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‘Metroid Prime Hunters’: The Handheld Shooter that Missed its Mark

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Metroid Prime Hunters

The fade of Metroid Prime Hunters into relative obscurity is – at first glance – odd considering the popularity of the Prime titles before it and the hype surrounding its own release.

Debuting about a year after Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, Hunters was the Prime Series contribution to the handheld arena. With its release came a bit of history-making – it was the first Metroid game to feature online multiplayer, as well as the first game on the DS to utilize the system microphone to voice chat with players worldwide. Additionally, Hunters had impressive Prime-themed graphics and a mesmerizing soundtrack, flawlessly supported by atmospheric sound effects. To top this off was the introduction of 6 aesthetically AND mechanically unique bounty hunters who were convincingly at home in a traditionally Samus-centric world. It would be a lie to say that this paragraph of praise is merely an individual opinion. Hunters was generally well-received by the gaming media and was given high marks.

While a simple Google search will confirm an overall positive view of the game by the gaming press – the reasons MPH ended up selling the fewest units of the entire Metroid franchise are less easily discovered.

 Poor Ergonomics Make for Poor Retention

Nintendo has undoubtedly come a long way in making their handheld consoles comfortable enough for long, intense gaming sessions. It really was unfortunate that Hunters was released in the dark ages of this timeline. The Nintendo DS was clunky. The buttons were far too squeezed together, and its D-pad was a joke compared to the modern 3DS circle pad. Buttons and pads get quite a bit of mileage out of FPS games, and Nintendo obviously did not have the genre in mind when designing the DS. This issue was only compounded by the release of the DS Lite and its even more compressed buttons.

It should be mentioned that Hunters really did try to work with what it had as far as control layouts. As you can see in the picture below, there were left and right oriented layouts for both a stylus and a button mode. Not to be deterred, a few resourceful gamers even utilized the (formerly bundled in) DS thumb strap to mimic the stylus with some measure of success. In the end, though, each mode had inescapable ergonomic issues and complaints of hand cramps were pervasive.

Metroid Prime Hunters Controls

Playing Hunters for an extended period of time – especially competitively – meant running your pitiful little phalanges through the gaming gauntlet. While a few extreme gamers persevered and were rewarded with an amazingly in-depth multiplayer experience (along with super-thumbs that could melt steel beams), many players understandably never got past this daunting barrier that no self-respecting game should ever present. These crippling control limitations likely dissuaded many gamers from actually purchasing the game (remember, Blockbuster rentals were still a thing in 2006!) or recommending it to others. In this respect, Hunters was very much inhibited by the specs of its console.

A Metroid Game with No Metroids? The Spin-off that Spun Too Far

The Metroid franchise is known for, and expected, to heavily emphasize environment exploration and gear-upgrade elements as the player progresses. This was all done effectively in a 2D environment until the Prime series ushered in an immersive 3D experience. Along with the introduction of an FPS viewpoint, both aforementioned exploration and gear-upgrade elements were maintained and even improved upon in the first two Prime titles. However, the refinement process seemed to take a hiatus ( or more accurately, a regression) with the release of Hunters.

MPH Single Player

Single Player screenshot (enhanced)

Hunters had very few gear upgrade options – not even a suit upgrade. The game also lacked iconic baddies such as Ridley, space pirates (exception: Weavel), and even Metroids. In even more of a slap-to-the-face to dedicated fans, bosses were recycled and underwhelming and level designs uninspired. These changes did not at all foster the exploration elements that Metroid games are renowned for. Fans were blindsided by the game’s pivot to an overt prioritization of a competitive, FPS-centric online multiplayer in lieu of the traditional PVE mixture of action and platformer elements. This contentious shift in genre firmly entrenched Hunters as the black sheep of the Metroid franchise, and likely fragmented the fanbase.

The Wild West of Wi-Fi: Pitfalls of Pre-patch Era Online Environments

Gamers today are truly spoiled. Patch cycles, anti-hacking safeguards, and network stability are now considered baseline expectations. Look to the smash-hits League of Legends and Overwatch as prime examples. These games are textbook examples of what online gaming should be in 2016. If you dialed back a few years into the experimental phase of online gaming however, you would inevitably witness the previously unknown 8th level of hell.

AR code screen. The bane of my gaming existence

AR code screen. The bane of my gaming existence

Hardcore Hunters players are intimately familiar with this era – in fact they had front row seats to the clown fiesta that was online gaming in the first decade of the 21st century. Does playing against a levitating opponent with infinite health and an aimbot sound fun to you? It wasn’t. How about being frozen from halfway across the map by a weapon that’s supposed to have a melee range, and then getting sniped? (Thanks, flawed game physics!) Enjoy getting matched against 3 other players who all decide to wall-glitch and opportunistically camp out until you make a single wrong move? Welcome to Metroid Prime Hunters Online! No patches for glitches and exploits, and no repercussions for hacking.

In that toxic environment, becoming competent – much less ranking up, while avoiding participation in rampant anarchy – was a grind that few players were willing to endure. Oh, and let’s not forget hand cramps!

A Crazy Pipe-Dream: Refine Hunters Concepts to create a PVP Powerhouse

Here is a thought experiment for you – though, as a fan, I may be a bit biased:

Imagine the online multiplayer presented in Metroid Prime Hunters on a more powerful console like the WiiU, or on the much improved 3DS handheld. This fictitious game would also benefit from modern-era online gaming features and safeguards which gamers have now come to expect – including patch cycles that balance characters, refine current modes, fix exploits, and gift the community with shiny new content like new hunters and maps. Something along the lines of Overwatch sounds feasible – but based on an already beloved IP with an established universe.

Metroid Prime Hunters

Building upon the idea, this imaginary Hunters sequel could be a flagship game for the NX. Think of it as Nintendo’s response to FPS gamers who were wooed away by Halo and Call of Duty. With the recent exception of Splatoon, Nintendo consoles have historically lacked shooters in their arsenal of titles. The Metroid franchise could suavely introduce a polished spin-off to help fill that niche. The game would be quite expensive to make, and would undoubtedly be a risky venture. However, it might also be the breath of life that the Metroid franchise desperately needs.

Fingers crossed for Federation Force though. The next addition to the Metroid universe is coming out August 19th.
 


Metroid Prime Hunters


FUN FACTS

  • Hunters was first presented to the public through the demo, Metroid Prime Hunters: First Hunt. It was bundled with Nintendo DS systems for a limited time.

  • The full version of Hunters was initially slated for release in October 2005. However, backlash at that year’s E3 over the lack of online multiplayer pushed the release date back to March 2006.

  • The game was originally going to be developed primarily by Retro Studios. Retro had to pass over their role as head developer due to their schedule-filling commitment to the Prime sequels. NST – a Redmond-based developer known for porting titles over to different Nintendo consoles, took Retro’s place as lead developer.
  • Retro ultimately collaborated with NST to ensure that Hunters remained true to the feel of the Prime series.

Did you play Metroid Prime Hunters? What did you think about the game? Leave any comments, observations, or critiques in the comment section below.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Preston Shewell

    August 14, 2016 at 4:16 am

    I loved Hunters! Even though it didn’t have all the same Metroid elements I’ve grown to know and love, it successfully brought the Prime dynamic to handhelds. Plus it was the only Prime game I had growing up. I still think it’s the best and most ambitious DS game ever made. And to think it was one of the first!

  2. Mphlee

    September 3, 2016 at 12:26 pm

    good, you hitted the problem… i know well because im one of those extreme players, with +17,000 games and 3,000 total game time… anyways cramps disappeared after 2000-3000 games 😉

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‘Garden Story’ First Impressions: The Coziest of Adventures

Long-awaited Twitter darling Garden Story just released its first demo. Here’s what we learned after playing through it twice.

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garden story

Following the unfortunate (but understandable) delay of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, there’s been a distinct lack of chill, aesthetic games to fill the void. Garden Story’s charming environmental art and animation have earned it a dedicated social media following, but it wasn’t until Picogram released a demo just a couple days ago that anyone with a Steam account could actually experience the game for themselves. So, just how fun is this wholesome little RPG?

Setting the Scene

Garden Story’s demo centers around the newly-appointed village guardian Concord (a grape) and their first steps in rebuilding Autumn Town, a community ravaged by a sinister force known as “the Rot.” Chatting with villagers reveals a bit of insight into the situation at hand; it’s soon clear just how much the other townsfolk need the player’s support.

There are several clear parallels to old-school Legend of Zelda titles here, but Garden Story manages to set itself apart rather quickly. For one, this isn’t a solo adventure; the player sets out with Rana (a frog) and Fuji (a tomato) on a friendly quest to be as helpful to the surrounding community as possible. Seeing friends around and watching cute scripted cutscenes between the crew does a great job of instilling a sense of camaraderie and friendship.

In another pleasant twist, everything here is themed around building rather than destroying. Instead of traditional swords and bows, Concord repurposes his dowsing rod and scavenging pick into makeshift weapons. The combat itself calls to mind Stardew Valley; simple, minimal, and clearly not the main focus. There’s a pesky stamina bar that restricts the number of times Concord can attack and how far they can run, frequently forcing players to pause between barrages. In this way, encounters often come off as more of a necessary evil in Concord’s town rehabilitation journey than a main attraction.

Rebuilding a Community

So, how does one go about aiding the town? The method highlighted in the demo was by attending to a quest board with three different types of requests: Threat (combat), Repair (exploration), and Want (gathering). Each is accompanied by a task that plays an integral part in keeping Autumn Town safe and in good working order (e.g. clearing out Rot, finding sewer access so new resources can flow into town, and so on).

Aside from fulfilling requests, there are a few interesting hooks to incentivize hitting every shiny thing you come across regardless. The more different types of items are scavenged, and the more catalogues are filled by being updated with new materials, the more literature becomes available to give little bits of insight into Garden Story’s world and history. Then, in another parallel to Stardew Valley, any leftover resources can be sold in the pursuit of buying tool upgrades.

While the full game will feature four locations to explore and tend to, there was still plenty to do in Autumn Town itself by the end of the demo. Rana mentioned that villagers will post new requests daily, and the demo even featured a mini side quest (called “favors”) that led me to obtain a brand-new tool. Between daily requests, favor fulfillment, and dungeons spread across four different regions, it’s looking like there will be a good bit of content here for those who really want to hang around Garden Story’s world for as long as possible.

Ambient Appeal

Though it remains to be seen just how enticing its complete gameplay loop and accompanying systems are, Picogram’s latest is already delivering on its core appeal: being a cozy, relaxing experience. The color palette is soft, the lighting is moody, and the soundtrack is right up there with the Animal Crossing series as having some of the most mellow, loopable tunes around.

In fact, it’s the sound design in particular that gives Garden Story such an intimate feel. From the sound of a page turning when entering and exiting buildings to the gentle gurgles of a bubbling brook in the forest, it’s clear that composer Grahm Nesbitt poured a ton of love into making this one feel just right. Here’s hoping the full game more than delivers on all the potential shown here.

Garden Story is slated to release in Spring of 2020 and is available to wishlist on Steam.

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How Asynchronous Online in ‘Death Stranding’ Brings Players Together

Hideo Kojima’s latest game creates a sense of community by aiding other players on the same perilous journey.

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Death Stranding

Video games have always been fascinated with the idea of player interactivity as a means of crafting a power fantasy. The player typically goes on a hero’s journey, eventually culminating in them being the one and only savior of the world inside the game. Typically associated with single-player games, MMOs also crafted that same narrative but with the conceit that everyone is going on this journey. Often the acknowledgments of other players are in multiplayer-specific features such as PvP and Raids. Destiny is a great example of a series that takes players on the same journey and makes no promise that the story is different between players by even allowing them to engage in playing story missions together. It all feeds into the larger narrative of Guardians fighting together to save the Light. A game that handles this very similar and perhaps more successfully is Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding.

While lacking any direct player-to-player interaction, Kojima’s latest game is drenched in the conceit that community is crucial to triumph over adversity. You can read many articles about the game’s ideas of community from fellow writers on the site. What hasn’t quite gotten the attention it deserves is how revolutionary Death Stranding feels in terms of utilizing asynchronous online to greatly affect the game itself. Games like Dark Souls and other FromSoftware titles have included the ability to leave notes (which Death Stranding also offers) that help (or trick) players as they venture throughout the world on their own. How those notes’ effects are manifested are often on a much smaller scale – helpful at times but often to warn players of an impending way they might die. They don’t have a large impact on the player, only a temporary means of cheating death. 

Where Death Stranding becomes something greater in scale is in what it lets other players do to other peoples’ single-player experiences. In the game, you play as Sam Porter Bridges who is tasked with reconnecting America from coast-to-coast. At first, the game thrusts Sam into its narrative, taking the reluctant, isolated character and forcing him to eventually realize the importance of hope and connections in dire times. As Sam starts bringing more and more people onto the Chiral network (which allows instantaneous communication and the transferring of 3D-printable goods), so too does the game open up and reveal its ultimate goal: to bring players together.

Death Stranding

This doesn’t mean players will ever talk to other players, and the game very much avoids any real negative actions that can be performed on players. In fact, someone could play the game without ever actively engaging with online features. Instead, the game will passively hand out “likes” to other players whose ladders are used or roads are driven. If one wanted to fight the game’s narrative and instead keep Sam isolated and away from the community that the Chiral network provides, they could definitely do that – no matter how antithetical it would be to do so. Death Stranding even offers an offline mode that would nullify all of that and keep the experience solely on the player’s impact on the world and no one else’s. 

Yet there’s a reason the online mode is the default mode. It was near the end of Episode 3 (which also happens to be when the game unloads almost all of its mechanics onto the player) when I finally realized the impact I was having on other people’s games. I had spent an entire day playing the game, but focusing largely on delivering premium deliveries – these are optional challenges that essentially boil down to carrying more cargo, damaging cargo less, or getting to your destination in a set amount of time. Death Stranding doesn’t ever tell you the best way to get somewhere. Instead, it places a wide array of tools in front of you and assuming the Chiral network is set up in an area, it can provide a rough guide on places to avoid or infrastructure already built. However, one of the key pieces of infrastructure missing for my playthrough was roads. My efforts immediately became focused on building a network of roads that made their way all throughout one of the larger areas in the game.

The game doesn’t ever make you build roads. It tells you the option is there but it doesn’t force your hand. Often tools will be introduced, like zip lines and floating carriers, but the game never demands that they’re used. Of course, engaging with those tools will make your life easier. There are easy ways to start building infrastructure in Death Stranding: ropes and ladders can help to scale mountains or plummet depths. Those will remain in the world for other players to use and will even appear on their maps as they hook up areas to the Chiral network. So, someone who plays the game earlier than someone else could lay down ropes and ladders, and depending on when the other person starts playing, they will find those once they have progressed to a point where they are traversing that area. Where the game becomes even grander in its sense of community is the realization that the more players commit to building roads or setting up zip lines, the more other players benefit.

Death Stranding

The reality is that ladders and ropes are temporary – they cannot be rebuilt, they can only be replaced. The game’s Timefall – a weather phenomenon that acts as rain but ages anything it comes into contact with – can reset an entire map after a while if there is nothing more substantial placed on the map. So in my game, I decided that whenever I could build a road, I committed to doing so. This could mean going to multiple waystations and collecting materials that have amassed over time from deliveries, or going out in the world and finding these materials like Chiral crystals. At a certain point, I would load up a truck with multiple deliveries that were on or near the roads I had built, as well as with as many metal and ceramic materials I could load into the truck before it reached capacity. As I delivered packages, I’d replace them with more deliveries and more materials from each waystation. Eventually, I’d find myself at a point where a road was not built yet and would then build that road.

Community stands as the strongest component of Death Stranding .

In contrast to a game like Dark Souls, actions in the world such as providing notes on the ground or helping another player with a boss battle is helping them cheat death. The community that is being built is not one that has any lasting effect on the world in the game. No Man’s Sky may let players interact with each other and further their knowledge of the universe within the game, but often that help is relegated to an isolated planet. It’s a more contained impact. Hideo Kojima created a game where players don’t just build infrastructures for themselves, they can intentionally or inadvertently assist other players throughout their games. This leads to players like myself creating strand contracts with other players who have built things I liked in the game. A strand contract is a powerful feature because it means more of that players’ roads or other items built for the world will show up more frequently in my game.

Every Action in Death Stranding Creates Hope

One of the perks of building so many roads is you also get a lot of likes, whether passively given because someone used the road or actively provided by a player because they not only used the road but were appreciative that someone built it. It’s hard not to feel important in someone else’s life when you’ve made their experience less cumbersome because they no longer have to drive over rocky terrain or through enemy territory but instead can take a highway to their destination. What’s better is that more substantial developments like bridges and roads can be repaired by other players and even upgraded. So while I laid the initial roads down, I actually haven’t spent any materials repairing them. Instead, notifications come in and tell me players have repaired roads I’ve built. There’s no real reason to do that unless the infrastructure built was necessary to their journey through the game – making it easier but also providing the same feeling of helping out a larger community. 

Community stands as the strongest component of Death Stranding – a game that doesn’t even try to be subtle in its intentions. Traversing Kojima’s version of post-apocalyptic America is harrowing on your own. With just your two feet and a package to deliver when the entire world itself is trying to stop you from doing so, America isn’t just divided – it’s hostile. Where Death Stranding shines brightest is when it offers a helping hand. Players aid one another to achieve the same unified goal: save the country. All of this is under the assumption that the country can be saved, but there is no denying that seeing someone else’s rope hanging off a steep cliff, or a Timefall shelter where it rains Timefall on a constant basis, is one of the most satisfying feelings. In Death Stranding, it isn’t enough to know that you’re making progress, but that everyone is willing to assist others to reach the same end goal. It’s a game where every action creates hope and is built upon the idea that we are at our best when we work together.

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‘Woven’ Review: Comfortably Soft and Lumpy

Despite those blurry visuals and stilted gameplay, there’s something endearing about this innocent elephant’s adventure.

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With a sincere warmth and fuzziness that conjures up dreamy recollections of 3D games gone by, Alterego GamesWoven mostly overcomes its blurry visuals and technical jankery to somehow create a pleasant, old-fashioned experience. Those excited by modern gaming probably won’t give this lovable hand-me-down a second look, and perhaps they shouldn’t; extremely simple actions and soothing narration support a fairy tale quality that’s probably best suited to younger players. However, anyone willing to look past the well-worn exterior in search of a relaxing break from stressful button pushing may squeeze more fun out of this familiar stuffed toy than they might originally expect.

Woven tasks players with taking control of a meandering patchwork elephant named Stuffy, and guiding him through a sparsely populated knitted world that seems to have met an untimely demise. Because Stuffy has cotton for brains, he is assisted on this journey by a much smarter metal firefly named Glitch (a reference to his role in this story?), who floats alongside the curious-but-clumsy plush toy and provides hints as to how he can use his various abilities. Together, this odd couple will traverse open plains blanketed with colorful yarn grass, maneuver around impassable felt trees and plants, and hopefully discover the secret of where Stuffy’s clueless kin have all gone.

Along the way, the duo will walk great distances (often without much event), solve the occasional environmental puzzle, and generally just keep on keepin’ on.Woven is mostly straightforward in its campaign, merely about getting from point A to B by whatever means the path requires. Most often this involves finding new blueprints that allow players to change Stuffy’s design from an elephant into a wide variety of other animal shapes, each with a set of abilities that come with a new set of arms, legs, and a head. For instance, while the stocky (and adorable) bear can push plush boulders and perform a mighty stomp, the goat and frog can both use their legs to hop, while the kitty cat is able to push buttons on rusted consoles that activate dormant machinery.

However, these abilities are usually only able to activate when context-sensitive prompts from Glitch appear, so don’t expect some sort of platforming freedom. Woven handles a bit clumsily in that regard and others; strolling is definitely the order of the day, as long as Stuffy doesn’t get hung up on the geometry.

But these actions do help provide variety; a tropical bird of some sort (toucan, maybe?) can sing certain notes, while a pelican-thing can fly (sort of) over land and shallow water with great speed. And so, it often becomes necessary in Woven to alter Stuffy’s look with a total reweave. These designs can be applied at various sewing machine-like stations scattered about, which go a step further than just swapping Stuffy the deer for Stuffy the ape. Each blueprint is comprised of five parts, allowing for players to create a Frankenstein Stuffy made up of all the best abilities the player has on hand (or cushioned paw). By mixing certain sets, Stuffy will soon be able to scale mountainside crags, cross piranha-filled rivers, and pick up industrial cogs without the need to make a pit stop and bust out new needle and thread.

Some truly hilarious (or horrifying, depending on your sensibilities) aberrations can be created; seeing Stuffy hobble on hooves as he flaps a wing on one side and swings a muscular gorilla arm on the other, all with the head of a squirrel, is freakishly entertaining. In addition, for those who like to wander off the beaten path, there are a plethora of knitting patterns to discover, tucked away in both obvious and devious locations (and denizens). These cosmetic enhancements can also be applied at the sewing stations, essentially giving players seemingly endless amounts of customization. And these aesthetic changes even get in on the puzzle act every once in a while, especially when a pesky cobra shows up.

But outside the odd ‘connect the power line’ or ‘raise and lower platforms’ objectives, Woven doesn’t throw much at players that even young children shouldn’t be able to handle — and that seems to be the aim. Stuffy’s adventure lives or dies on its wholesome and serene vibe, which players either buy into or they don’t. There’s no combat here, very little to actually do outside hunting down those patterns, illuminating some painted caves, and activating some of Glitch’s ‘memories’ contained by machines hidden in the soft folds. Ongoing narration is pleasant to the ears, often conveying old-fashioned morals and cutesy jokes, but there’s no more story than in a classic fable.

And make no mistake — though the world is certainly bright and cheerful, it’s also quite fuzzy around the edges. The tactile nature of the cloth textures is lessened greatly by the low definition (at least on the Switch version), eliciting memories of the Wii-era. An increased crispness would have really made the world of Woven pop off the screen, perhaps luring in a larger audience who have become accustomed to such. There is still plenty of charm, but it feels like a missed chance at that true magical feeling the game seems to be shooting for.

Other stumbles come when certain worlds try to open up a bit more, which might lead a younger audience to get frustrated by the lack of direction (especially when they keep getting hung up on that geometry!); Woven definitely works better when it’s casually guiding players along, letting gamers of all ages envelop themselves in the easygoing atmosphere instead of requiring tedious backtracking. There’s just something nice about sitting back and relaxing to hummable music, watching the roly-poly amble of a stuffed kangaroo.

Woven will not be for everyone; those who play for challenge or eye candy won’t find either here. And yet, despite those blurry visuals and stilted gameplay, there’s something endearing about this innocent elephant’s adventure. Woven certainly has its share of lumpiness, but somehow remains cozy regardless.

‘Woven’ is available on PC, Xbox One, PS4, and Switch (Reviewed on Switch).

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