Metroid Prime: Hunters
Metroid Prime: Hunters has exceeded Jeff Kennedy's expectations, and made him re-examine whether Tetris DS will take this month's DS crown...
On March 20th, 2006, North American DS owners will find themselves caught up in a dilemma. It's the type of dilemma that makes any console owner overflow with joy, but nonetheless it is still quite the problem. Unless you've been dwelling under a rock, an extremely large rock situated far, far away from any form of civilization, you've undoubtedly heard that March 20th is the date when two potential AAA titles launch for the Nintendo DS. The two games in question are of course, Tetris DS, and Metroid Prime Hunters, two vastly different franchises with one glaring similarity -- together they'll leave gamers scratching their head as to which one they should try out first.
If you already have Tetris DS firmly planted on your radar as the game to purchase, we must warn you, reading this preview might be enough to place you back on the proverbial fence. That's because over the last month or so, Metroid DS has begun to take shape as a title that developer Nintendo Software Technology Corporation is placing all of their bets on and rightfully so. If you can remember, it wasn't that long ago when Nintendo launched the DS with the then pack-in demo, Metroid Prime Hunters: First Hunt. Even before that, at the 2004 Electronic Entertainment Expo, the sole purpose of the game was to show off the DS hardware. Fast forward almost two years later to 2006, NST head honcho, Shigeki Yamashiro, and the rest of those dedicated to the project have finally wrapped up development on the often delayed, yet highly anticipated first person shooter. The team behind Hunters is extremely excited about their piece of work, as demonstrated by last week's day-long press summit held exclusively for the game. We here at Modojo are just as pumped, if not more so. Why? Well, it's a Metroid game for starters, but this isn't just a visually downgraded sequel to the GameCube outings. No, we're happy to report that Metroid Prime Hunters has its very own identity, it's very own style of play, and it claims something that no other handheld title has been able to claim up until this point.
Metroid Prime Hunters isn't the first time the Metroid franchise has appeared on the DS -- that right belongs to Fuse Games-developed Metroid Prime Pinball. Instead, Samus' latest outing on the DS will rekindle some of the fond memories brought to us by Retro Studios' GameCube games, Metroid Prime, and its sequel, Metroid Prime 2 Echoes. Hunters is paced conveniently between the events of the first two Prime games, and you'll notice that Samus rocks the same gear she sported in Echoes, while still piloting the ship featured in her first 3D adventure. NST is quick to point out that while Hunters is wisely inspired by the games produced by Retro Studios, the two developers didn't exactly work hand-in-hand on the project. That is to say, while Hunters may look similar in a lot of ways to the GameCube iterations, gamers must keep in mind that they are two completely different games, both in pacing, control, and storyline. Instead of balancing adventure elements and action elements - something that has been a staple of the series since its inception - the action featured in Hunters significantly outweighs everything else. Proving this concept, gamers will notice that Samus starts off from the get-go, fully equipped with all of her abilities. That means no more searching for various upgrades; you'll instead find yourself collecting ancient artifacts - dubbed octoliths - spread throughout each of the game's levels. The octoliths provide the basis for the story, while collecting them and more importantly, keeping them out of the hands of enemy bounty hunters, pilots the rest of the narrative.
With the creation and eventual success of Nintendo's free online service -- Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection -- NST wisely decided to go back to the drawing board, making online play a part of Hunters' multiplayer experience. We were all pretty stoked when we initially learned about the online aspects of the game, but it's safe to say that Hunters has managed to meet (and possibly surpass) everyone's expectations. It's truly amazing to watch Nintendo's online philosophy unravel right before our very eyes, because just a few years ago they were still heavily touting "connectivity" as the way of the future. Metroid Prime Hunters laughs in the face of Nintendo's previous simpleminded connectivity concept, supporting virtually every element of online play that gamers have grown accustomed to over the years, voice chat and all. Stat tracking is taken to a whole new level in Metroid Prime Hunters, introducing a new in-depth stat tracking feature, labeled Hunters License. Essentially, a Hunter's License is an online portfolio of sorts, and it's used to track a vast array of statistics. Not only will your licenses track the most important things, wins/loses, how many times you dropped your connection (darn quitters!), etc. It goes the extra mile, tracking even the more mundane stats like favorite characters, suicides, and headshots. Sure games like Mario Kart, Animal Crossing, and Tony Hawk: American Sk8tland pioneered online gaming on Nintendo's portable platform, but Metroid Prime Hunters is the first title to arguably place its multiplayer aspects well ahead of its single player game.
If you were at all soured with the lack of multiplayer in the original Prime, or the overall lacking multiplayer elements featured in its sequel, Hunters seeks to devour such ailments, without chewing. It's quite possible, thanks to the multitude of features shoehorned into the game's one gigabyte card, that Hunters could storm the handheld multiplayer throne. It's already the only handheld first person shooter to feature online play, and it has no plans of stopping just there. Assisting the cause is an abundance of multiplayer modes, coupled with the aforementioned stat tracking features that'll leave more than a few home console games envious. There's plenty of ways to play too, as the game supports single cartridge multiplayer, multi-cartridge multiplayer, and of course, online play. Indeed, the multiplayer experience appears as if it'll offer something for even the pickiest of players. Those who don't find delight in the standard run-and-frag game play modes featured in the majority of first person shooters on consoles, will be happy to learn what NST has in store for you.
As noted, Metroid Prime Hunters features six multiplayer modes including Battle, Survival, Bounty, Defender, Prime Hunter, Capture, and Nodes. Each mode ranges from your run-of-the-mill death match or capture the flag type scenarios, to more varied skirmishes like Prime Hunter mode. For instance, in Prime Hunter Mode, your goal is to gain enhanced Prime Hunter powers, and remain that way longer than anyone else. Of course your adversaries are interested in becoming the Prime Hunter as well, so they're all attempting to make you an offer you can't refuse. Just to throw in an added twist, the Prime Hunter's energy level is slowly depleted automatically over time, and the only way to regain your health is to eliminate other players. In other words, for you virtual cowards, there will be no running and hiding! Fortunately for the sake of variety, there are seven hunters included in the game; the remaining six can all be unlocked by defeating them during the single player adventure. Each of the hunters -- Samus, Sylux, Weavel, Noxus, Trace, Kanden and Spire - feature his or her own unique abilities and varied morph ball forms, adding additional spice to an already deep multiplayer game.
While the single player game is viewed as a training ground for the game's multiplayer elements, don't be fooled into thinking that it was placed on the backburner. While we wouldn't expect Metroid Prime Hunters' single player mission to exceed the overall loftiness established by its GameCube forefathers, it will reportedly come up just shy of the original Metroid Prime, length wise. The game's presentation is one that is extremely polished and professional, utilizing both screens simultaneously, sometimes with different camera angles, to accommodate full motion video and real time cut scenes. That may not sound like much, but if you've played the game or seen the videos, you know it's a pretty neat effect to witness first hand. Those of us familiar with the Metroid atmosphere will be happy to hear that things like scanning, and morphing into a ball to reach otherwise inaccessible areas, are still heavily utilized features in this title.
PC gamers who are quick to dismiss console FPS games because they don't feature the precision and control that mouse/keyboard combos allow for, definitely want to be in line come March 20th. That's because Hunters features various control schemes, so that even native southpaw gamers can call the DS home. Of course you're also given the option to use the DS's touch pad to control your hunters, thus offering a level of precision that easily rivals a standard PC rig. If that's not enough, features like voice chat, and Rival Radar -- a sleep mode transfer function used to share Hunters Licenses -- add a whole new level of polish to an already smooth experience.
After full examination, Metroid Prime Hunters looks to be a worthy bearer of the Metroid name, and a likely solution to owners of the previous Prime games in search of a sequel. On the same token, if you've never played a game in the Metroid series but finally want to get involved, or if you're looking for a first person shooter that you can take on the go, Metroid Prime Hunters looks like a must try. So, still wondering what title you'll be purchasing on the 20th? Our advice: If you have enough money for both, by all means indulge! Otherwise, as long as one of your games is named Tetris DS, or Metroid Prime Hunters, we believe it's a pretty safe bet that on March 20th you'll be glued to your DS either way.