Fittingly for a handheld with dual screens, Metroid Prime: Hunters is a game of two halves. Not in the football sense, mind – although part of the action does require you regularly transform gun-slinging adventurer Samus Aran into a ball to squeeze through small cracks and tunnels – but in the sense it offers you two very different experiences.
The first is a fast-moving action game that sees you exploring four vast intergalactic locales to find hidden alien artifacts. You'll run, blast and roll your way through all kinds of environments, from a red hot lava world to an icy one and all kinds of places in-between, competing with rival bounty hunters in your quest for the extra-terrestrial swag.
This half of Metroid Prime Hunters is stunning. If your mates ever think something as small-scale as the Nintendo DS can't impress on a level that bigger consoles can, this is the game to wave under their noses. The variety of places you'll visit in your planet-hopping adventures always impresses, everything moves at a decent pace and the environments are vibrant and detailed.
Similarly, there's some envelope-pushing going on when it comes to the controls. Hunters is a first-person shooter, and they typically require dual inputs: one for movement and another for looking around. On PC you can do this with a keyboard/mouse combination, while consoles have their dual analogue sticks.
Obviously handhelds aren't so privileged. Or so you'd think. For Hunters, Nintendo has chosen to use the stylus and touchscreen as a means for looking around, with movement controlled with the directional pad.
And while it can take a little getting used to, with practice it works very well. It's easy to control where your gun points, either using the trickier but more precise stylus, or the quicker yet less accurate thumb-nub on the DS' wrist strap, and this instantly elevates Metroid Prime: Hunters to the status of best handheld shooter, at least in technical terms, created thus far.
Those familiar with the Metroid series might feel a little jarred, however. Traditionally, the series has been about adventure and exploration (see our review of Metroid Fusion on the GBA for an example of the original 2D roots). In Hunters though, there's an overwhelming emphasis on shooting, meaning that despite a liberal sprinkling of puzzles, the overall adventure segment is shallower and more action-orientated than any other game with a Metroid name
Of course this gun emphasis does provide the opportunity for some excellent multiplayer action – essentially the second half of Metroid Prime: Hunters – and it impresses just as much as the single-player. Using Nintendo's robust WiFi Connection service, it's lag-free and fast (except when sore losers disconnect!). And there's a good variety of locations to fight in, match types, and characters to play as.
However when these two halves of the game come together, your enjoyment might be shaken a little as there's a clear trade-off between depth and content.
On the one hand, you essentially get two well-crafted games for your money. The single player element takes a good eight hours to complete and the robust multiplayer option is certainly a lot more balanced than Mario Kart DS.
Yet on the other hand, as you get further into the game, Hunters has a knack for being as frustrating as it can be wondrous. In adventure mode, respawning enemies become increasingly dull, and the story's a load of guff designed to justify the explosion-centric action. There's also a bit too much backtracking, plus the odd difficulty spike that will punctuate your enthusiasm. Even with the multiplayer, after a while you realise there isn't much scope for tactics, just another round of manic, short-lived melees.
So while it's technically amazing, controls like a dream and is provides plenty to do, Hunters is too focused on mindless action and a little too light on polish to meet our highest expectations for what we hoped would be a truly groundbreaking experience.
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