In preparation of of the upcoming speedrun of this game at AGDQ 2017, I recently played through Metroid Prime 2: Echoes again. It’s one of my favorite games of all time – and by that I mean that it fascinates me on a personal level unlike most other games.
In this article, I’ll try to explain what makes this game so fascinating.
Metroid Prime 1's opening level was trying to be eerie and foreboding. Seeing all the debris and dead space pirates while being onboard the frigate certainly works. The fight against the queen parasite, the subsequent escape sequence and loss of Samus’s items certainly does its part as well.
But it was still more of an action section. It didn’t feel that eerie. Echoes does it right.
Samus is being sent to planet Aether to investigate what has happened to a galactic federation ship and its crew. Upon trying to land on the planet, her ship gets hit by lightning, but manages to crashland into a cave.
You’re descending into a hole, only to find a makeshift federation base underground. There are a lot of corpses – both critters and federation troops alike.
As you progress through the station, you encounter dead troopers who rise up and attack you, like zombies.
This short section ends with you discovering Dark Samus, an evil doppelganger of yourself.
You see Dark Samus going into a dimensional rift. You follow her, only to be assaulted by what appears to be demon-like, shadowy creatures.
You lose most of your items yet again, but finally discover an elevator to go upward and finally reach the surface.
This opening section establishes a lot: some sort of parallel dimension, federation troopers are seemingly screwed and holed-up, some form of dark matter and/or dark creature is loose, and a copy of Samus (which the player might knew from Prime 1's secret ending, but Samus herself didn’t) suddenly shows up, only to be hostile.
All of this, while this ambient piece plays in the background.
As you continue through the game, all of these points are eventually clarified. More importantly, however, is that all of these points are original. THAT is why Echoes is so special to me, because the developers were brave enough to do something entirely different. And I dig what they’ve created here a lot.
A Symphony of Light and Dark
Metroid Prime 2: Echoes features two parallel worlds to explore – a novel concept even in today’s gaming world.
Outside of A Link to the Past and Soul Reaver, I can’t think of any other game in which these worlds are interconnected to each other (or in other words, the gameplay affects both locations).
If you activate a switch to move an object in one world, it’s also moved in the other world. Even the weather changes depending on your actions.
The dark world is not just a copy-paste of the light world’s environment, either. The lighting is different and there are quite a few blocked-off paths and isolated rooms.
While most of the environment exist in the dark world as well, some of the more-recently built objects are not present. This is most evident in the obligatory space pirate base, which simply doesn’t exist in the dark world.
But what makes the dark world really stand out is the hostile air: You’re losing health unless you’re in a safe zone.
Other Metroid games have their magma sections which drain your health, but you can usually avoid these areas until you’ve acquired the Varia Suit.
In Echoes, you’re forced to walk through the life-draining areas.
You receive a suit upgrade early on which reduces the life drain, but it won’t be until near the end of the game that you receive a second suit upgrade which completely protects you from harm.
Until that happens, you never lose your fear when travelling into the dark world. It’s not just a “obtain item to unlock area” deal. No, it’s a “obtain item to survive” deal.
If there’s one thing that’s equally-great among all Metroid Prime games, it’s the music. Echoes has a number of great tracks, buttwo of them in particular stand out.
The Sanctuary Fortress has Tron written all over it. Since I’m one of these guys who actually like Tron, this is a no-brainer for me.
From an aesthetic standpoint, the fortress is just full of color. Sometimes it’s a straight-up future city, and sometimes it’s trying to be a cyberspace, complete a Matrix rain effects.
Meanwhile, the Temple Grounds may not be full of Luminoth technology, but combined with their focus on the “Light of Aether”, I imagine their technology to be bright and stylish.
The artstyle and music of the Sanctum series (especially in Sanctum 2) remind me a lot of this “Bright Punk” technology artstyle (in an abstract, distranc way anyway). Heck, even its music has this certain touch of somber, yet mighty to it.
Fear the Horde
What would be a Metroid game without a strong and sometimes outright frightening enemy?
Right, it would be like Other M (seriously Nintendo, a child!?)
Jokes aside though, Samus is always fighting against the strongest (and strangest) type of foes. Be it the space pirates or metroids in the earlier games, or the X parasite from Fusion.
In Echoes, the main enemy faction are the Ing, and boy are they frightening. They can possess every creature they come across, making it stronger in the process.
Everything’s fair game to them: local wildlife, robots, metroids, even space pirates.
What’s more, they can even steal technology as well.
Remember when Samus loses all of her items at the beginning of the game? Well, they stole them actually, and the player has to defeat the Ing which possess her items to get them back.
That leads to the Ing possessing enemies which utilize Samus’ abilities.
Morph Ball Bomb-spewing worm? Check. Space Jump-using Ing warrior? Check. Power Bomb-spewing plant? Check. A poor man’s Yoshi? Check?
The Boost Ball guardian can die in hell, but regardless of that, every other encounter is unique and fun.
Overall, the Ing live up to the expectations of being the main antagonist here: They’re versatile and do everything in their power to try to stop Samus.
It’s Not Perfect, But...
So far I’ve been focusing on the setting and themes of Echoes, but not on its gameplay. The quality is very high among all games in the Metroid Prime Trilogy, and any criticism is already on the highest level. We’re not talking about how bad it is compared to Prime 1, but rather how imperfect it is.
For fairness sake, I’ll cover some points here.
First-off, the overall world layout.
Echoes has four hubworlds (plus the parallel dimension). You spend a long time in one of them, and then move on to the next.
There are pathways that connect them all together, but they become available rather late in the game, so most of the time only the central hubworld serves as a link to all the others.
It can be quite the bottleneck at times.
Prime 1 has a more organic feel to its world design. You always go back and forth between each hubworld (of which there are six).
There are more pathways to other areas. It feels more like layers of one big world, as opposed to the sort-of separated hubworlds of Echoes.
Secondly, the way you find items.
In both games, you have to find a new item (or defeat a boss and obtain an item after its defeat) at a constant pace.
Whereas Prime 1 manages to make this progress more natural (you get to visit new areas or return to older ones all the time), Echoes is admittedly quite predictable.
Instead of changing the hubworld constantly, there are only two times when you have to backtrack. Otherwise, all items required to finish one area are in that same area.
Of course, both of them still suffer from the “collect a bunch of quest items before the final fight” syndrome. It encourages more exploration, but on the other hand it’s also a drag if you’re stuck.
Lastly, the visors in Echoes kind of suck. They’re used too much for puzzle-solving.
The Dark Visor only shows targets in the center of the screen, so you can’t see any enemies that are at the edge of the screen. The Echo Visor is completely-useless for combat.
Worst of all, unlike the X-Ray Visor from Prime 1, which could be used to detect some hidden items, neither the Dark Visor nor the Echo Visor point out the items.
So yes, maybe Prime 1 really is that perfect masterpiece. It’s more accessible to the casual crowd (I haven’t even talked about the difficulty yet), and generally is a more pleasing trip than the harsh experience that Echoes is.
But again, I dig it, even if it’s harsh.
In general, I’d rather that developers create something new and risk making a couple missteps, as opposed to rehashing the exact same thing all over again.
As you might’ve noticed by now, I love the game not because of its Metroid elements, but because of its non-Metroid elements.
In a certain type of way, it manages to be a truly original sequel.
As opposed to rehashing the same Super Metroid elements (or in case of Other M, the same Metroid Fusion elements), it uses the template of Samus venturing to another world, but otherwise creates a whole new world (and dimension) to explore.
The same can be said of Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, which is not afraid of travelling between several planets, instead of limiting the plot on one single planet.
Remember, the world design doesn’t always need to be fully-interconnected and full of dead ends you can run into early on (but I respect those who prefer this style, and thus have chosen Prime 1 or Super Metroid as their favorite). As long as the content itself is interesting, and the gameplay is largely intact, it qualifies as a good Metroid game in my book.
Metroid Prime 2: Echoes was the most interesting game in my book, that is all.