Metroid Prime 2: Echoes — Dreadful Anticipation
The time of Metroid Prime 2: Echoes was less a time of memories getting and playing the game, and more a general memory of the time it was released in. The console wars of 2004 were in full swing, and each platform had their respective first-person shooter exclusive: Xbox had Halo 2, Playstation 2 had Killzone, and Gamecube had Metroid Prime 2: Echoes. Being a rabid, diehard, fanatical Nintendo fan, I would hear no slander against Echoes, even if I wasn’t in line to get it on release day. But I got it close to it, plopped down, and started playing.
It felt the same as Prime, but, as the saying goes, different. It was familiar: same perspective, old Scan Visor, end-game scouring, lots of strafing and scanning and “ooh, I’ll bet I can do something about that later” moments. But different: parallel worlds, non-Space Pirate antagonists, ammo counters and poison atmospheres and a distinct lack of Metroids. But still, it had its hooks in me. Echoes was enough like Prime to draw me in, and enough its own experience to keep me wrapped up in it.
Also, there was multiplayer? It was a thing! My brothers and I tried it a couple times. It surely wasn’t a Halo-killer, but as with other elements of other games, it was fun for the developers to experiment with. Besides, I think they got the multiplayer element right a bit more down the line.
But at the end of the day, and the end of Samus’s second first-person adventure, Echoes was a single-player game. It was designed to be enjoyed by one person at a time, doing what Samus does best: exploring a new world, gaining power to explore more of it, and ultimately saving it (or the galaxy) from whatever threat lives on the world. And if memory serves, Echoes played its part beautifully.
Echoes does, indeed, hold up beautifully, both in what I remembered and what I was reminded of. It’s not without its flaws, but most of those could be chalked up to things like player expectation, or “it worked last time” syndrome, or, most optimistically, experimenting with a new idea.
The soundtrack still holds up. As soon as the game booted up and hit me with the title sequence, I was launched back into other nights scouring the internet for some ZIP file of the Echoes music. It feels different than how Prime did its soundtrack; there’s a sense of reverence in all of the location tracks, less about the location itself (despite Prime’s excellent use of music for that), and more about what those places stood for, and what they are now. A lamentation for what was. Battle music, similarly, feels appropriately placed, not jammed in as players enter a room and rush to the exit. When the fight music kicks on, you’re in a fight, and it’s not going back to the region music until you win the fight. And credit where credit is due, but the soundtrack absolutely carried the final act of Echoes, from the final area to the credits roll. That’s all I’ll say.
Where Echoes really tries to diverge from Prime, and arguably other Metroid games, is in its tone. Echoes is, and tries to be, darker than the previous games. Not darker in brightness or world (although it does have one of those), but darker as it explores hopelessness and despair of two different groups on the planet Aether: Galactic Federation Marines, and the Luminoth aliens. The Marines serve as backdrop (in more ways than one) as Samus explores the first major area of Aether, providing some much-needed insight into the world and its denizens from familiar, more human perspectives. Likewise, the Luminoth, despite their overarching connections to the more familiar Chozo race, are still alive and around; their story, their conflict, and their tragedy is still fresh. None of what these groups have gone through is ancient. These aren’t old lores put up on the wall for Samus to encounter so many years later; this was all anywhere from a couple weeks to a few years (I surmise) before her arrival. The Marines who were so terribly defeated were only lost recently (hence, Samus being sent to look for them). The Luminoth who experienced all of this pain are in stasis, waiting to reemerge. There is a Dark World, and a Dark Beam, but that’s not what makes Echoes darker. It’s that it finally dares to explore recent tumult, with its impact being felt, not by ancient, long-gone races, but by people, or by hopeful, waiting survivors.
That segues into another element I enjoyed about Echoes: you’re saving the galaxy, yes, but you’re also actively helping a group of people. This isn’t Samus trekking deep into an abandoned, ruined planet to destroy the bad guys and win…this is Samus trying to save a world so people can go back to living on it in peace, with the added bonus of saving the galaxy. And make no mistake, I love the lore and the storytelling techniques of “ancient alien civilization no longer here.” But I also love feeling like my actions, even in game-land, will make a difference to some other game-person.
There were some elements that didn’t work, or didn’t stand up through time, though. First, the Spider Guardian boss. Heck with that guy. Morph Ball boss fights are, as the youth say, Not It.
Additionally, I noted in my recall that antagonists were “non-Space Pirate” and there was “a distinct lack of Metroids.” Running into both of those parties in my runthrough was surprising, to say the least. But as I kept playing and working through, it just felt…shoehorned in. Space Pirates most definitely have their antagonistic place in the Metroid universe, and Samus’s story specifically, and Metroids are eponymous with the series for a reason! But in a game where there’s a literal world of darkness and evil, they both felt more than a bit forced. It felt unnecessary to dwell on them when there was this terrifying world full of darkness and evil that could be exploited for enemies.
It’s not a Metroid game without hunting for expansion tanks. But the number of times I heard myself think “all that for one [expansion]?” was…not promising. Multiple load screens, a few too many puzzle sections, all to be able to carry one more Power Bomb, or five more missiles…it felt like I had earned more by the time I crossed the proverbial checkered flag, and was still only given pittance at the end.
And lastly, Prime’s accursed back-and-forth dynamic makes a return in Echoes. Now, to Echoes’s credit, it largely contains the fetch-quest to one region at a time. But when it diverges from that expectation, it feels that much more jarring. And don’t even get started on how wonky the end-game collectathon of Special Items You Need To Win is; most of them are hidden behind the final upgrade. I’m not ashamed to have relied on a walkthrough at these points especially. If it’s not fun, I want to minimize my time spent doing it, and end-game keys barring me from the final boss is not fun.
Now, back to the good. You know what’s dope? Kinetic Orb Launchers. I didn’t realize how much I loved getting blasted across the landscape in Morph Ball form until I did again. Practicality aside, sometimes it’s really fun to roll up and launch yourself into the sky. You know, for progress.
Echoes also diverges from a lot of Metroid games by giving you most of the major beams before the quarter-way point. Normally, it’s a big deal to get a new beam type…but Echoes throws most of them at players pretty early on. I appreciated that, because Echoes treats the beams less as weapons (despite a dedicated ammunition counter) and more like tools. They open certain doors, but they also interact with the world differently, and different situations or problems call for different solutions.
It is often the curse of games, even games in the same series, that players encounter and explore the same biomes: forests, lava, snow…or, Tallon Overworld, Magmoor Caverns, Phendrana Drifts, if your mind is on Prime. With its limited number of regions and biomes, it felt like Echoes tried to set itself apart by leaning into the desert, the swamp, and the…technomountain? Yeah, technomountain. It was a solid change of pace, and not what I was expecting when I played Echoes for the first time. It still holds up now.
Metroid bosses have, almost universally, been larger than life, and massive for any adventure they’re in. Echoes is no different, and may have done the “bigger is badder” approach the best out of any Metroid I’ve played so far. These bosses are massive. They feel like Bosses, they act like Bosses, they challenge players in combat and puzzle-solving…they’re well-done, well-crafted battles.
But even the biggest bads pale next to Dark Samus. They may be just the size of one (1) Samus Aran, but they pack a punch each time players encounter them. Players, to this end, may have had experience with the horrifying SA-X in Fusion, but Dark Samus feels different by design. They aren’t a recurring threat that you’re trying to avoid to escape. They’re a recurring enemy that pops up when you’re ready to face them, and continues to do so throughout your adventure. As they grow, so do you, and vice versa. Aside from the draconic Ridley, Samus hasn’t had much of a nemesis…let alone one her size, and still so threatening.
Echoes did a lot right back in its day, and much of it still holds up now. Some of it still doesn’t, and unfortunately, that may have embedded itself so deep into the Metroid Prime DNA that it may drag the third installment down. But enough of negativity and woe. My play order is my own, and if I thought Echoes did some experimenting, then boy howdy have I got another Hunt coming.