In the Hunt is Metal Slug in a submarine. It looks like Metal Slug, plays like Metal Slug, it is essentially Metal Slug with the ability to move all over the screen. Whether or not it's a sequel of sorts to IREM's early NES submarine shooter Sqoon remains a mystery, but at least it's a much better game.
The game begins after you're given a mission to destroy the Dark Anarchy Society (D.A.S.) in what appears to be post-apocalyptic Japan, after the polar ice caps have melted. The only remaining evidence of earth society are a sunken city, replete with submerged skyscrapers, and a Japanese town built on oil rig-style platforms. The rest of your journey will take you through underwater caverns and ruins, and finally, the flooded base of the D.A.S. itself.
Controlling your submarine will take some getting used to. It is very slow and sluggish, and it might be difficult to adapt to if you're used to the quick control of other sidescrolling shooters. What's important, however, is not how slow the game is, but how intense it can be at times. And In the Hunt does have some very intense moments, but overall, it doesn't push the player, just nudge. This game is no R-Type.
In the Hunt features both a "Playstation" mode and an "Arcade" mode, each with four levels of difficulty. As far as I could tell, the only difference between these modes is that there are invincibility shields in the Playstation mode, but not in the Arcade mode. Both give you five continues, a maximum of five lives, and no way to earn extra lives or continues. Even on the easiest possible setting (Playstation, Very Easy), I did not finish this game on my first try. However, once I did finish it, I beat each consecutive difficulty setting in one game, without having to start over. Perhaps, I should have lowered my number of lives to 3 or 4, but still, something just isn't right about that.
The trick may be that In the Hunt becomes easier once you learn certain things about it. These tricks can be applied to any situation the game throws at you, and the addition of a few more enemies or lack of shields on harder settings makes little difference. Primarily is the weapon system: The green power-up is In the Hunt's version of the spread gun in Contra. It is so overpowering, even being able to shoot right through some walls, that it negates the necessity for the other two weapons.
Another issue is the boss fights; some of them have safe spots, most have relatively simple patterns. I have seen reports that the first boss's "chain claw" attack is impossible to avoid, but that's not true. It's a matter of using your bombs to keep the lower claw at bay, and sitting just out-of-reach of the upper claw. The dragon boss, whose three heads are mounted upside-down, seemed intriguing at first, as you not only have to avoid his attacks, but the rocks shooting out of volcanoes as well. But I discovered a way to time the rocks, and that allowed me to use a portion of the screen as a "safe spot" where I could wait for a clear shot.
So what this amounts to is that you can learn how to lose less lives in some areas, and then "fudge" your way through the really difficult spots. The bane of my one-credit goal are these gauntlets of giant missiles that shoot up out of the ground. These behemoths cannot be destroyed, only sped up by shooting the bottom, or slowed down by shooting the top. You must get them to line up so that a gap appears through them, and this is nearly impossible to do without the green powerup. Even with it, getting through them is a tough feat to accomplish in one life, but it's no matter if you've saved up a few. You lose your power-ups upon being destroyed, but the levels are so full of extras, that you'll most likely find another before long.
But In the Hunt really does have some good moments, some intense moments, and plenty of originality. There is a long chase up a vertical tunnel where you're being pursued by an animated Janus statue. Defeating him as the boss requires you to knock bricks off the ceiling onto his head, which eventually exposes the muscles underneath his stone countenance (an image my boyfriend thinks is really disgusting, but I find rather funny.) Other areas line up numerous enemies that shoot indestructible bullets from top-to-bottom of the screen. The slowness of your ship means that you cannot use "twitch" dodging skills to get through this, you'll have to find another method (one that, perhaps, involves redirecting their attacks.)
I also liked the game's final boss (and what the final boss turns out to be is a surprise, so I won't spoil it.) It's a multi-part battle that I'll always remember getting to, and getting one phase farther each time, until I finally beat the game. But its patterns really aren't too difficult to deal with, once you know what they are and prepare yourself for them. It seemed like there could've been room for one more boss fight after it, and I was hoping there would be on the harder difficulty settings, but alas, there was none.
One thing I have to wonder is how much In the Hunt may have been changed from the arcade version. I have seen arcade screenshots of the part where a snake-like fish chases you down a volcanic tunnel. In those screenshots, the volcanoes are shooting rocks, but that doesn't happen at all in the PS1 version (at least not in that particular area.) It makes me wonder if the difficulty was toned down some.
Visually, In the Hunt looks very nice, with its cartoon-style graphics, excellent animation, and careful attention to details. In the second level, your submarine can blow up quite a few background objects, which often causes (tiny) people and animals to run out and plunge into the water below. You can even decimate the buildings in this stage with no repercussions. Watch as you shoot one end of a building and the blast rips through the rest of it, clear to the other end. The game's music, however, is pretty much inconsequential because I can never hear it overtop of the sound effects.
In the Hunt is certainly not the 2D shooter to make or break the Playstation as the system of choice for 2D shooters. It's a fun game and a noble effort by IREM to make something humorous and different, but it just didn't push my skills as a gamer. It was good enough, however, to make me curious about its PS2 sequel, Sub Rebellion, but for now, it's down periscope, I'm moving onto something else.
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