We even get a fair dose of the series’ trademark scanning. Switching to the scan visor is a requirement in some circumstances – to operate switches or open up a portal – but it’s not always necessary. It’s jut that, as always, full completion of the game requires the unusually obsessive Metroid player to scan every possible item, creature and enemy. Good, if you like that sort of thing.
With only four two planets and two space stations to explore it might sound like a short adventure, but Hunters plays the classic Metroid trick of sending you back to old locales to open up new areas with the new weapons you have found. Lazy? Tiresome? Not so. While there is some backtracking, the secondary areas of each world are actually quite expansive, and you can always use the portals to speed up your travel times. In addition, the game smoothly ups the challenge level most of the way through, chucking in some fearsome firefights once you pass the halfway mark.
Perhaps the greatest achievement here is how closely Hunters echoes the atmosphere of the grown-up Gamecube Metroid Prime titles. There the environments were always the star. With their variety of climate and terrain, their strange architecture and unique vegetation, Metroid Prime and Metroid Prime: Echoes did a better job than just about anything else of creating an experience of what it might be like to explore an alien world. The Alembic Cluster is a little more prosaic – and the technical limitations of the DS mean that areas are necessarily smaller in size – but there are still sections of weird majesty where aged ruins climb into the sky above – not to mention groovy sci-fi areas chock-a-block with pulsing holographic beams and unintelligible glowing consoles.
The sound and music, meanwhile, is spot on, with the stark ambient themes and electronic effects that characterised the Gamecube titles. With headphones on and sound turned up, you really do get sucked into the whole Metroid experience. You might even stop noticing that you’re playing on a handheld, and just drop into the Metroid vibe.
So it’s almost fitting that one of Hunters’ few problems is one that has troubled the series more than once: the stupidly difficult boss battle. The hunters themselves are fine – challenging and satisfying to battle – but the game also hits you with eight guardian monsters that swerve wildly between woefully easy and incomprehensibly hard. The worst demand several moves in sequence while hitting you with so many high-powered attacks from so many angles that defeating them is less a matter of skill than perseverance. Adding insult to injury, there are really only two of these guardians – to get the full complement of eight, they simply add variations to the quickly tired basic themes. By encounter three, you won’t really want to see stinky ol’ Slench ever again.