In Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, you can see Samus Aran's placid features through her visor at all times. That's hardly the most substantial change we've found in this sequel to one of the best games released this generation, but it's the first one to make an impression on us after jumping into Echoes' engrossing single-player adventure. This game spends a little more time than its predecessor revealing story elements (through cutscenes and the ubiquitous logs left behind by previous residents of the planet Aether) and fleshing out the background of the game, which is making it a pleasure to explore the many catacombs and battle the many enemies that we've run encountered so far.
It's probably no shock if you've followed Echoes for any length of time that this sequel is very similar to the original Metroid Prime in terms of pacing and gameflow. The big difference here is the presence of light and dark dimensions, which you can travel between by finding and energizing portals. This two-dimension system is very similar to the one found in the Super NES' Zelda: A Link to the Past, for any old-school types who remember that game. You can bring up the map (which is identical to Prime's) and switch between the dark and light layouts of a given area to see how things align in both dimensions. Many of the game's puzzles so far have spanned both dimensions, requiring you to hop back and forth to make changes in one realm that will be reflected in the other. Progressing through some of Aether's more complicated areas has been devilishly challenging so far, but also highly rewarding.
Yes, there are metroids in the game, but not very many so far. There are space pirates, too, but up to this point, Samus' perennial enemy has actually appeared only on the periphery of the ever-present civil war between the luminoth and the ing, the light and dark beings, respectively, which occupy the two dimensions on Aether. This is a Metroid game, after all, so we figure the vicious energy suckers will play a more prominent role as we get closer to the end, but up to this point, the nasty ing have been keeping our hands busy. Dark Aether is positively full of the little buggers, and it doesn't help that the atmosphere slowly bleeds away your health while you're outside of safe zones that are generated by light crystals. Thankfully, we acquired the dark suit some time ago, which mitigates Dark Aether's damaging properties and also makes Samus look kind of evil with her new orange visor and all.
Old Metroid hands will probably be disappointed to know that there doesn't appear to be an ice beam, or even a wave beam, in the game. At least we haven't run across them yet, and we're pretty far into the game. But the new weapons more than make up for the absence of those old classics. The light and dark beams have allowed for some interesting puzzle scenarios, for instance, since you have to energize certain crystals with the proper energy to make things happen in the environment. The light beam has also come in awfully handy against dark enemies, such as the ing. Retro has also beefed up the morph ball puzzles. From what we've seen so far, there are some pretty challenging ones that require you to perform precision bombing work (and a little bit of head-scratching, too).
In Prime, Samus' ability to scan enemies, items, and various gameworld elements served as a unique puzzle-solving device and a subtle method to help flesh out the Metroid universe without beating you over the head with too much information. Fans of scanning--and there are surely plenty, since 100 percent Metroid Prime save files are not uncommon--will be glad to know that scanning hasn't been toned down in Echoes; if anything, there might even be more of it. The game breaks down your completion percentages in extreme detail--not only do you know the percentage of items you've collected versus the percentage of total objects you've scanned, but also the game shows you numerical and graphical representations of the amount of objects scanned in categories like lore, research, biological organisms, and so on. You're certainly invited to proceed slowly through the game, meticulously soaking up all available data on Aether's environs if you want.
We've been so engrossed by the single-player game in Echoes that we haven't spent much time with its multiplayer component yet, but we're hoping that the available deathmatch and bounty modes will add a good deal of longevity to the game. We can confirm that scan-unlock bonuses are back; after hitting 40 percent of total scanned items, a gallery containing production artwork became available from the main menu. We're very eager to continue exploring the secrets of Aether and finding out what else Metroid Prime 2 has in store. Look for a full review soon.