Anyone familiar with the Metroid series knows that Samus is, in fact, a woman. Metroid Prime subtly reminded us of this fact; every time a burst of light glinted over her visor, her feminine eyes reflected back at us. The idea was, of course, that you, as the player, were interpreting the game world through her eyes and not your own. You are not on these alien worlds; she is. You are sitting at home in a comfy chair with a controller in your hand; she is patrolling the galaxy in her ship and has a cannon for an arm. As a gamer, statistics state you are a man; as a hunter, she is a woman.
Sadly, Metroid Prime: Hunters lacks these graphical reminders. And though it may be the most graphically intense DS title to date, it cannot, of course, compete with the Nintendo GameCube in terms of raw horsepower. So there are no poignant moments of gaming eye contact here! That does not mean to say, however, that the multilayered, free-roaming gameplay that defined the GameCube titles are lacking from this handheld counterpart. Just maybe a little watered down.
Technically Metroid Prime: Hunters is the DS's greatest achievement, but the game itself is not without its flaws. The single player aspect, for example, is not exactly what you might expect from a Metroid Prime title. Unlike almost every Metroid game, you do not begin sans weapons and abilities. In fact, in Hunters you actually have most of Samus' skills from the outset, which impacts the typical "go find the Morph Ball upgrade, now seek out the Ice Beam" Metroid design.
This is a little disappointing. You are not, as in a typical Nintendo adventure game, deceptively shown an area inaccessible until a specific item is obtained; most parts of the gaming map are accessible from the get-go, reducing the complexity of the level design. Certain areas are, for example, blocked off by doors which can only be blasted open with specific weapons, but much of the design subtlety present in other Metroid games is devalued due to the more linear structure. There is nothing in Hunters that can match, for example, the sprawling, densely layered gaming map of the original Metroid Prime.
We have to take into consideration, of course, that it is only in comparison to the now classic Prime that Hunters suffers; and the fact that NTS had to effectively shrink-wrap the game mechanics of that title into the DS hardware should allow us to forgive any design shortcomings. Sure the maps aren't sprawling, but Metroid Prime: Hunters excels in other areas.
The first would have to be the game's ingenious use of the touch screen. Hunters uses it in much the same way that PC shooters use the mouse and consoles the second analog stick: essentially for head movement. Although this takes a bit of getting used (especially as a southpaw), it eventually rewards players with a solid, precise control system. After a brief learning curve, you should be strafe shooting with the best of them. This is a big difference when compared to the often alienating direction Metroid Prime took, and serves as the major triumph of the game.
Better than that, however, is online play; Mario Kart DS may have set the bar, but Hunters obliterates it. Hunters boasts both a friends and rivals list, and invites can be sent to players you meet in the more general Find Game Wi-Fi option. With variations on most FPS multiplayer game types, your options are plentiful, especially for a handheld. A specifically interesting type is the Prime Hunter game, which is similar to Halo's Juggernaut. Here one player has strengthened abilities, but has to deal with being the target of every other player.
Metroid Prime: Hunters is an absolutely fantastic achievement. The control system takes a familiar genre and basically rebuilds it for a handheld system. The online presentation is, for the most part, dazzling. (Hopefully this is a solid example of how Nintendo intends to showcase the Wii's online capabilities.) The amazingly complex level design of the original Metroid Prime may be absent, but considering the limitations of the DS, this is understandable. I might not be able to see Samus' feminine eyes reflecting back at me, but I can still enjoy one of the best games for the DS to date.
14 June 2006