If late night virtual reality shows are anything to go by, most bounty hunters are gruff, overweight ex-cops who are only marginally more legal than their bail bond breaking prey. The world of Nintendo's sci-fi shooter series Metroid is somewhat different, however, with bounty hunter Samus Arun encased in a sleak battle suit with an in-built lasergun arm.
Samus certainly doesn't go to Dunkin' Donuts for breakfast, and more peculiarly she can morph into a ball for a quick getaway. That probably wouldn't be much use if she was chasing down cons in the badlands of Montana, but as an off-beam starting point for a side-line in pinball games, it'll do.
And thus, dispensing with any kind of contrivance as to why our heroine is suddenly rolling around giant pinball tables, Nintendo throws you straight into the action of Metroid Prime Pinball.
There are three modes to choose from. In the main Multi Mission, your goal is to collect artifacts, upgrade your weapons and progress from one table to another, using the usual methods of the pinball player. For example, the DS' shoulder buttons work admirably as flippers, although nudging (that is, physically shifting the whole table) isn't quite so easy to master – it involves hitting the touchscreen with your thumb. This can be difficult when the onscreen action is at its most frantic, but most of the time you can get away without using it.
Other modes comprise the Single Mission, where you select a table and try to beat your highscore, and the Wireless Mission, where you can hook up with up to seven other players to try and achieve the highest score against the clock.
What makes Metroid Prime Pinball unique, however, is that hitting targets on some of the tables trigger mini-games. There are dozens of these to play. For example, in one Samus stands at the bottom of the screen shooting waves of enemies dropping from above, while another sees her jumping from side to side to reach the top of a cliff face. They might be simple but they're certainly fun, and they do a nice job of breaking up the more traditional flipper-focused action.
Another twist sees enemies wandering across the screen, which you can hit with your ball for extra points. But it's not one way traffic. Some will shoot back or grab your ball and throw it mercilessly toward the gap between your flippers, forcing you to attempt a last-minute nudge.
In the version we played, Nintendo had also bundled in a rumble pak with the game. This plugged into the DS' GBA slot to provide some tactile feedback. It's not the most powerful of vibrations, but it does add to the overall experience.
When it comes to the graphics, all the tables look great, with loads of detail packed into each level. From the lush jungles of Tallon, with its frequent rainstorms, to the Aztec-inspired Artefact Temple, there's more here than just flashing lights, bumpers and kickers.
The audio's good, too. If you're familiar with the Metroid series you'll recognise the music, but even if you're not, it creates the right atmosphere, while the sound effects go beyond the usual metallic pings and thunks. Growls and squeals from enemies and voiceovers announcing critical information make the action still more hectic.
If there is one complaint to be levelled at Metroid Prime Pinball, it's that of the six themed-tables, only two of them are proper pinball tables. The others are more simplistic boss-fight tables, which are more computer-gamey than pinball wizardry. And while there isn't anything wrong with the boss-fight tables, once you've overcome the boss, it's time to move on.
Similarly, the fact there are only six levels means it doesn't take long to work your way through to the final credits. Of course you're encouraged to continue playing, with an expert mode unlocked after the first play through, and this does give Metroid Prime Pinball some replay value over and above the incentive of beating your previous scores. But unless you're a pinball fan, you might feel short-changed.
And no bounty hunter in the universe, not even Samus, wants to be short-changed.We reviewed an import copy we obtained earlier this year; after bouncing around release schedules all year, Metroid Prime Pinball is currently slated by GAME to arrive in the UK in September. Click to 'Buy It!' to pre-order.