Metroid Prime: Hunters plays much like its cousin Metroid Prime games, only on the Nintendo DS. Samus Aran travels from planet to planet in search of a vaguely-defined Ultimate Power. In order to obtain this Power, Samus must collect all eight Octoliths scattered throughout the Alimbic Cluster. After obtaining the Octoliths, however, she must be wary of rival bounty hunters seeking out the Power. If Samus loses a fight with a hunter, she loses her Octoliths to that hunter. But the Octoliths are not lost forever at this point, if she encounters the particular hunter she lost to again and defeats him, she recollects her Octoliths. Scouting for hunters is made easier by the sidebar that appears on the planet select screen. This sidebar indicates which hunters are on the currently highlighted planet making it easier to find the hunter that stole her Octoliths, or avoiding other hunters entirely.
Along with several of her old weapons (ex. Morph Ball, Missile Launcher), Samus can find and acquire several new weapons exclusive to the game. Each weapon is originally wielded by one of the other hunters, but Samus can find and use these weapons herself. Each weapon has its own unique ability and use, along with working especially well in the hands of its original designer. These new weapons are the:
- Battlehammer (Weavel's concussive mortar)
- Imperialist (Trace's sniper Weapon)
- Judicator (Noxus' ice spears)
- Magmaul (Spire's flame cannon)
- Shock Coil (Sylux's sustained electric stream)
- Volt Driver (Kanden's electric bullets)
Samus' own "signature weapon" is the Missile Launcher.
Metroid Prime: Hunters gives the player the choice between two different control options. The "Dual Mode" option uses D-Pad in conjunction with the A/B/X/Y buttons to try to emulate the dual-stick configuration of most console shooters: move with one stick, aim with the other; only in this case, the "sticks" are buttons. The configuration works fairly well, despite not being actual joysticks. The main shortcomings for this control setting are the lack precision coupled with the difficulty to access the ever-necessary touch screen. The "Stylus Mode" option uses the D-Pad and Touch Screen in a sort of "point and click" control style. The user moves around with the D-pad (or A/B/X/Y for lefties) and uses the Touch Screen to aim; dragging the stylus up to aim up, down to aim down, etc. This control type allows for more precise aiming and has the stylus next to the Touch Screen the whole time.
The game also accounts for right- and left-handedness and offers both of these options for each control type. Choosing the right-hand option has the user moving with the D-Pad on the left of the DS and aiming with their right hand on the Touch Screen. The left-hand option has the user moving with the A/B/X/Y buttons and aiming with their left hand.
Regardless of control type, several of the games main items are located on the touch screen and the user always fires with the L button (or R for lefties). Transforming into the Morph Ball, for example, requires a tap of the Morph Ball icon on the touch screen. Switching between weapons requires opening a menu on the touch screen and picking the desired weapon. Even jumping requires a quick double-tap of the screen (though the other shoulder button can also be used in "Dual Mode").
Metroid Prime: Hunters returns a dynamic multiplayer experience to the Prime series after its introduction in Metroid Prime 2: Echoes. Each player chooses from a list of the seven hunters that appear in the game and battle each other in various maps with various objectives. This multiplayer system also works with the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection and lets players designate other players as “Rivals” or “Friends.”
- Heatlh Increase: The most basic of power-ups, the health balls increase the player's current hit points by 20 or 50. Theses hit points stay on the character until he is damaged enough to remove them. The maximum health a player can have is 199.
- Missile Ammo: At the beginning of every life, the player starts off with 10 missiles. If the player picks up missile ammo, his current missile count increases by 5 to a maximum of 59.
- Universal Ammo: Universal ammo (UA) is used to power the special beams. Since each beam uses a different amount of ammo, the max ammo varies by beam.
- Cloak: Quite simply, the Cloak makes you invisible. Although other players will probably be able to locate an invisible Hunter by the slight distortion he creates, this power-up makes ambushes MUCH easier.
- Double Damage: Even more simply, every attack the player does for about a minute is doubled. This includes Alt-form attacks, beam attacks, even splash damage.
- Deathalt: The Deathalt power-up forces the player to enter his Alt-Form for about 90 seconds. If any opponent touches the player in this state, they are instantly killed; the player does not even need to attack his opponent, merely a touch will cause death. This power-up is especially deadly with Sylux (as he has the fastest moving Alt-Form of all the Hunters) and Spire (as his wall-climbing ability makes for good surprise attacks.
- Affinity Weapon: Although any character can pick up any weapon, the Affinity Weapon power-up gives the player his Hunter-specific weapon. This is useful for characters whose Affinity Weapon usually does not appear on a particular map. With this power-up, they will be the only Hunter with that particular weapon. This power-up gives Samus 5 more missiles
Although Hunters does not feature a huge array of weapons, each weapon is very different from the next. Coupled with the fact that different Hunters have special properties on their weapons, this keeps the gameplay dynamic and interesting.
- Power Beam- Being the default weapon, the Power Beam is the weakest of all beams but has the fastest rate of fire. The Power Beam can be charged by holding the fire button for about a second and does about twelve times as much damage. Every character starts off with the Power Beam.
- Missiles- High-damaging explosive blasts with splash damage. Missiles are a bit hard to use due to their high travel time, but they deal huge damage if they score a direct hit. When charged, missiles do 36 damage and use up two ammo. Samus’ missiles can home on opponents when charged.
- Battlehammer- A short-ranged, high-damaging concussion beam with splash damage. The Battlehammer doesn’t really fill any weapon niches. Its short-range makes it difficult to hit opponents and it often damages the user. The Battlehammer has a rapid fire function instead of a charge function.
- Imperialist- Sniper beam. Slow-firing, but does huge damage when a direct hit is scored (36 body, 100 head). Zoom function refines aim and doubles damage (so a zoomed headshot does 200 damage; equal to max HP). Zoom function magnifies view even more when on an opponent, making it easier to spot hidden hunters (even cloaked).
- Judicator- Ricocheting ice beam. The Judicator fires fairly slowly, but does large damage with each shot, even when bounced. The charge function fires three shots at the same time, dealing as much as 96 damage with a triple headshot. Noxus’ charge is a short-ranged blast that freezes the enemy.
- Magmaul- Short-ranged, area damage. The Magmaul is the single most effective weapon for dealing with Alt-Forms. By simply aiming at the floor, you can both make it nearly impossible for your attacker to continue AND difficult to retreat. Caution: Magmaul does damage to user if in close proximity.
- Shock Coil- Auto-locking electric beam. The Shock Coil fires a continuous stream of damage at an opponent once it is locked on. As the user continues locked onto an opponent, the stream gains power and can be devastating. Starts off doing about 5 damage per second and does up to 30 damage per second.
- Volt Driver- Souped-up Power Beam. The Volt driver shoots almost as fast as the Power Beam and does more damage. This weapon should be used as a replacement for the Power Beam until more weapons are found, just be careful not to run out of ammo. Charge shot has a small blast radius.
- Omega Cannon- A one-hit-kill weapon with an enormous blast radius. Only available on the "Oubliette" stage, the Omega Cannon shoots a slow moving ba ll of light and detonates as soon as it strikes a surface or enemy. Be weary, the blast will kill all hunters in range, including the one who fired it.
Each of the Hunters has its own “Affinity Weapon” (ex. Shock Coil, Judicator), “alt-form” (i.e. Morph Ball, Dialanche), and other benefits.
Samus is the all around hunter. Average size, Alt-Form, head size, etc. This makes it easier for her to adapt in many situations, but also makes it difficult for her to specialize in anything. Her main asset is that she starts the match with her Affinity Weapon: the missiles. Her main weakness is that the missiles aren't very powerful.
Affinity Weapon: Missiles. If the player charges Samus’ missiles, they gain a limited seeking capability, making them much more difficult to avoid than the other hunters’. Missiles have a high travel time and usually go in a straight line, making them easy to avoid and hard to use for most Hunters. However, since Samus’ missiles can home in on opponents, she can use this high damaging weapon to better effect and not have to worry about her opponents’ missiles as much.
Alt-Form: Morph Ball. Samus’ Morph Ball is one of the easiest alt-forms to use, while still remaining useful. The Morph Ball is quick and can be moved in any direction at any time, allowing for hairpin turns and quick escapes. Her Boost Ball function adds to the Morph Ball’s speed by giving the player short bursts of speed that can be used to retreat quicker or to tackle opponents. The Morph Ball’s bombs can also amass large amounts of damage quickly if they hit the opponent each time. Though only three morph balls can be laid out at a time and they usually take a while to explode, if an opponent runs into one, they explode instantly and allow for another quick deployment. Getting right up next to an opponent and dropping several bombs at a time is an effective strategy with this ability.
Kanden has a slightly bigger character model than most characters, making him an easier target. His small head compensates for this fact, however, by allowing him to avoid high-damaging headshots. His Alt-Form gives him one of the best hit-and-run games of all the hunters.
Affinity Weapon: Volt Driver. Kanden's Volt Driver causes the visor of the opponent to blur a little and when charged, the Volt Driver gains homing capabilities. This ability can be extremely useful if the opponent is stuck in a corner, as they will have much trouble evading the shot (or at least its blast radius) and the player can follow several uncharged shots while the opponent is disoriented.
Alt-Form: Stinglarva. Kanden's Stinglarva may be offensively terrible, but it can easily be used to escape a dangerous situation. Although it does not move very quickly, the Stinglarva's "tail mines" make it difficult to chase down without taking a substantial amount of damage. Kanden can drop two or three of these mines at a time behind him and they remain still for a time. If an opponent happens to come to close to the mines, they will instantly home in on the opponent with surprising speed and accuracy. Despite the Stinglarva's inability to attack head-on, it is one of the best retreating tools in the game.
Spire, like Kanden, has a slightly bulkier frame than the other hunters, but a smaller head. His Magmaul's special ability is devastating on Alt-Forms, hitting them with both the original force of the weapon plus the burning damage. He also takes no damage from environmental lava as in the "Alinos Gateway" stage.
Affinity Weapon: Magmaul. Spire's Magmaul causes the opponent to catch on fire when charged, dealing damage over time. As the Magmaul is the best weapon for dealing with Alt-Forms, Spire can make short work of opponents in Alt-Form by charging shots in front of them over and over leading to massive amounts of damage whether they decide to continue the attack or retreat.
Alt-Form: Dialanche. Spire's Dialanche is a large, slow moving chunk of rock with only a physical attack. Its large size couples well with its physical attack because it gives him a wider attacking radius. A slow, physical Alt-Form seems lackluster, but it also has the unique capability of climbing walls. This allows the player to sneak attack opponents sitting on ledges and possibly pick up the kill before they even know what hit them. It works even better on snipers hiding on ledges while zoomed in. The Dialanche moves across walls at about the same speed as it moves along the floor.
Noxus has the same body size and head size as Samus, also known as average.
Affinity Weapon: Judicator. When Noxus charges his Judicator, it sends out a wide short-range wall of ice instead of the usual triple shot. This wall of ice freezes the opponent for a few seconds, leaving him unable to move. This ability can be very useful when coupled with another strong weapon, such as Missiles; freeze the opponent and unload several high-damaging missiles that are usually hard to hit with.
Alt-Form: Vhoscythe. Vhoscythe. Noxus’ Vhoscythe is probably the least glamorous of any of the hunters. It’s basically just a spinning crouched version of his biped form with an extendable blade for an attack. It doesn’t move very fast and the blade doesn’t do a ton of damage. It can rack up a bit of damage by remaining near an opponent and slashing them multiple times if spaced correctly, but if the Vhoscythe touches an opponent it bounces away from him. Basically a faster, weaker version of the Dialanche that can’t climb walls.
Sylux has a slightly smaller frame than the other hunters, but has a larger head, making him a little easier to headshot. His high-speed, high-damaging Alt-Form coupled with the increased durability granted by his Affinity Weapon make Sylux the second most popular hunter in multi-player.
Affinity Weapon: Shock Coil. When Sylux fires his Shock Coil, all of the damage done to the victim is transferred to the Sylux. This makes the Shock Coil a good weapon for stand-offs as Sylux will be dealing damage while healing his own damage at the same time. The rate of health absorption increases in a linear fashion with respects to the damage the Shock Coil is currently doing.
Alt-Form: Lockjaw. Sylux's Lockjaw is by far the fastest moving Alt-Form of all the hunters. The Lockjaw can drop one, two, or three electric “charges” that perform differently dependent on number. One charge is a simple bomb, two charges creates a tripwire effect that attacks opponents that pass through, and three charges creates an explosive triangle that can do up to 180 damage. All of these factors combined make the Lockjaw great for setting up traps and leading opponents into them; unfortunately it also leads people to spam this alt-form the most.
Weavel shares the average body and head size of Samus and Noxus. His difficult to master Alt-Form and Battlehammer make Weavel something of a niche character to play, but when mastered he becomes the most difficult character to approach and a deadly force on any stage.
Affinity Weapon: Battlehammer. Weavel's Battlehammer uses up twice as much ammo but deals much more damage with the splash radius on the weapon. This ability makes opponents fearful to approach Weavel as they will be just as afraid of the blast radius as they will of the actual shot. This spacing improvement also allows for great control of the stage; whether on a small scale or a large scale.
Alt-Form: Halfturret. Weavel's Halfturret splits into two parts upon activation: the top, mobile half with a blade attack and the bottom, stationary half with a turret. The turret fires non-Affinity Battlehammer shots when opponents come within range, making it double as an alarm when someone approaches an area. The downside to this amazing dual-nature Alt-Form is that the two halves share damage. If the turret is destroyed, Weavel reverts to biped form; but if the top half is destroyed, the player is killed.
Trace has the most skeletal figure of all the characters but, in turn, has the largest head. This is something of an ironic trait when compared to the headshot-heavy nature of his Affinity Weapon, the Imperialist. A powerful Alt-Form coupled with the gaming community's addiction to sniper weapons makes Trace, by far, the most commonly played hunter online.
Affinity Weapon: Imperialist. If Trace stands still for a few seconds with the Imperialist equipped, he becomes almost completely invisible, making for and impromptu cloaking ability. This ability works well in conjunction with the long-ranged nature of the weapon, allowing Trace to snipe enemies across the stage while maintaining a decent concealment from opponents at close range.
Alt-Form: Triskelion. Trace’s Triskelion is a fast-moving oversized spider. Despite being armed with only a melee attack, it is one of the fastest ways of picking up kills doing a whopping 50 damage with each lunge; two hits is enough to kill a re-spawned player. “Lunge” is no exaggeration as Trace shoots forward a great deal with the attack. The Triskelion’s secondary function is a stealth function that works the same as Trace wielding the Imperialist. If the player does not move for a few seconds, the Triskelion becomes nearly invisible, making sneak attacks extremely easy.
Originally, a demo titled Metroid Prime Hunters: First Hunt was packaged along with every DS at launch. The demo gave players a taste of what the Nintendo DS was capable of, as well as tease people for when Metroid Prime: Hunters was released, although its controls were notably very different from those of the final product. The demo offered three sort of mini-game scenarios for the player. Interestingly, while First Hunt features appearances by Metroids, none of the creatures actually appear in the finished retail version of Hunters.
First was a brief level where the player goes from room to room, eliminating enemies before the door to the next room could be opened. At the end of this linear level, players had a boss fight with a Samus clone.
The second scenario was a survival mode, where the player was set in an area, and had to fend off incoming Metroids as long as they could.
The third and final scenario was played entirely in morph ball mdoe. The player simply rolled around a level collecting symbols. The symbols make out a path, and if the player skips any symbol, points are deducted.
This goes on until the player reaches the end. At the end of each scenario, the game scores the player and shows a leaderboard. If the player places on the leaderboard (beating the pre-set CPU scores,) a teaser trailer is unlocked at the main menu for Metroid Prime: Hunters.