Metroid Prime Hunters (PAL) box (The box is shiny.)

In the eighties, a female heroine in computer games caused much shock. Not because she was the protagonist, but because she was a bounty hunter with a cool suit. To this day, Samus Aran remains possibly the only video game woman who isn’t embarrassingly characterised. Since her early days, she has thwarted space pirates single handed and discovered rare relics from the ancient Chozo (a bird-like humanoid race) she was raised by. All of this without once changing bra size or pompous characterisation change between developers. When she went into the third-dimension, players were once again shocked by how well Metroid transformed from a side-scrolling platformer to a first person shooter. In Metroid Prime Hunters, Samus Aran aims to shock players once more by proving that a handheld shooter on the DS could be done well. But can thunder strike thrice, or is this a mere fizzle?

Samus receives a coded message from the Galactic Federation that informs her of some relics that require a little investigating in Alimbic Solar system. They somehow know that the message would be intercepted, and lo and behold, six bounty hunters set off in search of the treasure for themselves. Essentially, this is the entire basis of the plot unless you actively seek it out. Through various points, Samus can learn the history of the solar system and why it is deserted in this day and age. Ultimately though, this doesn’t change the fact that the plot is too simple to care enough about. It doesn’t even add a great deal to the series. Metroid Prime Hunters manages to retain most of the presentation style that was to be found in the Gamecube titles. It is however perhaps a little on the dark side. A science fiction cliché, I know, but it’ll affect your retinas more than allegiances to the Jedi or Sith.

There are times where falling is definitely a bad idea...  

It is important that you take a while to get adjusted to the control scheme. Unless you are left handed like me, you shouldn’t need to change to the Dual Wield control scheme since it is about as useful and easy to manoeuvre as a shopping trolley with no bottom. Aiming with the stylus is a fairly good idea, but the drawback is that your fingers will cramp up badly after a while of continued play. There will come a point where you physically cannot play the game any longer due to your condition, and for some time afterwards you lose the ability to use your button hand properly. If you suffer from repetitive strain injuries often, this game will certainly not help. Thankfully only shooting and moving/strafing are controlled by buttons as aiming, jumping and weapon switching are handled in the touch screen part of the controls and they feel great.

Samus starts out with all the moves she can muster. A depressing realisation at first, but factor in the arsenal of weaponry to find and secret power-ups to locate and things appear slightly more optimistic. The diversity of the weapons here is fairly unique compared to most first person shooters. Samus of course has her charge beam and rocket supply from the outset, but can obtain weapons used by her adversaries; the other bounty hunters. Some shoot lasers from afar while others shards of ice that freeze you on the spot. These unusual weapons can be used against enemies or to disable coloured barriers. Metroid Prime Hunters offers more than mere weapon collection in the puzzles it sets out. Some involve rolling into a ball, while others utilise the Scan feature to find switches. These are welcome in this incarnation as much as they were in Metroid Prime. There is one major element that doesn’t seem right though. The level structure, no matter how interesting the puzzles are, is always the same. Wander in, do a puzzle, kill a hunter, do another couple of puzzles/kill more things, beat boss, escape. This is all you will ever do across five different worlds, and most of those you’ll be doing it twice. While its presentation is certainly 3D, the gameplay comes across as black and white. For a series like Metroid, this is concerning.

Incidentally, the whole game isn't set in a lava landscape, despite the pictures indicating this as such.

Perhaps the single player mode was a training adventure however. In the multiplayer option, you can opt to either play a local friend or duke it out online. However you proceed, you get the option of being either Samus or one of her unlockable adversaries. Each has their own heads up display and weapons with Samus being stripped down to her basics, and by basics I do mean how she starts out, not her “Zero Suit”. There are a number of maps to shoot your friends/strangers in, with more unlocked as you achieve certain conditions. Somehow though, despite being able to be played online, there is something amiss in this mode as well. Perhaps it is because of the Metroid universe that restrains it to the bare roots approach it has taken. Having said that, it is the best example of how multiplayer on the DS can potentially be fun. It is just a shame that the first online shooter for the handheld has little to offer the players in return.

Compared to the other handheld interpretations of the series, Metroid Prime Hunters is a somewhat painful experience. On top of visuals that require an absence of day-light in order to see anything, the single player mode feels a little restrained. Sure the environments could be pretty to those who can see them, but the structure behind the levels follows a gradually degrading pattern. The time trial to get back to Samus’ ship is by far the most annoying part of each level and usually it is due to confusing level design that one might fail to get back in time. It is also literally painful to you as well as the default touch screen modes while being the most precise way to play, will also do a number on your fingers. What makes single player Metroid Prime Hunters at least slightly bearable is the puzzle elements, which for a game where the emphasis is on combat is incredibly ironic. The combat structure does make more sense in the multiplayer component, and having unlockable features for use in that mode makes the single player option essential. Put simply, this is a low point in the Metroid series. It doesn’t have the charm that its 2D counterparts had, or indeed the 3D console interpretations. Perhaps I’m slightly bitter though; my right pointing finger feels like a piece of pork crackling.