Despite being part of an immensely popular franchise across several Nintendo consoles, I'd never played a Metroid Prime game prior to this, so when I saw Metroid Prime 2: Echoes in a charity shop, I decided to give it a go.
Although the game's protagonist Samus Aran has appeared in lots of games prior to this outing, at no point in the game did I feel out of my depth. I'm sure that had I played the other games, I would have recognised continuing storylines or nods to earlier episodes, but at no point did I think I was missing out on some crucial information. You can play Metroid Prime 2 as part of an on-going saga or (like me) as a stand-alone adventure. Either way, it offers a tremendous gaming experience.
I don't really know what the exact plot to the game is, since my copy is missing its instruction booklet but as with most video games, this doesn't actually matter too much. As far as I can gather from the introductory screens, armoured intergalactic mercenary Samus Aran crash lands on a planet and must find her way to safety on a hostile alien planet.
At its heart, Metroid Prime 2 is essentially that late 90s staple the First Person Shooter (FPS). You see most of the action through the eyes of Aran and although there are puzzles to the game, many simply involve finding the right thing to shoot that will open up another part of the screen. So far, so unoriginal. True, the Gamecube had a bit of a dearth of decent FPS games when compared to other platforms, but initially Metroid Prime 2 doesn't appear to offer much by way of innovation.
Arguably, Metroid Prime 2 is a slower paced example of the FPS. Whilst there are certainly moments of frantic blasting as you are assailed by enemies, the emphasis is as much on exploring as it is on shooting. Metroid Prime 2 doesn't have the frenetic action of, say Doom or Heretic, where massive amounts of enemies constantly attack you, but that actually makes it much more creepy and atmospheric. Every time you turn around a corner or enter a new corridor, you are not quite sure what to expect. Will there by enemies waiting to kill you or is there a safe route into the next area? This sense of not quite knowing what to expect is surprisingly eerie. I actually found my palms sweating and pulse racing - something other so-called scary games (like Resident Evil) have never managed to do.
This sense of atmosphere is achieved through superb use of graphics and sound. Sure, when compared to the fluid animation and realistic landscapes of today, they look a little dated and blocky. Yet they create a sense of atmosphere which defies belief. This is mainly achieved through the clever use of a HUD (Head-Up Display). Most FPS games simply have you looking through the eyes of the main character so that you have an unobstructed view of proceedings. In Metroid Prime 2, you are also viewing the action through the visor of Aran's helmet. This means that throughout the game various messages, warning and other things are constantly flashing around you. This all adds to the immersive nature of the atmosphere and that all important sense of "being there". At times you become so immersed in the game that it becomes hard to accept that you are just controlling a computer character.
Sure, much of the scenery you encounter is functional and rather blocky in its graphical construction, but whilst your initial reaction might be to note how dated the graphics are, the game will soon grab you so that rather than appearing blocky, they seem to perfectly replicate a harsh alien environment.
The same is true of the sound. When I first switched on my Wii the sound was not at all what I expected. Given the game's FPS style gameplay, I assumed that Metroid Prime 2 would be full of militaristic, bombastic tunes and massive explosions. Not so: the game's creators have chosen a far more effective route, leaving everything eerily quiet. A slow, low-key tune accompanies the game and gets the adrenalin flowing far more effectively than any pumped-up, bass-heavy soundtrack could. This adds to the sense that you are sneaking around somewhere you shouldn't be and that detection could well spell death.
Sound effects are also fairly sparse (by modern gaming standards) but effective and appropriate. Once again, you become so immersed in the atmosphere that you find yourself pressing the buttons on the controller as quietly as you can, lest the clicking of the buttons give your position away to the enemy! That's a sign that you've become seriously involved in a game and the atmosphere it generates!
Speaking of controls, they have been very well implemented. If you are playing this on the Wii, I'd definitely recommend investing in a Gamecube controller, since the game was originally written for this system and so the controls are optimised for it. Initially, there seem an awful lot of controls to master, since more or less every button or switch is used for something (and sometimes for more than one thing, depending on context.) Thankfully, the early parts of the first level act as a tutorial, introducing you to the various controls. These are so well worked out that your fingers seem to gravitate naturally towards the right button to perform that action that you want. Even though I had never played a Metroid Prime game before (and didn't have the instruction booklet) within about five minutes I felt completely up to speed with the controls and could focus my energy on the game itself, rather than having to remember which button to press when.
There is tons of gaming time to this title. I've been playing it (on and off) for quite some time now and suspect that I still haven't done much more than scratch the surface. Thanks to the atmosphere and the combination of shooting and exploring action, I've also found that I don't get bored of it quickly. Whilst I enjoy playing other FPS games in short bursts, I find that the constant assault on the senses wears thin after a while. The blending of different styles in Metroid Prime 2 means that I tend to enjoy longer gaming sessions on it. True, it can get g a little frustrating at times as some sections are incredibly tough, but you'll be having so much fun, you'll probably view this as a challenge rather than a chore.
The one downside is one that (for me) is all too common to most FPS games: they make me suffer from motion sickness. If I play for too long, I start to feel a slight headache coming on. If I ignore these early warning signs, after a while I start to feel very nauseous and have no choice but to switch the game off. With most FPS games, this isn't an issue since (as noted above) I tend to get bored with them before the nausea kicks in. With Metroid Prime 2, it's frustrating because I am so immersed in the game that I WANT to carry on, but am unable to do so.
I honestly have no idea how Metroid Prime 2 fits into the overall cannon of Samus Aran, nor how well (or badly) it compares with its predecessors. What I do know is that it is an excellent, atmospheric game that is a lot of fun to play. Given that the game is playable on the Wii and can be picked up for under £10 (and less than a fiver if you get lucky), my advice is to track a copy down and treat yourself to a brilliantly atmospheric FPS. You won't regret it.
(c) Copyright SWSt 2012
Nintendo has broken my heart on many occasions in recent years. The standards of its games has slipped drastically, especially in the Zelda department. But Metroid Prime begged to differ: a solid first-person adventure game with enough depth, gameplay and attention to detail to satisfy most people. Sure, it was hard at times but that was what some of us liked. It was a game which would last you months, and a game still rated very highly as the best game on the Gamecube.
Scratch that, it WAS the best game on the Gamecube. For Metroid Prime 2 is here, and it's a meanie. But you'll love it.
Once again, we play the mysterious bounty hunter, Samus Aran (aka that foxy chick in heavy duty space armour) as she receives a communication to go and help assist Federation marines on Aether. From the off, things aren't good - Samus crash-lands her ship, finds lots of dead marines and then they get possessed by a dark life force which makes them mindless killing machines. Oh dear. Not exactly the best start to things really, but its a little further on when the story gets REALLY quite interesting.
Of course, it's not long before Samus once again loses her nifty abilities - this time stolen by the Ing, a race of dark beings with no understanding of the word "mercy". However, unlike past titles where the powerups can be re-obtained because the Chozo kinda predicted this would happen, now you have to battle dark boss creatures which actually UTILISE these power-ups against you. It's still "Obtain power ups to explore", but by concealing them in this manner brings an element of strategy into the game, and you truly feel you have earned the usage of these abilities.
The new feature in MP2, is that Aether is split into two dimensions: Light and Dark. The dark realm is a total bastardisation of the light world, the atmosphere in the dark realm is toxic to Samus (makes sense to me), and thus she has to rely on safe areas generated by crystals. While many could argue this is what many games have done in the past to double the amount of map to explore, there is no getting away from the fact that this does feel quite solid. It feels right, it's been planned out perfectly and well designed that you will easily forget the unoriginality of this concept and just enjoy the whole switching between realms.
Anyway, I hear a lot of people moan this game is "Rock 'ard". Belive them, this is not something for the casual gamer, far, FAR from it. If you ever expect to get anything from this game, expect it to be through tears and tantrums, and to expect seeing the Game Over screen. A lot. (It is however a very NICE game over screen.) This game demands skill, it demands time and patience, and it demands a player learn from their mistakes. It's not for those who prefer ther games a little dumbed down, this requires much more, but the fact that it is quite a large game, and that it has an unparallelled level of depth, means that it will last considerably longer than the usual stream of First-person action games.
There is also a lot to scan in this game. From the research logs, down to the new addition of the marines last recorded log entries, it fleshes out a world that really is quite unbelivably beautiful. The attention to detail is something I haven't even seen in Half Life 2, and comes damned close to the minute detailing in Doom 3. From inside Samus' visor, you'll see water roll off her visor when she emerges from water. Steam will mist up her visor, electric interference will scramble it briefly. Water flows, the sky is convincingly ominous, enemies breathe, logs are detailed and at times verge on macabre. The world of Aether is unparalleled in terms of these details and they all build up to make some of the most convincing environments I have ever seen. You really have to play this game to ever appreciate this feat, because it is quite incredible.
Boss battles are the real highlight in MP2. From Dark Samus onwards, the boss battles are nothing short of spectacular. Once again, these bosses are just downright hard, and you will find yourself cussing at how this game brutally punishes every mistake you make and gloats at you with the Game Over screen. But the designs of the bosses - and creatures in general - are special. They are fabulously designed, well thought out and blow up in spectacular fashion. There is no game out there at the moment which really can rival how wonderful this game is in terms of design. Retro Studios should be proud of themselves.
OK, down sides now. Enough of being nice. The problems MP2 has to face are minute details, but enough to warrant mention. Again, I have to stress that Metroid Prime 2 is hard. It brutally punishes the uninitiated, the careless and even slight errors of judgement, and punishes them brutally. This game lets you know exactly who's in charge, and it ain't you, put it that way. You will find yourself battling bosses and sub-bosses sometimes several times, learning their movements, their battle plan, their strategies, and you need to learn how to punish back just as brutally as this game punishes you. Some will find this frustrating. Some will give up. And some, like me, will be thankful that finally there is a game out there that can throw up a challenge, in an era when most games don't pose any real level of difficulty. In a world of casual gamers and very linear pathways, Metroid Prime 2, like its predecessor, throws up some real thorny problems and some downright cruel morph ball and spider ball puzzles - enough to have most players blubbering like a baby. Take this as you will. But make no mistake: do NOT expect to finish this game too quickly.
And then, there are some of the power ups. Now, don't get me wrong, all power-ups are good power-ups. But there are some which actually don't QUITE fit in. The "Screw Jump", a good classic 2D Metroid ability, makes a welcome and long-overdue return in MP2, and throws in wall-jumping as an added bonus. But this adds two small problems. First of all, the dreaded "PIT". Something you never ever expect in a Metroid title, and another of those brutal punishments for you messing up the timing of your screw jumps. Pits do NOT fit in with this game, nor do they fit into the Metroid Series as a whole. So introducing this feels somewhat alien, like it doesn't belong there and it is hard to forgive adding in something like this when the game is challenging enough. But couple it then with the fact that the Screw Jump just doesn't feel right in this game as well, and you've got yourself a recipe for sleepless nights and nightmares that will haunt you for weeks on end.
But when all is said and done, there is no mistaking that Metroid Prime 2 is a feat that could well have turned sour. The old-school difficulty levels are so unheard of these days, and yet MP2 couples this with an extraordinary world that has been so well designed that it beggers belief, and some of the most impressive boss battles and explosions out there. Game of the Year material? Most definately. You're going to be hard-pressed to find something this well designed for a while to come - until MP2, Metroid Prime was still highly regarded as one of the most brilliantly executed titles on any system. Metroid Prime 2 raises the bar, raises the difficulty, and will raise eyebrows - some in awe, some in disdain.
Of course, the problem is, that being released a week after Half Life 2, that it probably won't ever get the coverage - or fanbase - to really make it stand out. Which is a damn shame, since Metroid Prime 2 is better than Half Life 2 in almost every single detail, and far outclasses it's fellow console rival Halo 2 in terms of gameplay and depth. Metroid Prime isn't perfect - few games ever really are. The brutal punishments and the ability to explore and approach things in different ways, often to the point of getting hopelessly lost and wondering what to do next, do not make this a mass-market title. But that is good with me. I will let the mass-market lap up their Halo 2's and their Half Life 2's, and I will let them harp on about how excellent the titles are. But for me, for a first person action adventure, nothing right now comes close to Metroid Prime 2. If you're a FPS fan, you owe it to yourself to play this game. If you love a challenge and want a game to last you into the new year and beyond, play Metroid Prime 2.
But if you're looking for a quick-fix game, or have a problem with challenging your mettle, I do strongly advise you go elsewhere. This is not a game you can take lightly, and its not a game which you would glean any enjoyment from. Metroid Prime 2 is gaming art. Fine art. It's a modern interpretation of old-school difficulty. And this will be lost upon a lot of players.
It's good to see a game which justifies having a Gamecube. But be forewarned, Metroid Prime 2 is not for everybody...
(review is also available on gamefaqs)