is death ball. Nab this and you can spin around in morph ball mode, bowling over your enemies and dispensing angry electric death.
It's nice that they included multiplayer, but frankly, it's just not very well done. There aren't enough modes, the control scheme doesn't lend itself well to frantic fragging and the fact that the Gamecube isn't online means you can only play it split-screen. If you're looking for a serious multiplayer shooter, you might want to invest in an Xbox.
The game might lack in its multiplayer, but it excels in its visuals. Metroid Prime 2 looks as good as ever, with sharp textures, gigantic environments and a silky smooth framerate. Enemies are creepy and interesting and the level design is smart and creative; you'll rarely see the same thing twice.
However, this also makes Metroid Prime 2 feel a little less cohesive than the original. Jumping back and forth between the light and dark worlds, while interesting from a gameplay perspective, can be jarring. It's not quite as seamless as the first game, but is still head and shoulders above most everything else for the Cube.
The sound is also good, particularly the effects. Metroid Prime 2's music isn't as epic as the original's, but works upon similar themes and comes out fine.
If you want more of what you enjoyed in the first Metroid Prime, expect to be pleased as it is duplicated here in vast quantity. High production values, solid gameplay and classic Metroid design combine to form another winner. Unfortunately, the multiplayer isn't very good and the world isn't as immersive as its stellar predecessor, but Samus shines brightly enough to overcome the dark side.