The calendar may say March--or, if you're like me and forget to flip the page on occasion, January--but the way that companies have been releasing genuine AAA titles, you'd think Black Friday was just around the corner. Just this week, we've seen Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion for the PC and the 360; The Godfather for the PC, the PS2, and the Xbox; Me and My Katamari for the PSP; and a veritable one-two punch of Tetris and Metroid Prime: Hunters for the Nintendo DS. I've put quite a bit of time into the last DS title and have come away with mixed feelings to accompany my stylus-induced carpal tunnel syndrome.
Metroid Prime: Hunters is, as the name implies, an offshoot of the sweet GameCube Metroid Prime series. Early DS adopters may recognize this game from the pack-in demo, Metroid Prime: Hunters--First Hunt. For a game that was in semiplayable form back in November 2004, surprisingly little has changed, from the cartridge cover art (I smell massive trade-in scams) to the gameplay mechanics. You're offered two main methods of control: one in which the touch screen controls Samus's vision, the other using the face buttons in an awkward faux-analog setup. Neither feels completely natural, and the game could've used the lock-on aiming of its GameCube cousins. Thankfully, the enemies at the beginning have been dumbed down and weakened a tad to allow an easier transition.
The first few hours of single-player action proved to be surprisingly enjoyable, if marred by a few curious design issues. While the breadth of enemies is impressive, the action fast-paced, and the adventure quite deep, two pretty egregious flaws mess things up. Firstly, whoever decided to include the platforming elements in the beginning of the game should die. Way before you can expect to be well versed in the art of moving, you'll curse as you drop to the bottom of some of the first planet's more spacious rooms. Secondly--and I don't think that I'm spoiling anything here since it's been in every Metroid game ever created--the countdown escape sequence is pure torture, as the similar-looking rooms are compounded in frustration by the awful map system. Why Nintendo decided to remove the map that was embedded in the touch screen is beyond me. Multiplayer, thankfully, is a shining example of what the DS Wi-Fi experience is all about. The matches are fast-paced while filled with strategy, and the maps are perfectly sized for fighting--big enough to allow some movement and a chance to escape, while small enough to ensure that no one can hide. In the interest of disclosure, let me just say that any DS drubbing perpetrated recently has been avenged.
For fans of the series, the game is undoubtedly a must-have. If you're simply looking for a fun multiplayer DS title, I'd have to recommend Tetris DS. Keep it tuned to this page for a full-fledged review, which, with any luck, should be up within the next day or so. But for now, you can scope out some sweet screenshots to tide you over. Will the reviewer ultimately agree with me, or will he or she shoot through my nitpicks like a wave beam through a Wi-Fi newb?