You could almost be forgiven for mistaking almost any given screenshot of In the Hunt for one of the submarine sections in the much more popular Metal Slug series. They're extremely similar visually, for a very good reason – Irem's cult favourite sub-'em-up was developed by the same team who went on to form Nazca and make the most acclaimed entries in SNK's beloved shooter franchise. Knowing this, it's no surprise that In the Hunt is a frenetic, hugely challenging blaster, with an underwater twist that's far more than just cosmetic.
The story is some bobbins about an evil organisation known as D.A.S (“Dark Anarchy Society”, which is a bit on the nose) who enacted an evil plan to melt the polar ice caps in order to flood the world and take command of it. Admittedly this is not entirely outside the realms of possibility, but by and large, the story of the game is inconsequential. All you need to know is that you're a submarine sent in to take out the bad guys. In the Hunt is all about the action – and lots of it, to boot (or should that be Das Boot?).
Unlike many other shooting games, the multi-directional scrolling isn't automatic – you progress at your own speed, meaning that you have plenty of reaction time to deal with on-screen hazards like enemy craft, turrets, giant missiles and debris. This makes the experience feel slower and more deliberate than an average “shmup”, but this isn't to its detriment. As a result of this decision, it feels as though In the Hunt – while often shockingly difficult – is never unfair. You have the capacity to analyse a situation, a set of obstacles, and approach it at your own pace. Yes, there is a time limit, but it's more than generous enough to get you through without having to really pay attention to it. It could be argued that this slower take on the genre is intrinsically less thrilling than the traditional hi-octane space blaster. Your submarine is definitely sluggish in its movement compared to its peers, but it is, after all, a submarine. It's hardly the Vic Viper.
Outside of the scrolling, the gameplay is broadly familiar, though we prefer to say “time-honoured”. You move your submersible from left to right (generally), collecting power-ups and shooting down everything you see. You'll face hostile subs, floating mines and all manner of ocean-bound danger from the mechanical to the supernatural, both beneath and above the ocean. And it's the latter – the surface-dwelling scumbags – who provide In the Hunt's most interesting twist. Enemies above the water can't be hit with your sub's torpedoes or depth charges, so you've got to pilot it to the surface in order to use your guns – which, of course, makes you vulnerable.
The use of different water depths is a great touch that allows for strategic and thoughtful level design above and beyond the open-plan freedom of movement that most shooters tend to offer. Because being bound to the ocean is utterly in keeping with the craft you're controlling, the situations you encounter feel both organic and cleverly contrived at the same time. It's such a simple difference, but it adds an enormous amount of intelligence to both the level design. There's a lot to consider when not every corner of the screen is a potential hiding place.
For a 1993 game, it looks downright spectacular. The graphics are consistently gritty and detailed throughout, with an impressive scale of destruction. As suits a post-apocalyptic narrative, the stages are littered with debris and chaos, the screen often entirely filled with carnage. It would be overwhelming without the aforementioned ability to move forward at what is generally your own pace. The graphics are as frenetic as the action and, while they're certainly busy, we had no problem parsing the difference between the benign and the deadly. If anything, we found it's the audio where In the Hunt falls down a little, with sound effects sounding a little washed out and the music largely unmemorable – even if it is punctuated with suitably pumping beats.
Hamster's treatment of In the Hunt falls in line with its other Arcade Archives titles; alongside the original Japanese and Western versions of the game there's a five-minute “Caravan” time trial mode and a “Hi Score” mode where you compete for a place on the online leaderboard. Besides that, you get access to the dip switches for difficulty options, as well as some visual filters. No concept art or similar extras, but that's not really the remit of the series. You get the game, presented as accurately as possible, at a reasonable price.
In the Hunt is an excellent shoot-'em-up and a great fit for the Switch. It offers something comfortingly familiar in the genre but shockingly, joyously different in execution. Here's hoping we see even more high-quality deep cuts fill out the already outstanding Arcade Archives line. How about R-Type?