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It would be easy to say that Metroid Prime Hunters is the DS game of the spring. Even with the other capable software offerings or those yet to arrive, the game stands out as something special. Aside from being the first online Metroid, Hunters also attempts to fix some of the problems with earlier online-enable DS titles, and most importantly, provides some use for nearly every single one of the DS's unique features.
Ever wonder what Metroid 64 would have looked like? Wonder no more, as Metroid Prime Hunters provides a fully-realized version of what might have been. Save for a few short CG sequences, the game is rendered in real-time and is probably the best-looking 3D game currently on the DS. While the handheld is clearly not as capable as a console, the worlds of the Alimbic Cluster appear distinct nevertheless, each with a distinct personality, from the frozen caverns of Arcterra to the hidden chambers of the Celestial Archives, all whipping past at an excellent frame rate.
One clever trick that NTSC put into the mix was giving each of the bounty hunters a different HUD from his or her rivals. While none of these are inordinately different from the others, it lends each character a slightly altered flavor, which complements the similarly singular arenas.
Lately, Metroid games haven't been reaching too far outside of the box for music. Metroid Prime Pinball featured nothing but remixes of classic series tunes; although Hunters does have a few new tracks, plus some standard Metroid themes i.e. the traditional synthesized choir, the music isn't anything that deserves major attention. True, music is generally used as atmosphere in the series, and in Hunters this is its strength; setting aural cues for events, like the appearance of a rival Hunter in single-player mode, or the familiar chime when a lock is released. Surprisingly, several of the sound effects from the one-and-a-half-year-old demo have remained virtually untouched; though fortunately, none of them were offensive in the first place.
How does Metroid Prime Hunters put the DS's capabilities to use? Let us count the ways: First, and foremost, touching is most definitely good. Nintendo now consistently looks for new ways to get the uninitiated involved with video games, and Hunters control scheme is a long overdue strike in that battle. The game's demo hinted at the possibilities that touch-controlled first-person blasting could provide, and the full product delivered. Using the stylus to aim (for both righties and lefties) offers much easier, quicker view finding and takes away a lot of the FPS frustration inherent on consoles. Don't believe it? Sweep the stylus back and forth quickly. Seems like Samus is really looking around, doesn't it? This responsiveness simply couldn't be matched with an analog stick.
Only the stingiest of FPS veterans will find the control scheme limiting, and those stodgy old codgers (get with the program, guys--touching is the future) can still use a dual-view setup, using the DS face buttons as a second Control Pad. Even if someone was backwards enough to want to use this scheme, the touch screen must still be utilized for other functions, including switching weapons, shifting to alternative forms and trackball control to roll Samus around while in Morph Ball mode (a la Pac 'N Roll).
The only drawback from these controls is that the DS wasn't really designed to be held with one hand. Whichever hand isn't holding the stylus has to support the entire system, which can be somewhat tiring after a long game. Fortunately, the hand muscles can toughen up after just a few extended sessions, to the point where this discomfort either won't be noticed or simply won't be there anymore. Creatine is always an option for those looking to build strength fast; the Nintendo Wi-Fi rules do not expressly forbid the use of performance-enhancing substances.
The game's single-player experience offers a somewhat non-traditional Metroid quest, which involves multiple planets and celestial bodies. After receiving a bizarre and vague telepathic message about the ultimate power residing in the Alimbic Cluster, Samus Aran is hired by the Federation to investigate the message and lay claim to the power before any other interests can get a hold of it. Hopefully, this trail of mystery won't lead to an ancient evil power bent on destroying the entire galaxy! Samus has pretty much all of her equipment intact from the start, save for the special weapons, which must be collected upon each of the various Alimbic worlds. While each area will be visited more than once, Hunters backtracks much less than previous Metroids.
It's clear that the one-player game was influenced by Retro Studios' Metroid Prime games, which is made even more evident by the acknowledgement in the game's opening (and rightfully so--Retro was peripherally involved in the game's development). The Scan Visor is a major component of story mode, and players can once again try for 100% completion in scanning. Changing visors requires a touch button be held for an extended period of time, and this prevents many accidental shifts, although not all.
Dual screens rule. The bottom screen's display, which serves as a radar and not as a true map, shows where any foes might be lurking, which is really more useful in multiplayer mode than in the single-player missions. If one of the other Hunters is hiding around a corner, smarter players will notice the blips on their displays and react accordingly. Four players can compete wirelessly in local multiplayer, and Metroid Prime Hunters allows for four-player online battles over the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection as well.
Multiplayer games range from deathmatch to king-of-the-hill to Nodes, which uses specific items to determine the final score. All modes are available via multi-card local play, or online; only vanilla Battle mode can be played with the single-card download. Headshots are a factor in battles, though they generally offer a slightly increased amount of damage versus an instant kill, which would probably have thrown off the game's flow.
Online features have been enhanced. The Hunting License allows players to see how well a potential opponent is doing, and how many disconnects that player has initiated. These can also be viewed at Nintendowifi.com in addition to tracking personal stats. Like that strange hunter you just faced off against? Add him/her to your Rivals list by checking the appropriate box next to the name. Rivals can be played again in Friends and Rivals mode, but will only be added if both players choose to make the connection. The DS microphone can be used for voice chat before and after online matches, but only Friends can be spoken to.
Metroid Prime Hunters might just be the DS's killer app. Other DS games have used touch control in a new way, or found a way to improve on an existing idea, but Hunters is the first DS game that has fundamentally changed in every way because of the hardware. This title offers something that literally can't be found anywhere else; and fortunately, because of theextended development time, managed to improve upon Nintendo's Wi-Fi service as well. Consider it a must-have, even for those who don't like Metroid or first-person shooters.
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