Metroid Prime Hunters has some enormous shoes to fill. An early demo of the game was bundled along with the DS hardware upon the system’s launch. It was within this demo that the gaming public would be introduced to DS’s unique hardware capabilities. Touch screen controls, wireless multiplayer, and two screens were not the only key factors introduced to new DS owners when this demo was released. Simultaneously, whether it was intentional or not, Nintendo wanted to make a good FPS on a handheld system, something that hasn’t truly been accomplished yet. However, were all the delays and extra development time worth Hunter’s wait?[p]Metroid is no stranger to handheld systems, and, in fact, the series works extremely well on them. Until the first GC edition, Metroid was strictly a 2D sprite-based series. Ever since Return of Samus on the original GB, fans of the series knew that Samus works well with only two dimensions. Hunters is a milestone in the Metroid series by not only introducing the players to the third dimension on a handheld system, but also for its extensive WiFi compatibilities. However, despite having tons of hype, development time, ample multiplayer capabilities, touch screen support, and the word "Metroid" in the title, the game has minor flaws that upset the entire package.[p]Ever since Prime appeared on GC, players have either hated or loved the controls with Hunters being no different. The game basically offers two types of control: stylus or face buttons, but each control type can be modified for either left or right-handed players. Stylus mode will have the player using the D-pad to move in the corresponding direction while the stylus is used to look around, similar to the right analog stick in Halo. The "L" shoulder button is used to shoot and if the screen is double tapped, Samus will jump. If players do not want to use the stylus, all the face buttons can be used. Again, the D-pad will control movement while the A,B,X,Y buttons control the aiming direction and the shoulder buttons jump and shoot. Using the face buttons, unfortunately, is more comfortable than stylus mode but doesn’t offer the same level of precision when aiming. [p]Even though the game offers both modes of control, the player is still pretty much forced to use the touch screen stylus control. This is due to the fact that player must use the touch screen to switch weapons, change back and forth into the morph ball, and swap visors. If the D-pad control is used, the player must take his hand off the controls and smudge the bottom screen with fingerprints. Also, the player cannot change control schemes on the fly. The only way to revert back to a previous control set-up is to travel all the way back to the save point, Samus’s ship. This is very inconvenient as I found traveling long distances and shooting minor enemies to be easier with the face buttons, while the stylus was necessary for intense fights against multiple or boss enemies. Being able to switch control types during the game, from the map screen perhaps, would have been ideal. Also, Samus’s ship is the only place to save your game. The lack of save points will force players to needlessly backtrack constantly. [p]Since the stylus mode is the more dominate of control forms, the sensitivity of the touch screen can also be altered on a scale of 1-14. However, finding the most comfortable sensitivity will take a lot of trial and error, which means many trips to and from your ship. But due to the game’s faster gameplay, holding the DS can cramp up your hands easily. After fighting the first boss battle, players will feel like their hand will fall off. Supporting all the DS’s weight is done with the left hand. However, movement, which can be quite frantic especially when fighting a boss, is also performed with the left thumb. But the real pain inducer remains in the index finger because the shoulder button must be constantly tapped or held down to shoot. Combine all this with using the stylus in the right hand causes an uncomfortable gaming experience. This is partially due to the fact the aiming is not as functional as it should be.[p]Wherever the player touches the screen is where Samus will shoot. This is fine. However, turning 180 degrees in a smooth and quick fashion is nearly impossible as the player must stab the screen, then drag, pick up the stylus, stab, then drag again (repeat). If you are getting shot at from behind, which will happen a lot in multiplayer mode, you will most likely die before you can turn around. It is a wonder why this movement wasn’t mapped to the "Select" button as "Select" does nothing. Having a 180 instant turn function could have proved quite useful. [p]The "Start" button brings up the map but is controlled with the stylus and D-pad. Using this three dimensional map is actually difficult to read using this control set-up. It was much easier to view using the two analog sticks on GC, but Hunters makes the best use of what it has. But this map can only be viewed by tapping "Start." It is a shame that the bottom screen HUD display doesn’t incorporate this map to be displayed in real time. After playing games like Castlevania or Mario Kart, it is hard not to have a map always within constant view. [p]So why is this version of Metroid titled "Hunters"? Apparently, an alien race was somehow able to harness an "ultimate power." A telepathic message was sent to every corner of the galaxy, explaining where this power was being kept. Every able race sent one of their elite soldiers, dubbed a Hunter, on a quest to harness this power. Some want the power to support the ways of good, some want to use this power to conquer, while some just want the personal satisfaction of getting it first. The Galactic Federation sends Samus to collect this power before it falls into the wrong hands. While playing the single player campaign, it is not uncommon to randomly run into one of these other Hunters.[p]While Metroid’s single player experience has mostly been on the more free roaming side, Hunters is rather linear and quite repetitive. Each level pretty much plays out exactly the same. First, Samus lands on the planet and collects three keys. While collecting these three keys, she will run into a rival Hunter. After killing this Hunter, Samus will use these three keys to unlock a portal. This portal leads to a boss battle that protects a shard of this "ultimate power." Once the boss is defeated and part of the power collected, Samus must escape the planet within a short amount of time before it explodes. This progression in the single player campaign is quite bland. [p]The Metroid series has always been about collecting stuff. Missile expansions, energy tanks, and new abilities are all collectibles that enhance gameplay. However, it is rather amateurish to constantly send Samus on a key collecting scavenger hunt. Also, boss battles are extremely disappointing. Each boss battle is nothing more than a pallet swapped clone from the previous boss. You really will only fight two bosses: a lame rotating tree laced with eyeballs or a giant eyeball tethered to a wall. These static boss battles are not only repetitive; they will also make your hand cramp. The only strategy that is necessary to defeat these bosses to use the standard, strafe to the left while constantly shooting technique. However, because the player must constantly be moving and attacking, hands will be quick to swell. [p]If the lame "gather three keys to fight the same static boss" wasn’t enough to turn gamers off, why do you always have to escape after you collect the power shard? This just doesn’t make sense. Once Samus makes it off the planet after collecting this power shard, the planet should then explode. However, Samus is able to return to this planet at anytime. What the hell is up with this? The planet should no longer exist, or at least be severely damaged. Very strange.[p]Metroid has always been a special type of RPG game where you grow by gaining new abilities. Unfortunately, this entertaining gameplay element has been completely removed from Hunters. The only thing new added to Samus’s power suit will be new subweapons like the Battlehammer. Players will be disappointed by not finding the Screw Attack, wall jumping features, or even the spider ball. Gaining new abilities such as these are the pinnacle of the Metroid experience. Not having these elements is entirely disappointing. [p]Unlike the GC adventures, Hunters only uses two visors, Scan and Combat. The scan visor, especially in Prime 2 Echoes, was the main way for the story of the game to unfold. The player can use the scan visor to collect data from the environment and enemies, but it is nowhere near as detailed as it was in the GC versions. In fact, there really are no key story elements during the game. The player pretty much knows his mission and completes it while fighting other Hunters along the way. There is no background story or detailed visor scans that enhance the story in anyway. At least in Echoes, for explain, the player was able to scan dead bodies to view video footage of how and why they were killed or what Dark Samus has been up to. The story, and overall length of the game, is much smaller in comparison to the GC games. [p]Metroid, until Echoes was released, was strictly a single player game. Hunter’s multiplayer functionality is by far the most robust in the series. The game offers single card, multi card, and full WiFi compatibility through NWC (Nintendo WiFi Connection). The developers, when in the development stages, probably wanted the best of both worlds, a solid single player adventure with full online multiplayer mode. However, instead of focusing their attention on making one part of the game, either the single player or the multiplayer mode, both modes come out as being mediocre. [p]Just like every other single card multiplayer game, it serves it purpose as a "try before you buy" motif with supporting gameplay but with limited options. Local multi card multiplayer is a solid way to play with friends as friend codes are automatically exchanged and full options are always available. WiFi matches are fun, but still lack the options that users spoiled with Xbox Live want. Friend Codes need a complete revamping, voice chat needs to work in game, and eight player death match would have been way more exciting than four. [p]Even though Hunters lacks the powerful and convenient options of Xbox Live, it is pretty damn good considering this is a handheld game. Stats can be tracked online through www.nintendowifi.com, there are numerous game types, and the Hunters that are killed in the single player mode are unlocked for mutliplayer matches. Each playable character has unique abilities and HUD, but all have some type of morph ball form. However, multiplayer mode can be entertaining, but it still retains all the problems from the single player mode such as cramping control style, awkward aim style, and unbalanced gameplay.[p]Many times when playing online matches, I was paired up with only one other player. Everyone knows playing 1v1 is pretty stupid and lame. Plus, the game is incredibly unbalanced. For one, each Hunter can use one special weapon a lot more effectively than any other Hunter. When getting stuck playing a 1 v 1 match, I’ve often had to play against the Hunter Trace in a medium-sized map. While Trace is using the sniper rifle, he turns invisible. In a 1 v1 match on a medium-sized map, playing against an invisible opponent holding a sniper rifle is as much fun as sticking a pencil in your eye. In addition, each player starts with 100 health points but can obtain a maximum health point count of 200 if health pick-ups are collected. So if a player constantly resides around the health spawn point, they can be quite difficult to defeat. This is especially true when playing 1v1. Whenever I played a 1v1 match, the first person to die always lost. Why? Because the winner of the first fight will have time to run to the health spawn point and restore lost power and then some. By the time he collects this health pick up, the opposing player will respawn but at an extreme disadvantage. It is easy to spawn kill because the remaining player will always be more stronger, not only because he will have more health, but he also has collected the more powerful weapons that are laying around each stage. Unfortunately, the options while playing online are only limited to Slayer type games, you can’t play any capture the flags, or team based objective games.[p]Another thing that upsets the gameplay balance is the actual physical speed of the game. Because characters move and shoot at a fast rate, it can be difficult to successfully shoot opposing players. In fact, the only real way to blast the opposition is the get lucky with a shot that is lead in front of the moving player. This is due to the fact that everyone’s only Vs mode strategy is the classic "strafe to the left, constantly shoot, and jump once and while" technique. Again, not having a 180-degree turn option plus holding the system will cramp hands rather quickly. [p]This game is full 3D which is quite an accomplishment on the DS. Squeezing this game all on a single DS card is a very respectable task. However, environments are rather big, but some of the level designs could have been reworked. This is partially due to the fact that so much of level progression is done through a lame task of collecting keys. This forces the player backtrack through the same levels from time to time. Also, the game is way big for a DS cart, but there is pixelation in the texturing around every corner. But the game has some of the best FMV’s on the DS. In fact, there are tons of small FMV clips spread through the game, mostly when entering and exiting a planet. These clips work really well with two screens as they can form one giant picture to display two viewpoints simultaneously. More DS games need to take note of this. [p]The sound isn’t as powerful as it was in other Metroid games, but it is still well crafted. You can hear Samus’s footsteps on different surfaces and gun blasts from every cannon shot, but the melodical melodies were better conducted in Metroid games of the past. This game, however, is the first DS game to support voice chat via WiFi. Unfortunately, you can only talk with people that are on your Friend’s list and in the lobby before and after each match. You cannot talk to the random players that you fight through NWC matchmaking nor can you converse when playing in game. Also, when talking through the DS’s mic, you must physically hold the system right up to your mouth and speak loudly as your friend’s voice will barely be louder than the background music. Since you have to hold the system right on your face, you run the risk of jabbing your eye out with the stylus as it will most likely be in your hand at the time when you talk (you must hold down the "X" button to speak). It is a great addition to the gameplay, but why can’t you adjust the voice volume and speak during the game? This would have been and awesome feature for team multiplayer mode. [p]Like Metroid Pinball before it, Hunters supports the Rumble Pak. This rumble feature, unfortunately, isn’t as useful as it sounds. The rumble really only goes off during FMV cutscenes or when you get blasted by a warmed up shot from an opponent. The DS rumble feature was better utilized in Metroid Pinball and in Mario and Luigi: Partners in Time. [p]Considering this game is on a handheld system that really wasn’t designed for intense 3D games, Hunters is a worthy purchase. This game has the most extensive multiplayer mode on the DS yet, but it still lacks features that everyone wants such as VOIP and a better friend system. The single player mode is quite repetitive and is actually more of let down when compared to all the other Metroid games. Nobody really wants to hunt for three stupid keys and fight the same boss they just fought thirty minutes ago. The control scheme is just too awkward to really enjoy as turning, shooting moving, and strafing can be difficult when doing them all at the same time. This game will perhaps be better played on a lighter, smaller, DS Lite. But the game’s speed is just a little too fast for any console especially for a handheld system. Movement speeds need to be turned down a little as the entire game play becomes unbalanced. Hunters move too fast for many of the weapons to be effective at various ranges with the aiming systems available.[p]Metroid has always been one of the pinnacles in gaming, but Hunters still let me down despite all its features. This game has nearly all the features you want for a portable FPS, but it just doesn’t come through. If developers use this game as a template, and improve and tweak most of the elements in this game, we may eventually have the true killer app that can sell DSs by itself. It was like the developers couldn’t decide whether they wanted to make a killer single player mode or a killer multiplayer mode. So instead, players have to settle for average in both departments. In many ways it’s frustrating because you want to love this game since it has many of the things you’ve craved for a portable system. However, despite is short comings, Metroid Prime Hunters is still worthy of a purchase if you are a fan of the series or are looking to play something else online instead of Mario Kart. Just don’t be expecting to get the "mother of all portable games," as this title could have been. When it is all said and done, I would have preferred a new 2D Metroid built in the shadow of Metroid Fusion.
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