Publisher: SouthPeak Interactive
Developer: Orbital Media, Inc.
Release Date: October 24, 2006
Before we begin, something should be said: If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Scurge: The Hive is a love letter to a blushing Metroid Fusion. Many aspects of the games mirror each other, from the Scurge's uncanny similarity to the X-Parasite to Jenosa's computer assistant, who instructs her on the way through the station. One of the enemy creatures even looks identical to the titular Metroid creature and attacks in the same manner. However, while the inspiration is obvious, Scurge: The Hive manages to pull a few original tricks out of its bag, so don't immediately brush it off as a cheap clone.
Scurge: The Hive tells the story of Jenosa Arma, a legendary bounty hunter who is sent to a remote research station to investigate the outbreak of a mysterious organism called the Scurge; it's an energy parasite that is capable of infecting anything from worms to security droids, mutating into a new and more deadly form. As soon as Jenosa approaches the station, her ship is shot down by a Scurge-infected laser, and she's stranded on the planet. Now Jenosa has to find a way off the planet while discovering exactly how the Scurge escaped in the first place.
Before sending Jenosa in, the Federation equipped her with a prototype battle suit, specially designed to halt Scurge infection and equip any technology Jenosa may find on the base. While at first the suit seems almost useless, Jenosa quickly begins to gather upgrades that turn it into a real powerhouse. Equipment varies to encompass everything from a grappling hook to a gas filter, and each piece of equipment you gather opens up more exploration options. This is almost a problem in the early segments of the game, where platforming is uninspired and frankly tedious. Once Jenosa begins to gather equipment, the gameplay really begins to spice up.
However, the most important feature of the suit is the one it begins with: the ability to retard infection. Early in the game, Jenosa is infected by the Scurge parasite. While the suit slows the progress of the parasite, it slowly but surely begins to get a hold on Jenosa, shown by a meter at the top of the screen. Once it reaches 100%, Jenosa's health begins to drop rapidly, and should it reach zero, she is mutated by the Scurge and dies. The only way to avoid this fate is to find a save room, which purges the infection. From this comes one of Scurge's most annoying aspects: You can never remain away from a save room for long. The game is made up of rather large Metroid-esque areas to explore, but rather than taking your time, you feel the urge to rush through in order to prevent an untimely death and the loss of your work. Luckily, the infection has a plus side as well: Jenosa's suit gains the ability to absorb Scurge parasites from defeated foes. This biomatter restores some of her health, and collecting enough causes Jenosa to level up, further increasing her hit points.
Besides her battle suit, Jenosa is also equipped with a pair of Projector Gauntlets. Designed to fire powerful blasts of energy and equipped to resist infection, they are the only weapons capable of battling Scurge-infested creatures. At the beginning of the game, the Gauntlets are only capable of firing a fairly feeble blast, which takes a number of shots to kill even the weakest of foes. Thankfully, early in the story Jenosa begins acquiring upgraded elemental-based weapons rather quickly. The EMP Gauntlet fires a blast of electrical energy that is capable of activating generators and destroying mechanical foes with ease. The Dissipater Gauntlet can dissolve energy barriers and dissipate energy-based foes, and the Combustion Gauntlet can burn trees and melt ice, as well as dealing massive damage to biological foes. Using these three elemental gauntlets carefully is the key to combat: While the correct gauntlet can destroy Scurge in one or two shots, using the wrong one may actually make the enemy more powerful. Each gauntlet also has the ability to "chain" to any enemies near the one who is hit, be they of the same type or not.
The enemies in the title are one of the most frustrating elements. Every single enemy has the exact same AI setting: "Rush for Jenosa as soon as she enters the room." Since Jenosa can't go anywhere that enemies can't also reach, it means every new room becomes a slaughter-fest. Early on, this can be incredibly frustrating, as Jenosa isn't really equipped to handle multiple enemies at once, and you'll take unneeded damage. Thankfully, this is abated later on, when you get the elemental gauntlets. However, after you get the ability to fight them effectively, they turn from a threat to an annoying nuisance, since you still have to kill them all or risk them making exploration much more tedious than it needs to be. Since enemies respawn every time you leave the room, this can make backtracking incredibly annoying.
You have to backtrack a lot in Scurge. The station is divided into multiple segments across the planet, which can only be reached by teleporting. Due to the Scurge infection, however, these teleporters are only one-way; Jenosa has to find a second teleport to leave. Of course, getting to those exit teleporters isn't easy, and it is made more difficult by the fact that each was shut off before Jenosa arrived. In order to use them, she must find six "nodes" scattered across the level and reactivate them. Thankfully, these nodes are marked on the map and fairly easy to find, but besides the nodes, there are also a number of locked doors that bar Jenosa's path. These doors can only be opened if Jenosa possesses a certain number of keycards. Most of each level is taken up by an overly long game of "hunt the keycard," all of which are hidden in nooks and crannies. Normally, this wouldn't be too annoying, but the constantly rising infection meter means that even if you find the keycard, your infection meter may raise too high before you can grab it, leading to a trek back to the save room and then back to the card. Thankfully, the lower touch-screen functions as a map, so even if you have to backtrack, finding your way to save room isn't a huge chore.
Once Jenosa finds all of the cards and activates all nodes, the teleporter switches on, but before she can advance to the next level, she has to battle the Scurge who guards the exit. These boss fights make up the high point of Scurge: The Hive. Big enough to take up the entire screen, each boss takes full advantage of Jenosa's abilities. Many have a particular trick to learn in order to avoid their most powerful attacks, and most are made up of multiple elements, so switching between weapons is key. Even skilled players may die once or twice learning the boss's attack pattern and weaknesses, but once you do, the fights become fairly easy, yet very satisfying. Defeating the bosses allows Jenosa to absorb their Scurge Core and increases the attack power of her Gauntlet.
Scurge: The Hive began life as a Game Boy Advance title, and that is fairly apparent in its graphics. While they're not terrible by any sense of the word, they just don't match up to the DS' expected visuals. In particular, Jenosa looks a bit odd, with flowing red hair that is roughly twice as long as she is tall, and it twitches and bobs as if it had a life of its own, even when she's standing still. The enemies all have good solid animations, and the bosses are very impressive looking. Each of the various stages are well designed and memorable; the stages even feature interesting effects, like a day and night cycle in the outdoor areas. Sadly, these are purely cosmetic, but they add a nice touch.
The isometric view, the biggest difference from Metroid, functions with mixed results. The view works without issues most of the time, but it makes jumping puzzles more troublesome than they need to be. Judging the distance for a jump is difficult at best, and it's made even worse when trying to jump onto a moving platform. Be prepared to miss a lot of ledges, even late in the game, when you're more used to the perspective. Thankfully, once Jenosa gets the double-jump upgrade for her suit, most of this problem goes away, as the second jump allows for a lot more leeway. Since the double-jump is one of the last upgrades, though, this means a lot of frustration in the meantime.
While the graphics are quite passable, the same can't be said of the audio. Neither the soundtrack nor gameplay sounds are particularly bad by themselves, but they don't mix well. The music is mostly soft atmospheric music that would feel right at home in a Metroid title. However, the constant flow of beeps from the infection meter and pings from the Projection Gauntlets quickly gets annoying, almost reminiscent of the infamous "low heart" sound from Zelda. In extended periods of playing, you may just want to turn off the sound.
In the end, Scurge: The Hive is undeniably a Metroid clone, but not a bad one. If you can get past the tedious initial stages, the game really begins to pick up, although the infection meter limits exploration a bit too much for Scurge to recapture that special magic. For those holding out for a classic Metroid game on the DS, Scurge may be exactly what you need.