|By Zach Patterson||Wednesday, 2 May 2007|
It’s not a stretch to say that Metroid Prime was perhaps the most important game released in the Gamecube’s lifespan. While other games proved to be more popular, such as Smash Bros Melee and Resident Evil 4, Prime was not only the biggest risk for Nintendo, but also its greatest success. More than anything, the Prime series showed exactly how to bring a series to 3D without sacrificing the feel and core gameplay of the series. After Prime, Prime 2 came out at a strange time. By the time Prime 2 came out, it was up against a huge 2004 holiday season where Microsoft and Sony both had giant blockbusters taking all the spotlight. The Gamecube was struggling a bit at this point, just before the point where the system kinda began to disappear. The biggest disadvantage Metroid Prime 2 had was that it was essentially a first person action-adventure game, which is great, but it’s not a blockbuster like Halo 2 or Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, the big competition at the time. Prime 2 is really just an extension from the first game, giving us more of the great first person adventure qualities and mixing in more classic (screw attack!) and new (light/dark suits) abilities.
There have been improvements made here and there, however. Scanning items is now much easier and more intuitive due to distinct color coding. The story is much better and more immersing. There’s extra graphical touches here and there that really improve the overall look. But essentially, it’s feels very similar in both controls and look, which is a good thing. The story of the game sets up the big difference in this game, and it is a new planet called Aether that has been divided into a light world and dark world. It’s an old cliche, but it works here. You discover early on in the game that there is a dark world that quickly saps your strength and is full of stronger, twisted versions of enemies from the regular universe. And while Aether is generally and quiet peaceful place that is slowing decaying, Dark Aether is venomous and full of danger. Its world’s environment discourages exploration and focuses on survival. You move from safe point to safe point and try not to be exposed to its poisonous air. The game really does a great job changing the feel from one world to another and trying to differentiate between what’s essentially 2 versions of the same map. Many times, you cannot even tell you are in a room you visited in the light dimension.
I’ll be honest, I really hate the idea of dual worlds in games and really thought it was gonna be extremely repetitive and no fun. Add in the fact that your life constantly winds down in the other world (Shinobi for PS2 did this and it drove me mad), so that alone was probably reason enough I never pursued this game until recently. Perceptions are just that though, and it turns out that Retro Studios did a great job with a played out idea and managed to make it fun. The dark world starts out ominous and scary, like I said, but as you gain upgrades, you begin to get stronger in this world and can finally explore it more, like a true Metroid game. And as you go further in each world, you see the genius of the game design. There are portals that transfer you from world to world, and many times, Retro designed it so you must go through the other world in order to reach places unavailable in the light world, then return to explore a new area.
My big concern was that a second world would open the game up more than it already is, making it hard to find a coherent direction to head towards, or you would never know which world to be in. Turns out, the game makes it fairly simple to know where you should be. Most of the time, there is a certain couple tasks to solve while you are in whichever world. Then, the game inevitably leads you towards a portal to resume the game in the other world. It’s very much like the first Prime and the other games in the series, despite the initial impression. In fact, I would wager to say this game actually makes a bit more sense and has more direction that the first Prime, in most respects. The story is much more in depth and explained, and the world does seem to be alive with strange creatures and horrible evil. The music in the game helps this along, as Prime 2 features a much more organic, sparse soundtrack. It has very few memorable original “songs”, per se, and instead trades them in for strange sounds and alien rhythms, designed to make you feel like it’s part of this world. There are a fair share of reprised older Metroid songs, however, and these for the most part stand out as the best tracks on the soundtrack. The more environmental and background feel to the music in this game is actually a complement, and is not forgettable, as it is an important part of the feel of the game itself.
Where I feel the game falls short of the original Prime is in a few subtle areas. This game is completely sound from a gameplay perspective. The feel is still there, the game draws you in, and there’s much to discover in each and every area. However, the game is very slow to start. It has a great beginning and sets you up with a pretty intense “oh man, this is crazy” feeling once you first meet the enemy Ing and see them possess corpses and bring them to life. But soon after, you are left to wander, and the game feels so large and directionless. As you go further, you see this was probably intentional, but the sheer size of the areas (some are ridiculously huge) combined with a blander background (compared to the first game, at least) leads to a slow start, which is not good for a game like this.
On the environments, it is not that they are uninspired, which would be completely untrue. The problem is, they covered SO much ground with the first game (lush overgrown valleys, ruins, lava caverns, arctic tundras, to name a few) that there was little they could do in this game that wouldn’t feel like rehashing. So we get a main hub that appears desert-like in some areas, and has some bit of vegetation here and there. The first large area, Agon Wastes, is very similar in look and feel to the temple hub. Then there is the Torvus swamp/bog area, which feels like an extension of the Tallon Overworld from Prime. The most intriguing area is Sanctuary, and technological paradise that has turned into a deathtrap as the Ing have possessed the technology and security features and use them against you. The air there flows upward with transparent sine waves, and the drop from its high mountainous perch has lights as far as the eye can see (which honestly makes no sense, is there a city that’s thriving down there on this planet overrun by evil or what?). This area also has large labs, big fights, and great puzzles. This area’s dark world is also more interesting than the most of the other Dark Aether areas. There unfortunately is just a lot of Dark Aether areas that feel really forgettable. The design is solid, but the colors are all so drab, feature lots of dull purple and dark black to match the Ing themselves. There are exceptions, but in Retro’s attempt to make the world’s very different, it feels like they made the main world more like Prime (bright and vibrant), and they tried to make Dark Aether kinda black, dark, edgy, and evil, but it doesn’t always come across this way.
Then there are the enemies inhabiting these environments. The enemy design is generally pretty great. Most enemies feel like they belong in the areas, and many of them aren’t pushovers, requiring you to think and hit certain spots on them or use a certain visor/beam to expose a weakness. Ing possession happens on almost every creature, and while at first this is a scary thing, you begin to realize that the enemy doesn’t really change all that much, it just becomes black and can take an extra hit or two. This isn’t such a big deal, as there are original Ing creatures too, but when you face a boss that is just a glorified version of a common enemy, this is a little disappointing. Luckily, the major boss fights are large and usually incredibly epic. There is the sandworm creature who towers above you, then the cocoon/wasp monster who tests your patience, and even a gigantic possessed robot which requires you to use almost all the skills you have acquired. All the bosses, in fact, do a great job of making you use all your abilities, which is something I wish more games did. No upgrade feels unneeded. There’s even morph ball only bosses, which are fun and frustrating at the same time. I have to say that the Dark Samus enemy was interesting, but not very original. After Fusion did the same basic story, this comes off as a bit of a rehash, even though it does make sense in context with the first game. I wish they would have either focused more on this creature or not included it all together, because I don’t feel it shows up enough to be the main villain, but it pretty much is regarded as such.
Regardless of some small quibbles, I really enjoyed re-entering the Prime universe for a second time. Everything was familiar and yet new at the same time. It’s more puzzles, action, and slightly-but-kinda non-linear gameplay that most fans have come to expect. There’s even a fun multiplayer mode that, while not incredibly deep, is fun to dive into once in awhile with a few friends. There’s plenty to explore and unlock in the main game as well, and there is an excellent story that really makes this another must-have game for the Gamecube.