Communications with a research colony located on an alien planet have ceased. Sketchy reports suggest that a parasitic life-form has taken over all of the wildlife and machines in and around the colony. A female bounty hunter is sent in to investigate the situation and recover the research. That's the basic premise behind Scurge: Hive, Orbital Media's sci-fi-themed action adventure for the Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS.
You control a female bounty hunter who's been sent to investigate an alien outbreak on another planet.
An action adventure involving an alien infestation and a female bounty hunter--that sure sounds like Metroid. Certainly, the comparisons between Nintendo's Metroid series and Orbital's original creation are unavoidable. Both games task you with exploring a large alien complex, gathering weapons, and gradually unlocking new areas, all while blasting wave after wave of icky creatures. Both games offer a similar take on the old-school "run, jump, and shoot" formula. And both games feature slick graphics, a marvelous soundtrack, and a hackneyed, albeit intricate, plot told through high-tech cinematic scenes. Scurge: Hive isn't afraid to ape the Metroid blueprint, although it does introduce its own nuances.
Most obvious is the overhead isometric perspective, which lets you run, jump, and blast away in a manner that has more in common with The Legend of Zelda than Metroid. Playing as Jenosa the bounty hunter, you still have to jump between platforms, climb up ledges, and push objects around, but the almost three-dimensional perspective gives greater depth to the research colony and its surrounding environment. It also gave the developer the freedom to introduce some truly brain-teasing spatial puzzles. To complete each of the game's six chapters, for instance, you "merely" have to activate the power terminals located inside each wing of the lab and defeat the bosses that have taken up residence inside; but getting those tasks done requires jumping through the mental hoops required to get to the keys, unlock the doors, and resituate the power generators located in the rooms along the way.
Further following in the footsteps of Metroid and Zelda, Scurge: Hive isn't split up into a succession of self-contained levels. Instead, you explore a single, large complex where new doorways and areas become available once key abilities have been acquired. After you get the fire upgrade from the desert area, for example, you can use it to burn away the underbrush blocking the caves in the forest area. New surprises are constantly cropping up in areas that you've previously explored. Besides encouraging backtracking and exploration, this format helps immerse you in the gameworld better than a disjointed sequence of separate levels would. As it is, each section of the complex has its own style of architecture and terrain, as well as a unique assortment of enemies, so it's not as if you're stuck seeing the same blue steel hallways the entire time. The story is told gradually, with new bits and pieces revealed when you enter rooms or access certain computer terminals for the first time. Waypoints on the map keep you moving in the right direction, and boss battles mark the end of one chapter and the start of the next--but you're always free to deviate from the plan and explore wherever you want.
Of course, there are loads of ugly, man-eating aliens to deal with, too. Each room or area is full of a dozen different types of them, which respawn every time you leave and come back. Some will try to hurt you by bumping into you. Others do their dirty work by hurling energy blasts or acid. A few will actually try to grab Jenosa and chew on her. Overall, there's a good variety of enemies, and most look appropriately gross and disgusting. Jenosa's weapons do an excellent job of splattering her attackers, however, so you'll rarely find yourself up-close and personal with a group of baddies for more than a few seconds in each area. These smaller creatures are mainly fodder to keep you on your toes. Boss battles are a different matter. While you're exploring the research complex, you'll eventually come across one of the six larger Scurge creatures that have taken up residence inside one of the base's many power reactors. Each boss is massive, ugly, and has multiple attack patterns. Some old-school reflexes and quick thinking are required to dodge the bosses' attacks and figure out which abilities to employ so that you can actually damage these beasts. In one area, for example, you'll face off against a worm that will try to suck you into its mouth. By latching onto a rock with Jenosa's tether rope, you can avoid becoming worm food. Boss battles provide an exciting change of pace from gunning down fodder enemies and solving switch puzzles.
Much like Samus of Metroid fame, the female lead in Scurge: Hive comes clad in a cybernetic suit that lets her withstand quite a bit of damage and dish out energy blasts to any unfortunate opposition. When the game opens, Jenosa has a basic energy weapon and can peform simple actions that allow her to jump across gaps and grab onto ledges and pipes (which she can shimmy across). As you go through the game, you'll add other weapons, tools, and abilities to Jenosa's arsenal. In general, each weapon lets you vanquish certain enemies more quickly. The one exception is the ice beam, which lets you transform enemies into heavy ice cubes that are perfect for activating the switch panels set into the floors in some rooms. As for tools and abilities, the three worth mentioning are the tether rope, boost boots, and time displacement upgrade. With the tether, you can catapult across large gaps and drag around objects such as generators or enemies that you've frozen with the ice beam. After you acquire the boost boots, you'll be able to perform a double-jump that will enable Jenosa to reach those lofty platforms that have been teasing you since the first area. The time displacement upgrade, meanwhile, adds a Matrix-style twist to Jenosa's repertoire. When you activate it, the screen turns gray and enemies move at a snail's pace. All in all, Scurge: Hive gives you a healthy assortment of weapons and abilities.