Thursday, January 17, 2013

Game Review: Metroid Prime Hunters

Nintendo DS, 2006

Publisher: Nintendo

Developer: Nintendo Software Technology

Time to Complete: 7 - 9 hours

I noticed that there was a hole in my Metroid post lineup. I've written about every main-series Metroid game except one, and it's time to do something about that.
This game was released for the Nintendo DS in the mid-2000's, the third of the portable Metroids from that time period (after Metroid Fusion and Metroid Zero Mission). This series has always straddled the line between being console-based and portable-based, managing to excel in both arenas... usually. I was pretty excited when I initially heard about a portable Prime game in the works, and made it a point to eventually get ahold of the game. So did it measure up?

First off, Hunters wasn't made by the brilliant Retro Studios like the other three Prime games, and it shows. This game transpires between the first two games in the Prime trilogy, making it a sort of Metroid Prime 1.5. The idea here is to travel between several worlds, collecting artifacts before rival bounty hunters do; ultimately, Samus ends up having to stop a ferocious alien threat that is in danger of breaking out of an interstellar prison. There aren't any really familiar enemies to be found here, and perhaps the game deserves credit for taking the story in a new direction.

Then again, deviating from the established paradigms of the Metroid saga isn't really the best idea. Doing away with series tropes just serves to make this game seem less like a real Metroid game, which may be why it often ends up being forgotten in chronologies and retrospectives. The plot here is nothing groundbreaking, and has little bearing on the rest of the Metroid series. It isn't compelling, and I never found myself particularly caring about why Samus was on this latest adventure. The other Metroid games all have clear objectives that are interesting and fun, while the objectives in this game are muddled and generic.

The graphics are very good for the DS, and kinda show us what a Prime game on the original Playstation would have looked like. Still, this is a game that will draw inevitable comparisons to the console Prime games at every turn, and in that respect it isn't up to par. Everything from the rough jagged edges to the simplified HUD just makes me want to stop playing and switch to a superior console Prime.  

It's a Metroid game, so of course the soundtrack is going to be good. That said, for the most part the music is a bit more forgettable than most of the other games in the series, which is unfortunate. On the other hand, the sound effects are excellent and jump right out of the speakers. The area where this game starts running into real problems is the control scheme.

Hunters utilizes both of the DS's screens, which is more or less a requirement for any game on the system. The top screen is the game as we know it, while the bottom screen is... radar. It seems almost unnecessary. The game is mainly controlled by the lower touchscreen, where you use stylus taps to use abilities like Morph Ball. You also drag the stylus around to aim Samus' arm cannon. Regular movement is still controlled by the D-Pad. In short, using the stylus to aim is pretty annoying; this game is far more of a chore to control than the similarly motion-controlled Metroid Prime 3 on the Wii. Why they couldn't just have this game utilize shoulder buttons to aim like the first two Prime games is beyond me.

The items in Hunters tend to be the usual from this series, but much like Metroid: Other M, they somehow feel generic here. You've got your usual essentials, and nothing particularly inventive to add. The weapons, on the other hand, are actually pretty interesting in this game. They are a departure from the norm and function more like they would in a Mega Man game. Rather than having various beams that you upgrade as you progress, there is an assortment of switchable weapons that are very different from one another and have limited ammo. This is interesting and inventive, but some of the weapons are fairly useless.

I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about multiplayer. This game breaks new ground in the Metroid series by having an online mode where you can go head-to-head in various types of battles with other players. This kind of multiplayer is something completely new for the Metroid series, and it has the potential to be awesome. Unfortunately, few people play it now compared to the heyday of the game in 2007. I just wish that some of the other - better - Metroid games had a feature like this. An online multiplayer Metroid would be much better suited on a console than on the DS. Nonetheless, multiplayer is the most inventive part of this game, to the point where it almost seems like the one player story mode in this game was an afterthought. It would explain a lot.

I spent the vast majority of my time with this game playing that one-player story. In the course of this endeavour I never felt any particular drive to continue with the game, and every time I resumed from a save point, I did it more out of a sense of obligation to the series. As a matter of fact, it ended up at #9 on my Games I Didn't Enjoy, But Finished Anyway list. It never truly captured my imagination, which is unfortunate because it isn't a bad game. Someone who isn't used to the high quality of the console Prime games would probably have a blast with this. Nonetheless, I almost feel like they would have been better off just downscaling and porting the original Metroid Prime to the DS (with the new multiplayer mode) and calling it a day. All of the wow factor of this game comes from the fact that you're playing Prime on a portable, and we could have gotten that same wow factor from a port. Helps that the original Prime is a much better single-player game.

As far as portable first person shooters/adventures go, this is about as good as it gets. Even now, six years later, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better one on any system. Within the confines of the Metroid series, however, it's a bit lacking. And as a fan of that series, it is inevitable that I'd be judging the game against its peers. In that regard, it just doesn't really measure up.


Here is the completed Metroid post collection, for your perusal:

Metroid Prime (Review)
Metroid Prime 2 (Review)
Metroid Prime 3 (Review)
Metroid Prime Hunters (Review)
Metroid: Other M (Review)
Metroid Prime (Playthrough)
Metroid Prime Pinball 


  1. It's not a Metroid-style game so I would say that it doesn't count as a main series game. Like Pinball.

    1. Well, it IS a Metroid Prime game, it just doesn't feel entirely like one. It has enough Metroid series tropes that most people count it as a main series game far more than they would count Pinball.

    2. But curiously, far more people consider Pinball to be a GOOD game than Hunters. I suppose that isn't important in this discussion though. Heck, Pinball is more highly regarded than Other M.

    3. No argument here, MP Pinball is awesome.