This week's Bargain Bin Laden begins with a personal gripe: Nintendo and NST really crapped in my cereal with Metroid Prime: Hunters. Not because it was a bad game -- quite the contrary, actually -- but just because the original Prime took my favorite 2D series and sort of lodged it into a 3D environment, and was then brought to the haven for 2D gaming: a portable platform. Metroid Prime is a hell of a good time, but when I settle down with my DS, I prefer my gaming in two distinct dimensions: X and Y. Sure, there's this 2D Metroid Dread title rumored to be floating around at Nintendo's Intelligent Systems studio, but the murmurings of its cancellation in the two years since it was mentioned (not shown, mind, but only mentioned) make me fear that classic Metroid might be getting muscled out. The Castlevania DS titles have served well to ease my need for this brand of adventure gaming, but they'll never fill the void quite like another 2D Metroid.
You might be wondering what all this Metroid talk has to do with Scurge: Hive -- that is, unless you've read a preview or review of the game, y'know, ever. The comparisons are drawn for good reason: you, a female bounty hunter named Jenosa Arma, bring the pain to an assembly of weird creatures while staving off an infection you picked up on a space station. If it sounds familiar, it ought to; being so heavily influenced by Metroid Fusion, you can't help but draw comparisons between these two titles.
Fortunately, Scurge stands as one of the best Metroid-esque titles released in the last year, making it a suitable stand-in while we await a true 2D Metroid sequel. On top of that, Scurge nets a haul of extra brownie points for bringing some original ideas to the table, creating a sweaty smorgasbord of delectable 2D gaming for a very low price. Strap on your skin-tight bounty hunter jumpsuit and hit the jump for more!
Scurge: Hive (DS, GBA)
It's no joke that this game is so often compared to Metroid Fusion. The story, as summarized on Wikipedia, is as follows:
Scurge: Hive features a female bounty hunter tasked with hunting a parasitic lifeform. The story follows Jenosa Arma, who has been contracted by the military on a rescue and salvage mission to Confederation Research Lab 58 on planet Inos. The perpetrator of the disaster is a virulent organism known as "Scurge," a parasite which has the ability to transform various organisms and technologies into Scurge derivatives. Jenosa has been equipped with a suit that resists infection. Unfortunately, it can only slow the infection down rather than make her immune; she is infected with Scurge the moment she first encounters it.
Change "Jenosa Arma" to "Samus Aran" and "Scurge" to "X" and you've got what is, essentially, Fusion's storyline, minus all that Metroid DNA claptrap. But let's not beleaguer Orbital Media for crafting a game that, for good reason, draws from some of its finest predecessors so heavily. Much like how Crackdown took its spiritual grandpappy Grand Theft Auto in a new direction, Scurge takes the space bounty-huntin' racket and reworks it in a way that makes for a fresh, invigorating gaming experience.
First thing's first: Scurge ain't a sidescroller. Gameplay is presented in an isometric (3/4) view, something we haven't seen in an action-adventure title in quite awhile. This alone comes along with a whole set of costs and benefits, which come in the form of a series of trade-offs. The isometric view allows for a freedom of movement in all directions and a slightly more dynamic combat system, but unfortunately only allows Jenosa to fire and move in eight directions. When you're being assaulted on all sides by baddos, this can be a bit of a pain, but it's something easily worked around by staying as mobile as possible while you're making your way through the game. The isometric view makes it somewhat difficult to gauge distances and depth for big jumps, but being able to work your way around enemies -- not just over them -- is a big plus. This is probably the biggest hurdle to get over in Scurge, but once you get the hang of it, the rest comes easy.
Jenosa's infection is an ever-present threat to your exploration; an indicator at the top-center point of your HUD displays the current percentage of infection currently bearing down upon you, and it ticks up a percent every so often, necessitating a trip to a decontamination station. These stations, positioned at locations interspersed throughout Scurge's levels, serve as charge-up locations and save points as well as a means of washing clean your filthy, dirty body and ridding you of your current contamination level. Other factors, like being struck by the angry bastard creatures that stand in your way or stepping upon certain contaminated surfaces, also increase your level. Once the gauge reaches 100%, you'll be taking steady damage until you can get back to a save point, which is both a great motivator for tearing through the game as well as a serious detractor to the sort of easy-going exploration element common amongst adventure titles.
Scurge has all the standard issue faults of a Metroid-style adventure game, including backtracking and ability-based impasses, but if you're the sort of cat who is into this sort of thing, it's likely that you already expected that. Another big difference is the inclusion of a level-based system to develop Jenosa. You'll gain experience with every slain enemy and, naturally, level up from time to time, boosting your HP and attack power. Scurge also offers a host of weapons with which to splatter your foes, but using the wrong weapon on the right enemy gives them a boost in power and energy, necessitating a dash of strategy in your ass-kickin' exploits.
Scurge is an absolutely beautiful GBA game, which means it's a pretty great looking DS game. The DS version, being a port, won't stack up to some of the beefier 2D efforts on the platform like Lunar Knights or Yoshi's Island DS, but the graphics really shine on a DS Lite. The game is vibrant, colorful, and full of creative boss battles and enemy designs, and the music is atmospheric and moody -- not quite up to the bar as set by the Metroid GBA titles, but pretty phenomenal nonetheless.
With this in mind, you might be asking yourself which version to pick up. They cost the same and the games themselves are identical except for one key difference: Scurge on the DS includes a map on the touch screen at all times. As superficial as this detail might be, it's actually fairly handy to have, particularly in some of the game's later, more labyrinthine areas. I hear tell (though have not confirmed, as I don't have the GBA version myself) that some of the environmental effects and sounds didn't make the leap to DS as elegantly as the game's other features, so the GBA might actually outclass the DS in terms of audio and visual fidelity, in this case. Choosing a version is as simple as deciding what's more important to you or whatever platform you prefer. Simple as that.
Scurge's strengths definitely outweigh its flaws, and at just a hair over a ten bucks, it's one of the best buys on the Nintendo DS. While you're praying for Metroid Dread, why not dig into a game that so heroically robs the classic series of some of its best traits? Off with you! Buy this game!