A Nintendo demo cartridge? No way, it’s gotta be cursed

Metroid Prime Hunters (2006)

Demos, don’t talk to me about demos. A live demo of something might be the worst thing of all to give to people, yes, even ahead of gonorrhoea. I have found myself in the unenviable position of having to give live demonstrations of how a particular piece of software was meant to work. When you’re in that position, old Murphy can’t get his arse in gear fast enough to track you down and invoke his law, to make it all go wrong for you.

At the very least, anytime I’m demoing something it’s usually done via remote means, through a screen-share these days. That’s obviously better than trying to pull the wool over the punters’ eyes when they’re there with you and close enough to reach out and slap you for lying to their face.

But you can never relax on a webcam, can you? It becomes a poker game, trying not to let that split second micro-expression of anger and contempt flash on your face as some idiotic (or worse, enthusiastic) audience member asks you a question. You’re there to regurgitate a script, don’t they know that?

You’re also doing your best to hide the obviously broken elements and the lack of features beyond the surface. You’re certainly not there for improv. You fear trying to talk freely would just bring you off the rails violently, like Kramer losing his mind at the comedy club all those years ago.

I don’t tend to believe in curses, outside of the one that keeps preventing Spurs from winning the league, but there very definitely exists the curse of the live demo. You can spend all that time trying to cobble together a nice little bespoke piece to try to show a potential customer, but the minute the big-hitters join the call and the recording starts, other things get knocked out of joint.

Your internet falls over, your camera turns you into a cat, whatever rubbish you’re demoing suddenly won’t load or you see all kinds of strange behaviour that never manifested before, your computer has melted, and your hair’s on fire. And yes indeed, God help you if you’re stood at the top of a boardroom, trying to impress some product demo upon Johnny O’Bigwig in person, that’s just asking for trouble.

After all, you may be a good actor, but you won’t be able to hide all of your body language, now will you? You could conceal your red face, your nervous bobbing from side to side, even your sweating. But your squeaky voice will give your lack of overall confidence away in a hurry.

But geeks worldwide, fear not, because I have a solution – just pre-record your demo. No, seriously, just get it on tape and let it play out, saving yourself tonnes of heartbreak. You won’t have to deal with any snivelling questions either. You may think I’m jesting, but you can see where this phenomenon works in video games. Go back to the PS1 days, when everyone had demo discs galore, and they went down a treat.

Why? Because it was an image on a disc that didn’t go pear-shaped on the creator, right when they didn’t need it. But games have gone in the wrong direction now, where it’s all about live demos, test fires and early access. And these are always, without exception, disastrous exercises. A thinly veiled attempt by game companies to get punters to do the game testing and QA for them? No doubt, but when the whole thing collapses from minute one, that just leaves everyone embarrassed.

I hadn’t even known Nintendo could be capable of demos until the release of the DS, including a whole demo cartridge, if you don’t mind, of Metroid Prime Hunters. And I thought demo carts were the impossible dream for Nintendo. As I understand it, the demo was focused on, naturally enough, the main selling point of MP Hunters which was its local and online multiplayer component.

Being that DSes are no longer to be commonly found on subways and in the schoolyard, and Metroid has never been a popular must have app anyway, we’ll probably have to overlook the multiplayer aspect here with all the energy of a demoer disdainfully telling the customer that their requested feature is not available.

Bit of a shame though, because from what I know, the multiplayer was a great bit of fun for its time, although it did quickly get riddled by hackers. What I never knew about Metroid Prime Hunters is that there is a Single Player campaign there for you, free of any wobbly internet, waiting to be discovered. I’d have to say though that after a fairly promising start, the single player does quickly run out of ideas – we’re talking the same areas and game flow through the same locations, over and over, with some particularly terrible repetition with boss battles.

But it’s not all doom and gloom, in actually fact MP:H was one hell of a showcase for what the DS could do. The most striking thing is the graphics, where GBA was obviously only capable of outputting 2D Metroid, MPH shows us the DS could handle full 3D environments, and from the first-person perspective as well (alright, alright, there was a Nightfire 007 on GBA as well, but stop being cheeky). It’s probably a million miles away from GCN Metroid Prime still, but isn’t it always the case that the jalopy you’re trying to show off is nowhere near as impressive as what the big boys have?

There’s even a decent number of pre-rendered cutscenes in the game, probably worse than potato quality in the grand scheme of things, but it was all impressive at the time, still sort of impressive now really, and that’s all that really mattered.

Another thing I didn’t know about this game is how you’re not actually stuck using the stylus as a control scheme, but you can roll with just buttons instead. Although it’s arguable which is the more preferable here – I reckon both would leave you with some pretty nasty hand cramp eventually, especially on a DS Lite. But remember, just don’t let the discomfort show on your face, and you’ll be alright.

I’d mentioned the single player gets repetitive and cracks begin to show, but you’ll be wanting to know if there is otherwise a traditional Metroid game under here. Backtracking, Screw Attack, Ridley, that sort of thing? And the answer is, not really – you’ll only get Arm Cannon related upgrades as you go, plus more Missiles and Energy Tanks.

In place of the usual thrilling cast of characters you usually get from a Metroid game (Ridley, Kraid, those nice little animals you sometimes rescue) are a load of the eponymous Hunters, who only really gain relevance in the multiplayer mode, which I can’t show you right now because of a technical issue beyond my control.

I suppose as a demo, as a preview of the future, Metroid Prime Hunters did its job. It showed us what the Nintendo DS could do, and gave people with smart money an insight into why it was poised to be the best selling handheld ever. Sadly, I don’t think enough people truly cared about Metroid to really get involved or excited by this game.

Indeed, for me I only started getting excited by the DS as a whole when I discovered how easy it was to bust wide open with the R4 cartridge, although that’s neither here nor there. Give this game a go for a short while at least, but just be sure to abort and get out when the juice runs out, and some tough questions start being asked.

10 February 2023

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