How Metroid Prime 2: Echoes Creates Fear, Anxiety, and Frustration

Imagine being a world that utterly hates you. Creatures of this world hunt you relentlessly, attacking you without mercy or relief. The very atmosphere of this world is toxic to you. Every door you open could lead you into a fight for your life. In this hostile world, survival is an achievement.

The concept of a hostile, hateful world is one of the core pillars of Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, a game that I quit for almost a year because I found it frustrating, draining, and full of intimidating puzzle design. I decided to return to the game in an effort to finally complete the Metroid Prime Trilogy, an acclaimed trio of games released for Nintendo GameCube and Wii between 2002 and 2007 (packaged together on Wii and Wii-U virtual console). When I revisited Metroid Prime 2, the same feelings of fear, anxiety, and frustration started coming back to me.

However, this time I began to realize the feelings of fear, anxiety, and frustrations were not accidental inclusions or mistakes made by Retro Studios. Often, those feeling I felt were the result of decisions made by the developer. Retro Studios had decided to create a sequel that was challenging in every sense of the word: enemies hit harder, environments leached your health at a dizzying rate, and puzzles were longer and more elaborate than its predecessor. The developers succeeded in creating an incredible experience, a game that creates fear, anxiety and frustration which results in a feeling of accomplishment for the player who chooses to continue playing the game. In this article, I will analyze the game play and storytelling decisions that create the incredible atmosphere in Metroid Prime 2.

Alone in The Darkness

Like other Metroid games, Metroid Prime 2 cultivates an atmosphere of isolation and danger.

In Metroid Prime 2, Samus arrives on the planet Aether looking for a group of Federation marines. These marines have lost contact with the outside world and Samus is sent in to discover what happened to them. As you reach areas with signs of marine activity, the feelings of isolation and dread began to develop. Samus encounters marine corpses that attack her, reanimated by mysterious enemies. Terrifying scanning log entries detail the marines’ desperate and futile attempts to fend off an endless hive of insects who are closing in. With the addition of voice acting for minor roles, the player can listen to audio of marines being taken by monsters, screaming in pain and terror. These early moments of discovering and horror fit perfectly in the sci-fi horror genre pioneered by films like Alien (one of Metroid‘s primary inspirations), and begin to develop the hostile atmosphere that is an iconic trait of the game.

Prime 2 doesn’t stop at the plight of the Federation marines, which turns out to be a small symptom of a larger and far darker disease that is consuming Aether. Split into two parallel light and dark worlds by a mysterious interstellar impact, Aether is a world at war with itself. An advanced sentient race of aliens known as the Luminoth are at war with the Ing, a horde of monstrous Dark Aether inhabitants. By the time Samus arrives on the planet, the Ing have all but eradicated the Luminoth in a brutal and soul-crushing war. The last of the species have been sent into hibernation, with a sentinel U-mos watching over them. This entire back story, detailed through log entries and U-mos’s own accounts, builds credibility that the Ing are formidable enemies. Throughout your travels, you are constantly reminded that the Ing are a powerful and ruthless enemy.

Unlike many other games, Metroid Prime 2 doesn’t simply tell its story through expository cut scenes. Instead, the developers at Retro Studios use game player experiences and mechanics to deepen its lore and unsettling atmosphere. The bodies of fallen Luminoths are scattered throughout the landscapes of Aether. You are required to travel through these areas multiple times to complete your journey. The sights of dead bodies and warnings messages work to fill the player with trepidation about what lies on the other side of a door or across a room. Many of these Luminoths’ leave their own messages, detailing their personal attempts to fight off the Ing and save Aether from its own dark side.

Visually, Dark Aether is a descent into hell for Samus. Everything in Dark Aether is twisted and mutated. Looking at your map reveals the names of rooms, many designed to fill the player with apprehension. Names like Feeding Pit, Sacrificial Chamber, Culling Chamber, and Accursed Lake are similarly name to develop a foreboding atmosphere and to build trepidation as you examine your map.

A World That Hates You

Dark Aether provides increased challenge to Samus by including stronger enemies, a toxic environment, and increased environmental hazards.

One of central game mechanics of Dark Aether is that the environment is fundamentally toxic to Samus. This toxicity is critical to influencing the player’s experience with the game, as well as the storytelling of Metroid Prime 2. Every single element of Dark Aether is based around the concept of the toxic environment, which will burn through Samus’s health as long as she is within Dark Aether. Many rooms in Dark Aether have Samus must travel between safe zones (reminiscent of light posts), which serve as brief respite from the punishment of Dark Aether’s environment.At these safe zones, the player can rest and regain health slowly.

In the early stages of the game, the toxic environments make traveling into Dark Aether a stressful and tense experience. Even in a room without enemies, solving a puzzle might mean leaving the safety your bubble to work on a puzzle, taxing your health reserves. Failure at something as simple as a morph ball puzzle can cost your precious health due to the caustic atmosphere. These sections require careful execution and planning if the player wants to maintain their health. Additionally, the enemies of the Dark Aether rarely leave you alone to rest. They often follow you throughout a room, attacking relentlessly. The effects of the toxic environment, along with the stronger enemies means that you lose health at a faster rate in the dark world.

The toxic environment and the relentless enemies combined to make me a very cautious player in Dark Aether. I was often forced to waited at safe zones to regain health, which was often stuck at low levels. This also added to my feeling of stress and tension, as I was often exploring with low levels of heath, worrying that a strong enemy might kill me and force me to lose the hard-fought progress I had made. In Dark Aether, I took more time to observe rooms carefully before stepping out of the shelter of a doorway or safe zones. Combat became different as well. My new weakness in Metroid Prime 2 forced me to evolve into a careful and tactical fighter. I fought minor enemies less in the dark world, and desperately plowed through enemies I couldn’t avoid, positioning myself in safe zones to conserve my dwindling health. the combination of these elements create incredible tension and stress as the player battles through Dark Aether.

More Bosses and Sub Bosses

Prime 2 includes more bosses and sub bosses creating difficult and unavoidable combat scenarios.

Metroid Prime 2 ups the ante considerably with bosses and sub bosses. There are more sub bosses scattered throughout the game than in the original Metroid Prime. Some of these battles are difficult, especially the early ones where you have extremely limited health, but even later sub bosses can deplete your health considerably. The introduction of more sub bosses means that there are more encounters where you are forced to fight. While strong enemies in the over world can often be avoided if you are careful, these sub bosses and bosses cannot be avoided. If you stumble into an encounter with a difficult sub-boss, you have no choice but to fight your way out. These “do or die” situations create an incredible amount of tension for the player, who may lose significant progress if Samus dies.

The Grapple Guardian is an excellent example of how Metroid Prime 2 makes boss fights tense and difficult. The Grapple Guardian is a enormous reptilian creature, capable of firing energy blasts at you. The fight takes place in small caged arena, making it impossible to avoid taking significant damage or staying far away from the beast. The enemy AI ruthlessly punishing you for any movement and positioning mistakes that the player makes. The creature is fast and it has attacks that are difficult to avoid. While you have enough health to take some serious hits, making the same mistakes too many times can put you too far behind to finish the monster. You have to learn the timing of the attacks and pick your opportunities carefully. The complexity, difficulty, and power of these boss encounters create a massive amount of tension during these boss encounters. When you go into a boss encounter in Metroid Prime 2, you need to be prepared for a long, grueling battle, one rife with tension and risk.

Puzzle Solving in Two Worlds

Prime 2 creates more complex puzzles by requiring you to enter and exit both Light and Dark Aether in order to complete certain puzzles.

One of the most brilliant and difficult aspects of Metroid Prime 2 is its complex puzzles solving. The interconnected nature of the Aether and Dark Aether will require you to move between these two parallel worlds to solve certain puzzles. It’s a brilliant way to illustrate the connection of the two worlds, and leads to some genuinely incredible puzzles, but it also complicates the puzzle introduced in Metroid Prime. The developers of Retro expected returning players to know the systems used in-game, creating challenging puzzles that went beyond those found in the original. Additionally, the player now has two world maps to consider, two layouts to think about, and many portals to consider. Some areas in one world are blocked off and require careful navigation of the opposite world to enter and fully explore.

The nature of using portals and backtracking in Metroid Prime 2 means that is not always immediately rewarding, as it might be in other games. In Metroid Prime 2, unlocking an item or finding a portal might lead you to new areas, yet your progress might be blocked by another door sooner than expected. Some areas of the light and dark world lead to dead ends themselves or require power up that you do not yet have. This means that sometimes a player can track through the world only to find themselves blocked by an immovable piece of metal that cannot yet be destroyed or a sonic door that they have so solutions for. These moments can create frustration in the player, as it can feel like progress is slow, yet the ultimate reward for patience is…

Becoming More Powerful Than You Could Possibly Imagine

As you progress in Metroid Prime 2, you become aware of your growing power.

After hours of battling fiendish enemies, solving difficult puzzles, and trudging through toxic environments, Metroid Prime 2 rewards the player with a feeling of power that is extremely special. There is incredible satisfaction in facing once powerful enemies and destroying them with ease, using your advanced knowledge and arsenal to obliterate the Ing, space pirates and other fiendish enemies.

Metroid is one of the few franchises to truly make you feel powerful and it does this by making you feel weak and helpless at first. As the players grows, so does that feeling of power. It’s a testament to the work by the developers that when early in the game, you feel weak and unprepared. That’s a conscious decision made. The feeling of helplessness, that frustration, can turn off players, yet it is also fundamental to the overall experience, and the eventual payoff. Metroid Prime 2 rewards the player who pushed through the fear and frustration to leave the player with a lasting feeling of accomplishment for completing its grueling journey.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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  1. Still my favorite nostalgia game. My mom surprised me for Christmas with this game that wasn’t on my list, or even my radar. It was on sale as a new release and she said, “I’ll try this.” It got me hooked on modern console gaming and keeps my interest even till this day.

  2. I always liked Prime 2. It was the first Prime game I got, but not the first one I beat as I had played Prime 1 first.

  3. I think Echoes is the Prime game I played the most, because I have a lot of memories of just exploring every crevice and scanning everything. my favorite area is the lab with the Metroids in the tubes.

  4. I love Echoes, it’s absolutely my favorite Metroid. I love all of this game. This is my top 3 of Trilogy 1) Echoes 2) Prime 3) Corruption. Obviously this don’t mean that I don’t like Corruption but simply I like Corruption less than other 2 games. Next Friday is my first anniversary that I finished of game. I always wondered why Chykka in the European version is spell Anophelia, name that I prefer

  5. I love how the Metroid series mixes mystical elements with sci-fi. It’s a very rich world. And personally, Echoes is my favorite out of the trilogy. Great article!

  6. Stephen

    Metroid Prime 2 is like the Silent Hill of Metroid games. Too bad I couldn’t get past that dang Bomb Guardian. For some reason I just couldn’t lock on to that thing’s tail, and the strafe mechanic didn’t really seem to work.

  7. Columbus

    just got a gamecube and got this. Wanted to get the first but they didn’t have it

  8. For the past few months I have played little to no video games but not to long ago I started playing again and I started with mp2 and I don’t think I’ve had that much fun playing a video game before.

  9. Teodoro

    I enjoyed MP2 best out of the trilogy… It was tough as nails which made it more rewarding and enjoyable once beaten. And it did a deeper method of story telling than Other M and MP3 without the use of voice acting… Simple but effective.

    • Great article about one of the best games of all time. I’ve never defeated Prime 2 in Hard mode, but I don’t care. Everything mentioned in this article is accurate about the game.

  10. Wow! That was a great breakdown.

  11. I actually loved prime 2 the most out of the 3 it was a nice break from the phazon and it presented me with what would become my favourite race in the series oddly more so than the chozo

  12. I think Samus, being a bounty hunter, is pissed at the end because all she receives is praise but her power ups are taken away form her and she is given nothing material in return. I always liked her attitude and this is like the Majoras Mask of the Metroid world and my favorite Prime so far.

  13. The biggest complaint about Echoes I often hear is that the game is simply too difficult; for me it is actually perfect in this regard. After spending well over a decade playing nearly all the titles in this franchise, I have become incredibly experienced with the gameplay (especially for the prime trilogy), but this ultimately made games like Metroid primes 1 and 3 too easy even on its hardest difficulty — unless I severely handicap myself to not use hyper-mode in Corruption unless it is necessary to advance the plot. However, with Metroid prime 2’s absurd difficulty, especially when paired with the often loose aim associated with the Wii remote, I can say that even with all my years of experience I have a Metroid game which to this day I find challenging enough to give me an adrenaline rush when I play.

    • What people don’t get about metroid prime 2 is that the beam weapons are much stronger than the other ones and if you didn’t have beam ammo then the game would be easyer than the other games

  14. Rayburn

    I love Prime 2’s story the most in the whole series, because to me it’s just Samus at her most… Samus. She completed her mission minutes into the adventure when she found the squad wiped out, but when she hears U-Mos’s tale, she gets to work without a moment’s delay. She’s fighting a one woman war against horrible abominations that defy logic and isn’t even getting paid for it, but that doesn’t stop her from answering a plea for help.

    • And what helps this story all the more its the atmosphere every world build upon the story of the Luminoth before they were attacked by the Ing, this feeling maybe hitting a soft spot on Samus after the Chozo ruins in Tallon IV, thus maybe part of the reason she jumps head first to help U-Mos

  15. Prime 2 is actually my favorite in the trilogy

    • So glad I’m not the only one who considers Prime 2 their favourite game of the whole franchise. For me Metroid always was about the experience of exploring an alien world and uncovering all its secrets, and there’s no planet more alien in the franchise than Aether.

  16. Prime 2 has always been my least favorite out of the trilogy but i can’t get over how interesting you made prime 2 sound. It makes me want to go finish what i couldn’t as a kid. (Btw prime 1 on the gamecube was my first game EVER so the prime trilogy really means a lot to me)

    • MrProfit

      I always preferred Echoes because of its difficulty and the intense lore behind it we don’t fully get to experience in either one, its so subtle you might completely miss it, but even your brain starts to dissect the plight of the Luminoth.

  17. My favorite game of all time. This game is such a masterpiece and it gets so much undeserved hate for just a couple minor problems like the beam ammo needing you to waste ammo from the opposite beam to get more, or those two bosses being a bit unfair and bullshitty.

    • Hilario Brubaker

      I think the changes in the ammo makes combat a little more tense with having to manage some resources and the added difficulty always made it so rewarding when you finished a milestone

  18. I just started playing Echoes last week when a friend let me borrow his Wii, and lemme tell you that Echoes not only feels like a worthy successor from Prime 1’s footsteps, but the love Retro poured into Echoes does really shine brightest when you take a step back and see it as a whole.

  19. Jc Dowling

    THE BEST description of Metroid prime 2 I’ve ever read. Well done!!

  20. I enjoyed the first Prime more. Prime 2 had stronger gameplay but I just found it too bleak. Being cynical, the duality and dark world themes allowed them to cut back a lot on detail and variety in level and texture design. The dark world was minimalist and visually uninteresting and just plain unenjoyable to navigate. Even the “light” world was dreary compared to the world of Prime 1.

    Tellingly whereas I can still fondly recall all the areas of Prime 1 (Chozo Ruins, Phendrana Drifts, Magmoor Caverns Tallon Overworld), I could only recall one area from Prime 2-Torvus Bog. Mostly the levels were just a forgettable grey mush.

    • Sean Gadus

      I agree that the game is extremely bleak. I think that idea is built into the themes, ideas, and atmosphere of the game in much the same way. Samus is part of the dying world. It is an unheathy, sickly world on the verge of collapse.

      This can also be seen in games like Dark Souls, which builds its atmosphere through game play, lore, and the environment you explore.

      The art design for all three Prime games is pretty incredible across the board.

  21. Currently playing through Metroid Prime 2 on an old GameCube. I must admit I agree with you about all you noted. Great game!

  22. Dear god, i love so much this game…i want to play again!

  23. Twylaer

    Prime 2 is definitely my favourite of the Prime series, and my second favourite overall after Super Metroid. Prime 2 is a powerful experience. I loved the dark samus battles in this game. They were probably my favorite parts of the game.

  24. this was no where near as good as prime 1 in my opinion. the areas are bland (except for the sanctuary fortreee) and the dark aether is extremely restrictive until you get the light suit. also the sky keys…

  25. MP2 was definitely less impressive than the first, especially in the storytelling department. The first pieces the history together as the game progresses, rather than directly telling you what happened like U-Mos does: instead, it starts with Samus kicking Space Pirate and Parasite butt, which leads her investigation to the surface of Talon IV. As she explores, she discovers a decayed world filled with the lore essential to discovering why the Chozo abandoned the planet, which is immensely satisfying compared to being told from the start. You don’t even learn of the Phazon Meteor and Metroid Prime (what would become Dark Samus in MP2 and 3 after absorbing Samus’ Phazon Suit) until much later, leaving an overall sense of mystery.
    Nice choice of screenshots, btw. Quadraxis is definitely the most interesting boss in Echoes.

  26. Best metroid game ever!

  27. Wow! That was a great breakdown

  28. Sarai Mannolini-Winwood

    Wow, a really unusual approach for the game makers to take, and indeed it obviously evokes an unusual set of reactions. Thanks for sharing.

  29. Liam J. Blackley

    I bought the Metroid Prime Trilogy, beat the first game, then moved on to the second. However, despite the first game doing a wonderful job of immersing me in its world, I never felt the same connection with Prime 2. At no point did I step into Samus’ shoes. I was always just a player with a controller. This was partly due to how important the story was: Prime gave a single goal (stop the Prime Metroid) and a simple path to do so (explore the whole world until you reach the Prime Metroid). Moving through the game’s world was the fun part, and any extra story around the world’s inhabitants was tangential. Conversely, Prime 2’s story was more integrated to progression. Advancing in the game meant the plot would advance at the same pace. This became the difference between sensational gameplay versus story-driven gameplay. In Prime I wanted to explore because experiencing the world was fun. In Prime 2 I was told to explore because of the story. This is why the sensation of Prime stuck with me more than that of Prime 2. Most of what you describe in this article hit me harder in Prime because I happened upon it, whereas when the same happened in Prime 2 it felt like the game was prescribing it. Because of that prescription I was reminded I was playing a game, and it took me out of the experience.

  30. Nintendo must bring the trilogy to the Switch!

  31. Interesting article. Metroid Prime 2 had big shoes to fill: Prime 1 was not only remarkably acclaimed and successful, it adeptly broke from the traditional minimalism of Metroid games by filling out a lot of the universe, primarily through Space Pirate lore (the Pirates call Samus “The Hunter,” not just because she is a bounty hunter, but because she is so feared that she become a god-like figure, held in awe by the entire species). This game seemed to expand the universe farther by breaking from the Pirate – Human – Chozo dynamic.

    Immersion in a hostile world has been a core component of the Metroid franchise since the very beginning, and it is central to the sci-fi horror theme that all the games play up. The atmosphere of one area on Zebes in Super Metroid (a masterwork of game design and storytelling), for example, is toxic, until you get the Varia Suit to protect you from heat. As such, the hostile environment is merely repeating the formula. Nevertheless, in certain respects, it hardly seems like a Metroid game at all, given the introduction of new species. It put me off, really, since I was hoping Prime 2 would expand on the depth and complexity of Space Pirate culture from Prime 1. All in all, narratologically, the whole game felt like an aside within the greater Metroid universe, and I felt little investment in Aether, the Luminoth, or the Ing.

  32. I enjoyed this article. You’ve put to words the feelings that I’ve had for this game. The first Metroid Prime game is fantastic and is definitely one of my favorite games of all time. I don’t know if I’d say that I enjoyed this one as much but I really appreciated how tense and stressful this game is. The atmosphere in Dark Aether is just so heavy and alien and I love that in world building.

  33. Logan

    Very good article.

    Echoes reminds me quite a lot of Fusion, the other Metroid game that I would say makes the most use of horror tropes to create this oppressive atmosphere. I’d love to see an article about the two in conversation, about how Echoes creates a hostile atmosphere while Fusion creates a perfect antagonist in the SA-X, and how these two types of horror are different. Even the empowerment in each game to overcome these different challenges feels unique.

    Man, Metroid is so good.

  34. Shachar Oz

    I like the subject and your point of view.
    As a game designer and developer (as well as a teacher to those) i can tell you that we MUST know exactly what emotion we want to create inside the player on every given moment in the game.
    So please don’t be surprised if you feel something. This only means you played a good game 🙂

  35. The puzzle solving seems to be a newer feature, and one in which I don’t know what to make of it.

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