The Player

by Marty Demarest & r & & r & Metroid Prime Hunters, Rated Teen, Nintendo DS & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & M & lt;/span & etroid Prime Hunters is going to be awesome," videogame store clerks have been assuring me for more than a year, their chests and necks rattling with campaign buttons and badges that advertise other upcoming, undoubtedly "awesome" titles. Behind the relentless suggestive selling lies the fact that there's nothing more tantalizing to gamers than an unreleased game, full of the promise of tomorrow's technology and imagination. The sci-fi Hunters has been a temptation ever since the DS launched a year-and-a-half ago with a brief but dazzling demo for the game that was "Coming Soon!" It helped sell millions of machines, and Nintendo cunningly delayed the release of the full game so that DS owners could spend a year purchasing other, less awesome titles.

Finally Nintendo has delivered, sending Hunters into stores armed with built-in Wi-Fi Internet play. The game is a resoundingly successful first-person shooter featuring both single and multiplayer gameplay. As I sneak through icy tunnels to attack a player-controlled bounty hunter from behind with a rocket launcher, the DS's touch screen captures every nuanced aim of my fingertips. Similar to the subtle control offered by a computer's mouse, the touch screen responds with more accuracy than thumb-twiddled joysticks. In Hunters, I can send a rocket into my opponent's head with awe-inspiring precision.

The game delivers everything I need for battle: navigability and visibility. Characters are brightly colored and stand out from the monochromatic environments, which is good since I often have to aim and shoot at nothing more than few distant pixels. This simplification results in a shooter that isn't particularly sophisticated or tactical, just frenetic. By the time four players are launching rockets at each other in multiplayer games, the screen can become a noisy mess of pixels.

The vivid, grainy graphics are reminiscent of Doom in its early days, and both games emphasize the same thing: killing virtual opponents. But Doom, like the first Metroid, also featured plenty of atmosphere -- long, empty levels littered with alien technology and echoing with space pings. Hunters eliminates much of this, paring it down to arenas where the guns can blaze and the electronica music can hammer on. This dampens the game's single-player adventure, turning it into a cycle of oversimplified battles. Perhaps in a few more years, hand-held videogame systems will be capable of displaying shooters that satisfy as both adventures and combat arenas. I bet it's going to be awesome.

THE GOOD: Metroid Prime Hunters is a landmark game simply because it successfully brings the precision of analog targeting to a hand-held system. But the result is not a reinvention of the first-person combat genre; Hunters is a reduction of all the time-tested elements that make up a good shooter, into a slick, multiplayer handheld game.

THE BAD: The Metroid franchise has been one of the few consistently classy lines of videogames. Hunters sacrifices this to make fast combat possible on the DS. As a single-player Metroid game, it feels like one of those less-entertaining spinoffs that happen to beloved neighbors from popular sitcoms.

THE BOTTOM LINE: A noisy, kinetic battleground -- like a pocket coliseum -- and the best hand-held first-person shooter around.