In late 2004, Nintendo released their double-screened handheld to controversy and speculation. The Game Boy Advance was getting on in age by console standards, and the Sony PSP was a looming, glossy, jet-black shadow on the horizon. How could Nintendo hope to catch the attention of the already fickle gaming community, with a bizarre, homely little portable that had two screens and was admittedly underpowered compared to Sony’s sexified juggernaut? Why, by bundling their new machine with a demo that blew people’s doors off.
Metroid Prime Hunters: First Hunt was the proof of concept Nintendo needed to show that the DS meant business. First and foremost, it was visually spectacular. It came to the table proving that first-generation software on the DS could hold its own in the eye-candy centric market, even when the PSP was truly leaps and bounds ahead in graphical muscle. First Hunt made people look at the DS, and thus, notice titles like Mario Kart, Nintendogs and Meteos. Second, it made the stylus control work, and almost comparable to the untouchable keyboard-mouse perfection that PC gamers swear by.
Time passed, and Nintendo promised that their new NST development house, in conjunction with Nintendo of Japan and Retro studios, were hard at work on the final release of Hunters. A delay from late ’05 to early ’06 raised several eyebrows in doubt, but the extra wait turned out to be crucial to Hunters’ final success. Because of their patience, DS owners now have a visually polished, artistically crafted, bug-tested and Wifi compatible monster to carry around in their pockets. Metroid Prime Hunters is here.
The question on everyone’s mind: is this real Metroid? There was considerable resistance to the first-person switch, back when Metroid Prime was released in ’02. Hardcore fans felt that their beloved franchise was being turned into a Quake clone, and the news of a multiplayer-based title with FPS controls made the fans even angrier. Metroid faithful, you can relax. If you liked Prime and its stellar sequel Echoes, you have much to look forward to in Hunters.
Nintendo Software Technologies has in no way neglected what Metroid is traditionally about: the single player adventure, the exploration. The lock-on feature is gone, replaced by pixel-precise touch screen aiming, but Hunters’ solo quest is still a meaty ordeal in its own right. I admit it isn’t as deep or immersive as the GameCube masterpieces, but remember we’re dealing with a portable, and there are some space limitations. Considering those restrictions, NST has pulled off an impressive adventure, graphically and in terms of gameplay.
The visuals are the first thing that will catch your eye, as they mimic Metroid Prime’s art direction and detail to the letter. Everything, from Samus’s starship, to the way the missile launcher opens, to the enemies, bring a comfort and familiarity to a stalwart Metroid vet like myself. The care and love that went into this game are present in the innumerable little touches—the morphball’s polished surface, the workings of Samus’s blaster, the crawling geemer bugs that have infested Metroid caverns since the original in 1986. This isn’t simply the most graphically impressive DS game, it is a work of art, much like Metroid Prime and its sequel.
All of these little bits of nostalgia, these faithfully preserved hallmarks of the beloved Metroid series will draw you in and reassure you that you are indeed playing Metroid. And once you’re in, you’ll be treated to a rich, painstakingly crafted adventure that holds itself high amid its revered brethren. Metroid Prime Hunters stays true to its roots, but also takes the series in a bold new direction. Samus’s universe has been expanded six-fold—there is a sextuplet of fearsome bounty hunters after the same prize that Samus is pursuing. What is that prize, exactly? Oh, only the promise of unlimited power, hidden within a figurative ghost town of a solar system. A long dead civilization called the Alimbics (not unlike the Chozo that raised Samus, or the Luminoth of the dimensionally split planet Aether) have secreted a massive power source within their star system. A telepathic message beamed to the home galaxy has made it clear that this power is up for grabs to whoever proves worthy.
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