Prime 2 had a lot to live up to. It’s a testament to Retro’s skill that they managed to set Prime 2 apart as a unique installment in the Prime series, and really set the planet Aether apart from Tallon IV, while still evoking the same kind of feel and atmosphere of Prime.
Some of the enemies are easily recognizable as reworked Prime enemies, sure, but overall everything remains really distinct and memorable. Sanctuary Fortress in particular had very unique, interesting and challenging enemies like those frickin Rezbits and Ingsmashers - and, of course, Quadraxis. The Morph Ball bosses felt a little gimmicky and frustrating, but this may just be because I couldn’t stop thinking about how much easier they would be if I had Trilogy and friggin Spring Ball. Oh well. I only died once to the Boost Ball Guardian (which didn’t seem nearly as impossible as the Internet made it out to be, but I might have a fixed version) and the Spider Ball Guardian.
Although the roughness of the first Prime gave it a lot of its charm, Prime 2 has a visible polish that is the first thing that made an impression on me when I booted up the game. The menus / Logbook and Scan Visor were given a complete overhaul that makes them a lot more intuitive and easier to use, which is a necessary godsend considering just how much you have to scan in this game. The music is still spot-on, but is different from the Prime music in a way that’s hard to define. I think the main thing is that it’s more subdued, but this fits the more serious tone of the story and grows on you a lot over time. Plus, there are a couple excellent remixes in the soundtrack, similar to Magmoor Caverns and all that in Prime.
Retro put as much detail into this game as you would expect coming into it from Prime. Some little things that stood out to me were the way that U-Mos crouches down to talk to you face-to-face (damn are the Luminoth tall) and the way that the little moths fluttering around in some areas will flock to your Light Suit Morph Ball (I found it adorable). Speaking of the Light Suit, although it was sad that the Gravity Suit was missing in action, the Dark Suit and particularly the Light Suit look damn cool.
Alright, speaking of the Suits, let’s address the elephant in the room - the ammo system. I think people kind of blow this out of proportion; the only time I ever ran out of ammo was during the final boss fight, that’s only because I spammed the Annihilator Beam, and there were enough ammo drops throughout the fight that I was able to use the Annihilator Beam the whole time. I thought that the Echo Visor and all the sound puzzles were pretty clever, too. The Screw Attack was awesome and the Wall Jumps were cute. That said, I did enjoy the game most after I got the Light Suit and I didn’t have to worry about Dark Aether killing me anymore. That extra worry is a legitimate complaint, but the whole premise of the game hinges around it, so you just kind of have to suck it up. An exploration game that purposefully hinders your exploration is a little frustrating, but the extra dimension of caution that you have to apply to everything is an interesting experience.
The underlying problem - “the whole premise of the game hinges around it” - is that any kind of major narrative structure is going to kill the exploratory feel of the classic Metroid game. In Prime 2, you always feel like you have something to DO because you’re constantly being DRIVEN by the plot. Prime 1 had only one very overarching goal - find all the Artifacts, enter the Impact Crater, and defeat Metroid Prime. This builds up over the course of the game and never feels like more than unobtrusive background to your exploration of the planet. In Prime 2, on the other hand, you get tons of exposition and tons of immediate goals - collecting the three keys in order to defeat the three bosses in the three temples and return the three light sources, and THEN you get the final Key fetch quest to unlock the final boss.
That isn’t to say that this makes Prime 2 unenjoyable - far from it. The story is engrossing, very well told, and integrated well with the gameplay, and it’s not like you mind going on all the fetch quests to help the Luminoth. It also helps Prime 2 feel a lot more substantial than Prime 1. But I probably had the most fun in the endgame when I was just derping around Light and Dark Aether as I pleased, getting 100% of the items. Speaking of the endgame, the final boss wasn’t quite as poetic and satisfying as the excellently constructed Metroid Prime fight, but it made a valiant effort at creating a sense of finality and epicness. The escape sequence / Dark Samus fight was also very intense and a great addition.
The Space Pirates have a bit less of a presence in this game, but that’s only to be expected, as they’re only on the planet to try to benefit from the Phazon byproduct of the war between the Luminoth and the Ing. Quality over quantity; the one main Pirate area of the game (and the Pirate corpses scattered around Dark Aether) is packed with the same kind of Pirate personality from Prime (and even a few references to the Pirate Logs in that game). I never thought that a Metroid game would make me feel sorry for the Metroids, but this one came close; from being used as target practice to food poisoning from pet treats, captive Metroids have it rough. The way that Dark Samus was tied into the Pirate Logs was also perfectly done.
The real stars of the show are the Luminoth and the Ing, as is to be expected. They managed to characterize the Luminoth with the same subtle treatment that they gave the Chozo, but this most greatly shines through not in the Lore, but in the individual testaments and scans of the fallen warriors you find around the planet. The little touches really show the big picture of the severity of the war; the young, the old, and families fought together and died together. And although the Federation Marines are only really pertinent to the beginning of the game, their Logs also do an excellent job of painting their unique perspective on the situation.
All of this really makes the one missing perspective stand out - the Ing’s point of view. It’s made pretty clear that they’re intelligent - I remember one scan talking about the fact that they have rites of passage, and this must mean they have some kind of culture - but, sans their tactic of stealing Samus’ shit at the very beginning (and this serves mostly as a gameplay contrivance), we only see them acting like mindless killing machines. Their attack on the Federation Marines alone would justify Samus fucking them up, of course, and it doesn’t really matter that we don’t really know what their deal is - they really are the Bad Guys, and if it’s a question of priority, in the overall scheme of the Metroid universe it’s not like they’re as important as the Space Pirates. It just strikes me as a little odd.
In the end, Prime 2 isn’t quite as good as the first Prime, but it isn’t overshadowed by its predecessor either and is still an excellent game in its own right. Prime 1 nailed the feel of a Metroid game so well that Prime 2 going in a different direction was a good thing.
Only one more Metroid game left.