Metroid Prime 2: Echoes Hands-On - Single Player

We clock in a good chunk of time in Samus' single player adventure on the GameCube.

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SEATTLE--Nintendo showed off a new demo of Metroid Prime 2: Echoes at its Gamer's Summit today that offered a good tease for what to expect from the upcoming sequel to Metroid Prime, arguably one of the best games available for the system. The new demo of the game offered a meaty chunk of gameplay that was taken from the first few hours of the adventure. The events experienced were laid out in chronological order and eased us into an all too brief taste of the story. Potential minor spoilers are ahead for those who haven't been following the game's story, so consider yourself warned.

The game opens up with Samus heading out in search of missing Federation troops on the planet Aether. After experiencing a rather unpleasant landing, you'll start to explore Aether, and you'll discover that things ain't quite right on the troubled world. The early part of the game will ease you into the sequel by throwing a lot of the basic gameplay elements from Prime at you. You'll do a fair share of scanning, and you'll engage in some minor combat as you look for signs of what happened to the federation troops. This is all part of the standard Metroid tactic of lulling you into the general belief that you'll be able to handle whatever badness comes your way. However, when you stumble onto Dark Samus, an unpleasant doppelganger of our armored heroine who slurps up phazon-like candy, things take a bad turn. Samus battles her clone and, with her armor fully powered, holds her own against the dark creature. Unfortunately, when Samus follows her dark nemesis through a warp into the alternate dark world of Aether, she finds the dark one joined by a pretty nasty posse of foes. Once on the dark side, Samus is attacked and jacked, and her precious armor is stripped of its functionality before being she's flung back on her butt through the warp. Following that embarrassing turn of events, you'll begin exploring Aether to try to power up your suit again by collecting the upgrades you'll need to get back up to fighting form, which is basically when the game really begins.

Your exploration and interaction with the environment around you, as you start the long, arduous process of powering up again, serves as the perfect showcase for the meaty amount of work Retro has done to its own potent Metroid formula. As you explore Aether, you'll come across mysterious color-coded items that your scanning visor will be unable to identify, cryptically noting that its lore needs to be updated before it can read them. You'll encounter the first of many morph-ball puzzles that will require you to trigger launchers that will send you hurtling to new areas of the environment and help you progress deeper into the world. Your journey will also entail facing off against the local wildlife, which, unsurprisingly, is not a fan of you being there. These altercations become even more complicated when it becomes apparent that dark energy possesses the local creatures, powering them up to annoying proportions and causing them to go after you. To make matters even worse, when you do happen upon the lost federation troops, their lifeless bodies are possessed and are then set on you as well. The specifics as to why the heck this is all happening are vague until just after you defeat a nasty midboss and collect a mysterious item that you can't identify--and that binds itself to your armor. As you move past the critter's corpse and head into a new area, you encounter U-Mos, a sentinel of the Luminoth, a member of the dominant species on Aether's light side. The friendly alien fills you in on troubling current events on Aether that are tied to its past. It seems that, once upon a time, Aether was split into dark and light that split the planet's energy evenly. The Luminoth, residents of casa de light, are the local champions of good. Their dark side counterparts, the Ing, are power-hungry evildoers who are anxiously trying to steal the Luminoth's half of the planetary energy to wipe them out and gain total mastery over the planet. Sadly, the battle for supremacy isn't going great for the Luminoth, who are one deep breath from an epic aria from the fat lady, thanks to the Ing's recent theft of a Luminoth device that could turn the tide of the conflict against them. As luck would have it, the mysterious item you've been stuck with is an energy transfer module that can be used to restore energy to the Luminoth's side and save the day. Quicker than you can say "drafted," U-Mos is telling Samus to visit the four temples in Dark Aether to use the module to transfer energy to the Luminoth. To help Samus on her journey, the alien updates her lore, allowing her to read purple items and opening new passageways through the ruins she's explored. It's pretty pushy for an alien you just met to lay everything out on you, but such is life. Armed with the knowledge that bad things could potentially happen to the rest of the universe if the Ing aren't put down, Samus heads out to set things right.

The gameplay in Metroid Prime 2: Echoes will change up the formula Retro established with Metroid Prime by introducing a bevy of new features. You'll find new visors (none of which were enabled in the preview version of the game we played), new weapons, dark and light beams that will be vital to dealing with foes in both sides of Aether, and refined mechanics for puzzles and exploration. What stood out the most during our time with the demo was the bevy of subtle tweaks that have been implemented to make the experience smoother. The scanning visor will now show all the objects you can read in an area with color codes to let you know which ones you've scanned or have information on and which ones you still need to get to. The puzzles you'll encounter will often be hardcore brainteasers that will require you scope out your whole environment before attempting to solve them. The new morph-ball puzzles are fun and challenging to figure out, and they keep you thinking. The overall pacing of the game seems to have been tightened up some, and it moves along at a slightly faster clip than Prime, which is nice to see as well.

The graphics in the game have come quite a ways since we saw it last at E3 and on the recent demo disc. While we've appreciated the improvements made to the graphics, they've been pretty subtle up until now. This new version of Echoes boasts significantly improved lighting and particle effects, along with a lot of subtle animation tweaks that help bring the environments alive. We have to say that, after clocking in a good chunk of time with the game, Aether isn't a bad-looking place--for a planet wracked by the conflict of light and dark energy across its surface. The areas we've explored feature a high level of detail, and the outdoor locales feature nice, animated flourishes, such as moving plants or local wildlife that brings them to life. One such touch is the way that the entire sky crackles over with light and dark energy as you go about your business, resulting in a dramatic change from white to purple, with random earthquakes thrown into the mix as well. Another subtle touch we picked up on was the tweaked opacity on Samus' visor, which lets you see more of her expressive face, which helps sell her reactions to events in the game. The game's interfaces have also seen a bit of a style makeover. As with its predecessor, Metroid Prime 2: Echoes offers a high frame rate that stays solid, even in the face of hordes of enemies.

The audio has been enhanced quite a bit over the very atmospheric model used for Metroid Prime. You'll still hear the same minimalist approach, which makes equal use of music tracks and disturbing silence, that's punctuated by sound effects and other ambient effects. However, Echoes introduces more sound bites of voice and ambient effects to create an even more immersive experience. We're currently taken with the voice cue that notes log updates as you scan things in the game. Other than that, we're thoroughly enjoying the music tracks we're hearing in the game, which are faster paced and add urgency to the situations they're cued up for.

Is it really a shock to say that Metroid Prime 2: Echoes is poised to be a kick-ass follow up to Metroid Prime? Probably not, but we'll say it anyway. Metroid Prime 2: Echoes is poised to be a kick-ass follow-up to Metroid Prime. The reworked gameplay and weapon system and the improved graphics and depth of the adventure all appear to match, if not surpass, the original game. Retro Studios appears to be on point in a big way, which should ensure that fans of the series are in for a treat this November. And remember, this is just the single-player game we're talking about. If you want to get yourself worked up into an even bigger frenzy, check out our detailed impressions of Prime 2's multiplayer modes. For more updates on the Nintendo DS and other impressions and media, check out GameSpot's coverage of Nintendo's Gamer's Summit.

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