The visor system was an innovative addition in Metroid Prime, allowing you to see in a number of different spectrums and consequently facilitating plenty of new puzzle opportunities. In addition to the standard combat and scan visors, Echoes gives you the dark visor and the echo visor, each accompanied by nifty visual filters and unique properties. The dark visor lets you see more clearly in Dark Aether and also makes interdimensional items and enemies show up in bright red. The echo visor literally lets you see in terms of sound, acting as a sort of sonar overlaid on the environment and allowing you to interface with sonic locking mechanisms. Again, these new visors allow for some ingeniously tricky puzzles.
Of course, it wouldn't be Metroid if Samus didn't have missiles, bombs, super missiles, power bombs, and the ever-present morph ball, and those are all included as well. There's even a new seeker-missile ability that lets you paint up to five targets and then launch missiles to strike them all simultaneously. Lots of new and old Metroid equipment is here as well. The grapple beam returns, allowing you to swing over wide chasms. The spider ball again comes in handy for rolling up walls in ball form, and the newly revived screw attack lets you perform multiple flips in midair to damage enemies and traverse large distances. In true Metroid form, you'll come under attack right at the beginning of the game and be forced to recover all this equipment as you trudge onward toward your confrontation with the despicable ing leadership.
Recovering that equipment, discovering new areas, and battling vicious enemies are as devilishly challenging and as rewarding in Echoes as they have been in every other Metroid game. With the host of new equipment and the two dimensions of Aether at their disposal, Retro's designers had an absolute field day dreaming up complex environments and puzzles for you to discover and solve. You'll hop through portals between worlds more times than you can count, scanning with every visor, bombing in every corner, and generally turning the world upside down to find the next available path--and even when you're banging your head against a wall, you'll have a great time just traversing the lush environments, looking for clues.
With the exception of a strange sort of scavenger hunt in the endgame, the objectives in Echoes proceed with the series' trademark fluidity. The acquisition of one item will instantly open up half a dozen new areas for you to explore, leading you to even more discoveries--just like Metroid has always worked. That one questionable sequence at the end of the game may serve as a sort of brick wall for less-stalwart players, unfortunately--it requires you to cross-reference luminoth logs and lore with map locations in both dimensions and with previously acquired items. This section is certainly manageable with a bit of diehard sleuthing, but it's also a little too obscure for its own good. At least there's an automatic hint system, similar to the one in the first game, that kicks in and guides you to the next hidden objective if you flounder around for too long. Purists will be glad to know that this feature can be disabled, so you can go at it without any help whatsoever if you want.
When developing the first Metroid Prime, Retro must have expended considerable energy simply nailing the Metroid experience in full 3D. Now that the framework is set, the designers have been able to craft some really impressive new gameplay around the basic model. For instance, you'll fight one boss entirely in morph-ball mode from the standard cutaway side view, which requires you to execute precision-bombing tactics to defeat the boss without sustaining damage yourself. Other boss encounters make interesting use of your standard equipment, such as the spider ball, providing a lot of truly impressive moments when you finally realize the proper method for defeating the enemy. All the way up to the very last boss, you're constantly being challenged to consider the immense amount of equipment at your disposal and determine the proper method for surmounting a given challenge.
Echoes looks better than Metroid Prime, but you might have to compare them side by side before that's apparent. The differences are subtle and perhaps made even less obvious by the fact that several elements of the two games' presentations--everything from the HUD to the pop-up info windows and many of the accompanying sound effects--are basically identical. But the environments and even Samus herself are more-detailed this time around, boasting greater geometric detail, more-dynamic designs, and impressive new lighting and other special effects. The world of Aether is brought to life with exceptional artistry--no two areas look even remotely the same, and they all feature inventive architecture and unique set pieces. The designs for the ing are especially ghastly, putting a repulsive face on your new enemy. And just like its predecessor, the game runs at a perfectly smooth frame rate, which is all the more impressive considering how good it looks. The sound design is excellent (though much of it is the same as in the original game), with the many weapons and enemies underscored by appropriate aural accompaniment. Prime 2's soundtrack also does a great job of establishing mood without being obtrusive, though it's not the kind of thing you'll be humming in the shower.
Strangely, Echoes has a multiplayer component with a handful of maps for up to four players, but it's unfortunately not up to the single-player game's quality and seems a little incongruous with the solitary, adventure-driven spirit of the Metroid series. Two basic modes are on offer: the self-explanatory deathmatch mode, and the bounty mode, which makes wounded players bleed coins (and slain ones bleed more), with the objective being to hit the coin limit before your competitors. The multiplayer mode grafts the beams and some of the equipment from the single-player game onto a rudimentary power-up model, and the lock-on system works reasonably well in a competitive format--you can switch to morph ball and hit your boost to break a lock--but overall the feel of the multiplayer isn't nearly as solid as in shooters with an actual multiplayer focus. It's not hard to imagine that this competitive mode was shoehorned into the game due to the widely held expectation that all first-person games--and most GameCube games, for that matter--should have some kind of multiplayer, as it feels a little half-baked and out of place here. The good news is that Echoes doesn't suffer at all for having this mode (nobody's making you play it, after all), and it would be just as great an overall package if the multiplayer hadn't been included.
If you finished Metroid Prime and were left wanting more, Echoes gives it to you in spades. Anyone who was turned off by the slowly paced and meticulous exploration elements of the original game won't find anything new to win them over here--a run-and-gun shooter this ain't. The game is quite long and involved--you'll spend a bare minimum of 20 hours just getting to the end, and finding all the hidden items and scanning everything will take much longer (and will open up bonuses such as a harder difficulty mode and production-artwork galleries). As an adventure game with heavy action elements and an emphasis on complex puzzle-solving, Metroid Prime 2 is about as good as it gets, on the GameCube or on any platform.