The original Metroid Prime is widely considered one of the greatest games ever made and for good reason. Few franchises pulled off their transition from 2D to 3D with as much finesse. Adopting a first-person perspective led to more immersive gameplay while inferring a deeply intimate overworld full of intricate level design. Retro Studios capitalized on the interconnectivity inherent to gaming as a medium to great effect. Samus’ adventure was now just as much yours, the line between audience and avatar soundly blurred. This is a quality Metroid Prime shares with its successors, Echoes and Corruption, but neither game left as much lasting impact as their progenitor.
Like most great sequels, Metroid Prime 2: Echoes does not get the same amount of love as its predecessor, but it’s just as deserving — if not more so in some respects. Rather than laying a new foundation, Echoes refines concepts and mechanics Prime introduced to near perfection while marching to the beat of its own drum. Planet Aether is a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by climate calamity. Tight level design and dense puzzle-solving make for an elaborately connected overworld that plays into a degree of hostility the series has not seen since the original Metroid for NES. An emphasis on combat set-pieces is offset by careful enemy placement and arenas that suit Samus’ limited movement mid-battle. Exploration is rounded out by deeper platforming courtesy of upgrades like the Screw Attack, translating yet another 2D Metroid staple into 3D.
Minor quality of life features plus clever asset reuse let Prime 2 run wild in the confines of an expertly crafted engine. Samus naturally reorients her vision when walking down slopes or up to a pit. Level design regularly takes the logistics of turning into consideration, keeping navigation fluid while seldom obstructing your peripheral vision. Better-paced and better-placed elevators make backtracking a faster process. Quicker load times prevent doors from stalling as often. You no longer need to fire a shot before charging your Charge Beam, letting you launch consecutive Charge Shots back to back. Missiles fire as soon as you press Y where you once needed to hit the button twice: first to equip the Missiles and again to fire. What seem like minor changes make gunplay all the smoother.
Echoes reused Metroid Prime‘s gameplay engine, and aforementioned assets that will stick out to keen observers. All three new beams are reskins of old beams (Dark is modeled after Ice, Light after Plasma, and the Annihilator Wave). Enemy AI undergoes tweaking across the board, but will be familiar for anyone who played the first Prime. Dark Pirate Commandos are essentially modified versions of Chozo Ghosts while Ingsmashers are Elite Pirates reborn. It can be easy to write off asset reuse as lazy, but Echoes is simply economical. A few reskinned assets help developers cut the difference, allowing them to prioritize other aspects of development. In that sense, Prime 1 and 2’s relationship is akin to that of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask.
Darker, harder, and more creative than the first Metroid Prime, Echoes is the gold standard when it comes to video game sequels. Where the original Prime focused primarily on being a first-person adventure game due to Samus’ limited gun controls, Echoes finds a comfortable balance between FPA and FPS (first-person shooter). Level design’s main focus is still on exploration, but there is a healthy amount of action at play. Smart enemy placement and arenas designed around strafing keep combat fluid. Unlike Prime 1 where you could run from most encounters, Prime 2 encourages you to engage in battle while in the Light World and flee down in the Dark World. Which is another important detail that differentiates Echoes from its predecessor: a dual world mechanic.
Planet Aether is unlike any other setting in Metroid, carrying a fantastical quality that regularly verges into Lovecraftian territory. Where Tallon IV was geographically diverse and made some degree of natural sense, Aether is divided into two distinct overworlds: the barren Light World and the hellscape that is the Dark World. The Light World is your traditional overworld where most of gameplay occurs whereas the Dark World is an alternate dimension broken up into segments that can only be accessed via Portals. Befitting parallel dimensions, your actions in one world might influence the other and several navigational puzzles are designed around you paying close attention to the dual world dichotomy.
Metroid games typically set themselves on dying planets or abandoned space stations, but Aether is surreal even by the series’ standards. Just the way Samus reaches the planet is unnatural, with her crash landing her ship and stranding herself. Samus crashing is a minor point, but it conveys that she is trapped on Aether with no way out. Prime 2 explicitly opens with the odds against Samus, a detail that infers most of the planet’s overall design. Climate change has decimated Aether’s ecosystem to a point where most regions abide by a muted color scheme. More vibrant areas are offset by unnatural color palettes that speak to the Dark World’s hostility. The atmosphere is enough to make Aether one of the loneliest, isolated settings in Metroid.
Aether is doubly unique in that the Chozo play no part in the planet’s history. Instead, their role is taken on by the Luminoth — moth-esque creatures who have been driven to near extinction by the time Samus arrives. The same cataclysm that split Aether in two also brought with it the Ing, a downright demonic invasive species bleeding the planet’s light dry. Samus arriving on the cusp of Luminoth extinction recontextualizes Aether as a graveyard in the making. Most natural life has long since died away, but the post-apocalypse is fresh enough where Luminoth culture is on full display. Scan logs and carefully considered architecture offer glimpses into what life was like on Aether in its prime.
With only four major regions that you need to visit in a set order, exploration is not as freeform as it was on Tallon IV. This is not a bad thing, however. What Echoes lacks in non-linearity, it makes up for with some of the best level design in the franchise. Aether’s layout is nothing short of brilliant. Retro Studios learned from their mistakes with the original Metroid Prime — particularly a lack of shortcuts resulting in Magmoor Caverns serving as a secondary hub. Every area in Metroid Prime 2 is connected and built around creatable shortcuts that allow you to seamlessly loop to any level. Meticulously placed elevators let you enter areas from multiple different vantage points while perpetually pushing forward. Backtracking still has its place, but is now mercifully easy to pull off.
Metroid games are no stranger to puzzle solving, but Aether is dense with complex puzzles. Beyond jumping between worlds, Echoes is constantly challenging you to think outside the box with your upgrades. This is best exemplified through heavy Morph Ball usage. The Morph Ball in the first Metroid Prime was well implemented but took up a minor chunk of gameplay in the grand scheme of things. Prime 2 shakes things up by including multiple Morph Ball Mazes, several upgrades locked behind advanced Morph Bombing, Morph Ball-based boss fights, and an entirely new form of platforming where you use the Spider and Boost Balls in conjunction with one another to jump between magnetic platforms. The sheer amount of thought put into the Morph Ball’s gameplay shows how much Retro Studios grew as a dev team between installments.
Along with the series’ typical gatechecks of Beams, Missiles, and Power Bombs, progression in Aether is regulated by translation modules that decipher Luminoth lore. Each module is ostensibly a color-coded keycard (Violet, Amber, Emerald, and Cobalt), but offering lore whenever a gate is unlocked fleshes out Aether’s worldbuilding. In general, apocalyptic logs are far more revealing in Metroid Prime 2 than they were in Prime 1. Scans from fallen Federation Soldiers and the Luminoth paint a clear picture of the planet’s hostility and the looming threat of the Ing. The Luminoth in particular leave bitter messages, scorning their fate and the loss of their world. The fact there are as many dead bodies littering the overworld as there are is proof that danger is around every corner.
Above all else, Aether is well-paced. Samus is introduced to new regions in a set order, but you’re directed so seamlessly that you might not even notice. Backtracking to a dead-end usually nets you an upgrade or at least a shortcut for your trouble. Each area you visit is generally better designed than the last, leading to an adventure always improving upon itself. The earlier areas then expand considerably courtesy of new upgrades, turning simple regions into elaborate playgrounds with multiple branching paths. Aether’s four areas are as wide as a puddle compared to Tallon IV on a surface level, but deep as an ocean once you dive in.
Samus’ journey begins in the Temple Grounds, by far the most morbid starting level in the series. Dead Federation soldiers are scattered everywhere, with some strung up by webs. Their lifeless bodies are even programmed to respond to cannon fire and contact. Cobwebs, red weeds, and green mist juxtapose a perfectly clear skyline — the last left on Aether and a change of scenery for Metroid. Aside from some Federation tech, the Temple Grounds are eerily abandoned. All of Aether shares that quality, but the Temple Grounds feel uniquely out of time. The region’s serenity is haunting. At the center of the area is the Great Temple, which serves as a central hub that connects to the other regions.
Formerly a beautiful field, Agon Wastes is now a harsh desert overrun by space pirates. Sandfalls, canyons, and mining equipment lend the wastes some unique platforming set pieces. An overcast sky full of thunder and lightning distinguishes Agon Wastes from the comparatively peaceful Chozo Ruins. Both are former bastions to their planet’s beauty, but the wastes are desolate in a way the ruins weren’t. Where the Chozo Ruins carried a sense of dignity, Agon Wastes stands out as a sorrow beacon to what Aether has lost. The fact the region is so lifeless can be off-putting on a first playthrough (if not visually dull), but the wastes are key in setting Echoes’ tone.
Torvus Bog is where the level design really starts to open up. The region is full of branching pathways, has few dead ends, and makes great use out of underwater exploration. The brand new Gravity Boost functions as an underwater jetpack while offering the Gravity Suit’s weightlessness (albeit with no defense buff). Slowly descending down into the Flooded Temple to unlock the upgrade is claustrophobic, but it makes Gravity Boosting your way out all the more cathartic. Visually, Torvus Bog is a dying land clinging to life. Unnatural waterfalls, dead trees, and rain beating down on your visor set a hauntingly beautiful mood.
Stationed high above a lost Luminoth metropolis, Sanctuary Fortress was the race’s final stronghold before its abandonment. The fortress is extremely high-tech, a glimpse of the Luminoth in their prime. Its garish teal, green, and red color scheme clashes with the rest of Aether. Digital patterns ripple across the sky, making the whole area seem almost unreal. Sanctuary Fortress is where Echoes gets the most creative with its platforming, featuring multiple Morph Ball set-pieces along with Grappling Hooks and the newly implemented Wall Jumping. Samus can now shoot while grappling — allowing enemies to be more aggressive — while the Screw Attack can be used to Wall Jump between specific walls. Verticality is a staple of Sanctuary Fortress, lending the level design a dynamic edge Prime 1’s platforming lacked.
Metroid Prime 2’s navigation is a puzzle in and of itself, especially taking the Dark World into account. Each Light region has a Dark counterpart that twists the level design and corrupts the geography. A hell dripping in Phazon, Sky Temple Grounds replace the Temple Grounds. The Dark Agon Wastes twist a wasteland even further, replacing muted colors with darker tones. Dark Torvus Bog is flooded in poisonous Dark Water that makes exploration suicidal without the right upgrades. A fully corrupt Sanctuary Fortress, Ing Hive is the most unique of the Dark World regions. Its neon red, purple, and black coloring make the digital aesthetic even more off-putting. Ing Hive is built up all game as the Ing’s stronghold and delivers an unforgettably ominous atmosphere upon arrival.
Besides just being a secondary overworld, the Dark World’s main gimmick is that it is aggressively oppressive. Simply being in the Dark World is enough to drain Samus’ health at a rapid pace. This alone makes Dark Aether one of the most hostile settings in Metroid. Stretches of Dark World gameplay often task you with brute-forcing your way through dangerous level design that is actively killing you. Light Crystals serve as safe zones where you can regenerate health, but the process is so slow where you’re better off trying your luck unless in critical condition. Echoes also goes out of its way to strip you of Light Crystals on more than one occasion, leading to tense set-pieces where you must push forward without hesitation.
One of the best things about the Dark World is how it plays into player agency. Light Crystals have an inherent risk vs reward function to them. You can waste time healing up, or you can move forward and potentially get out of the Dark World without having needed to heal — or die trying. Health drain forces you to think fast when solving Dark World puzzles. The Abandoned Base in Sky Temple Grounds has a Morph Ball puzzle where you need to figure out the correct order to activate several Bomb Slots in. This is actually fairly simple, but the fact your health is actively getting drained adds a layer of tension that can potentially cloud your judgment.
Gameplay-wise, the Dark World is home to three Dark Keys that Samus needs to track down in order to clear a region. Finding each Dark Key requires hunting down Upgrades (often from other areas) while solving Portal puzzles. Dark Keys are often found in the most dangerous areas of the Dark World and only after you complete some sort of milestone. In an aesthetically dark land where everything — including the air — is trying to kill you, finding a Dark Key is immensely rewarding. More so when you find all three and undergo the Energy Transfer between each region’s respective Dark and Light Temples. Your actions in the Dark World leave lasting change on Aether, as you gradually bring natural light back to each region. The skyline will actually change to acknowledge your successes.
As far as presentation goes, Echoes is even more immersive than Prime 1. The HUD is just a smidge cleaner and visual effects are more pronounced. It’s easier to notice that Samus’ Arm Cannon steams if you button mash. Water effects on your visor happen naturally and with great frequency, splashing into or out of pools coating your screen. Rezbits can deactivate your visor into static, forcing an in-game reboot that shows all of Samus’ upgrades coming back online in real-time. Waves of light flutter through the air, light particles flicker in your path, and beams of light realistically blind your vision if you walk into them. Samus’ armor looks slicker and has a chromatic finish thanks to bold coloring. Prime 2 takes Prime 1’s already fantastic graphics and adds another coat of polish over them.
What few cutscenes Prime 1 had were solid, but Echoes is on another level. Prime 2’s cinematography is downright incredible. Cutscenes are wonderfully framed and paced. Samus’ crash landing on Aether is sudden, exciting, and chilling. Her showdowns with Dark Samus are beautifully composed, masterfully setting up some of the best boss fights in the game. Samus’ body language is the most expressive it has ever been while maintaining her signature stoicism. Her eyes are not static. She reacts to the world around her. She shuts the eyes of a dead Federation soldier, showboats when getting certain upgrades, and bids the Luminoth farewell with a coyly cool backwards wave.
Kenji Yamamoto returns as the composer yet again, bringing with him a legendary soundtrack. Echoes’ score is mesmerizing and eerie. Silence is often used to set a mood or build tension, but that doesn’t mean an absence of music. Dark World tracks are appropriately haunting, droning just enough to unsettle but never annoy. Light World tracks jump between quiet introspective and energetic romps. In that sense, Prime 2’s soundtrack is very reminiscent of Super Metroid. There are even some amazing remixes of classic songs, including both Brinstar themes and the original Escape tune from the first Metroid.
Control-wise, Prime 2 is the same as Prime 1. R aims and locks Samus’ position; L locks onto enemies; Z opens the map; X triggers the Morph Ball; B jumps; A shoots; Y fires Missiles; the D-Pad swaps between visors; and the C-Stick swaps between beams. This is very much a case of not fixing what is not broken. Instead, Echoes’ level design is simply better suited to Prime’s control scheme. Gameplay feels more refined than it did in P1 even though it isn’t really so. It just goes to show how much of a difference good level design makes.
In a rather notable quality of life shift, the Scan Visor has undergone a massive visual overhaul. Unscanned targets are now colors in blue, important unscanned targets in red, and previously scanned targets in green. The color-coding might be a bit overwhelming at first, but it very quickly makes the scanning process more intuitive. Scanning anything important also brings up a percentage menu where you can cross-reference how much you’ve scanned in a specific category. The slick presentation makes reading logs a more comfortable experience, especially since longer entries prompt you to open the menu.
The Thermal and X-Ray Visors are replaced by the Dark and Echo Visors respectively. The Dark Visor lets Samus see any interdimensional objects trapped between the Light and Dark Worlds. In practice, this is used to reveal invisible platforms in the overworld while turning supposed dead ends into paths forward. The Dark Visor also makes fighting invisible enemies much easier. The Echo Visor disables your vision by turning the screen black & white and depicting everything in terms of sound waves. Swapping to the Echo Visor is necessary for certain bosses, along with being needed to unlock Echo Gates — chokepoints that need to be disabled through sonic interference. While the Dark and Echo Visors seem gimmicky, Aether’s level and boss designs goes out of its way to take advantage of both.
The Combat Visor is still Samus’ default point of view and where the bulk of gameplay takes place. Prime 2’s added emphasis on combat means beams are unlocked at a much faster rate. The Charge Beam is actually a default attack this time around, a necessity given the difficulty curve. Both the Dark and Light Beams are unlocked long before the halfway thanks to Echoes’ elaborate weakness system for enemies. When charged up, the Dark Beam freezes while the Light Beam burns. Unlike beams in earlier Metroid games, the Dark and Light Beams require ammo to use. While this might seem like an unnecessary extra step for combat, intelligent ammo drops actually make gunplay more engaging.
Killing enemies or breaking destructible objects with the Light Beam will get you Dark Ammo, and vice versa. Enemies with weaknesses are usually resilient enough to anything that is not their direct weakness where you should never settle for chip damage. Metroid Prime 2 wants you to use ammo and will give you more than enough ammo if you do so. The drop rate is generous and designed to reward players who regularly experiment with their full tool kit. In the event that you do run out of ammo, you can Charge Up your beam for a basic shot instead of a charge attack. This way you can never be soft-locked. More importantly, ammo keeps combat balanced and discourages you from spamming. Even Samus’ endgame beam — the Annihilator — uses ammo for this reason.
Charge Combos make a comeback and are arguably more useful than ever given combat’s focus. Super Missiles are once again the only mandatory combo, launched by charging up a Power Beam and then firing a Missile. Although not a traditional Charge Combo, Seeker Launchers let you fire homing missiles by holding down Y and auto-locking onto targets. The Darkburst is the Dark Beam Charge Combo and fires a black hole that sucks up any nearby enemies. The Sunburst is the Light Beam’s combo and fires a cluster shot that deals massive damage to anyone in the area. Sonic Boom is the Annihilator’s combo and unleashes a massive blast that utterly rips through enemies. Since Charge Combos exhaust missiles when used, anyone who goes out of their way to unlock Beam and Missile Expansions is greatly rewarded.
Enemies in general fight smarter than they did in Prime 1. The sooner you learn to strafe and dodge, the better. Prime 2’s tank controls make positioning during combat all the more important. You need to think fast and move faster. Battles demand your full attention and the enemy radar in the top-left corner of the screen is often your only tell for where to turn. Shootouts are hectic as a result, but you always have everything you need at your disposal. It’s just a matter of knowing how to juggle everything.
Bosses are mechanically in-depth and do a great job at serving as tests of your in-game skills over being straight puzzle battles like in Prime 1. It’s a nice change of pace that makes sense given Aether’s hostile atmosphere: everything is trying to kill you. Boss fights are naturally quite a bit harder than in Prime 1, but that befits a direct sequel. Near-perfect pacing and a great difficulty curve help bosses stand out. Echoes does perhaps err on being too difficult, but even the hardest are fair. Prime 2 demands you to play at your best and leaves little room for error half the time. Bosses never feel throwaway and always carry weight. Walking into one of Echoes’ boss rooms is like an event.
The Dark Splinter, Bomb Guardian, and Jump Guardian all do an excellent job at gradually testing your ability to strafe and aim in the heat of battle. The Dark Samus duels are intimate one on one fights where you’re beating yourself at your own game, each one harder than the last. The Boost, Grapple, and Spider Guardians test your skills with the Morph Ball, forcing you to learn how to Bomb Jump properly or die trying. Chykka and Quadraxis are genuine wars of attrition where you need to survive a grueling battle while the Dark World’s atmosphere chips away at your health. Any single boss can be overwhelming in their own right, but that’s the way boss fights should be. Bosses challenge audiences’ skills and give players something to overcome. Prime 2 embraces that philosophy head-on.
Like its predecessor, Echoes closes out with a quest designed around backtracking. For Prime 1, Samus needed to track down 12 Artifacts before entering the final area. For Prime 2, Samus needs to track down 9 Keys. The main difference here is that the Key Hunt is much better structured than the Artifact Hunt. While most Keys can not be unlocked until the very end of the game, this is not a flaw. Thematically, the Dark World is a setting the story firmly established as dangerous. You do not want to be here unless you absolutely need to be. Multiple bosses are fought in the Dark World, placing you in tense scenarios where your health is being drained during combat.
There is an inherent intensity to the Dark World which is eventually offset during the Key Hunt quest. After finding all the Dark Keys in the three main areas, Samus unlocks the Light Suit – a suit of armor which lets her walk through the Dark World without taking damage. The whole of the Dark World is explicitly recontextualized into a victory lap that showers you in upgrades as you can now explore freely. This catharsis would not have nearly as much impact if you could chip away at the 9 Keys without the Light Suit.
Another detail that makes the Key Hunt smoother than the Artifact Hunt is just how well put together Aether is. Needing to backtrack to every region — including Dark variants — just shows how many shortcuts you can actually make. Seemingly one off rooms you visited early on become bridges between major areas or portals. Key puzzles are nice and varied. Some simply have you wading through Dark Water, others will have you solving puzzles. You are rewarded for paying attention to Luminoth Lore and remembering where each Testament was found. Dead Luminoth are a sign that a Key is nearby.
At the end of the day, the Key Hunt is just an excuse to play around with all your upgrades in Echoes’ overworld before the final boss. Backtracking does not feel like a chore when regions have visually changed based on your actions, and smart level design means you seldom need to cut through the same areas unnecessarily. Aether is dense in upgrades and expansions to find, and is an extremely rewarding overworld to just explore. The main game is linear, but it’s all worth it to be given free rein to one of Metroid’s most elaborate settings when all is said and done. The only downside is that the Sky Temple is just a simple march to the final boss (but even that feels forgivable given how much unique gameplay you can get out of the Key Hunt).
Interestingly, Echoes’ dual world mechanic is embodied through Samus’ relationship with Dark Samus. Just as Aether is a planet split between dimensions, Samus is confronted with a darker mirror of herself. Dark Samus comes off like a more fleshed-out version of SA-X from Fusion. She never chases Samus, but Dark Samus is fought three times over the course of the story and is an active presence who builds tension whenever she appears. Sometimes she’ll show up to simply mock you. In one instance, you’re forced to watch her kill Pirates and drain Phazon from behind a glass screen. By the time you reach her room, she’s long gone. Dark Samus is always one step ahead of you, periodically showing up to assert dominance without a word of dialogue.
Dark Samus is the ideal rival character. She fights like you during combat, using Samus’ signature abilities. Her attacks hit hard, but her patterns are workable if you have the reflexes. Scan logs reveal that the pirates fear Dark Samus as much as they do the real Samus. The fact Dark Samus is so animalistic in nature stands to warp Samus’ stoicism in the face of danger. We know Samus’ intentions are heroic, but she comes off utterly terrifying when stripped of context or familiarity. After all, Dark Samus is simply doing what Samus does best: hunt.
The rivalry between Dark Samus and Samus comes to a head during Echoes’ escape sequence. Prime 1 relegated its escape to a cutscene, whereas Prime 2 turns it into a nail-biting final battle (set after a three-stage boss) where running out of time means redoing the entire finale. Dark Samus’ sudden appearance can feel like whiplash, but interrupting your escape is also a perfect conclusion. The timer serves the same function draining health does in the Dark World — adding tension to gameplay — tying in one of Prime 2’s central mechanics into the final boss without needing to remove your Light Suit. Figuring out how to beat Dark Samus while the clock ticks down makes for an unforgettable ending where you have no choice but to earn victory.
It’s worth pointing out that Echoes formally introduces interactable NPCs through U-Mos, a Luminoth Sentinel who tasks Samus with her journey. U-Mos has quite a bit of dialogue, but he does not disrupt the story as much as Adam did in Fusion. U-Mos makes the Luminoth’s plight personal without bogging the plot down in text. His few scenes are short and to the point, establishing context while offering you some direction. It’s also notable that a game with as much dialogue as Prime 2 manages to keep its story fairly in the background. Environmental storytelling is still in play, especially when it comes to the war between the Luminoth and the Ing.
Prime 2 starts slow, has multiple difficulty spikes, and is actually fairly linear compared to other Metroids. All this makes it a better video game. Retro Studios understood what worked in Prime 1, what didn’t, and — most importantly — the fact Prime 1 already exists. Prime 2 does not try to be more of the same. Echoes was built on ambition and carves out its own niche in the greater Metroid franchise. The slower pace makes it all the more meaningful when the overworld opens up and you’re finally free to explore. The multiple difficulty spikes keep combat reward, engaging, and intelligent. Linearity means set pieces and puzzles can build on one another, new areas challenging mechanics or concepts you would have already learned. Everything in Echoes matters, either teaching you something or fleshing out the game’s themes, tone, or lore.
Aether is genuinely alien in a way unlike any other setting in the series. Metroid Prime 2 crash lands you into an unfamiliar world and strips you away of the series’ staples. Ridley and Mother Brain are distant memories. Samus’ Power Suit is first warped by darkness before being reforged into an armor made of pure light. The Luminoth fill the role the Chozo normally would, leaving behind a deeply tragic backstory in their wake. Taking a step away from Metroid’s norms allows Echoes to indulge in a deeply interconnected overworld, richer combat, and atmosphere as dark as it is palpable. Metroid Prime 2: Echoes strives not to be better than Prime 1, but different, and in doing so is a masterpiece of a sequel.