Metroid Prime Hunters is a first person shooting game for the Nintendo DS handheld system. The Metroid series has a long history (as well as many fans) following behind it. First released on the NES in 1986, Metroid takes place in a sci-fi setting revolving around evil aliens, parasites, and other exciting things I don't care to explain.
Metroid Prime Hunters' premise involves a mysterious solar system from whence an enticing signal has recently broadcast. “The ultimate power lies in the Tetra galaxy” thus saith some nameless telepathic message, drawing some number of bounty hunters into this very star system to shoot each other to death over whatever shiny treasure is there. Because it's fun to collect shiny, mystical things, you have to collect eight “octoliths” to unlock the vault and get whatever's inside. Why? Don't ask questions. This is a video game.
And a rather high budget video game, at that. It's evident that Nintendo let their henchman have generous time and resources to make this. Hunters' in-game graphics are in fully rendered 3D. Thanks to good use of textures, everything brims with gritty detail, from crumbling stone ruins, to the cold steel of space stations, to smoldering hot lava worlds and crisp snow. The graphics reminded me of Half Life for the PC, except in the palm of my hand. I was also impressed by the pre-rendered CG video clips, such as when Samus lands on a new planet or encounters a boss. It looks almost like a Hollywood movie. Clearly my old Gameboy Advance could never have done anything like this.
The game's sound is excellent. Samus's footsteps resound differently based on what surface you're walking on – a hollow clank for steel, a gravelly crunch for stone, a soft padding for snow. Robotic machinery whines, creaks, and groans with a real ambient presence that makes you feel there. Granted, the sound is a little unrealistic at times. (Um... if I'm in space, wouldn't the vacuum make my shots silent? And why does that magically hovering platform sound like it's being lifted by a pneumatic pump?) For a video game, though, this isn't really a big deal.
Hunters' controls make excellent use of the Nintendo DS touch sensitive screen. To control the game you can either use the direction pad to walk and the A/B/Y/X buttons to look around (ew – clunky!), or you can use the touch screen to control where you're aiming. Aiming with the stylus and touch screen is as smooth as it is elegant. While not quite as good as the famed PC mouse and keyboard, it's a heck of a lot better than the dual analog control of the XBOX or Playstation. My only gripe is that when you slide the stylus all the way across the screen and have to lift it back up to keep moving, the touch screen seems to delay a split second to “register” that you've touched it again, and this can be bad in the heat of battle.
The real problem with Metroid Prime Hunters is that while on the merits of Nintendo DS games, it's great. The graphics have gritty, rusty textures and a smooth as butter framerate. The digitized music and audio effects are near CD-quality – try this with headphones and immerse yourself in the surround sound. The gameplay, too, is quite enjoyable. Compared to other Metroid games or first person shooters, though, Hunters does itself a disservice.
The Metroid series has been around for more than twenty years, and each installment has been renowned for its quality. In hunters, though, the single player campaign simply lacks the meticulous care and mystique of previous Metroid games. To put it simply, you just feel less like you're in a living, breathing world and more like you're just in a plain ol' chunked-together game. This game makes bland additions to the Metroid formula and takes away things that made previous games exciting. There's no grapple beam, no power bombs, no super missiles, no x-ray scope or thermal visor, along with a myriad of other subtle things.
Whereas previous Metroid games had amazing and memorable bosses, the boss monsters in Hunters are cheaply recycled. There are exactly two bosses in this game: a cyborg eyeball, and an evil laser-shooting tower. The only difference is that each rendition has a more elaborate attack pattern. The repetitiveness of in-game enemies borders on exasperating also (you think I wouldn't notice you just re-colored that red lava monster blue to make an ice monster? Hm...) I really started to get sick of having to clear out a room of “guardian” defense androids before I could progress to the next area, even when I just got done killing them, left the same area, then came back (Agh! You again?!)
Also, while the dramatic “self destruct in progress ohmygosh you've got to escape sequence” from every past Metroid game ever was neat in moderation, the effect really wears thin when you have to do it after getting EVERY stinking octolith (eight times total.) Even the storyline feels like it was cheaply chucked together. Didn't the Gamecube Metroid games already have storylines about ancient collapsed civilizations destroyed by mysterious evil entities landing in the form of an asteroid? C'mon, Nintendo, you're not fooling me by changing “Chozo” to “Alimbic” and “Metroid Prime” to “Gorea”. The DS is supposed to be the next-gen successor to the Gameboy, right? If so, why do I suddenly have the urge to go back and replay Metroid Fusion to recover from this 3D, first person letdown? I would have appreciated it if the game had pointed out my objectives for me, too. A lot of the random wandering around was discouraging when I didn't know where to go to get the next octolith. I couldn't even figure out where to take them once I collected them all without the help of an online game guide.
It's important to take Metroid Prime Hunters in the context of what it was meant to be, though. Hunters' claim to fame is its multiplayer mode, not only letting you wirelessly frag your local Nintendo DS owning buds, but also anyone around the world over the Internet.
Hunters' multiplayer deathmatches are enjoyable in their own right and they beat the tar out of most anything else available on the DS. Random online matches can be frustrating, though, cause it always seems like you get matched with some amazing leet master who can mop the floor with you. I'm not so sure if I would play Metroid Prime Hunters multiplayer if it wasn't a handheld game, too. Some multiplayer FPS's I might prefer would include Halo on the XBOX, 007 Goldeneye on the Nintendo 64, or even Unreal Tournament on the PC. If Prime Hunters were a full sized console game, it would definitely be standing in the shadow of these aforementioned games.
Metroid Prime Hunters looks cool and controls cool, and if you're just looking for a handheld first person shooter, look no further. Metroid fans, though, will be left feeling dissatisfied and even indignant. I'm tempted to give this two grades, a B+ for FPS lovers and a C for Metroid fans. Take that into consideration when I announce the condensed final grade.
Final grade: B