It's odd to think about now, but there was a time when a first-person shooter seemed like kind a really good idea for the Nintendo DS.
In its earliest days, the DS was packaged with a demo for Metroid Prime Hunters -- a portable first-person shooter meant to show off the raw potential of Nintendo's new platform. For the first time, Nintendo's handhelds could not only handle 3D, but handle it with applomb; or at least, it seemed that way in 2005. And people praised it, even as they complained about what a pain it was to balance the system in one hand while simultaneously maneuvering Samus with the stylus in the other.
When the final version was at last released in 2006, it was again praised for its surprisingly robust multiplayer functionality... and quickly forgotten. As it turned out, not a lot of people were interested in playing a full-blown FPS on the likes of Nintendo DS. Metroid Prime Hunters sold fairly well in early 2006, but its ideas were never really built upon, and today it's regarded by something of a curiosity by Metroid fans and FPS fans alike (those who remember it, at least). Enter Moon Chronicles: An episodic first-person shooter for the Nintendo 3DS that includes one thing that Metroid Prime Hunters definitely lacked -- a solid single-player campaign.
For those who don't remember the original, Moon Chronicles is actually a remake. Moon was first released on the Nintendo DS back in 2009, making it one of the rare first-person shooters to follow Metroid Prime's example. At the time, it got high marks for its smooth framerate, detailed 3D graphics, and surprisingly massive architecture, all of which were solid technical achievements on the DS. But what it really benefited from were its intricate labyrinths -- a throwback to the days of classic PC shooters that helped separate it from Metroid Prime Hunters.
Despite its solid reception, the original Moon mostly went unnoticed, so it's kind of a pleasant surprise to see it resurface on the Nintendo 3DS. The eShop is the perfect venue for an episodic shooter like Moon Chronicles, where its more likely to be noticed than a standard retail release. And in the years since its original release, it's gotten a solid facelift. In particular, it's well-positioned to take advantage of the platform's 3D effects, as first-person shooters is one genre that really benefits from a sense of depth and immersion.
The campaign remains much the same for this version, though it has been divided up into four episodes lasting between 2 and 4 hours each. As before, it takes place in the drab corridors of a moon base that has apparently been infested with robots, most of which like to hover a few feet off the ground. While there are plenty of walkk climbers and security robots to shoot though, the meat of the experience is in navigating the various traversal puzzles sprinkled throughout the corridors, with items like the Remote Access Droid making their triumphant return. Less a shooter than an adventure game, it frequently features long stretches without any enemy encounters, choosing instead to focus attention on the puzzles.
While the story and design remains much the same though, Renegade Kid is still taking the opportunity to make plenty of improvements to the controls and graphics. Word is that Moon Chronicles will support the Circle Pad Pro, instantly making it the optimal control choice, even with the Metroid Prime Hunters-style stylus method remaining surprisingly viable on the 3DS XL's large screen. They've also resized the screen to fit the 3DS, and the results look very nice in motion. Moon Chronicles doesn't look much better than an old PlayStation 2 shooter; but given that it's technically five-years-old at this point, it's held up rather admirably.
Admittedly, the 3DS still isn't that great of a platform for first-person shooters. Neither is the more powerful Vita, when it comes down to it. First-person shooters have always been weird fit for handhelds in general, emphasizing as they do graphical fidelity, complex controls, and multiplayer options. They just don't offer the kind of experience that can easily be pared down into the sort of bite-sized experience that handhelds demand.
For all of its emphasis on graphics though, Moon Chronicles isn't a typical modern FPS. As stated earlier, it's really more of a throwback to the earliest days of the FPS -- as much Wolfenstein 3D as it is Halo. In that, Moon Chronicles would seem to have a place on even a non-traditional platform like the Nintendo 3DS, since it takes the emphasis off shooting and puts it on puzzle-solving -- a very portable-friendly activity. In a way, it's kind of funny, since Metroid Prime has much the same pedigree. Perhaps if Metroid Prime Hunters had been more a traditional Metroid game than a multiplayer shooter, it might have had a more lasting impact, opening the door for others like it on the Nintendo DS.
Instead, first-person shooter enthusiasts who happen to own a Nintendo 3DS will have to settle for Moon Chronicles; which, hey, is quite a bit better than nothing. If the remake does well enough, Renegade Kid has even hinted that there might be a second season in the offing, with an all new story and missions. In true PC fashion, they're also considering sprucing up the graphics as the go, releasing what amounts to graphical packs containing new textures and effects with each new episode.
Moon Chronicles will be the 3DS' first FPS, so as of right now, there's quite literally nothing like it on the platform. Renegade Kid has shown that the genre can work on Nintendo's handhelds though, and there's reason to be intrigued by an episodic FPS that can be downloaded through the eShop. Keep an eye on this one -- it may not be a breakout hit, but it will be interesting to see whether there's more like it down the road.