The new wave of Wi-Fi games has arrived. Here is a quick rundown of how online battle works and why it's oh so awesome.
After an evening of battles with fellow staffers and a few readers, it's not that hard to say that Metroid Prime: Hunters has the deathmatch options of a Quake game, with a Nintendo twist. Anyone who complained about the constricting Wi-Fi play of Mario Kart should look into MP:H's multiplayer – it's entirely flexible and feature-laden, but there are a couple hoops you must jump through to get there. When you first log in you won't have any friends; you can play a random match with up to three other people, and you can only play straight “Battle" mode. Once you've played with someone, you can add them to your “Rivals" list if they agree. This allows you to play with them in any of the other modes with very adaptable level options (team play, points and time limits, a few weapons options). However, you cannot voice or even text chat with anyone on your Rivals list. This list is intended only for strangers you meet online but have agreed to battle with. Your list can hold up to sixty people, effectively replicating an “open-system" for finding combatants. If you have the friend code for a rival, you can upgrade him to friend, which enables voice and text chat. Now, if your friend list is limited, you needn't worry. If your friend is hosting a match and several of his friends are joining, you can still join, sans any chat features. After the match, you can add them to your rivals list.
So far the Wi-Fi connection has been stable. I personally have encountered a few “Connection Error" resets, and a reboot of the DS solves the problem. However, Tetris DS has also been having connection problems of a much larger sort, indicating that Nintendo's servers might not be prepared for a high volume of gamers. Time will tell if these issues can be resolved. Voice chat in Hunters works very well, though you do have to get your mouth pretty close to the mic. The voice chat option, as Bloodworth has reported, functions as a walkie talkie, except it is possible for two people to hold down their “talk" buttons at once and have a flowing conversation – this is not preferred since there is a persistent echo. There's a text chat option that slightly interrupts your game by taking you to a completely different screen and gives you no confirmation that the other person received the message. Steven (WindyMan) wisely pointed out that a chat window would have been appropriate.
Since you can join games hosted by your friends or rivals, getting the exact players you want in a match is not hard. You can even limit whether you want the game to be open to just friends, just rivals, or both. It is possible that someone on your friends list could join a game when you don't want them to, but heck, with voice chat you can tell 'em to get out! We were able to play with each other with minimal problems. The main difficulty is the friend code, but even that's a minor hassle. (Fill up on friend codes and post your own in our WiFi forum.) Tournaments and planned events do not seem out of the question with MP:H.
As for the actual gameplay and fun factor, we'll be leaving that to the full game review. Until that time, if it's multiplayer that has you on the fence about Metroid Prime: Hunters, get off the fence and run, quickly, towards the greenest online pasture Nintendo's offered yet.