Samus Aran, in all her ball-morphing glory, is back in another FPS with Nintendo’s latest outing in the Metroid series, Metroid Prime Hunters. Thank God it ain’t pinball.
When the topic of first-person shooters arises between my friends and me, I jump into the PC camp and never leave. The mouse/keyboard control model of the PC allows for fast, precise action, and no one who wishes to own the battlefield will find a better way. The dual-joystick system employed by most console shooters just doesn’t come close.
Which is why Metroid Prime Hunters is so unique. Without a mouse or a keyboard, it manages to emulate the mouse/keyboard feel that a DualShock controller just can’t duplicate. The control system gives Hunters the separation speed to really peel away from the pack. That isn’t to say Hunters isn’t without a fantastic array of assets—there’s also the pushing-the-envelope visuals, fantastic sound and all the ball-rolling, guided missile-firing, energy cannon-blasting goodness you expect from a Metroid title.
The single player element of Hunters is perhaps a bit cliché, but still delivers. Eight “octolyths” have been scattered across four planets in the star system, and it’s Samus’ job to catch ‘em all. Unfortunately, each one is hidden away in a large, well-defended and perplexing complex, each complete with a nasty beat-the-clock self-destruct system once Samus swipes the octolyth. If that weren’t enough, there’s another half-dozen bounty hunters each after the same thing, and they aren’t giving up without a fight.
Each complex features a great series of cagey guardians, maze-like architecture, puzzles and platforming before the ultimate boss battle. A good array of checkpoints eliminate the frustration from shuffling loose the mortal coil, and multiple teleport points reduce a lot of the travel back-and-forth that would otherwise be required. Most puzzles are simple—scan the right widget and move on—while some are downright tricky. The bosses, while repetitive, are great. They fight smart, and each boss requires a great deal of clever strategy and some adept stick-and-move to defeat.
The story evolves through a series of cutscenes and cryptic messages, and while it doesn’t quite stand up to the epic storylines of FPS’ like Halo or Half-Life, it’s intriguing enough to make Hunters a lot more than a standard run-and-gun. Immensely satisfying and fun, the single player experience itself is worth the price of admission.
Multiplayer, however, like with many games, is where this game truly takes off. Supporting both local wireless and WiFi, Hunters includes all the classic FPS multiplayer formats. All of Samus’ rivals are unlockable through the single player game for eventual multiplayer action, and each has his or her own attributes. My favorite is the space pirate Weavel, who can split into two parts, one of which being a stationary automated turret. They’ve packed 26(!!!) arenas for multiplayer combat, giving the title very long legs.
Considering the platform, the game is rendered beautifully. With the exception of some of the wall textures and the recycled bosses, it looks just like one of the top flight FPS on the good old N64. Sound is fantastic, and when played with headphones (as all good DS games should be), it’s completely involving and really gets the adrenaline pumping.
The control system, while excellent, hurts. Physically. The constant and frenetic motion required by the stylus will begin to cause numbness and tingling in the fingers and hand, which will eventually grow into real pain. A solution is to switch to the less precise two hand control scheme, which resembles a two joystick control system, or take a break. Ideally, the solution is to find a better stylus. Flexible styluses that can be wrapped about the forefinger not only improve control, but eliminate that pain entirely.
Metroid Prime: Hunters is a hot game. It sits right alongside Mario Kart DS and Nintendogs as one of the blue ribbon titles for the Dual Screen. No DS owner should be without this game.