Following the initial console launch bundle of the Nintendo DS and the demo of Metroid Prime Hunters in 2004, players would not see the full game until 2006. Much like First Hunt, this first-person shooter takes inspiration from the two Gamecube Metroid titles, with a few changes to better suit the small, dual-screened handheld system.
Completely sidestepping canon and acting as a side story of sorts to the main Prime series, Hunters chronicles Samus’ latest mission from the Galactic Federation – To find an “Ultimate Power” referred to in a mysterious telepathic broadcast, identify its nature and either ensure it stays a secret or if it cannot be retrieved for use by the Federation; destroy it. Meanwhile, other bounty hunters are also on the trail of this Ultimate Power, some of which have their own bones to pick with Samus.
Metroid Prime Hunters Nintendo DS Review
Here we see a game that is Metroid in name but diverts itself from many of the conventions we know the series to be. Rather than exploring a variety of regions that are interlinked to create one larger world, Hunters is split into separate planets that Samus travels between using her ship – A first for the series. The majority of the game takes place on four main locations, the Celestial Archives, Alinos, the Vesper Defence Outpost and Arcterra – In true Metroid style, the player will need to return between these areas with new equipment to delve further into each one.
Essentially, each level revolves around finding items called Shield Keys, which unlock access to another type of item called a Cartograph Artifact. The player needs three of these to open each area’s Stronghold Portal, wherein lies a nasty boss that needs to be destroyed to find something called an Octolith. Collect an Octolith, and the player must escape to Samus’ ship before within a set time limit, and then repeat this procedure until all eight Octoliths are found, revealing the location of the Ultimate Power, a starship called the Oubliette.
And here, so very early on in this review, I introduce you to Metroid Prime Hunters biggest enemy – Repetition. This cartridge contains a particularly tedious gameplay loop that just repeats itself without giving you a real reason to hope that something more fun is going to happen. It’s just endless MacGuffin hunting, and your reward for doing all of this on each level is to fight one of two bosses that you’ll keep fighting over and over again, but with slightly different attacks. At this point, you realise that while you are playing as Samus, this is not a Metroid game. It’s just a very tedious first-person shooter.
This leads me to more problems: The controls. The full game of Metroid Prime Hunters removes the Touch Shoot control scheme of First Hunt, and tweaks the remaining four control schemes, but unfortunately not enough to make them enjoyable. The more traditional Dual Mode is more comfortable, but just barely, with the player able to use both hands to grip the Nintendo DS and use the Dpad and buttons for movement and aiming, but you lose the ability to make the accurate shots the game requires. Meanwhile, Stylus mode gives you to freedom to look and aim with the stylus but means you’re holding the DS system in the most hand-crampiest way possible, having to support the weight of the system in your hands, while trying to aim. Both modes require you to use the touch screen for activating the Scan Visor and Morph Ball modes, which is a nightmare when you need to do anything quickly. Unfortunately, Metroid Prime Hunters is chock full of moments that require both quick reflexes and accuracy in equal amounts. There wasn’t a single play session where I came away without some discomfort in my hands, and as you can imagine – That’s a massive issue.
It’s even worse in the multiple occasions where you’re required to make some pretty difficult jumps too, which is an absolutely frustrating endeavour at times, especially when there are enemies around to blast you off of these tiny floating platforms. There are even multiple points in this game where a single mistake with a jump can kill you instantly. Actually, there are a lot of points where you can be killed instantly, including way too many points where you have to do something within a pretty strict time limit. Metroid Prime Hunters is unfairly hard, way too often, and checkpoints aren’t always convenient. Combine that difficulty with very little reward or reason to keep playing, and you can see why few people talk about this game.
It just doesn’t feel like a Metroid game, in all honesty. The gameplay is too fast-paced for the cumbersome control scheme, there’s little avenue for exploration and experimentation, with most collectables out in the open. There are logbook scans, but they’re not terribly interesting, and the fiddly controls and lack of a real reason to scan everything make the scans feel like extra padding on a game that already feels pretty damn padded out. Unfortunately, there’s an integral piece of information you’ll need to find out by scanning, to properly defeat the final boss – So if you grew tired of scanning by the time you reach the final boss (and you probably will), get used to the disappointment of taking ages to kill its final form, only to find out you got the bad ending because you didn’t shoot these coloured things in the background in the right order with the right weapons.
There are a few new weapons you’ll pick up, mostly involving different elements, but flicking through weapons with the touchscreen is so fiddly, I honestly found it easier to fight most enemies with the standard power beam and occasionally switch to missiles instead of wasting time figuring out what weapon to use and getting hit repeatedly while I was doing it.
The idea of Bounty Hunters that randomly make their way onto each planet is vaguely interesting, but there’s no real strategy to taking them out – Just run at them, firing missiles at their face and you’ll soon get rid of them. If they kill you first, however, they’ll steal one of your Octoliths and scarper, so you’ll need to find them somewhere else, kill them and steal it back. So that’s further padding for you to enjoy. You’ll also encounter multiple sub-boss type enemies called Guardians, that the game loves to throw at you a few times each level, and these foes also require a similar amount of brute force and less actual strategy to get past.
I’m actually quite taken aback at how negative this Metroid Prime Hunters Nintendo DS review is. I don’t like speaking negatively about anything, but this game really doesn’t have much in the way of redeeming qualities. It commits the cardinal gaming sin of being overly long and overly repetitive, and that’s not even withstanding all of my other issues.
It could have been so much better than this. The developers at NST clearly have a great deal of technical ability; this is one of the best looking 3D games on the Nintendo DS. The environments are well put together, the 3D models look great and it’s always clear to see what’s going on, and everything runs at a surprisingly smooth framerate too. The music is atmospheric and absolutely fits with the Prime series as a whole, so I really can’t fault anything with the presentation overall. This game does have support for the DS Rumble Pak I mentioned in my Metroid Prime Pinball review, but it doesn’t so much, save for giving you a little judder when you get hit by an enemy – So again, it doesn’t really justify the accessory.
The main reason this game was delayed for so long was to implement online multiplayer via the Nintendo WiFi Connection, as well as local multiplayer. Given that the DS online servers are no longer running, and I can’t find anyone around here with another DS who would even want to play this, I can’t really say too much about multiplayer. I do remember playing it at the time of release, and from my memory, it worked fine back then; but it’s all a moot point as you can’t play online now anyway.
Even despite the delay, there does seem to be some telltale signs that Metroid Prime Hunters was rushed. Other than the different weapons that can be found throughout the adventure, there are no suit upgrades other than a small number of Missile and weapon expansions, and there are only 7 energy tank upgrades – Not enough to even fill the screen at the top of the visor. It almost feels like they forgot to put the rest of the tanks in the game.
If NST had given this game a bit of a slower pace, less reliance on the touchscreen, more varied gameplay and more interesting bosses, it might have been a decent handheld take on Metroid Prime. Maybe if Retro Studios were given more oversight on this project, things might have turned out differently. There’s just so much here that doesn’t work, and I don’t think you can blame it on the hardware, Hunters is a superb technical showcase for the system. Sadly, it’s wrapping for a title that is missing so much of what makes this series what it is, and as a result, is an easy game to skip. Other M gets a lot of bad press, but Metroid Prime Hunters somehow manages to commit far worse crimes to the series, yet doesn’t get called out for it anywhere near as much.
Next week, I brush myself off from this disaster and complete the Metroid Prime trilogy with a review of Corruption; Samus’ final showdown with Dark Samus and Phazon. I’ll see you then.