Review by Captain_Sack

Reviewed: 03/27/06

Metroid for the masses. Long time fans: Beware.

It’s had been many years that “Metroid Prime: Hunters” has been announced. Many DS owners fondly (or not) remember the little gem-of-a-demo that was bundled with their systems those many months ago; the demo with the cool graphics, crazy looking multiplayer, but horrendously awkward controls. Now, in March 2006, Hunters has been released to an overwhelmingly anxious public (we’ve waited a long time!) – and even greater expectations. Having been a Metroid fan since it’s earliest of days, I was also part of that group – even to the point where I arrived at my local game store at its opening so I could get my hands on the very first copy. I bought my copy (I didn’t even notice the price – I didn’t even care), and started playing it as soon as I was out the door.

A few minutes (or hours, I lost track of time) into the game, I came to a slow and painful realisation: this was not “Metroid”. My much loved franchise has bitten the bullet and joined ranks with the hundreds of other mindless shooters.

-: Gameplay - 22/40 :-

Taking place between the first and second “Metroid Prime” games, Hunters has Samus exploring a remote sector of space – the Alimbic Cluster) where a cryptic signal indicated the presence of an ‘ultimate power’. So, naturally, it’s up to our heroine to go check it out – unlocking said power by finding the eight Octoliths spread out among the planets in the Alimbic Cluster. The catch in Hunters is that, contrary to other “Metroid” games, Samus is not alone in her quest; our dashing darling is competing against six other hunters – each with their eyes on this mysterious ‘power’. As you progress through the game, Samus will encounter these hunters repeatedly, and be forced to duke it out in an all out fire-fight.

Now, allow me to go off on a tangent for a brief moment. Since the first Metroid game was released in the eighties, fans have become accustomed – even expectant – of certain characteristics in these games. For example, it’s a given that Samus will always land on an enormous mysterious planet, somehow lose all her abilities (or just ‘not have them’ in some cases), and be forced to explore the world in order to learn new skills and acquire new weapons. During the quest, Samus faces off against towering bosses, navigates fiendish puzzles and mazes, conducts general platforming, and pretty much shoots the hell out of everything she sees. These are “Metroid”.

Contrary to this ‘tried and true’ outline however, Hunters is watered down, uninspired, and generally… dare I say it… boring. Almost every characteristic that Metroid fans have come to expect are either gone or made tasteless due to poor planning or in an attempt to target the “hard-core” players only (and not those who prefer the slower ‘exploratory’ nature of the past games. Metroid Prime: Hunters is a First-Person Shooter - and not a great one.

Environments 5/10

Like other Metroid games, Hunters takes place across several explorable areas, each with their own unique style. In this case, the areas are different planets which you will gain access to as the game progresses – but you can only travel from one to the other by returning to your ship. The problem with Hunters is that, unlike the others in the series, exploration is linear and boring. There are no expansive worlds filled with secrets and branching routes, only a few large rooms peppered with repeating hallways connecting them. As you play, you are basically moving from one room to the next, fighting the same enemies over and over again. Brightening up this poor excuse of exploration is the fact that enemies respawn continuously (even Hunters – but only once you leave the planet). I wouldn’t mind it so much, but the enemy design is very uninspired; with only a handful of different “things” to fight across the whole game – with their only variance being their colour palettes.

Trying not to stray into “graphics” (which is later), I’ll just say that Hunters does not create a convincing atmosphere like its predecessors, relying instead on cookie-cutter worlds. Puzzles are easily solved, and the only confusion one will feel when exploring is due to the fact that everything just looks the same. I suppose this is one of the advantages of the game being so linear – by only going in one direction, it makes it harder to get lost in the endless sea of repeating hallways. Luckily however, there a few portals throughout the worlds that allow you to travel instantly back to your ship where you can save. Oh, didn’t I mention that there are no save points other than your ship? Not that it really matters though, Hunters has the “checkpoint” system – in other words, it’s impossible to get a “Game Over” screen – you only respawn at the last checkpoint.

Control – 8/10

When I first played the “First Hunt” demo, I was put off by the controls. It seemed clunky, awkward, and cramp-inducing. But now, thanks to the effort into making this game into a true FPS, Hunters controls like a dream. The standard layout is one that uses the D-pad to move and strafe, the L-button to shoot, and the touch-screen to aim. It sounds uncomfortable, and at first it is, but soon your fingers will lose all feeling and mould themselves around the DS. You can also double-tap the touch-screen to jump – but I prefer to use the A-button (which I press with my pinky).

There is also another setup which uses the A/B/X/Y buttons to aim instead of the stylus – but it’s difficult to use for precision shooting, so most people will lean towards the stylus aiming system. My only problem with the controls is that, in order to change them, you must return to Samus’ ship. You simply can’t change schemes on the field; you must instead to go all the way back to the starting of the world to the ship to do so (or grab a portal, whichever is closer). There is no ‘lock on’ like the previous Prime games, but with a precise manual aiming, it’s not necessary. It still does induce cramps after long periods of playing however.

Fun factor 9/20

Sadly, this is where Hunters is lacking severely. I simply did not find this game fun. As I stated earlier, the biggest problem with Hunters is its linearity. In most cases, Samus lands on a planet, walks and shoots from one room to the next, fights a Hunter, finds a gun and a couple expansions, finds the three artifacts necessary to open the “boss door”, fights one of two stationary bosses (a tower that shoots lasers, or an eyeball that shoots spores), then escapes the planet as fast as possible because it’s going to self-destruct (although the countdown mysteriously stops once you get on your ship, leaving the planet suspiciously un-exploded).

Also, one aspect which grabbed my attention in the early development days of Hunters was the concept of – for a lack of a better word – “independent AI”. It’s been said that the Hunters were supposed to compete with you, potentially finding artifacts and Octoliths before Samus, requiring you to chase them down across the Alimbic Cluster. Having played through this game, I declare that this is either a lie, or I’m simply too good for the hunters (ha!). In my experience, the hunters have stayed in the same rooms for extended periods of time, waiting for me to come into contact with them. Never once have they “collected” something before me. What’s more, hunters will always respawn at the same locations every time you revisit a planet. Granted, they can steal your Octoliths if they defeat you, but they fail to pose a significant enough challenge to even pose a threat. It seems to me that the developers put much more emphasis into the Hunters aspect of the game than anything else, hoping that we as players would be more entertained by repeated fire-fights than large expansive worlds and exploration. Which brings me to my next point:

Metroid Prime: Hunters is the first game in the series where Samus begins with all of her powerups. That’s right; this time around she doesn’t get them stolen, broken, or dropped in a conveniently placed tunnel which leads to the molten center of the planet. Now, this is a double-edged sword: on one hand, you start the game feeling much stronger than you would otherwise; however, the game doesn’t actually do anything with it. There aren’t any morphball-bomb areas to explore, for example. Also, and more disappointingly, it means that there aren’t any suit or skill upgrades. In Hunters, you will not find the screw attack, the grappling hook, the space jump, etc. Instead, you will find different weapons (which bring back the ammo system from MP2 – something I liked dearly), each with their own unique abilities and door-opening-capabilities. There are also missile, health, and ammo expansions – but they have also been tweaked into assuring that the less amount of exploration be required to find them. They are often unceremoniously hidden under a ledge or behind a rock – spitting in the face of all those who actually enjoy a little challenge when searching for expansions.

-: Graphics – 7/10 :-

Considering this game is on a handheld, Hunters looks pretty damn good. The environments are all surprisingly detailed – and there are only minor (if any) load times; as Hunters uses the same trick to load areas used by Retro Studios in MP1 and 2. However, the game is plagued with repeating rooms – as you will quickly find after five minutes on the first world. Previous Metroid games had the wondrous ability to make every room – even menial hallways - special – be it with enemies, interesting scans (in the MP-series), secrets or expansions. In Hunters, hallways are anything but that. They are simply bland areas used by the creators to cut down on load times.

Another small complaint is the enemy design; which there are very few of. As I said earlier, there are only a handful of different creatures Samus will deal with in her journey, most of which are indistinguishable blobs of pixels which fail to instil the fear and intensity of creatures from previous games. You will engage in the fight of your life against the transparent green floating thing, the colour-swapped flying mech-drones, the standard spiky slug-like creature, an enemy that looks like a plated wolf, and the ever-annoying “Guardians” – none of which pose any sort of threat to Samus’ well being. Hunters is obviously riding on its… well… hunters in order to woo fans and impress new-comers. And I, for one, am not wooed. Even though they are highly stylized and cool-looking, it takes more than that to woo me. I am un-wooable!

-: Sound 9/10 :-

Luckily however, the sound is great. You will quickly find yourself waist-deep in nostalgia when you start the game, feeling right back at home amongst the familiar chimes and themes that Metroid is known for. There’s lots of music – each area has its own – and once again it is used to cue the presence of enemies. So in other words, play this game with the sound on – or else you’ll be caught of guard by a judicator headshot. When you land your ship, save, find an expansion, and find an Octolith, you will hear the tunes which have almost as much history as the “Zelda-puzzle-solved” one.

-: Online – 23/30 :-

In reality, the only thing riding for this game is its multiplayer; and it’s really where Metroid Prime: Hunters shines… somewhat. Since its announcement, Hunters has been advocated as being a primarily multiplayer game, and in reality, it’s evident that much more planning and effort went into the wi-fi rather than the single-player – which is quite sad since Metroid has always been a solo game; advocating a feel of complete isolation on an enormous alien world.

By now it’s well known that Hunters has many different ways of being played online – both through WAN or wi-fi. I wont go into the specifics (there are other, more experienced sites for that), but I will comment that they are all done quite well. The more you play online, the more you will find your own favourite among the seven; as there is enough variety to provide a fresh experience every time you log on. A nice added touch is that, through a less-than-clear course, you can play the multiplayer maps offline with computers to practice (or if you don’t have a wi-fi connection or friends with DSes).

When you play online, you can use any hunter you have defeated in the single player game (or in multiplayer as well), or Samus herself. You are then placed in one of the game’s larger rooms and then you fight to the death. Each hunter has they’re own unique skills, alternate forms, and affinity with weapons; making for a nice match with tons of variety.

The only downside the Metroid Prime: Hunters’ online play is that, unless you have the friend codes of fellow players, you are only limited to random deathmatches. Keeping with the traditional Nintendo doctrine of “family fun” – there are no public lobbies or anything of the sort where public games can be made. Instead, one must go through a medium such as GameFAQs to meet people to play online with; something not many people enjoy doing. Hunters is also revolutionary for being the first DS game to support VoIP; but again, it’s only for friends who are in the same game lobby.

-: Tilt – 2/10 :-

To put it bluntly, Metroid Prime: Hunters is “Metroid made stupid”. The challenge is gone, the exploration is gone, the enveloping worlds and everything that came with them – all gone. Stripped to the bare minimum of the “Metroid” name, Hunters has now joined into the ranks of ‘mindless shooters’. For those of you who have played an enjoyed Metroid games in the past, and expect a similar experience in Hunters, you will most likely be disappointed. Think back to MP2: Echoes’ fiendish puzzles for simple missile expansions, and take solace in the fact that this game wont come anywhere near that level of difficulty. I’m surprised the developers didn’t take it a step further in the direction of “insultingly easy” and put expansion locations on the map…

The game is short and the levels are linear – not “Metroid: Fusion” linear, but somewhat along those lines. Those who say that this game is of comparable length to the first Metroid Prime are off their rockers; as this game can easily be beaten in a weekend. It’s sad to see that this lovable franchise, which was monumentally revolutionary for its time because of its free-roaming environments and atmospheric single-player game, has been reduced to this level. If I wanted an online FPS, the choices are already limitless – as the game market is oversaturated with them.

I’m also quite confused about one last thing: portable games are meant to be played on the run; hence why they’re portable. With Hunters, it seems to me as if Nintendo is trying to keep us at home, DS plugged into the wall (wifi drains the battery like none other), and trapped within 30’ of our wireless routers. That doesn’t sound very “portable” to me…

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-: OVERALL SCORE = 63/100 :-
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-: Final Words :-

I am well aware that, by writing this review, I am incurring the wrath of fanboys across the world. I have given this game a low score not because it did not meet my expectations, but because it befouled the “Metroid” name, and because – apart from its online – it makes a sub-par first person shooter. There are much better FPS games available on the market (for consoles and PC obviously – not that it matters as you’ll be playing MP:H at home anyways), and I recommend them before this one; both for their offline and online capabilities. Hunters is disappointing in its single-player game, offering very little other than the fact that it’s in the palm of your hand.

It makes me very sad to think that, after having waited so long for this game, that it has been degraded to such a level. A series of flaws, one after the other, have stripped this game of its traditional style, offering instead a strange “3rd-cousin, twice-removed” of its predecessors.

Rating:   3.0 - Fair

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