Bigger in artfulness. Bigger in difficulty.
Metroid Prime 2: Echoes is a competently made sequel in that it sticks to whatever worked in the predecessor without "innovating" too much and ruining the whole thing. Graphics are top notch, music is still amazing (the title and menu songs in particular are amazing, and some ambient/cutscene tracks are very very good too), and the controls remain just as good as they were in the previous part.
This is a schoolbook example of how to create a game sequel without getting lots of hate along the lines of "this is just a copy of the predecessor". Graphics are amazing, though now in slightly different, age-worn style that fits the planet Aether. It's refreshing to have some people around the planet to actually talk to - even if it's just one character. There's more cutscenes. The presence of the Galactic Federation is a nice addition, and the scan information and log bits turn out to be just as interesting as they were in the previous games. I like games where you have to piece stuff together.
And while piecing stuff together and wandering around looking for stuff in an open-ended world is fine and fun, it's also pretty nice that this time you have, without little sidetracking, a pretty solid idea from the beginning what you have to do. The main plot is rather straightforward that way.
Well, let's be honest: while Nintendo is quite innovative, sometimes their innovations can be predictable, and "a predictable innovation" is quite a contradiction in terms. Here we witness Nintendo recycle two ideas from preceding games - and heck, one of those is from a preceding Metroid title, for crying out loud. Splitting the game world in light and dark "worlds" worked pretty well in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past... well, it was a good idea in that game and this game doesn't mess it up. Then we get an Evil Protagonist Clone. Not a terribly exciting idea, especially since Dark Samus is probably not quite as creepy as SA-X in Metroid Fusion (no ever-memorable footsteps or anything). All in all, these aren't really fatal things, it's just that they've been done before and didn't really inspire me.
The new equipment is great, though it's not really used a whole lot. There's screw attack, which is nice when you need to cross big gaps, but wall-jumping is way underutilised. The new visors and new beams, while quite interesting in itself, are not used a whole lot either in a memorable way.
Also, the biggest flaw of the game is that the difficulty goes up several notches - not a problem for the rest of the game, of course, but it is a problem if the sub-bosses are harder than the major bosses themselves. Heck, the major bosses are actually nice to beat, but then you get devilish pinball fights in dark and accursed bomb-jumping extravaganzas.
The Bottom Line
Ladies and gentlemen: The first game that is even more frustrating than the legendary stupid deaths in NetHack. If your memory card dies after Quadraxis, there will be no bounds to your frustration when you realise you have to defeat the rage-inducing sub-bosses again.
Yes, again. For me, a small out-of-game incident like that was not enough to make me throw the whole thing out of the window. Because, as frustrating it is, this is a great game that you don't want to give up. It is still a magnificent game what comes to playability, beautiful environments, and all of the nice challenge it presents us. While the plot is more easily defined this time, the joy of exploration is still there.
Like its predecessor, it's an amazing adventure masquerading as a first-person shooter. An epic science fiction story of grisly fates in a mysterious and largely unknown war-torn planet.
Samus' journey continues in planet Aether, which split in two different dimensions. Samus follows Link's footsteps in dimension travelling and certain famously expensive crystal caravan's footsteps in avoiding the noxious atmosphere of the Dark Aether. Three major areas in two dimensions means there's a whole giant bunch of places to explore. There's Light and Dark Beams and their combination, good for destroying the other side's creatures, but you need to keep track of the ammo. Dark Visor is best suited for invisible enemy tracking, and the highly cool but relatively useless Echo Visor is nice for locating sound sources, visible or not. Samus' Screw Attack makes a return. (I hope they one day do Speed Booster in a 3D Metroid, too!)
All in all, it's a great, if a bit hard, sequel. The new things aren't really a great big deal, but the game makes it up by being a very distinctive game compared to its predecessor. Aether is a completely different place than Tallon IV, with a completely different look and atmosphere.
If you loved Metroid Prime, this is more of the same and even better. It's probably not as good if you haven't played Metroid Prime first, as it can be a bit of a challenge to figure out.