promotional material for Metroid Prime 2 Echoes

Metroid Prime 2: Echoes

Introduction

When “Metroid Prime 2: Echoes” was released in 2004 for the Nintendo GameCube, it was a critical success. The founding editor of IGN, Matt Casamassina, said the game was “nearly flawless”, “thrilling” and one of the console’s “best titles”. If you type the game into metacritic.com, you will see an impressive score of 92 from critics and a user rating of 8.9. Players loved exploring the intricate levels and their challenging puzzles, earning powerups and surviving some brutal boss fights. It was a wonderfully immersive 3D experience.

The Metroid franchise remains very popular with a fourth instalment of the Prime series announced in 2017 and there is always a rumour of a live-action film based on Samus Aran’s adventures.

One of the reasons why the original “Metroid” (1986) stood out against other titles was the protagonist. Many games at that time featured strong and determined male leads but reduced the female characters to passive damsels in distress. Mario sprints and bounces across dangerous platforms to save Princess Peach, and Link treks around Hyrule to rescue Princess Zelda, but Samus Aran puts on her power suit, gets her weapons ready and protects the galaxy from the evil Space Pirates. She is the hero.

If you are studying “Metroid Prime 2: Echoes” for the AQA Media Studies A Level exam or you just want to develop your understanding of the game and its codes and conventions, this guide focuses on key aspects of the gameplay, representation, audience engagement, and media form.

Genre

We already know genre is the classification of computer games and other media forms according to their content, form and style. Dividing games into different categories helps audiences to discover new titles similar to the ones they have already played. For example, if you enjoyed a fantasy role playing game (FRPG), you might want to purchase another game which follows similar codes and conventions. Genre is also an important marketing tool used by agencies to promote the products to audiences who are eager to have their expectations satisfied.

Of course, genres evolve by combining and reworking the conventions into something new. A hybrid genre is the merging of two or more categories. “Metroid Prime 2: Echoes” is a great example of this hybridity.

First-person Shooter

In a first-person shooter, you take control of the protagonist and see the action from their individual perspective. In “Metroid Prime 2: Echoes”, you are positioned inside Samus Aran’s helmet and navigate her through each location, blasting the aliens with an impressive range of weaponry and powerups, cross into a dark dimension, solve puzzles, find the light of Aether and save the Luminoths and their planet. Your visor features a head-up display (HUD) where you can check your ammunition count and health status. There is also a radar function to scope out enemies, and the map can be toggled on and off by pressing the Z button on the old GameCube controller.

screenshot from Metroid showing combat visor mode
First-person perspective through the HUD

The scan visor enables you to find action points, hack into computer terminals, download logs and discover the morphology of the aliens. Mission-critical items appear in red on the screen, making it easier for the player to interact with the environment.

As you progress through the game, you can unlock two other visors. The dark visor enables you to see through Dark Aether’s toxic atmosphere and spot trans-dimensional creatures, and the echo mode gives you the ability to use soundwaves to find invisible enemies and objects.

All these features are integrated very effectively into the gameplay because you are experiencing the world from the character’s point of view behind the visor.

However, there are many spaces in the game that are too small for Samus to squeeze through. In these situations, you need to transform into an armoured ball to roll through the tight tunnels and, with the spider ball upgrade, attach yourself to magnetic tracks and climb walls. It is important to note this movement is delivered from a third-person perspective where the camera is placed outside the character. This adds a nice variation to the gameplay and provides some interesting puzzles to solve.

Action and Adventure

Action games are full of physical challenges. Run. Jump. Shoot baddies. Run. Jump. Unlock doors. Collect objects. Shoot more baddies. Run. Jump. Defeat the boss. And complete the level. You need good hand-eye coordination to target the enemies and a quick reaction time to avoid deadly obstacles. The fast pace of these type of games adds to the excitement.

By contrast, adventure games focus more on world-building and the your ability to find solutions to interesting problems. Run. Jump. Decipher clues to complete the puzzle. Gather magical items. Blindly guess where to go next. Run. Jump. Converse with a non-playing character (NPC). Backtrack to a previous location. Unlock doors. Defeat the dungeon boss and complete the level. Players are often rewarded for their exploration by finding optional features and bonus upgrades to unlock.

“Metroid Prime 2: Echoes” is obviously an action-adventure game. In terms of action, Samus Aran is a bounty hunter so most of your time will be spent with the combat mode activated on your visor. By pressing the L button on the GameCube controller and locking on to an enemy, you can move Samus around the environment but keep your weapons pointed towards the target. There are plenty of baddies to beat – the different phases of the sinister Quadraxls battle are particularly enjoyable.

The narrative is also detailed and compelling. The story is set on a rogue planet which was struck by a “starborne terror”. As you journey around this world, you learn more about the cataclysm and the “darklings” from the other side of the “spatial disturbances”.

screenshot of a Metroid cutscene
The narrative is driven by lots of dramatic cutscenes

The game has lots of puzzles to solve. As you work your way through Agon Wastes, collecting the important upgrades to your jump and beams, you also need to find three keys to open the boss door. Perhaps the most interesting challenges concern the use of the portals between the two worlds. There are a couple of moments in the game where your path through the light world is blocked so you need to transport into the dangerous radiation of Dark Aether to find a way around the obstacle. For example, you have to move a laser beam in Dark Torvus Bog so the mechanism works in its light world counterpart and then you are able to progress into the next room.

The combination of action and adventure makes “Metroid Prime 2: Echoes” a very entertaining game to play.

Have a look at “Tomb Raider: Anniversary” to see another example of an action-adventure game because you might have to compare and contrast the products in AQA’s Media Two paper.

Sci-Fi

The opening sequence immediately establishes the science-fiction element of the game. The exposition, beginning with “Mission File 02546”, uses a computer-style font along with a futuristic readout sound effect. We are informed that “contact with Galactic Federation trooper squad Bravo was lost” and their “last transmission” came from a “rogue planet” called Aether.

After data flickers across on a blue-tinted interface with lexical codes such as “accessing data” and “systems ready”, we watch our spaceship fly into Aether’s purplish-blue atmosphere only to be struck by an electric storm. Once you land safely on the planet, the camera tilts along closeups up of Samus Aran and her incredible spacesuit. The reveal is a great piece of cinematography.

Samus Aran introduction in Metroid Prime 2 Echoes
Samus Aran introduction in “Metroid Prime 2: Echoes”

The player now has control over the character, and it is not long before you are blasting alien antagonists into smithereens with your power beam.

Crossing the galaxy in a spaceship to explore a rogue planet and rescue federation troops, using futuristic technologies to battle evil aliens, and warping between parallel universes to overcome obstacles are all typical codes of the sci-fi genre.

Horror

When you first progress along the dark and claustrophobic corridors beside the landing site, there is a tremendous sense of dread because you don’t know what lies ahead or what is lurking in the shadows.

screenshot from Metroid Prime 2 - Echoes
The foreboding atmosphere

After obtaining the map and blasting your way into another dimly lit tunnel, you are suddenly confronted by bodies dangling from the ceiling and ghost-white creatures that leap towards the camera. The shock of their appearance is heightened by a creepy scream you can just about hear in the background. Hit them with your power beam and they die in a gory-purple splatter.

If you weren’t afraid of the dark before, you willl be

marketing tagline for “Metroid Prime 2: Echoes”

Restoring the power to the gate system causes the corpses to reanimate and you are confronted by more hellish enemies. Although these dark troopers are easy to destroy, it is another moment where the game borrows very effectively from the horror genre.

In the cutscene where you go through the “unknown dimensional anomaly” and plunge into the madness of the dark world, you see Dark Samus and then you are surrounded by Ings. The high angle shot is particularly frightening. Fortunately, you manage to escape back through the portal.

Samus Aran surrounded by Ings
Samus Aran surrounded by Ings

The bleakness of the setting is emphasised by the low-key lighting and the gritty textures created by the art team. The dark synthesised score, which was composed by Kenji Yamamoto, adds to the eerie atmosphere of the game, creating a pleasing sort of terror which is typical of the horror genre. Listen to incredibly unnerving music for the landing site cutscene because the chanting is quite disturbing.

There are plenty of scary moments throughout the game. For example, in the Dark Aether, you have to find safe spots to survive or else you will suffocate on the poisonous gas. The lack of safe zones in the fight against the Boost Guardian in Dark Torvus Bog adds to the drama because you are taking constant damage while trying your best to blast the monster into oblivion.

This combination of sci-fi and horror tropes was used with great success in Alien (1979) which had a huge influence on the sinister atmosphere of franchise. In fact, the antagonist in the first “Metroid” (1986) game was named Ridley in homage to the director of “Alien”. The female protagonist is another obvious link.

Conclusion

“Metroid Prime 2: Echoes” is an incredibly complex game which draws heavily from different genres. The animations and textures are inspired by science fiction futurism and the dark aesthetics of gothic horror. Although the gameplay is mostly a first-person shooter where you control the camera, there are lots of interesting puzzles to solve and obstacles to overcome.

Finally, the Metroid franchise has always incorporated non-linear level design and interconnected areas, helping to establish a new genre in gaming: the Metroidvania. The beautifully animated “Hollow Knight” (2017) is probably most well-known contemporary Metroidvania game on the market. Watch the trailer and you will get a good view of this genre.

Hollow Knight Trailer

Narrative

In terms of masterplots, “Metroid Prime 2: Echoes” is an adventure narrative because the hero, Samus Aran, is on a search and recuse mission – “locate federation troopers and render assistance”. She travels to the coordinates of their last transmission, a rogue planet called Aether, but she soon discovers the soldiers were brutally murdered by evil creatures from a parallel dimension.

Samus encounters U-Mos, the last Luminoth guardian, who begins to describe to her the evil darkness that has befallen Aether. She agrees to retrieve the “Light of Aether” and the save the planet, and the entire galaxy, from certain doom. The threat posed by the Ing is the disequilibrium of Todorov’s narrative theory. Your role is to travel across the three regions, collect the light and return it to the Luminoth temples. This repair will create a new equilibrium of peace and stability to Aether.

There is a simple binary conflict between the light and dark worlds. In terms of Propp’s character types and spheres of action, you are the hero and U-Mos is the dispatcher who sends you on your quest to defeat the darklings who have caused the lack in the world. The bosses could be considered donors because they provide magical objects. For example, if you beat the Boost Guardian, you are rewarded with the boost ball upgrade. Is dark Samus the ultimate villain? Once she is defeated, you can restore order to Aether.

Although the game is full of interconnected rooms and areas and you decide which direction to take next, the overall path is predetermined by the designers and the plot is linear. This sense of causality where one plot point leads clearly to the next is essential for players to follow the story and understand what is happening. Destroy the baddies in each level. Return the light to the temple. Save the universe. Simple.

Representation

Is Samus Aran a feminist icon? She is not reduced to a passive stereotype, such as the princess who needs rescued, but is represented instead as the determined and brave protagonist in the narrative, keeping the galaxy safe from Space Pirates and other wicked villains. In “Metroid Prime 2: Echoes”, she is Aether’s only hope.

In this way, she subverted the traditional gender roles found in many other computer games and her character could be considered a breakthrough moment for the representation of women in an industry that was dominated by men. Young girls could now imagine themselves as their heroine going on incredible missions and battling evil forces rather than having to construct their identity according to representations of masculinity.

While Samus Aran is one of the most prominent female characters in computer games, her representation remains problematic because plenty of critics argue she is still being objectified for the male gaze. For instance, consider the different endings to the original “Metroid” (1986) game.

The denouement was determined by how long it took you to complete the game. If you defeated the main boss in under an hour, Samus Aran would strip out of her exoskeleton and wave to the player in nothing more than a bikini. In fact, if you entered “justin bailey” (or a few other more obscure codes) as the password, you could play the entire game in a pink leotard and pink boots.

Judith Butler argued representations of gender that transgressed the traditional binary definitions would cause gender trouble. Since the producers knew they were subverting expectations, did they feel the need to offer this half-naked depiction of the character in a guilty attempt to emphasise her femininity? In “Metroid Prime 2: Echoes”, there is still a reveal unlocked if you gathered more than 75 items, but at least she is wearing the cool zero suit.

Writing for the BBC, Steve Tappin offers a good summary of the representation of the character, but you should also read Robyn Tyrfing’s argument that Samus is a transgirl.

Target Audience

If you were to scan through the videogame magazines or the marketing materials for major releases, you would assume young boys were the primary audience because they feature so much in those media texts. Look at this advertisement for the original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES):

family playing a computer game
Nintendo Entertainment System Advertisement

Representations of a happy American family usually depict two parents enjoying their time with their son and daughter. However, in this advertisement, two boys are playing “Super Mario Bros” which suggests the agency believed it needed to focus their marketing on young males. The NES is an “action-packed adventure for the whole family” except, it seems, your sister.

Nintendo’s called their handheld device the Game Boy for a reason. However, an industry historical review reported that more females were becoming “video game fans” and that 27 per cent of NES players in 1988 were female.

There were a few notable attempts to target a wider audience. For instance, the creator of Pac-Man wanted the game to “appeal to women and couples” so the art team designed characters which were kawaii, which is Japanese for “cute”. Disney had some success with “The Little Mermaid” (1991). According to the Los Angeles Times, the title sold 500,000 copies that year.

Perhaps the most commercially successful title that specifically targeted young girls was “Barbie Fashion Designer” (1996). In “From Barbie to Mortal Kombat: Gender and Computer Games”, Cassell and Jenkins (1998) suggested the game’s popularity could be explained by how “it fit in so well with the pretend play common among girls of this age”. Despite female protagonists, such as Samus Aran and Lara Croft, challenging the male-dominated narratives, the researchers also noted the original “Tomb Raider” (1996) was being played by a “mainly male audience”.

However, “Barbie Fashion Designer” demonstrated there was a market for games which appealed to young girls. Perhaps the representation of Samus Aran helped to inspire young girls to pick up controllers and save the universe from Space Pirates because Statista estimated 45% of video gamers in 2021 were female. This figure has been fairly steady since 2008.

graph showing the distribution of female gamers
Source: Statista

Essay Questions

  1. Explore how the representation of gender has been constructed in the Close Study Product Metroid Prime 2: Echoes.
  2. How do representations of gender reflect their social and historical context. Refer to the Close Study Product Metroid Prime 2: Echoes.
  3. Explain how values and ideologies are communicated by media language used the Close Study Product Metroid Prime 2: Echoes.
  4. How valid are Judith Butler’s ideas of gender trouble and performativity to understanding media texts? Refer to the Close Study Product Metroid Prime 2: Echoes to support your answer.
  5. To what extent does the Close Study Product Metroid Prime 2: Echoes demonstrate the target audience for video games continues to change.

Analysing the Cover

The examination board recommends you analyse the game cover in terms of representation, box art conventions and how the product targets the primary audience. Our comprehension questions are a good place to start. You can also download our “Metroid Prime 2: Echoes” worksheet. It is an A3 document so you have plenty of space to write your answes.

Metroid Prime 2: Echoes Cover

Comprehension Questions

  1. Explain why producers have made the protagonist, Samus Aran, the dominant signifier on the cover.
  2. Analyse the representation of the main character in terms of genre. You should focus on how the dress codes communicate the science-fiction elements, and why her body language suggests it will be action-adventure game.
  3. Suggest why the background is split into a lighter section, which contains the Luminoth, and darker and more ominous area. You should consider both the game’s setting and narrative structure.
  4. Comment on the metallic grey display typed used for “Metroid”. What does it suggest about the game?
  5. Think about the game’s setting, suggest why the designers used a blue border and a blue drop shadow for “Echoes”. 
  6. How does the metal ball link to the gameplay?
  7. Comment on the colour codes used on the cover. It might be useful to research why blue and orange colour grades are so popular in the media.
  8. Explain the meaning behind the blue overlays, such as the enigmatic circle and the energy bars to the right of Samus’ shoulder.
  9. Why do institutions include their logos on the cover of media products? 
  10. Why did Nintendo create their Seal of Approval? What message were they trying to communicate to the audience? 
  11. Games are regulated in the UK by PEGI. The institution has rated this game to be suitable for 12+ which means the “violence” will be “of a slightly more graphic nature towards fantasy characters”. What signifiers on the cover indicate this game is for teenagers?
  12. Finally, do you think the cover will attract the attention of the target the audience and make them want to buy the game?

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