Last week I briefly discussed how I used to love to explore in Super Mario 64. Well, some games are built around this idea of exploration. This has become quite a ubiquitous thing in gaming these days, what with all the "open world sandbox" games that come out. However, in a much simpler (and more memory-limited) time, we had the so-called "Metroidvania" genre. My most recent trek in this genre came by way of Metroid Prime 2, which incidentally would be a terrible game to be introduced to the genre through. Not because it's a bad metroidvania game or anything but more on that later. I have played Metroid Prime, the first one, but since I played this one much more recently I feel it'd be a better review if I talk about the second game instead.
To me, the two most important aspects to a Metroidvania are: exploration, and backtracking. In an era of Read Only Memory chips measured by the megabit, it made sense to make as much of the space of the world as you could, which means having the player backtrack. In Metroidvanias (Metroidvaniae?) this is usually accomplished using items that let you explore areas you couldn't access before. Prime 2 follows this formula spot-on. Some people don't like this sort of thing, they just want new content. I personally don't mind backtracking. I love coming back to old areas, finding new ways through them. Sometimes these old areas even change, so you do get new content in there.
So that being said, Prime 2 wouldn't be considered "open world" as it's not really non-linear, but it certainly has a world to explore. In order to find items to progress, you often have to survey the landscape. Often you are given objectives to just... go find something! Mercifully, if you spend long enough looking for it, the game will give you hints. Again, for some people this is the low point of the game because it's all about backtracking. For me, it was actually surprisingly the high point of the game. What a wonderous thing, going back to these old rooms, sometimes finding something I literally couldn't see before! But I understand the complaints, because it does feel like a grab at artificially lengthening the game at times.
Ah, but Metroid isn't all about exploration. There's lots of shooty-bang laser-ness in there as well. As with the first Prime game, the second features a lock-on system borrowed from Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time, in order to transfer the 2D Metroid action into 3D. Just lock-on and shoot. The Metroid Prime Trilogy (Wii) version allows you to eaisly aim anywhere on the screen, honestly to the game's detriment. You can't just lock-on and shoot. You can still lock-on, but then you have to point the cursor into the targeting area. Having not played the original, I can't say for sure how much this changed. Having played the first Prime on Gamecube, I could tell it felt slightly off though. I haven't played Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, but since it was a Wii game first and foremost, I'm hoping it's more built around these controls. Enemies are all made to deal with this lock-on system. Some of them you have to aim manually at (harder in the Gamecube version), others you can't just lock-on to and have to jump around and shoot from behind.
The atomosphere of MP2 is a mixture of eldrich horror and classic Metroid, and I love it. The Metroid series was already pretty inspired by Alien (the movie), but this game takes the darkness to a whole new level. This game is dark. I don't just mean the colors are dimmer (they definitely are), but the overall tone as well. You're literally trying to save a dying race (the Luminoth) from another race of beings (the Ing) who literally come from the dark mirror version of their world. The game is splashed with blacks, and dark purples, and all other manner of dark tones. It's actually pretty visually interesting, despite how dull it sounds, since it still has splashes of color. The Luminoth (because they're moths who live in the light world, I see what you did Retro Studios) look classic Metroid-y, but the Ing look like something I imagine coming out of a book written by H.P. Lovecraft. The music enhances the atmosphere perfectly, and can be pretty brooding, but still fittingly alien, at times. I especially love the classic Metroid callouts.
This game is all about light versus dark. This game has a dark version of the world that you have to travel to, very much like Legend of Zelda Link to the Past. The dark world gives some very interesting means of exploration and backtracking, but frustratingly drains your health (more on this later). All the past Metroid items and tropes now fall under dark and light. You have your regular blaster, missiles, and what-have-you. But, you get the dark beam, and the light beam, and the dark suit, and the light suit. I think you get it. This game really takes the dual-world theme and runs with it.
Probably the most notable thing about this game, especially the Gamecube version is the difficulty. I heard that one of the developers once said that they wanted people to be constantly watching their health throughout the game, and boy howdy did they succeed! As stated previously, the dark world hurts you just from being inside of it. Bosses, for the most part, are big menacing dark creatures, but are interesting enough to fight. The real interesting part of bosses comes from figuring out how to beat them. Sorta like half puzzle, half action, for most of them. One of the earlier bosses, the Boost Ball Guardian, is one of the most frustrating boss fights I've ever seen, and I was playing the easier version! Imagine trying to figure out how to beat a boss while your health is constantly ticking down. The difficulty actually takes a plummet from there, only spiking pretty high much later on. It's a really weird difficulty curve. This is why this game is a bad introduction to the genre, it's a tough son of a bitch.
If you are a fan of Metroid you will enjoy this game. If you are a fan of exploration, you will probably enjoy this game. If you like punishing difficulty, you will love this game. If you are more casual like me, get the Wii version, it's still a damn good game.