Review by bluej33

"Metroid Sub-Prime Hunters"

Many gamers will admit that when they heard news of rookie developing studio Retro tackling such a venerable franchise as Metroid and attempting to transition it to a 3D title, they were dismayed. What were the chances that Retro could pull it off? To be honest, very slim. And yet, many gamers will also admit their shock -- and delight -- when the game was released and met with critical acclaim from nearly every major review source. Somehow, Retro had done the impossible and created a Metroid world that was nostalgically similar to that we all knew -- and at the same time something brilliant and new and all its own.

So, is it any real surprise that gamers were giddy with anticipation for Metroid Prime Hunters? After all, it was announced at a time when the DS was relatively young and owners were yearning for a quality first-person shooter. Plus, Metroid Prime Hunters was next in line for the Nintendo WiFi Connection, popular thanks to the stellar title Mario Kart DS. And finally, Nintendo themselves would be handling Hunters; while gamers felt a connection with developer Retro, was it possible that Nintendo could create an even better game experience?

I'll come right out and say it now: The answer is no. While there is clearly a pile of potential in Metroid Prime Hunters, the sad truth is that Nintendo completely failed to capitalize on the potential that the DS had for making Hunters a great game. Regarding the potential that Hunters sports, the way it's most prevalent is with the game's graphics. They're actually among the best to date on the Nintendo DS, even with graphically impressive titles on the market such as Final Fantasy III.

The entire game runs very smoothly, which is quite a feat considering how heated parts of the game get. There are a variety of environments throughout the course of the game, all of which are nicely animated. Of course, because the DS is a handheld system, environs do get a bit blocky once you get close enough to them. Still, though, a little pixilation is a small price to pay for the overall beautiful graphics. There are also a number of short cutscenes throughout the game, all of which are absolutely stunning. Metroid Prime Hunters really does push the Nintendo DS to its graphical potential and sets the bar for visual superiority of DS titles to come.

The audio of the game, while nothing spectacular, is also fairly well done. Music is atmospheric (which usually translates into being creepy) and sound effects are plentiful. The music does a fairly good job of immersing you in the game, which is, after all, what the audio should be doing. The music couldn't be called great, though, just because it is somewhat forgettable. Still, though, it makes the game slightly more fun, and that's good enough for me.

The controls, while ragged on by some players, are actually (at least to me) one of the best aspects of this entire game. While the demo of the title that came with the launch DS systems had the action unfold on the bottom screen, that's not how things work in the final edition of the game. Instead, the bottom screen houses a radar, and a few other critical buttons (switching ammo, missiles, and changing into your alternate form), while all the action unfolds on the upper screen. Sliding the stylus around on the bottom screen controls Samus' aim. Naturally, you can crank the difficulty up or down, depending on your comfort with the system. While this may seem a bit gimmicky, it actually works incredibly well. While the overall game fails to impress, Hunters easily sports the best FPS mechanic I've seen so far on the Nintendo DS.

Where the game absolutely fails, and in a big way, is with the gameplay mechanic. The vast majority of gamers out there would agree that gameplay is by far the most important aspect of any game; sadly, Metroid Prime Hunters' just falls flat. It's obviously not the controls that kill it -- as I mentioned already, they're actually quite good. The problem is that the game is just too immensely repetitive.

Yes, it's true that the early Metroid games relied a lot on backtracking through areas that you already visited to open up new paths and find critical items. Even the Prime games did the same thing. So, perhaps it may seem at first glance that Nintendo is simply implementing a callback to the quality of past Metroid games. However, this is just not the case, as much as I wish it were.

First, let me tell you something: There are only really four areas in the entire game. Yes, that's right: four. In every other Metroid game, the planet has been all connected; you could get from the beginning of the game to the final boss just by using a ton of warp devices. The fact is that it was all connected. However, in Hunters, there are four different planets in a “cluster”, and you've got to rocket off to each one. Secondly, these planets are annoyingly small. Even once you unlock more areas of them, they still seem so miniscule compared to the huge, lush worlds created by Metroid Primes 1 and 2.

Essentially, the player (taking the role of Samus, interstellar galactic bounty hunter extraordinaire) fights through these planets, accessing what rooms they can. Many are locked, and have to be revisited later. You'll find a number of upgrades, including health, missiles, and Universal Ammo. The UA powers a variety of different weapons, which are found throughout the four planets. Each different weapon, in addition to being “useful” in different situations, can unlock different doors.

So, you are fighting you way through planets, overcoming pathetically weak, stupid enemies and a few simplistic puzzles. Find a weapon, fight a boss, maybe engage an enemy hunter (more on that in a bit…), then leave, and repeat. You'll have to visit each planet twice, and that's where another of the game's problems come in: it's far too linear. Past Prime games have given you the field and let you do what you want. You're not given much guidance and you've got to explore by yourself. However, in Hunters, you're pretty much told what to do and where to go. So while there is a ton of monotonous backtracking, there's no exciting exploration element to it, because you KNOW that you're supposed to be there. Why? Because the stupid game told you.

Another monstrous (pun intended) problem with the game is its boss battles. Again, part of the problem lies with lack of quantity (and the other part with lack of quality). Let me extrapolate: there are two bosses in the entire game. Yes, you read correctly: TWO. That is absolutely inexcusable. You've got to fight each boss multiple times. Yes, each time you fight it, it changes minutely, but the basic fight is identical. When you compare that to the incredible originality and diversity of bosses in every other Metroid game, particularly the Prime titles, you'll begin to see how Hunters just really fails to live up to its namesake.

The game's plot is similarly uninspired. Past games have been somewhat mysterious; all you know is that some sort of accident has happened, and you're left to investigate, find out what went wrong, and find out eventually that you've been swept up in an epic quest. However, such is not the case with Hunters. You're told from the start what's going on: There is some sort of Ultimate Power hidden within the Alimbic Cluster; you must go and investigate. Sure, there's some plot revelations, mainly about the previous inhabitants of the Cluster, but it just lacks the charm and atmosphere of the previous games.

The game also sports some multiplayer, and this is all that keeps Hunters from being an absolute bust. This is where the game's title really starts to come into play, as well. See, the Galactic Federation isn't the only group who has picked up the signal about the Ultimate Power, and other bounty hunters are searching for it as well. They'll come up in your adventure and you'll be forced to defeat them; however, the role they really play is as multiplayer characters.

Each different hunter has a very unique skillset, and the fun lies in figuring out who exactly fits your play style. One, called Trace, excels in sniping. Another, Kanden, is able to skew foes' vision and null their fighting capabilities. Each one has a different weapon (these are actually the different weapons that you find in the game), and they have improved abilities with their affinity weapon. Also, each one has a different alternate form (the equivalent of Samus' morph ball). Some are good for escaping, while others are effective at taking out an opponent. There's a lot of depth here, and it's clear that more attention was devoted to the multiplayer mode than to the story mode.

There are three different modes of multiplayer: single-card download play, multi-card play, and the much anticipated WiFi play -- online gaming for those of you unaware. Single-card is fun enough; every stage you've unlocked (there are tons of them, by the way) is available to play, but the downloading players (up to three) must use the basic, default hunter: Samus. Still, it's fun enough, and worth it to be able to play with your friends with just one game card.

Multi-card is my personal favorite. Every character and every course is open to you, and you're up for some fun frag-fests with up to three of your friends. The game keeps extensive records, including basic items such as wins and losses, but also includes headshot kills, hunter of choice, favorite weapon, win percentage, and the like. There's also an option here to go head-to-head against bots, allowing you to practice your shooting abilities and gear up for fighting friends.

Finally, there's WiFi play. I've got to admit: it's probably my least favorite of the three available multiplayer modes. It's full-fledged, but it takes a long time just to find some players, and the game has an annoying habit of refreshing and disconnecting any opponents you've already found. And then, once you finally get a game going, there are still multiple problems. The game is pretty laggy, especially with four players running around in a large arena. When the action gets fast and thick, the frame rate drops noticeably, and it's really annoying. And finally, there are the myriad of cheaters out there, who hack and disconnect to ensure that their precious win record remains untarnished.

So, is it really worth purchasing Metroid Prime Hunters? Well, that's ultimately up to you and depends on what you're looking for in a game. If you're expecting the type of experience that the true Prime series gave you, you're going to be severely disappointed -- I sure was. If, however, you're looking for a decent multiplayer shooting experience on the DS, then this might be the title for you. Still, though, it might be a good idea to have a wireless router or Nintendo's USB WiFi connector, to ensure that you can play online. But ultimately, I'd try and talk some of your friends into getting this game, so you can play lag-free and without worry of cheaters.


Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 11/26/07

Game Release: Metroid Prime: Hunters (US, 03/20/06)


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