Many extensive games in the adventure genre have what has become known as the "side quest". The Metroid series takes a different approach by incorporating one that encompasses an entire game: Metroid Prime Hunters. Interestingly enough, Hunters is considered an aside in the Prime series, which is itself considered an aside in the overall Metroid timeline; a side quest within a side quest. Whoa.
All jokes aside, this chapter actually does qualify as quite the detour for Samus, as it takes our heroine to a completely different galaxy, to quash a menace unrelated to our favorite infamous galactic horde. What havoc will they be harvesting? Please tune in next time!
Hunters is notable for a few reasons, including being the first 3D handheld game in the series, the first to introduce other bounty hunters as prominent (and playable) figures, and is the first time the player traverses the vacuum of space to help Samus complete her mission. This is also the only time in the entire story line where the series' traditional puzzle element of collecting or recovering signature abilities has been altered; instead, the only significant acquisition for the power suit this time is the selection of six weapons wielded by the other hunters. Presumably, this was done to accommodate the (now discontinued) online multiplayer mode, which would be unfavorably affected by the possibility of a square-one Samus facing fully equipped adversaries.
Favoring action far more than exploration and puzzle solving, the game has only minimal depth in story: it's just enough to rationalize the collection of weapons for use during multiplayer, and to maintain some curiosity about the ending. The time was certainly taken to develop the game with intent, but considering how the Prime experience has established itself, Hunters feels shallower, mainly an effective way to demonstrate the unique and versatile capabilities of the Nintendo DS. Despite its attractive attributes, there are a few deficiencies that directly detract from the experience, including errors in the map system, jumping input issues, and occasional hand fatigue during intense action.
Again, this title is primarily a multiplayer experience, with a solo adventure to contribute some replay value and provide an avenue to unlock weapons and maps for use in said versus play. Because that single player mode was so basic, we completed the game with the lowest statistics so far in our marathon; furthermore, those recorded stats are indeed more befitting the interests of frag-fest titles. We cleared this mission in 12hrs, 47min; collected 88% of items; died 12 times; defeated a total of 73 guardians and rival hunters; and emerged from the final battle in 24min, 55sec.
Claudia was happy to see the pre-rendered cut scenes in Hunters and their creative presentation across the dual screens, but feels that storytelling is treated like a side note in the series, which is a critical point for her. After having not played for so long before this marathon and hence gaining a fresh perspective on the series as I share them with her, I must agree that (with the current exception of Zero Mission) most Metroid games leave the primary portion of story to be found in the manuals. This retro methodology may have been an ideal solution when hardware limited what could be conveyed during play, but today those limitations are gone, so that same approach can simply disrupt or even prevent the potential for a deeper connection between player and game. Please rest assured though, m'Love: more narrative missions await us.
So here are my thoughts about the game:
- Nintendo is a leader of gaming innovation, and so too with the DS came types of controls that were previously impossible in handheld gaming. The touchscreen is a brilliant example of this, and anyone familiar with first-person perspective titles on PC will be instantly familiar with the perfect combination of both speed and accuracy absent in console first-person dual-stick controller interfaces.
- The pre-rendered cut scenes are cleverly presented across the dual screens using independent and even merging camera angles, and are a first for the series. They provide a flavorful way to segue game events.
- Effective color usage was something that was immediately apparent for Claudia. She noted consistency between the interfaces and environments, which she also mentioned during Metroid Prime: colors help communicate in any presentation. Furthermore, each of the other hunters has a distinct color, making them readily identifiable.
- As of this review, Hunters is the second and last Metroid game released where portals have been utilized. These devices provide crucial shortcuts back to Samus' gunship: this is the only place players may save their progress this time.
- Despite the aforementioned innovations in controls, Hunters does have one significant problem: depending on the version of DS hardware and hand size of each player, there exist varying possibilities of fatigue during long intervals of intense gameplay.
- Another minor shortcoming of the DS is its relatively low screen resolution. The number of pixels is perfectly suitable for virtually all the games developed for the device; however, for applications like Hunters, it can be problematic because the screens have fewer pixels with which to display high detail textures on the polygons of the game models. The resulting visuals can at times increase the difficulty of identifying objects in the distance and at certain angles.
- Timed escapes are a tradition in the Metroid series, much to Claudia's chagrin. Being a veteran myself, I've certainly grown accustomed to them, and have even discarded the stress that I once associated with those precarious scenarios. These things considered, what surprised me was the challenge encountered during those moments in Hunters: discovering that the portals mentioned earlier had been deactivated was predictable for such an ordeal, but errors in the map system presented the majority of problems.
- Maps have been a vital, industry-influencing asset since Super Metroid, so to have Hunters possess the map errors it does is surprising and certainly disappointing. The most notable problem occurs in certain locations, where the marker indicating Samus' position and orientation is incorrect: there was most likely a mistake in marker programming or map modeling. The reasons are irrelevant, but this made navigation a chore, despite the situation. Amusingly, there was even at least one instance of a small room missing completely, with the same "topological view unavailable" message displayed, as is the case during certain boss battles.
- The amount of work put into the development of any form of entertainment is something that we highly appreciate, so when we see that assets are recycled by simply changing colors or behavior patterns, it can arouse suspicions that development was forcibly rushed or even lazily completed without concern for quality. Unfortunately, this was something that spanned this entire experience. There were very few unique creatures, and most mechanism obstacles were presented with version numbers that simply indicated the weapon with which they were equipped. The largest instances of this issue were the bosses guarding the Octoliths, which had a grand total of two different models, and were presented in four different versions for each.
Despite its faults, Metroid Prime Hunters is an experience I was happy to share with my Truelove. Now that this aside has shared its details of Samus' story, we are relieved to return to our own galaxy and get back on track.
- Aaron -