Gamestyle Archive intro: Richard was a regular writer at the site hailing from the Netherlands and the in joke was he liked to give out 10 scores on a regular basis. However if you reviewed the cream of the Gamecube releases then such scores were more likely, such as this entry in the Metroid series.
Published: December 2004
In 2002, Nintendo and Retro Studios surprised fans and sceptics alike with Metroid Prime; a game we all thought could never survive its dimensional transition. Taking the series’ bare bones, Retro wrapped it in a completely new skin – albeit attaching the oft-derided first-person view. However, despite this cosmetic overhaul, Metroid Prime remained a true Metroid game at heart – and one that left us dumbstruck by its aesthetics and environmental consistency. And really, that was all that mattered in the end.
Two years later and we’re graced by its sequel. With the groundwork already laid, Retro Studios had ample room to push this series further than it’s ever been. But was Prime simply a fluke of design, or does Echoes truly compare; truly consolidate Retro as one of the best developers around? Responding to a Federation distress signal from a planet called Aether, Samus’ ship is struck by lightning and she crash-lands, finding the entire squad of Federation troops wiped out. The planet has been dimensionally split in two, and the denizens of each world are warring for the energy the other possesses. When the only means of transferring energy between the two worlds is bonded to Samus’ suit, it is up to her to restore Aether to its original state. But there’s more to this story than simply good versus evil – Dark Aether is teeming with Phazon (the mutagen ore that Prime’s story was based around) and there’s a ‘Dark Samus’ lurking about the planet, absorbing the Phazon into her/its power suit. The Space Pirates are here as well, looking to mine the Phazon for their own ends. That’s a lot of potential storyline for one game, especially considering Echoes’ only vehicle for delivering the plot is a Logbook composed of data and research logs you’ll find along the way.
Whilst Metroid Prime 2: Echoes essentially plays out like the original – your 3D map and HUD are basically identical – it does make improvements where needed. Your Logbook is infinitely more organised this time around, and you can actively keep track of the scan-percentages and logs you’ve found in the game. This actually does make a difference, since browsing your Logbook is easy and the information added is often interesting, crucial to the plot, or both. Your Scan Visor has also been given a makeover. You can scan almost everything in the game (whether or not it goes into your logbook), and colour-coding of objects lets you instantly tell if you’ve already scanned them – in the case of bosses with multiple forms, scan them each time for the necessary information. This system quickly grows on you and you’ll often find yourself doing quick 360’s around an area looking for a glimpse of red or blue objects that may’ve been missed. Scanning and collecting information is very important, and this new system is much more user-friendly than Metroid Prime’s.
Samus Aran moves and controls just like she did in the original. If you’re new to the 3D Metroid games, the opening sections serve as a mini-tutorial of the basic mechanics (you can rush through this if you’re already acquainted). The same thing applies to the super-helpful, yet ever-so-subtle Hint System, which indicates where your next destination should be on your 3D map. Forgive the pun, but Echoes’ graphics initially seem to ‘echo’ its predecessor’s. If you look closer, there have been significant gains; Retro continues to amaze and impress with their unmatched art direction, and certain environmental features will leave you awestruck. Aether is a beautiful, complex world and is filled to the brim with organic detail – from its flora and fauna, swarms of minute insect and animal life, to its convincing landscapes. No two rooms are identical and entering each one is like opening a visual present.
The technological Sanctuary area is so intricately designed and textured that we can’t begin to imagine how Retro worked up the original drafts. Character and object models are also greatly improved; sometimes subtly, while at other times they’ll jump right out and hit you (literally – like when an enemy leaps out of the water and shakes itself off before attacking you, sending particles flying). Another dramatic moment is when you enter a room and see it filled with a huge, electrified gyroscope – a set-piece that you’ll eventually walk and ‘spiderball’ on. The lighting effects are also crisp and authentic, with smoke billowing out of engines and elevator platforms looking fantastic. Immersion is all around you, but this can be Echoes’ downfall as well as its greatest strength… Because when you’re noticing everything with your ‘third eye’ (not a reference to Dark Samus, mind) you inevitably get caught up on imperfections: like Retro reusing many of the same enemy designs and behaviours from the first Prime. Familiar enemies rear their ugly heads (and tails); airborne pirates fire the same missile patterns and fly around identically as before; Chozo Ghosts typically disappear and respawn; Visor upgrades that look new but essentially perform the same – and of course the annoyingly unnecessary end-game key ‘hunt’ that sends you all over the world again. Whether or not you can live with these things is up to you.
Similarly, the audio score can be scrutinised. Gamestyle isn’t for one moment suggesting the music is bad – most of the tracks are ambient sci-fi stuff that really sets the mood well – but considering our favourite parts of the original Prime were its melodies, the music in Echoes feels slightly underdone. It’s still equally accomplished but somehow not as endearing. Alas. It’s worth nothing, however, that Retro has compensated for our ‘loss’ with some superb sonic effects; visuals are perfectly represented by environmental noise and clatter that really bring Aether to life (especially if you have surround sound and a good subwoofer). The metallic thud as an elevator reaches the bottom of a shaft literally feels heavy, and the rest of the game’s sound is of equal calibre.
To match such thrill-a-minute environments, the level design, puzzles, and boss fights are all insanely original. Paths that would’ve ingeniously led you to new weapons in Prime are considered simple byways in Echoes (usually resulting in a missile expansion or energy tank); and where Prime had largely-forgettable bosses, Echoes has no end of unique stand-offs that require weakpoint manipulation and precise execution. You also gain new abilities in Echoes; previous abilities can be used in conjunction with newer ones – but what irks us is that while simple upgrades are easily noted and often (ab-)used, new abilities (and arguably much cooler ones) like the Screw Attack/Wall Jump are criminally underexploited. Then there’s the multiplayer mode. It’s really nothing special and feels like an afterthought. We’ve endeavoured to remain hopeful – since Retro has rightfully established itself as one to watch, having aimed for and achieved spectacular results with Metroid’s dimensional transition – but in the end it turns out that multiplayer-added value has been ‘spectacularly’ diminished here.
Ultimately, we were blown away by Metroid Prime 2: Echoes. It’s not the completely groundbreaking experience that Prime was, but we’re more than willing to forgive its debts, because the game stands firm as an extremely well-produced, creative and, most importantly, fun endeavour that is a strong contender for Game of the Year (and a must-play for fans of the first Prime). The score given is well-deserved, because Metroid Prime 2: Echoes is truly a work of art.
Gamestyle Score: 10/10