A Glorious Tech Demo?
Picture it. Munster, Indiana. 2004, the holiday season. My brothers and I, going through the motions of our Christmas traditions with our family, the morning of December 25th. Presents were exchanged, wrapping paper thrown asunder, dogs (one of which about to be a gift for my brother) losing their minds. And our parents pulled out final gifts for us, mine a first edition Nintendo DS. As a relatively new system, and my “holiday budget” getting blown on other things, I didn’t get any games with my new DS, save for one: the built in demo for Metroid Prime Hunters: First Hunt. Three training missions, wireless multiplayer, and stylus controls? Who needed a full-fledged game? This was enough for me.
Off to our uncle’s house to celebrate with the whole family, Nintendo DS in tow, First Hunt going full steam ahead. I was rolling and blasting and living my best bounty hunter-life in-between our holiday traditions. The sheer novelty of playing a first-person game on such a small screen, and so smoothly, was something else. Our only other experience of first-person games on handheld was 007 Nightfire on the Game Boy Advance, and uhhhh best to leave that one in the past. This was the Metroid I was most familiar with, just condensed. Was it missing the mystery, the foreboding, the power acquisition, the lore, everything that made a Metroid game properly Metroid? Yes. Was it way more combat-based than almost Metroid title was that I’d ever played? Subjectively speaking, yes. Was it absolutely cool to get it packed up in each Nintendo DS of that time? Yes. Was it, at the end of the day, no more than a glorified tech demo? Maybe. Let’s see if the memories of holidays long ago stand up to a jaded old man.
A Glorious Tech Demo!
With First Hunt as my catalyst, I was violently reminded about how hard Nintendo went onto the dual screen setup. Using it for split-perspective cutscenes? Check. Using both screens for maximum gameplay mechanics? Check. Touch screen getting scratched to all heck because of how much it gets used? Check, check, check.
But First Hunt does its job. It uses the new hardware with aplomb to show what it’s capable of, and how the fully-fledged Prime series on the Gamecube could be translated onto the smaller, less powerful DS. It shows hype, and seemingly high-definition, movies to get players into the zone. It sets the standard of many DS games of using one screen for primary action and perspective, and the other screen for resource management and map use. Its controls, even after not playing a DS Metroid game in many years, were intuitive and didn’t require me looking anything up.
But on the flipside, I was done with it in twenty minutes. Not out of frustration like the original Metroid, but just having run out of things to do. First Hunt only has three modes of play, and their time limits range from one to ten minutes, or longer if you can survive. After that (and watching the secret trailer for the actual game), it’s kind of over. For a twelve-year-old starting to lean even harder into games and their novelties, First Hunt was great. For anyone who’s looking to entertain themselves with a dual-screened game system before they can get other, fully-formed games for it, First Hunt is great. For anyone who has access to other DS games, First Hunt is distinctly lacking.
Appreciation should be given for the games that set the path at the beginning of a console’s lifespan, but they need not be timeless for it. First Hunt is neither a work of art, nor a masterclass in game design, nor a long-lasting testament to Metroid as a series. But it paved the way and set the standard for other games in the DS lineup, and it whet players’ appetites for what a true Hunt on the DS would look like down the line…