After the success of Metroid Prime (and due to its cliffhanger ending) it was a pretty sure thing that Nintendo would invest in a sequel. Echoes was released in November 2004. I remember that Nintendo poised Echoes to compete against Halo 2 and Killzone as part of a great FPS war. This move left me wondering how these games were even related, but I guess that is the mystery of marketing; ads tell people what products are, no other way to go about it.
Retro Studios of Texas was on board for the sequel, and the best change would be the presence of a light/dark world in the vein of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. I looked forward to the explanation for the return of this classic gameplay element, as the increased emphasis on story in the Metroid Prime series was sure to bring interesting storyline possibilities.
Echoes' story finds Samus Aran responding to a Federation distress call from the distant planet Aether. Upon landing, she quickly finds the source of the distress call; a force of Galactic Marines has been massacred and their ship left in ruins. It seems that they were forced to land here after a battle with the Space Pirates left their ship damaged. What exactly lead to these deaths is discovered shortly thereafter. As Samus seeks the truth, she quickly becomes involved in a planetary war whose result holds the very survival of the planet in its grasp.
When it comes to graphics, Metroid Prime II is quite close to the first game, and that's a good thing. The only differences I really noticed (besides the obvious new enemies and environments) were the overall look of Samus, this is most apparent when switching back from the morph ball. Samus' Power Suit looks thinner and more streamlined.
The element that stands out the most is the dark/light elements. Dark being naturally EVIL, this world is quite twisted and foreboding. This works to the game's advantage and disadvantage. Two worlds to explore is a great idea, but there seems to be a bit of confusion in this. There are lots of areas in the Dark World where you simply CAN'T go. There is conveniently explained away, but it still feels like the developers were either unable to complete their original vision of the game, having run out of time, or perhaps that they were looking to cut corners. When you consider the care they showed in the first Prime game, I really hope that the latter isn't the case. Doing as such just seems WRONG.
Music is once again composed by Kenji Yamamoto, this time in a solo effort. There are definite similarities to pieces from Prime. Just look at the Miniboss theme, as much as I like it, it does sound a lot like some themes from the first game. My favorite pieces include Darkness, a creepy yet kick ass boss theme. All the boss themes are suitably epic in this game, perhaps written to show how much the battles have changed in execution since Prime. I also favor the Dynamo Core (Sanctuary Fortress 2). This piece is great at conveying the advanced technology present therein. It just gives OFF a sci-fi vibe, probably more than any other piece in Metroid history. In closing, there are again some references to past Metroid games, specifically the Submerged Temple, which is a remix of one of the Brinstar themes in Super Metroid. There is also the standard main title remixes, but that's to be expected.
Unfortunately, some of the score comes off as filler, mostly the Dark themes. A Link to the Past succeeds in having a memorable theme for its dark world; Echoes' themes are mostly ambient with little actual music; these pieces are just sound effects. The Dark Agon Wastes is probably the best example of this. Much like the graphics, it suggests that Mr. Yamamoto did not have enough time to write something inspiring for the dark equivalent levels and had to settle for ambient shrillness. Ugh.
Gameplay in Prime II builds on the formula from the first game and expands it in interesting ways. First of all, the new beam weapons use ammo. This change was bemoaned by many fans, as it suggested that the game was trying to hard to be like Halo or other FPS. The ammo system works fine, as having unlimited ammo for these weapons would have eliminated some strategy from Echoes. The limited capacity also becomes less of a burden as you collect ammo upgrades. I like how the Light and Dark Beam are functionally similar to beams from Prime, but have their own unique functions in gameplay beyond just opening doors. Oh yeah, the Screw attack makes its 3D debut in this game, and it's awesome! Series vets may take some time to get its new mechanics down though. Once you get it down, you'll find the SA to be an invaluable part of Samus' arsenal.
The morph ball mechanic was awesomely realized in Metroid Prime; just think about it; would there be any way to reasonably have the Morph Ball function for puzzles and hidden areas if it wasn't in 3rd person?
Anyway, the morph ball is now also used for some boss battles in quite interesting ways. These battles are fought entirely in this way due to limited space. Others require you to morph to access a boss' weak spot. The last few bosses of the game make great use of this new strategy, and it really makes the battles feel that much more epic. Great job, Retro Studios!
I just realized I forgot to mention multiplayer, which should tell you what I think of it. While it is true that it is competently designed, it is amusing to think Nintendo believed that this mode would make gamers consider Echoes over Halo 2 for multiplayer mayhem. It just DOESN'T compare, even in offline settings.
I've only played this mode once or twice, so I can't say I'm an expert. Most of this information comes from FAQ's. Echoes' multiplayer has six arenas and two modes: Deathmatch, in which players attempt to kill their opponents as many times as possible within a set amount of time; and Bounty, which focuses on collecting coins that injured characters drop. The music is a unique mix, and serves well for multiplayer combat. Lastly, the circle strafe is present for evasion. Sometimes I forget Echoes even has multiplayer, mostly because it is hard to find people willing to play it.
Challenge-wise, Echoes is a step up from Prime. This is as such due to stronger enemies and a gameplay element of the Dark World. The very atmosphere is toxic to Samus, and early on, can quickly lead to your death while also dealing with enemy attacks. Luckily there is some reprieve in the form of light beacons to prevent damage. These beacons can be exploited if you're patient, as they also slowly restore your life. I don't quite understand how this works, as it is light energy; isn't Samus' suit powered by a different kind? Oh well, I guess Chozo design is just really versatile.
As above, the boss battles are a big increase in difficulty. Retro Studios wanted the boss battles to be the only difficult elements in the first game, and even then it was just a matter of finding their weakness. This is also true in Echoes, but the bosses often have multiple stages/parts of the battle. When combined with the poison of the Dark World, you better keep on your toes, as defeat can come unexpectedly.
Many boss battles are also quite cleverly designed, as you have to think how to defeat these foes based on which attacks they using. This makes more sense once you see a certain story sequence...
Replay value is the same as Metroid Prime, with plenty of opportunities for sequence breaking. I first started learning how to sequence break in Super Metroid. It is more limited in the Prime series, but there are some real neat shortcuts that you can use if you master the secret moves that are required. Aside from that, this is similar to most games to this reviewer. You play it once, enjoy the hell out of it, then put it down until you want to play it again, however amount of time may pass in between is different for each game.
In summation, Metroid Prime II: Echoes is a fine continuation for the Prime series and a must-play for Metroid fans. Some of the gameplay elements aren't as well realized as they could have been (too many blocked off areas in the Dark World!!) but a great deal of the new elements succeed very well. In fact, I can definitely say that the boss battles and combat are actually better in Echoes. Check this game out, Metroid fans, retro fans, heck, just video game fans! Enjoy!