Ico was one of them, as were Rez and Prince of Persia Ė Iím talking about outrageously good videogames that nobody cared about. No matter how good the game is, unless it has the finger snapping instant hook and appeal that is cool and not abstract, it seems gamers wonít buy it. No.1 in the Gamecube chart of course, but all formats? Forget about it. Itís gone, off the radar. At an insulting and quite honestly heart-breaking chart position, another game has come along that tells me people donít want interesting, deep, difficult or challenging games anymore. They donít want to play something you have to work (really hard) at to get a reward, they want everything available straightaway, or unlocked with extreme ease, preferably requiring no thinking, no skill, and effort required.
Back in November, Metroid Prime 2 got released and is another forgotten game added to the list along side the first Metroid Prime. Whatever. Their loss, my gain. This is an exceptionally good videogame.
Titled Metroid Prime 2 Echoes, once again you are the famous female bounty hunter Samus Aran who is sent to a strange planet to find out what happened to a Galactic Federation ship that was last seen chasing Space Pirates heading towards the planet Aether. The planet is populated by a peaceful race called the Luminoth, but they themselves are in trouble. A meteor has hit the planet and caused a rip in the space, created an alternate dimension. The mirrored world is dark and evil, and a race called Ing populate it. They are trying to steal light energy from the Luminoth, so that they can take over the light world too. So of course the old girl Samus gets caught up in that mess too Ė where would we be without our bounty hunters huh?
The first thing you notice (because more than likely you wonít have played Metroid Prime for a long while) is how incredibly pretty the game is. Everything is constructed so well, with very detailed textures and models Ė itís hard to see itís all made out of polygons at times. And the frame rate is super-smooth too. It runs at sixty frames per second throughout, and that includes large open areas and huge boss fights filling the screen, and only very rarely will you see it blip under frame. There is no clipping, no pop-up, no detail pop-in on models and no glitches Ė itís amazingly polished. There is also very little loading throughout the game too. The worlds are room-based as before, and you have to shoot open doors to go through - but there is no waiting around for it to load. Each main world is split by a seamless elevator sequence, which is most likely loading everything up in the background. Itís extremely slick, and it just adds to the experience because you arenít sitting around staring at a loading screen. This sort of thing is a one a finger salute to many PC games that still have horrific loading issues, and they are running off of a hard drive and have a system memory that dwarf the Gamecubeís 24mb Ė Halo 2 is the same and rarely seems to spoil your enjoyment with loading screens. If a console can do it, running off a spinning disc with limited memory, why can't a PC? Something for PC developers to think about, perhaps.
Back on track, as already stated, the game is split into two sides, or dimensions if you will. The light side is the default area and where you begin your adventure. After playing the game for a while you'll come across a portal, which needs activating. After doing this, you can walk into it and you'll be transferred to the dark side. The areas here are sometimes similar in size and shape as their light-side versions, but the contents of them is different, as are the enemies and locks on doors etc. This makes for some serious adventuring, as you tackle both dimensions to progress. However, as with Metroid games from before, you can't just go and visit every room in any area straightaway - some doors are locked which require specific weapons to fire at them to unlock. Apart from the obvious, it also stops you from getting seriously lost when new to the game. Having said that, even right at the start you can lose your bearings, and thatís when you can turn to the 3D world map, which works the same as the first game.
Of course, when you start playing 'Prime 2, you have all your weapons intact, and after 20 minutes of playing (and as standard with Metroid games), they are all taken from you Ė itís just part of the Metroid experience. I also think its a nice way of showing you the good weapons early on so you know what you'll be working towards, and lets you get a bit of practice on how to use them too. Whatever - I am sure some people will complain, but then I know people that complained that you could dual-wield weapons straightaway in Halo2! No pleasing some people is there?
However, whatís clever about Prime 2 is that when you are stripped of your weapons (many dark enemies surround you and nick them from you), the bosses in the game use the weapons against you when youíre fighting them, and by defeating them you are rewarded with whatever they were using. This makes for some very interesting boss fights, and as soon as you see the first boss, youíll be wondering how the next one will take shape. Soon enough youíll come across the genius that is the Spiderball Guardian or Boost Guardian, and youíll wonder why nobody has done anything like this before. The bosses are so well designed Ė perhaps even more so than in the first Prime.
Metroid Prime 2 is very hard at times, and on occasion quite frustratingly so, but itís only ever because you messed up. And as soon as you know the technique Ė just like Viewtiful Joe Ė youíll be finishing the boss fights off without too much hassle. The save points are usually quite close to the boss room (perhaps a two or three small rooms away), but one of them later in the game is a real pain as itís a fair old trek to get there again, and you have a cut scene and a couple of things to do first. Not sure why it wasnít adjusted during development, but there you go. I beat the boss on the 4th or 5th attempt and the reward was worth it, so itís not all bad. Spawning enemies are back again, and although on occasion these can grate, you can just run past them if you wish unless they are the dreaded Space Pirates who feel inclined to lock all exits, and have a fight to their death before the doors unlock. This can and does get annoying when you are trying to get to one point in the level quickly, and you waste health and ammo on enemies you have killed a hundred times before. I donít mind the respawning enemies so much, but locking the doors again and again? Retro Ė no need!
One unusual change in the game is ammunition on the non-primary weapon. Youíve always had missile and power bomb ammo, but this is a new feature for the normal beam shots of your non-standard weapon. I really donít think it was required in the game as itís just another thing to have to manage, and I feel it was almost added for the sake of it.
The levels are themed really nicely, and all have their own unique features. Torvus Bog is a grim world, reminding me of where Luke Skywalker met Yoda in Empire Strikes Back, with strange overhanging plant life, and murky water-filled caverns. Then there is Temple Grounds, set in around a ruined temple with networks of small cave systems and morph ball pipes. The sand-covered world of Agon Wastes is an interesting place, with a deserted look at the front, and a lot of alien technology behind closed doors. At first you think they donít quite match the fire and ice based worlds of the first Metroid Prime, but then youíll come across something brilliantly designed and amazing to look at and youíll realise Retro have improved on the first game in this area too. You also have the dark side to appreciate and play in too Ė and they are just as interesting and as well-designed as their light world counterparts.
No other game this year has sucked me in this much. Metroid Prime 2 has so much atmosphere and complete feeling of loneliness that you just feel part of the world. You canít rush through this game as every new room or area has something really interesting to look at or do, and the huge open areas will have to slowly looking around starring at the beauty and design of it all. Going through the rooms scanning objects and dead bodies tells the story to you via messages left from people, and you can learn about their weaponry and why they are here and their history. Itís very deep indeed, and you can literally add 5 hours onto the game by just taking it all in and reading everything you come across. Then there is the item retrieval process. You can finish the game without getting back all of your equipment, but for a proper full-on completion, you'll be hitting around thirty hours on your first time through. This is a vast game that also offers at least one more play through on a new difficulty level. On top of this, is also the (currently untested) multiplayer aspect of the game, which will breathe some more life into the title. I donít think it was needed to be honest, but itís another tick on the box I guess.
I have recently been asked to name my game of the year for 2004. Itís pretty tough, I can tell you. There have been some amazing titles this year, and nailing one isnít easy. However, I havenít played a game all year (or perhaps even two years since the first game) that has been such a challenge, so rewarding, and equally as hard as Metroid Prime 2. It pushes you to your limits of skill, ability and stamina, and it rewards greatly with an incredibly well-designed game with some of the best boss fights I have ever seen. It has an amazing atmosphere and feel that not many games can give, and now I have finished it, I miss it. It feels like something has gone from my life, and itís weird. I felt the exact same way when I completed the original Metroid Prime two years ago, and I hope one day weíll see a sequel and I can experience it all over again.
Whatís my game of the year 2004 you ask? Itís this forgotten gem, Metroid Prime 2 Echoes.