We had a chance to play a single-player demo of Metroid Prime: Hunters at a recent Nintendo press event. We spent some time getting used to the touch-screen controls and exploring one of the early areas of the game, and it looks as though Hunters is on track to come close to emulating the look and feel of Prime on a handheld.
The demo we played started us off in a space-station-type environment in which we had to search the area for secret transmissions containing sensitive information of some sort. There wasn't much to glean in terms of story or context from the brief intro, but at least we were able to jump right in to the action.
The first thing we did was try to get a handle on the controls. Upon starting the game, we were given a choice of five different control styles; we chose to stick with the default right-handed setup. This configuration uses the D pad to move around, the L button to fire, and the touch screen to aim. There are also a couple of icons on the touch screen that are used to switch into morph-ball mode and scan mode. To jump, you have to double-tap the screen, which takes a bit of getting used to.
In fact, the entire touch-screen control scheme is a bit strange at first, only because you really haven't played anything quite like it before. After a few minutes, though, we found that the touch-screen aiming gave us more precise control over our shots, and it made looking around the environment quick and intuitive. It's much faster and more sensitive than an analog stick and makes for some fancy and frantic shooting.
Our shooting was limited in the demo because we only had the basic power cannon, which fired single shots and couldn't be charged up. After a few seconds of sustained shooting the firing rate dropped drastically, until we were able to fire a shot only every second or so, presumably due to the cannon overheating--although there was no accompanying smoke effect, like in Prime. We also had a few missiles at our disposal, which we selected via the touch screen. We even found a missile expansion--so you can expect to be searching high and low for those little orange glowing missile icons.
We found plenty of enemies to blast, and while some went down easy, others took multiple missiles before going down. The enemies look like standard Metroid fare: translucent, floating jellyfish-like creatures that aren't actually Metroids, but they look quite similar. At one point, we fought a miniboss. The boss started out as a dog-size pill-bug creature that crawled away when we approached. After chasing it down a couple of corridors and through several rooms, we finally encountered it in a large room, where the boss fight took place. The creature scuttled around, dropping lightning mines that exploded after a few seconds.
After shooting at the bug for a few minutes, it morphed into a humanoid creature that looked suspiciously like a Space Pirate. In humanoid form, the boss was a bit more agile and had a stronger attack. As with any other Metroid game, you get health pickups and missiles for killing enemies, and the pickups in Hunters automatically float towards you--you don't have to charge up your beam to suck them in. Also, you'll sometimes have to destroy enemies to open certain blast doors.
The same color-coded blast doors are all over the place in this game, and they serve as a sort of general guide to keep you moving in the right direction. We got lost pretty quickly in the maze of doors and hallways, but then, it wouldn't be a Metroid game if it didn't have a heavy emphasis on exploration. We saw a couple of rooms that looked as though they were pulled straight from the first Metroid Prime game. There was one vertical room, for instance, with several carefully placed platforms that spiraled around a center column, up toward a door at the top of the room.
We did fall a few times on these platforming sections, but after a bit of trial and error we were deftly leaping from platform to platform without hesitation. There were also a few sections where we had to use the morph ball to move through constricted spaces. These sections felt natural and the controls worked well. We didn't get to try bomb jumping--the move wasn't available in the demo we played--but you can bet it will make its way into the game in one way or another.
It looks like scanning will be a big part of the exploration in Metroid Prime: Hunters. You can activate your scan visor by holding the stylus on a small icon on the touch screen. When scan mode is activated, you can hold the L button to scan objects in the environment. There isn't much to indicate exactly which objects you can scan, because the icons don't stand out nearly as much as they did in the other Metroid Prime games.
However, once you know what to look for you can start scanning away. The information you get from scans isn't anywhere near as detailed as in the other Prime games, but it still offers about the only insight into what's really going on. The scans are cryptic as ever, though, so you'll have to scan a lot of objects before the bits of information start to make sense.
Metroid Prime: Hunters looks pretty amazing for a DS game. Of course, it's a lot more jagged and less detailed than its GameCube predecessors, but that's to be expected. Given the capabilities of the system, Hunters is quite impressive, and after spending a just a little bit of time with the game, we found that the enemies and environments are nicely rendered and offer a good deal of variety. The creatures animate smoothly and they look just like full-fledged inhabitants of the Prime universe. We didn't get to see too many weapon effects, but what we did see looked nice, especially the missile explosions. We didn't get a chance to hear much in the way of music or sound effects, but we did recognize the trademark victory tune that plays every time you discover a new power-up.
Based on our time with the demo, it looks like Metroid Prime: Hunters is finally reaching the final stages of development. Hunters looks and feels a lot like Metroid Prime, which is no small feat on a handheld. At the same time, this game offers enough new experiences to grab the attention of veteran bounty hunters. Be sure to check back here soon as we bring you more coverage of Metroid Prime: Hunters around its release in February 2006. While you wait, be sure to check out the recently posted trailer for the game.