Review by clarkisdark
It's hard to make a moody sci-fi adventure game without someone drawing parallels between it and the Metroid franchise, especially when the main character is an armor-clad, female bounty hunter. Jenosa and her story may be a rip-off, but Orbital Media has done enough to set this one apart and actually make Jenosa the cooler bounty hunter. Yeah, I went there.
In Scurge: Hive, Jenosa is sent to investigate a spaceship/lab and is infected in the process by the "Scurge," an alien species that has overtaken the premises. Jenosa still has to carry out her mission, but now that she is contaminated, her time is short. A meter at the top of the screen will slowly fill to express her level of infection. Once it reaches 100%, Jenosa's HP will start to drop rapidly. Fortunately, visiting a sick bay will restore Jenosa back to 1%. Sick bays are quite common, so it's possible to beat the game without dying at all. This makes the whole infection thing seem kind of pointless and unnecessary. Sure, a sense of urgency is involved, and there were a couple times where I was cutting it really close, but Jenosa still has a health meter, and it's more important to watch that than it is to watch the infection.
Jenosa's health can reach upwards of 700 points thanks to the ability to level up just about every 15 minutes. When monsters die, they leave behind little green orbs that not only restore a bit of health but also add to your experience. For the most part, leveling up is a natural part of progressing through the game, but some boss battles will require grinding. Leveling up is only good for giving you more HP, but it's quite easy to lose said health. Monsters are everywhere, and they are relentless. The action in this game is non-stop, as you are constantly confronted by swarms of robots and aliens. So if you like shooting monsters and watching them explode, you're in luck. The fact that monsters never let up makes for a nice challenge, but monsters also reappear the moment you leave a room, which isn't so cool. Sometimes you leave by accident or need to leave for a few seconds to re-enter on a higher ledge, but then you have to fight everything all over again. And that's a big deal, because, when I say "everything," I mean "a horde of spiders plus a couple of head-sucking jellyfish plus five flying robots plus two fire monsters plus those eyeballs that pop up out of the ground and shoot stuff at you." Whew.
Defeating a room full of monsters isn't as easy as mindlessly shooting stuff, either. Weapon upgrades can transform Jenosa's ammo into other elements, but there is no one element to rule them all. The electricity gun is good against robots, but if you shoot energy-based creatures with it, they will actually become stronger and faster. The weapon system creates an interesting balance, and it's somewhat entertaining to hurriedly switch between elements to take out approaching baddies. Unfortunately, this quickly becomes overbearing when every possible element type of monster is coming your way. At this point, what can you do? If you try to nail the biological creatures with your combustion gun, it will benefit the robots right next to them. But if you try to take out the robots, it'll just help the energy monsters. These are the moments where I found myself hopelessly mashing the A button and wishing I'd never bought this game.
But, in the end, I can say I'm glad I played it. The weapon system takes a lot of practice and patience, but there are some really cool power-ups. Jenosa has a grapple that can latch onto objects and frozen enemies, allowing her to drag them around to depress switches. Once upgraded, this grapple is also used to catapult across certain pits. That said, platforming and puzzling still play a part. These are frequented by monsters, though, so the emphasis is mostly on action. And they've managed to spread that across some rather large and intricate levels. This reaches the complexity of Metroid, just without all the nifty, little secrets. The game spans six "excerpts," each a huge, unique environment that takes 1-2 hours to finish. It's a decent game in length.
Scurge: Hive takes place in an isometric view, though, which can be difficult to work with. Jenosa can only shoot in eight directions, and monsters like to keep to the safe zones where you can't hit them. And it should go without saying that jumps are hard to gauge. In some instances, even, Jenosa will walk in front of something that's supposed to be several feet above her head. Visually, this is a fairly mediocre product. As a Game Boy Advance game, it looks fantastic, but not on the DS. However, the map on the bottom screen is actually a very valuable asset, and for that, I recommend picking this one up over the GBA version.
Scurge: Hive's selling feature--the infection meter--is a complete waste of design. Barring that uselessness, Scurge offers a good 10-hour quest with a lot of tricky shooting and relentless action. And I do mean relentless. Not too many handheld games will throw this many monsters at you at any one time. But that's also my biggest gripe with Scurge. Monsters are not so difficult to deal with, but that you have to deal with them in droves (with elemental strengths and weaknesses in mega-respawn mode) spoils the fun of exploring these massive, Metroid-like worlds. Scurge is only okay, but since you can find it for as low as $10, this shouldn't be much of a toss-up.
+ Relentless action
+ Large, intricate levels
+ Cool power-ups
-- Unnecessary infection meter
-- Overbearing abundance of monsters
-- Isometric view is difficult to work with
Rating: 3.0 - Fair
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