The Dark Side
Metroid Prime has done for its series what Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time did for theirs; it was groundbreaking and revolutionary and lifted the bar of interactive media even higher. That’s why when you consider Nintendo’s past achievements you’ll note that every first-party title is met with great expectation. Which also makes this sequel feel somewhat weak when compared to its older sibling.
Metroid Prime 2 follows almost immediately after the events of the first Prime game. This time, however, a squadron of peaceful galactic federal troopers have lost contact with the powers that be, and it’s once again up to you (as series legend Samus Aran; probably the game industry’s only female lead treated with respect… then again, that could be because she’s encased in a shiny suit of armor, which makes it hard for gamers to envision her in a bikini… unless they know what “Justin Bailey” means) to find the squadron and get them out alive. What Samus discovers is that something very powerful and rather nasty has struck the planet of Aether, but it has created an alternate dimension (a “dark” Aether if you will) rather then wiping out all life.
The creatures inhabiting this dark world are the very ruthless Ing Horde. They know no mercy or peace, just hate and destruction. The Ing also know how to cause a tear in space-time and frequently enter and attack the “light” Aether. For decades both the Luminoth and Ing have been at war, their goal to steal each other’s energy from their respective sacred temples. The side that can steal all the energy wins, thus causing its enemy planet to perish… and the Luminoth have had nearly all their energy stolen. The few that remain of their species are being stored in sleeping chambers awaiting the destruction of the Ing (or the final invasion that will signal their end).
The grand leader of the Luminoth pleads with Samus to save the light Aether and restore the stolen energy to its rightful owner. If it weren’t bad enough that our heroine has to invade a dark, poisonous planet by herself, guarded by an army made up of millions of bloodthirsty soldiers, she also has to deal with the space pirates (again) and another “dark” Samus.
And here’s where a few of the problems of the game begin to show themselves. The pirates so ruthless and feared in the original Prime are now no more than an annoyance, something that just gets in the way. They’re almost comical in their portrayal. Yes, they are stronger with more upgrades, there are a few new types of pirates, and their presence does add to the story, but you almost get the feeling that they were added on for the sake of it. In fact, I would go as far as saying that they’ve lost credibility as an enemy to Samus. Secondly dark Samus (or the ‘‘dark hunter’’ as she is known to the pirates), feels more like a missed opportunity; she doesn’t play nowhere near enough of a role as I would have liked, only appearing every now and then for a quick confrontation before disappearing to do her own thing. This could have been a Resident Evil-type ‘Nemesis’ battle, but once again it’s just an extra. In the end if feels more like a side-quest, in that it never achieved its true potential. Oddly enough, that’s pretty much how I would describe this game overall.
The original Prime was also a landmark in level design, with the backtracking being the only major annoyance. Prime 2 does improve on the backtracking issue, but it still somehow manages to be designed poorly in places. This is most noticeable when you’re not allowed to save before a major boss battle. Should Samus be defeated, the result is the unnecessary need to repeat a lengthy section of the game before reengaging the boss.
On a more positive note, the graphics and audio are once again superb and really serve to demonstrate just how powerful the GameCube truly is. In fact, this game looks so good it’s amazing that it’s not running on a high spec PC. Rich textures, wonderful animation, and superb special effects really brings Echoes to life. One could spend hours simply admiring the beauty of this game.
The dark world is also another visual delight; it genuinely feels like a creepy, foreboding place: the atmosphere is thick and toxic and really does send the message that dark Aether is a horrible wasteland. The only quarrel would be that the dark world is a little too purple. A little variation would have been nice, but it doesn’t take away any points from the overall visual performance.
One of the strong points of Echoes is just how immersive the story is. Reading the in-game lore really paints a picture of this shattered world. Unlike Prime, the history here is interesting to read and connects you emotionally to the Luminoth. In this respect Echoes is an improvement over its big brother.
Sadly, for all of the steps forward that Echoes takes (i.e. visually, audibly, and the addition of multiplayer), it takes several back. Gameplay is pretty much a clone of what we experienced in Prime; however, while the flaws were excused in the predecessor (it was Samus’ first foray into a FPS after all), they cannot be forgiven two years later. Because the developers were unwillingness to break away from standard gameplay conventions and the model they created in 2002, newcomers and veterans alike will find themselves bothered rather than fulfilled.