Metroid Prime Hunters Update -- VoIP, Single- and Multiplayer Hands-On
Samus fans, unite! Nintendo unleashes a near-final version of its DS first person shooter.
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REDMOND--At a press event today in Redmond, Washington, Nintendo finally took the lid off of Metroid Prime Hunters, its anticipated DS first-person shooter starring the one and only Samus Aran. The game shown today bore little resemblance to the First Hunt demo that was initially packed in with the DS hardware when it launched last year. The near-final version demoed today showed a fully realized FPS that took smart advantage of the DS's touch screen and showed off the recently announced VoIP functionality.
The day kicked off with a presentation by Mr. Yamashiro, president of Nintendo Software Technology, who got his start as a programmer on SNES F-Zero and more recently was director of Wave Race Blue Storm for the GameCube. NST was established in 1998 and has produced seven games across Nintendo's platforms including the GBA, N64, GC, and the DS. The developer has a staff of more than 50 members working in Seattle, and they collaborate with Nintendo Japan luminaries such as Shigeru Miyamoto. They have recently been joined by Mr. Abe, who worked on the Pikmin series, and it is now the most international group of all of Nintendo's teams.
Yamashiro noted that Metroid Prime Hunters started life as an E3 demo that was created to show off the hardware. However, with the impending Nintendo Wi-Fi connection, the developer opted to delay the game's release to take advantage of the upcoming service to create a stronger product more in line with what user feedback was calling for in the wake of the First Hunt demo that was included with the DS.
Yamashiro ceded the stage to game designer Richard Vorodi, who gave an overview of the single- and multiplayer experience. Before diving into specifics, Vorodi offered insight into the team's vision for Prime Hunters, which was that the title was designed to offer a hardcore experience that was cool and true to the Metroid mythos. The Metroid legacy had a direct impact on the six new bounty hunters that were introduced.
The demo included a look at the game's intro, which featured a montage of the six bounty hunters: Sylux, Weavel, Noxus, Trace, Spire, and Kanden. From there, the main menu offered a look at the two game modes. The single-player game--which Vorodi noted was slightly shorter than Metroid Prime for the GC--will offer a slightly different spin on the typical adventure. Unlike in the other Metroid titles, Samus won't be getting jacked and losing all her gear. Instead, you can plan on using a fully powered Samus. Your mission is to collect crystals called octoliths that are spread out throughout the galaxy. The unique items are relics from an ancient civilization that have been transmitting telepathic messages to bounty hunters far and wide. The single-player game will send you out on a hunt for mysterious crystals that will take you out of federation territory and into the fringes of space. For those keeping score at home, the game takes place between Metroid Prime 1 and 2. Fans will notice that Samus will be piloting the ship seen in Metroid Prime but sporting the armor seen in Echoes.
The opening level, Celestial Archives, is essentially a tutorial that starts out with you leaving your ship in the hangar. You'll be able to use your scan visor to examine your surroundings and explore the vast space station. As you go about your business, you'll get messages from your ship as it tracks your competing bounty hunters' progress around you. You'll also encounter grunt drones, which are all that's left of the technology in the station. Metroid Prime has the look and feel of a proper Metroid game, so you'll find yourself scanning the area and getting clues as you track down the crystals, as well as venturing through corridors and using your morph ball to creep into nooks and crannies. You'll see that you can earn yourself power-ups, such as missile upgrades, which you can get by wiping out all the enemies in a room. Once that's done, you'll gain access to artifacts that make up pieces of special keys you'll use to get to teleporters that take you to the octoliths.
The demo picked up speed when Samus encountered her first foe, the bounty hunter called Kanden. The action then switched to a chase until we cornered him and got into an old-school boss battle in which we found ourselves dealing with his humanoid and secondary larva form that fires off explosive slugs that partially track you. Once he's taken down, you'll collect the next piece of the artifact you're looking for. The demo ended with Samus heading off in search of the next piece of the key and an impending boss fight before she snagged the octolith. The next single-player area demoed was the planet Alinos, a volcanic planet that featured more classic Metroid-style action, such as using your morph ball and bombs to reach secret areas and the like. In addition, we saw familiar spiky crawlers and flying enemies. The level also showed off an encounter with the next enemy bounty hunter, Spire, whose secondary ball form lets him climb walls and do radial damage.
The gameplay in the single-player demos showed off the basic structure of the adventure, which will basically involve you going to different frontiers (the different locations in the game), solving a handful of linked puzzles that will let you progress to collect the crystals, facing off against your enemy bounty hunters, and taking on bosses. The nice catch to the single-player game is that you can be ganked and have your crystals stolen at any time, at which point you'll have to hunt them down and take them back (if you lose all your crystals your game is done). We're also pleased to hear about the escape you'll have to perform on your way out of a level once you collect the crystal. As in previous Metroid games, you'll have to sweat setting off a self-destructing device primed to go off once you collect the goods, which will force you to haul your morph ball out of there before everything explodes.
Following the single-player demo, we took a quick look at the multiplayer experience, which has been beefed up with a host of different modes and options. The mode will let you play on more than 20 maps that are specialized for the different game modes. You'll find three game types, including single card, multicard, and online. Single card will let you play with up to four friends with only one cart by downloading a demo that lets them play with you in a limited game. Multicard will let four players with the game carts play with a full-featured version of the game. Finally, the online mode will let you play in four-player games on the Nintendo Wi-Fi connection and also engage the "rival radar" feature, which will let you leave the game in a sleep mode akin to Nintendogs' bark mode, wherein you'll be able to gain info on anyone nearby that has his or her game in the same mode. The feature will let you check out their stats and progress in the game and label them as rivals that you can take on in online matches.
The multiplayer experience will offer several different modes: battle, survival, prime hunter, capture, nodes, defender, and bounty. Battle is essentially a timed deathmatch. Prime hunter is a deathmatch wherein the first person to kill becomes the prime hunter. While you hold that title, your health starts dropping and the only way to regain it is to kill someone, as the normal health power-ups don't work. The perk to this added pressure is that you'll move faster and have stronger shots. Capture essentially involves collecting octoliths and getting them back to a set point. The twist is that while you can use your alt form to get to it quickly, you'll have to stay in humanoid form when running it back. The nodes mode requires you to take control of rings, and the more rings you have, the higher your score. Of course, people can steal your rings, so you'll be doing a lot of babysitting as time counts down. Defender is a king-of-the-hill-style match where you have to control one section of the map. Finally, bounty is a football-esque challenge wherein everyone going for the same octolith has to take it to a specific goal area, all while stuck in your biped form, which makes you a painfully big target.
You'll be able to use any of the bounty hunters in the multiplayer game, provided you meet some conditions. You'll have to either play through the single-player game and encounter the bounty hunters in order to unlock them in your game, or face off against a friend who has them and then defeat them in combat.
During the demo, we were able to see a quick overview of the options, which feature a host of control schemes, some of which use the stylus and others that use the buttons. Plus, there is the ability to adjust sensitivity and invert your look scheme. The game also supports the rumble pack. We also learned about the options you'll be able to tweak during a match. You'll be able to toggle on or off choices like whether or not you see enemy hunters on your radar, the damage done by weapons, friendly fire, set available weapons between default or "affinity," which lets you use a hunter's trademark weapons (such as Spire's cannon, which has the added effect of igniting his target when he hits them with a powered-up shot). The default setting will give you access to all weapons, but you'll only be able to re-equip two at a given time. When selecting a bounty hunter, you can choose to add bots if you don't have enough human friends to flesh out a match. The game will also let you add friends you've played over local LAN. Prime Hunters will also feature the option to not automatically share your players' stats on NintendoWi-Fi.com as most other games currently do. Finally, we saw the Nintendo Wi-Fi menu, which will let you edit friends and rivals, as well as access your hunter's license, which is essentially your virtual calling card on your game performance. The card will track assorted stats, such as your preferred hunter and win record. The big feature that will be tracked will be your connection history. The game will track if you drop matches by powering down, as opposed to losing your connection to let potential competitors know if you're prone to jumping ship when losing.
The in-game multiplayer demo gave us a look at a survival match that showed off the lobby where you can use the VoIP feature by holding down the X button while speaking into the DS mic and releasing when you're done. In addition, you can send text messages by tapping on an onscreen icon and calling up a virtual keyboard. You can also check out a detailed breakdown of available games.
Following the multiplayer demo, reps from Nintendo Wi-Fi.com went over the Prime Hunters' Web page and showed off the robust stat-tracking it will be doing. The features comprise a significant leap over what has been done for Mario Kart and Tony Hawk. The game will essentially show off detailed info from your hunter's license, if you choose to share the info online, as well as leaderboards that track the overall performance, win streaks, kill streaks, kill types (normal or alt), distance covered, and total time played in the game. The page will also feature a spotlight on a hunter pulled at random and show assorted factoids from that player's license. If you've connected your DS to an account on the site when you log in, you'll find a personalized area of the page that shows off your personal stats as well as your friends list. The nice twist to the info is that you'll see leaderboards that compare your performance with that of your friends' and rivals'. At present, the plan is to update the leaderboards weekly. In addition, a feature that the team is hoping to add to the page is a "connections" tab that will let you check out your friends' friends lists to get an idea of your social circle while playing online. In addition to having all of the above info posted on the NWFC Web site, the info is also being pulled for the custom Prime Hunters microsite, http://www.Metroidhunters.com, which features a detailed overview on the game.
Based on our hands-on time with the game, we're pleased by how far it has come since the First Hunt demo. The default control scheme works well, letting you use the D pad to move, left shoulder to fire, and touch screen to aim and toggle your secondary form and weapons. Double-tapping the screen lets you jump and is less disruptive than we expected.
As far as the visuals go, we're impressed by the level of detail and the cinematic presentation that's being used as you play. The camera movement, especially when you switch to your morph ball, is smooth and works well from what we've seen. The graphics benefit from an impressive layer of polish and special effects that have been laid on good and thick. You'll notice some subtle lighting effects and reflective touches on Samus' morph ball. The game isn't as sharp as a console or PSP game, but it's quite impressive for the DS, especially given its performance. So far we've seen a hefty amount of onscreen action and little to no performance hits when it happens, which is quite cool. An extra bit of eye candy included in the game is a plethora of rendered CG movies that will play as you progress. The impressive clips can be viewed again in a movie viewer.
The audio is good for the DS and includes Metroid-esque music clips and some voice. You'll hear a host of familiar Metroid sound effects and some new touches included specifically for the new hunters you'll face off against in your battles.
Based on what we saw today, Metroid Prime Hunters is appearing to live up to the potential we saw in the initial demo. The impressive game design, which is much more action-oriented than the typical Metroid games, feels good and plays well. The multiplayer action is fun and engaging, and the hunter's license adds a nice bit of bragging rights. We're especially pleased by the rival radar feature, which should offer plenty of grudge match opportunities. As with our play time with Mario Kart late last year at a similar event, there were some connectivity issues that we're hoping will be ironed out when the game ships. If you've been looking forward to Metroid Prime Hunters, we can say that the game looks like it will live up to its expectations. Look for more on the game in the coming weeks as its mid-March ship date approaches.