previews\ May 27, 2005 at 8:00 pm

Metroid Prime Hunters - NDS - Preview

What sounds less appealing than using the age-old D-pad to control a first-person shooter? Using a stylus and a touch screen. "It can't work!" logic tells us. "The technology just isn't there! And even if it is...well, it just can't!"

Actually it can, and does.

Metroid Prime Hunters is the long-long (that's doubly long) awaited first-person shooter that everyone bought the Nintendo DS for. We didn't know much about it at the time. It wasn't easy to believe that using a stylus to control the crosshairs would be a good idea. But if there's one thing Nintendo always does right, it's game controls. If the final version plays as good as one that was on display at E3 (and is released this year), Nintendo will have a must-have hit on their hands that makes competitors' shooters – even those on shiny new game consoles – seem like the same old thing.

Touch the screen (most easily the center) and drag the stylus in the direction that you wish to aim in. Samus makes the transition without flaw! Samus's weapon is fired by tapping the left shoulder button (a feature that I expect to be customizable in the final version). You had other options. You could tap the screen twice to jump. The D-pad is used strictly for moving forward, backward, and for strafing.

The thing that I was most concerned about (touch screen aiming) turned out to be the best feature. Enemies can be targeted to so much faster now. Better yet, it's a new way to play a tried-and-true genre that's seen more clones than Tomb Raider. The Nintendo DS version of GoldenEye (EA's offshoot, not a port of the original) is said to have similar controls. I can't wait to play it, and I'm extremely excited to see what other developers will do with their touch-enabled games, whether it’s a shooter or something entirely different.

Hunters will probably have a single-player mode (most likely for training – don't expect GameCube-caliber worlds), but the primary focus of the game is multiplayer. Nintendo had several kiosks connected to each other, giving us a chance to see how the game stacks up to its multiplayer-heavy competitors. My preliminary verdict: very well. Hunters had a fast frame rate; expansive worlds; and too many Samuses to keep track of. If you thought the energy bar depleted fast before, just wait till you have seven metallic suit-wearing vixens firing their weapons at you at the same time!

Nintendo has yet to announce online play for Hunters, a game that needs it more than any other DS title in development. But if having online play meant a 12-month just wouldn't be worth it. I'm satisfied with the local Wi-Fi experience.

The Hunters demo that came with the DS looked good, but the E3 version looked even sharper. Polygons were less pixilated; background blemishes were less noticeable. As I said before, the frame rate is excellent, even when more than half a dozen characters are running around the screen. (An amazing feat when you think about the platform this game is being developed for.) Explosion and weapon charge effects look good. Clipping never occurred, though I don’t remember that becoming a problem with games until we entered the PS2/Xbox/GameCube era. The Nintendo DS is essentially a portable Nintendo 64 with a host of new features, which might explain why there’s no clipping.

Incase you can’t tell, I’m stoked for Metroid Prime Hunters’s release. The controls – I cannot get over the controls!  I love ‘em, you’ll love ‘em, the whole world will. This is the kind of game that’ll make you say, “If only Nintendo and Bungie could join forces…” You know what I’m getting at. Metroid doesn’t currently have the brand name power that Halo does, but Hunters is being so well designed that there’s no reason why this game won’t be just as memorable as Bungie’s flagship franchise.

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