Hunt or Be Hunted
Ever since its inception, the Metroid series has been primarily an adventure game with a side of shooting action. Even the GameCube and Wii's Metroid Prime trilogy of games that put players within the helmet of Samus Aran in a first-person viewpoint still relied heavily on adventure and exploration elements. However, back in 2006 the team at NST took the foundation that Retro Studios made with Metroid Prime and ran with it, this time focusing more on the shooting elements of the Metroid franchise than franchise fans were used to. The result was Metroid Prime Hunters, a Nintendo DS exclusive that enhanced the competitive multiplayer experience started by Metroid Prime 2: Echoes. What this all adds up to is a surprising addicting multiplayer game with an enjoyable single-player campaign.
A sector of the universe far beyond the reach of the Galactic Federation, the Alimbic Cluster, has transferred a message to various souls across space telepathically. The message informs of an ultimate power that can be acquired. This message entices bounty hunters from all corners of the galaxy, including those of the Galactic Federation. Samus Aran is tasked with coming across the source of this message, and more importantly, to make sure that this "ultimate power" is not obtained by the wrong person. With six other bounty hunters, each with their own abilities, also after the power, Samus's mission will be no cakewalk.
Metroid Prime Hunters's story is one that is similar to other games in the series. It's not very pronounced, nor is it constantly in your face. Full motion video plays for important story portions, while everything else is told through scanning optional lore, scattered across the four areas of the game.
Samus Aran's goal for each area she visits is to acquire a powerful Octolith. However, this task isn't as simple as walking into her local Walmart and picking one up alongside some light bulbs and produce. No, each planet or space station Samus comes across houses three unique artifacts that must be collected in order to open the portal to the boss that houses the Octolith in question. Collecting artifacts is performed through fervent exploration, as well as simple environmental puzzle solving.
The exploration of the game isn't as heavy as other Metroid titles, but there's a fair amount. However, you will be doing more shooting than venturing through ambient sci-fi themed environments. That said, there's still plenty of helpful upgrades that are hidden off the beaten path. Things like health-boosting energy tanks, missile expansions, and affinity sub-weapon upgrades.
Bosses are one of the single player campaign's weakest aspects. Although there are eight Octoliths in total to obtain, you're really only going up against the same two bosses. Each encounter with one of the foes offers different attack patterns and elemental weaponry used on Samus. This seems like a total cop-out and a totally missed opportunity to add some more freshness to the game.
Outside of these boss battles for Octoliths, Samus will encounter various bounty hunters and planet-defending Guardians in combat. These battles will definitely get one's trigger finger twitching. If Samus perishes in a fight with a bounty hunter, they are able to steal one of her collected Octoliths. This means you must go the planet or area where that bounty hunter is at and defeat them to retrieve your coveted prize.
Unlike other Metroid games, Samus' suit does not gain new abilities in Metroid Prime Hunters. Everything ability-wise (albeit a limited selection of moves) is available to her from the beginning of the game. What enables her to venture into unexplored areas of levels-- usually on a return trip to a level-- are sub-weapons that she collects throughout her adventure. Some doors can only be opened by a specific sub-weapon, or a force field can only be destroyed through the use of a given sub-weapon.
The sub-weapons I'm alluding to are the same ones that the six other bounty hunters after the ultimate power prize utilize. From launching bouncing fireballs with the Magmaul to firing off a thin sniper shot with the Imperialist, Samus can become a force to be reckoned with.
Perhaps the biggest addition to Metroid Prime Hunters is a fully featured multiplayer mode for up to four players or bots (hallelujah, bots!), available locally or online. The latter has random matches full of cheaters and hackers, so it's best to play with friends when hopping on the interwebs. Lag depends on you and your opponents' connections, so it can range from great to awful very easily.
Multiplayer offers an abundance of stages (20+ mostly taken directly from the single player campaign), modes and options to deliver a frag-tastic experience that will last for a good while.
There's your standard get-the-most-kills mode, last-hunter-standing mode, king-of-the-hill mode, and a capture-the-flag-type mode, but there's also fresh mode ideas that have players dropping off Octoliths at random points of a given map and a mode where players must kill the Prime Hunter to take over the namesake and attempt to survive. The player who is the Prime Hunter the longest is the winner.
Metroid Prime Hunters offers two control types that can be customized to the player's liking. One way to play is by using the touch screen to look around, double-tapping the screen to jump, and using the L button to fire. This makes the most sense, as you'll be needing to utilize the touch screen to select Samus' scanner, switch between sub-weapons and missiles, and roll into the Morph Ball. The other control method is more traditional, using the face buttons to look around and the R button to jump. I primarily used the latter, though it made aiming a bit more difficult. You do not get anywhere near the precision of aiming with the touch screen when you aim via the face buttons.
A visually appealing game, Metroid Prime Hunters really looks solid for a Nintendo DS game. Yes, the textures are predictably muddy, and there is some slowdown when the action gets a bit too crazy, but overall, Metroid Prime Hunters is an impressive technological beast. What isn't so impressive, however, is the music. The Metroid series generally has a wealth of memorable tunes for each of its games, but Metroid Prime Hunters is the redheaded stepchild of that bunch. The original tracks heard throughout the game are highly forgettable and don't really draw you into the game.
Nintendo's team at NST successfully created a Metroid game that contains a somewhat worthwhile campaign and a multiplayer component that is a load of fun, though Metroid might not have been the best Nintendo series to turn into a competitive shooter. If you can get over that directional detour the series has taken with this game, Metroid Prime Hunters delivers a capable first-person shooter that works really well on the Nintendo DS hardware, comfort issues aside. If you're looking for first-person shooters on the Nintendo DS that showcases the hardware well, Metroid Prime Hunters might be the title to get in on the thrill of the hunt with.
[SPC Says: 8.5/10]