There were many games highly anticipated for consoles in 2004 which gathered all the hype but there was one game which cruised along at its own development pace releasing a few tidbits here and there before release, we are of course talking about Metroid Prime 2 Echoes. The task for Retro Studios was daunting, how do you top what was called the best Gamecube game ever and quite possibly the best Metroid game ever? The second game is here and it may become the most remembered Gamecube game of 2004, there is absolutely no question that it should be.
Metroid of course tells the story of a female bounty hunter, Samus Aran. Throughout many console generations Samus has changed but none more so than the last game, where the whole franchise become a 3D shooting world. In her latest adventure Samus visits the planet Aether, currently on the path to destruction. She is originally sent in to recover a crew, who lost contact after crashing on the planet but very quickly finds out that she isn't getting out of there without a fight, and that she needs to defeat a race taking over the planet. These creatures are taking over the energy controllers and of course its up to Samus to recover them.
Like its predecessor, Prime 2: Echoes is played from a first person perspective. Unlike its predecessor the game seems much more accessible and a lot easier to play than the original Prime. For those who haven't played through the original, Prime and Prime 2 really are living, breathing 3D worlds of the two dimensional Metroid games. You still shoot walls to open doors, you still crawl up into a ball and you still have to face enemies. Where the Prime franchise differs of course is how you play the game. It is no longer just a jumping style puzzle game, but something really completely different.
The gameplay contains three elements, shooting, scanning and getting stuck. Yes there will be times you get stuck, but the game does provide hints to help you along the way which can be helpful. For instance if a cut scene focuses on one area, its a good chance that is where you have to go or shoot towards. The puzzles can be complex but most of the time, they can be figured out fairly quickly. There is quite a bit of backtracking which can be annoying but usually with the puzzles, the solution is in the general vicinity of where the problem is.
The scanning really has no middle road, it's something you will extremely like, or you will loathe it and just want to get on with the game. Scanning objects gives you information about them and provides quite a bit of back story, but is also used to hack doors or gain information to help you progress. So despite the fact it may be repetitive and boring for some, it is required. Scanning can help you discover information such as how to defeat enemies or how to get past a door blocking your progress.
The enemies you encounter are quite varied but there is one twist to the game which makes it a great deal more interesting to take them on. The world is divided into two; the light aether world and the dark aether world. Each has different enemies and the weapons required for each are quite different, in fact Samus can't go into the dark world without taking a great deal of damage until you gain her different suit. The twist is that the weapons impact depending on where the enemies are from. The dark beam kills light enemies and the light beam kills dark enemies. It's a small detail, but it adds so much depth to the game as does the fact the game features two worlds to fight in and traverse.
The control system is extremely intuitive. It may seem silly to have to hold a button to move the gun up and down but what this allows you to do is flick the buttons to lock onto different enemies quickly rather than having to individually aim at each one. Of course to help with this Samus gains upgrades to her arm gun further into the game such as missiles, the annihilator beam, seeker missile and along with this due to the new world, upgrades for her visor to use in that world.
There is no doubt that Metroid Prime 2: Echoes is one of the finest looking Gamecube games on the system to date, if not the finest. From the moment you first fire up the game, you are thrown into a visual explosion of detail which is enhanced greatly by the scanning systems in the game and also the various enemies. One other great feature is the seamless transition between areas with no loading time making it hard to put the game down, especially when you're not stuck. The game is very 'old school' in nature, one example being you having to find save points in some cases rather than just coming across them, and the level design lends itself to some jumping puzzles and puzzles for the morph ball, which Samus can still use.
The game also includes multiplayer giving even more replay value to the game but unfortunately it is not online. Up to four players can play on the same console in either deathmatch or a bounty mode. In the bounty mode each player starts with a number of coins, dropping them when hit. The aim is to have the most coins at the end of the match.
Metroid Prime 2: Echoes is the best Gamecube action game released this year by a country mile. The developers really have provided one of the most seamless, most accessible and best gaming experiences on the little cube thus far. If you own a Gamecube this is a truly must own game.