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Metroid Prime: Hunters

Sun Tzu, sat in a tent or a bivouac and almost certainly wearing an impressive hat, had a vision one day about how to kill lots of other men without expending too many of his own.

With a flourish of blood-flecked brush he began sculpting the conflicts of the future; with foresight he christened his manifesto The Art of War. Around two and a half thousand years later, Edward George Earl Bulwer-Lytton - Lord Lytton to his friends but sadly for the rainforests not his biographer - told us, "The pen is mightier than the sword".

They'd have liked Metroid Prime: Hunters. It's about using a pen to shoot people.

On the fields of Alionos and Arcterra, gunplay and penmanship - artistry - are synonymous. Surely, this is Lytton's meaning. And surely, if he were around today, it'd be Sun Tzu's Metroid. Or at the very least Sun Tzu's Nintendo for copyright infringement.



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Hunters has no right to work. The game's left or right handed stylus-based controls are as alien as the spiny larvae that populate its levels. When I began, fumbling the pen-like gunsight as I strafed around with the other hand, it felt like canoeing with a buzz bar. But then so did dual analogue FPS games, once. The hands adapt, and with a pair of control options - a dual analogue style using the d-pad on one side and the face buttons on the other, or the precision penmanship of the stylus which I greatly prefer - it rapidly becomes second nature, whatever absurd metaphors you feel like throwing around in the opening half hour.

It takes a while to bed in - but with an extensive, avuncular single-player game and bot-matches to aid you, and thousands of witty Americans to smash with your charge-beam, it's safe to say the game justifies the learning curve.

Delving in

Called Adventure Mode, the one-player element adopts the graphics, sounds and themes of the Metroid Prime GameCube series, but enforces a pace that only really becomes problematic once you've gained a good grip of the fundamentals. As it should be, then. Speaking of fundamentals, it might surprise Metroid aficionados to learn that Adventure splits things into specific levels. Heresy! Fortunately not. Each area does follow a formula, moving from initial exploration and scanning with the Prime visor, to light combat, deathmatch-inspired combat with another bounty hunter, and eventually a boss fight, followed by a panicked, projectile-ridden retreat from boss-area to Samus' ship.

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But each also holds a number of secrets, like energy bar extensions and increased missile capacity and new weapons; the prime route soon extends its tendrils, like the game's poisonous fauna, along mazy intersecting pathways; and, most crucially, like the Primes of the Cube, it all slots neatly together in the end, as doorways you couldn't open become blastable, and Samus' quest for mysterious Alimbic artefacts and Octoliths snakes itself into a logical labyrinth. One that's pleasurable to explore and exciting to return to once you've acquired new tools, and one that rarely looks less than marvellous.