NINTENDO DS REVIEW: METROID PRIME: HUNTERS

Nintendo impresses with their FPS DS title, but would you expect anything less? by Cole Smith

March 24, 2006 - Metroid Prime: Hunters is an impressive first-person shooter for the DS. It's takes you to far away worlds where the search for the eight octolith artifacts will pit you against some of the most dangerous bounty hunters in the universe.

Metroid Prime: Hunters has been a long time coming. It was definitely worth the wait because this is one solid game that is not only packed with action, but also loaded with features. It's got a great single-player mode in addition to local and online multi-player modes such as King of the Hill, Capture the Flag, Deathmatch and Prime Hunter, in which one person tries to hold on to the title of Prime Hunter while the other players track him or her down in an effort to take the title.

Samus Aran is the main playable character. She's a skillful but viscous bounty hunter clad in an armored space suit which obscures the fact that she's a girl. This is important to some gamers out there that have a difficult time assuming the role of a chick. She's hot on the trail of collecting powerful artifacts known as octoliths. There is one on each planet that she visits but she's not the only one after these prized treasures. Other bounty hunters are eager to get their hands on these artifacts which hold the secret powers of the universe. Samus will do battle with these rival bounty hunters using various futuristic weapons. If she wins the fight she wins the artifact and must vacate the planet within a given time limit, for some reason which is never fully explained. If Samus loses the fight she has to relinquish her collection to the victor. She can only recover her lost artifacts when she encounters and defeats this bounty hunter later in the game.

As far as the controls are concerned, they do take some getting used to but they do provide a great deal of flexibility and precision. There is no lock-on targeting system but the targeting reticle remains relatively stable while you're gunning and running. It's fairly large so you can usually retain some part of the enemy's body in its scope. The stylus can be used for aiming your weapons and while it may seem awkward at first and you may be tempted to change it to the D-pad, it's really the way to go. You will most likely want to map your movements to the D-pad as opposed to the face buttons which is what you'll have to use if you don't go with the stylus. The shoulder buttons fire the weapons and double tapping on the touch screen allows your character to jump. Once you get used to this system you will probably prefer it to dual analog sticks because it brings you in closer to the action. The feel is tighter as the interaction is immediate and intimate.

All of the action takes place on the top screen, with the exception of the cutscenes which use all available screen space. During actual play the bottom screen will display a directional radar, stats and a weapon interface, leaving the top screen clear of clutter. Taking your eyes off the top screen to check your position or change weapons can cause you to take some hits. Even when using the stylus you can accidentally change weapons by moving it over an unintended icon.

Each planet sports different terrain. There is an ice planet, a lava planet, one with an abandoned research facility and one that features ancient ruins. These planets aren't exactly rich in detail and they tend to be similar in construction. For the most part the graphics are low-res and the further away you are, the worse they look. There are elements of Doom where you will travel down corridors where you will encounter enemies, puzzles and locked doors. Some of these doors you won't be able to open with your present weapons so you'll have to do some backtracking until you locate more advanced ones. There's not much chance of getting lost in this game. Even though you're on a huge planet, you are forced down linear paths that take you directly to your fate. With only the occasional path branch there's very little freedom of choice for exploration.

Futuristic weapons use different energy systems that include lasers, beams and plasma. Along with bombs you'll also have deadly missiles at your disposal. You can find new weapons, upgrades to existing ones and energy tanks along the path. You also have the ability to morph into an armored ball which will come in handy for navigating some mazes. Alternative forms such as the morph ball allow you different abilities both offensive and defensive.

There are a variety of multi-player modes that can be accessed locally or online. If you're looking for a fast, random online game the only mode available is Deathmatch. More multi-player modes are available online but you have to input your friends' codes to access them. It's a bit of a hassle in many ways, but when the stars align, it can be very, very good. The game will keep track of stats such as kills, favorite weapons and favorite characters and alternate forms. You can communicate with friends online through voice chat or text messaging but it's confined to the lobby. Once the game is underway all communication is ceased. All of the multi-player modes can be played locally with the wireless system. You can play as any of the hunters featured in the single-player game but you've got to unlock them in that mode first. The online gameplay is tight with only the slightest hint of slowdown. Otherwise, like the single-player mode, it's extremely solid.

Metroid Prime: Hunters is a welcome addition to the DS. This is one system that is kicking ass as far as support goes. The online multi-player component is just the icing on an already deliciously rich cake. A must-purchase for shooter fans.

Features:

  • Hone your skills against a slew of enemies in single-player training modes like Regulator, Survival and Morph Ball.
  • Battle up to four friends in the wireless multiplayer mode, featuring three elaborate battle arenas.
  • Multiple control schemes take full advantage of the DS touch screen, giving all gamers an ideal way to play.
  • Experience the power of Samus Aran's high-tech weaponry, including the Missile Launcher and Lob Gun.

By Cole Smith
CCC Senior Writer

Rating out of 5
Metroid Prime: Hunters (DS)
4.5
Graphics
Excellent 3D environments for a handheld system.
4.5
Control
It takes a while to get used to but once you do, using the stylus is similar to a mouse and keyboard system. Almost.
4.2
Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The cutscenes are very cinematic with dramatic camera angles, well acted voiceovers and dynamic music. The in-games sound effects are also good though not as powerful as the cutscenes.
4.5
Play Value
Lot of multi-player options available here, both online and locally. You can play as all of the hunters as long as you unlock them in the single-player mode.
4.4
Overall Rating - Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.
Preview by Vaughn

While not everyone was sure Retro Studios was up to the task of recreating a noble license such as Metroid for the GameCube, critics and gamers alike agreed that turning the classic 2D side scrolling gameplay into a FPS was a HUGE mistake of Virtual Boy proportions. And then we played it, shut our mouths and pretended that we knew all along that they'd pull it off with flying colors.

Retro is not only developing the sequel to Metroid on the Cube; they're also working very hard on the DS game subtitled Hunters. Many gamers are excited at the thought of actually playing a Metroid multiplayer game without having to crowd around the TV and wince at the split screen. Or maybe that's just me. Either way, it's a good thing.

I'd be lying if I told you that I knew what the storyline of the single player campaign in Metroid Prime: Hunters was about (or even if there actually IS one), but I'm guessing it will be about Samus kicking alien ass with her many wonderful space age toys. All of the cool weapons and items found in the orignal Metroid Prime will return in this DS installment and of course, be available in multiplayer. Each player in multiplayer will be identified by their own colored armor.

The big asskicker comes in the way the game is controlled. As you'll notice in the screenshots below, the action of the game takes place on the bottom screen, while the map is shown on the upper screen. The reason for this is due to the games unique control scheme. While the D-Pad controls movement (and does such a nice job you won't miss the analog stick) players will need to use the DS stylus on the action screen to aim and shoot. Come again? Yeah, you read that right. Furthermore a quick tap of the stylus will fire your weapon while numerous tappings will fire bursts of ammo - great if you've locked and loaded the plasma gun. I haven't played Hunters but we're assured that while the game does take longer than usual to get comfortable with, once you do, you won't go back. Think of it like really accurate mouse aiming and you'll get the idea. (Editor's Update - Nintendo has announced D-Pad control as well for the game.)

In any event, we're pretty excited about this cool offering although we really don't expect this one at launch. If anything we expect Retro to delay it well into 2005. Hey, why break precedent?

System: DS
Dev: Retro
Pub: Nintendo
Released: Mar 2006
Players: 1 - 4
Review by Cole

Review Rating Legend
1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid
2.0 - 2.4 = Poor
2.5 - 2.9 = Average
3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
3.5 - 3.9 = Good
4.0 - 4.4 = Great
4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
5.0 = The Best