Metroid Prime: Hunters
The first FPS game I played on the Nintendo DS was Peter Jackon’s King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie (or some such), and it was just dire. I knew not to expect much, graphically, from the DS even though MKDS blew me away, but surely they could have put a little bit more effort into it. Combined with trying to find a decent handling posture and it seemed that the NDS would not get an FPS working well.
And yet again, how wrong was I. The DS is full of surprises.
I had been meaning to try out Metroid Prime: Hunters (MPH) for a while, mainly to see what the DS is capable of (other than Zoo Keeper, which is played about 90% of the time the DS is switched on), but also because playing an FPS on-the-go would be fun and different. What made MPH so instantly fantastic and infinitely better than King Kong was the control scheme. It was simple, intuitive, slick and quick. It was perfect, for me at least, and here’s why.
There’s a small window of dead-zone where moving the stylus on the touchpad moves only the crosshair, and pushing it against the (invisible) boundaries causes your view to move correspondingly. Simple and intuitive. Weapons can be changed by simply tapping on their large icons, or tap-hold-and-drag for the special weapons. Quick, unintrusive and can be done without looking. Jumping is a simple double-tap. Changing to the Morph Ball involves tapping on its icon. Tap-hold for the Scanning Visor. The map screen is free-rotating and zoomable in 3D (albiet wireframe). There’s even the option to adjust the sensitivity of the view movement, but I found the default to be good enough. As you needn’t be pixel-perfect (the crosshair is actually a circular reticle), accuracy is good enough with the stylus and you’ll soon be circle strafing like you would on the PC. It might take a single level to get fully adjusted, but you’ll be glad you took the time.
This is the first Metroid Prime game I’ve ever played (although I do have Metroid Prime 2 on the Gamecube but am finding the unique control scheme a little bit taxing), so I wasn’t too sure what to expect. What makes this game is that MPH gives you the basic storyline and then it’s up to you to find the extra little bits of information to bulk it up. You do this by using your Scanning Visor to look for invisible ghosts that reveal what has happened and also giving you an idea of what you are up to. As well as scanning for story, you can also scan for information about the worlds you are in - doing so makes for a more complete game as you are told what percentage of a group of something you have discovered/scanned. This concept (not new to Hunters) makes for a replayable game as you search out for all the little bits and bobs that the developers have put effort into describing.
The game talks of the usual powerful evil having been locked up many years ago by these invisible ghosts, but now that knowledge of eight crystal keys can be used to open the doorway it is up to you to locate the keys and destroy the evil one for good. The play is spread over four distinct worlds, two keys per world, and thus involves returning to each world at least twice. But cleverly, the levels can only be fully opened after gaining the special weapons where each disengages a specific type of door seal (essentially colour coded keys, but using weapons instead). So when you thought you’d finished the level after beating the boss enemy, you’d find that you had a weapon that could unlock other doors and allow you to proceed even further. Genius, and it allows you to become more immersed in the worlds that they created, instead of seeing new and different levels. I know that sounds a little odd, but familiarity can be a good thing, especially when you find that some levels can be a bit short.
The enemies that you’ll face are fairly varied but there really isn’t much AI other than them trying to kill you. There are Guardians that act as mini-bosses, who are trying to kill you for your crystal keys, but once you get the hang of things they can be easily dispatched. For each crystal key there is a boss enemy to defeat, but unfortunately these are only variations of two boss types (hence four variations of each boss). It’s a bit of a shame that there wasn’t a different boss for each world as dispatching them involves the same methodology and hence can be a bit dull. Animation is okay; the Guardians have the best animations and the standard enemies have very little (although it’s enough for how they move around). The textural graphics are pretty good and can be quite impressive at times, as too the sound. However, there are times when you realise that the DS is being pushed beyond its limits as the game slows down quite dramatically - there aren’t any frame-drops but things slow down noticeably - but such cases only happen when a lot of shots and effects are happening at once, which is rare (but good when they happen).
The entire game is a good romp and one that I’m glad I had played. It was so good that I played for three hours straight one time and the next day I had cramp in my hand (and it really did hurt that I couldn’t play that day). That’s how good it is and how well it’s been designed to keep you playing. It’s just so much fun and most of that comes from the control scheme that feels intuitive and has an instant response to your input. The levels are nicely sized so that you don’t feel lost (although I did require GameFAQs for one occasion), and there are sensibly placed ‘auto-save’ points that you start from if you happen to die (although progress is not saved if you turn off the DS without doing a proper save at Samus’ ship).
If FPS games have a control scheme similar to MPH, then they should fare well. For me, the the dead-zone and ‘boundary pushing to turn’ work perfectly for the touchscreen and stylus, and essentially made MPH.
Briefly, I had a dabble with seemingly online multiplayer and got my arse whooped. But bloody hell, was it frantic and there was no slow down or ping problems - it was smooth as silk. I’m going to have to play again and get my ranking up. It’s a decent single-player game, but I reckon that the multiplayer is definately a winner; there are a number of options and game modes to go through, so there’s a lot to try out.
Handheld multiplayer FPS; you really couldn’t ask for a better combination.
Eight out of ten