Retro Scope: Metroid Prime Hunters

With Wi-Fi Week in full swing, the natural choice for this week’s Retro Scope is the first game to truly embody Nintendo’s Wi-Fi efforts: Metroid Prime Hunters.

By Jake Shapiro. Posted 05/15/2014 12:00 3 Comments     ShareThis

Nintendo has never been afraid to take risks with the Metroid series that it would never take with Mario or Zelda, from putting full-fledged sequels rather than mere spin-offs on handhelds, to making the unpopular but ultimately genius decision of bringing the series into first-person view, to… letting the studio most famous for popularizing the term “jiggle physics” take on its most iconic, strong female character. So when the Big N launched its first true online-capable console, the portable DS, Metroid Prime Hunters was the proving ground for the company’s first real foray into competitive online multiplayer. When DS was released in 2004, it even came packaged with a demo of Hunters.

Metroid Prime Hunters‘ story begins with Metroid Prime on GameCube. When Prime hit store shelves in 2002, it marked the first time Nintendo let a Western developer handle one of its core franchises. Controversially, Shigeru Miyamoto told Texas developer Retro Studios to turn the beloved 2D side-scrolling Metroid series into a first-person shooter; outraged fans envisioned Nintendo giving up its principles to cash in on the FPS craze of the early ’00s. Instead, it was a huge risk that paid off in spades, as Metroid Prime became one of the most critically-acclaimed titles in Nintendo history.

The success of Metroid Prime gave Nintendo a boost in confidence when it came to first-person shooters and working with Western developers. When the highly-anticipated sequel Metroid Prime 2: Echoes launched on GameCube in 2004, it added a split-screen local multiplayer mode to capitalize on the FPS success of the series. Unfortunately, it was a tacked-on mode that took away from an otherwise-outstanding single-player experience, but it was a hint of things to come for Nintendo and Metroid.

With the newly-launched Nintendo DS’s online capabilities, it only made sense that Nintendo would bring its successful FPS series Metroid Prime to the exciting handheld. After all, online multiplayer sci-fi shooters were all the rage in the mid-aughts, with Halo 2 capturing the zeitgeist of the gaming world at the time. Nintendo also wanted to prove DS had the horsepower to run a fully-3D first-person shooter with tight controls that could compete with Sony’s recently-launched PSP, the first real threat to Nintendo’s dominance of the handheld gaming market since the launch of the original Game Boy in 1989.

So Nintendo committed a mortal Metroid sin: it designed Metroid Prime Hunters with total focus on the multiplayer mode first and foremost; the single-player campaign was an afterthought. Metroid Prime 2 had a subpar multiplayer mode, but at least it was secondary to the game’s exquisite single-player mode, a classic Metroid experience. Hunters was developed not by Prime veterans Retro Studios, but by Nintendo Software Technology in Redmond, Washington, where there could be close oversight by Nintendo’s head honchos. The game was finally released in 2006 to fairly decent critical and commercial success.

The controls in Hunters were about as good as first-person shooter controls on DS could possibly be. That is to say, aiming with the stylus is fairly precise, but the awkward hybrid touch/button controls are a recipe for cramps and carpal tunnel galore. Metroid Prime Hunters is fantastic as a proof of concept and a showcase for the DS hardware, but where it falters is… as a Metroid game.

To create an online multiplayer-friendly gameworld, the Hunters development team invented a whole host of bounty hunters to compete with leading lady Samus. All sorts of generic aliens with obnoxious “edgy” names like Noxus, Spire, and Sylux: very science-fictiony with lots of Xs, because Xs are cool, right? The “let’s create a bunch of extra bounty hunters” concept would seep into the next true Metroid Prime entry, 2007’s Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, tarnishing an otherwise-great game with a layer of cheesy ensemble characters.

Who are all those dummies behind Samus? Are they Skylanders?

Metroid’s not about the supporting cast! Metroid is about being alone on alien worlds. A short, linear Hunters single-player campaign was created to tie in to all these dumb characters, but there was none of the exploration or atmosphere Metroid is famous for. The whole online deathmatch infrastructure worked well enough for years after Hunters‘ release, but it just doesn’t suit Nintendo or Metroid. Metroid Prime Hunters is a serviceable multiplayer FPS that seems at odds with both Nintendo and Metroid design philosophy. Little did we know, Hunters would not be the lowest point of the series. That honor would go to a certain Other game a few years later. May we pray for Metroid’s soul in the future. Help us, Retro Studios, you’re our only hope!

3 Responses to “Retro Scope: Metroid Prime Hunters

  • 129 points
    Silverspoink says...

    I remember the Summer after this game came out. My brother and I were in middle school, and I woke almost every morning to the buzzing of the DS rumble pak and the scream of Trace as my little brother had surely woken up before me to get an early start on the day’s deathmatching.

    Truly magical childhood memories.

  • 1291 points
    Robert Marrujo says...

    This game rocked my brain when it came out. I couldn’t believe a game could look that good on DS. The stylus and touch screen still felt fresh, too, so I loved poking through all the different menu options with it.

  • 1558 points
    penduin says...

    I played Hunters with some work buddies, and we got pretty decent (though nowhere near the godlike status we all reached in Mario Kart DS). Unfortunately the single-player game really left me craving a “real” Metroid Prime type of experience on a handheld.

    Resident Evil Revelations and now Moon Chronicles are the closest I’ve found. They’re good, but what I wouldn’t give for a direct ‘cube-to-3DS stereoscopic Metroid Prime.

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