I missed the boat when the original Metroid released on the NES—mostly because I was still wearing diapers. Near the height of my childhood gaming in 1994, when I only got games on Christmas or my birthday, I had a choice between Super Metroid and other SNES games; I admittedly passed on Samus Aran. It wouldn’t be until I was older and got a summer job, and therefore had some disposable income, that I would take a chance on Metroid in the form of Metroid Prime. It was there where I fell in love with the series. I’ve since gone back and played the classics, but the Prime trilogy continues to have a special place in my heart as my entryway to the franchise. So, when the Big N announced that they were releasing a Metroid Prime game for the 3DS that would follow the Federation and not everyone’s favorite gold-armored heroine, I (like many) was concerned—and Metroid Prime: Federation Force has gone on to prove those concerns were well founded.
Players take on the role of a generic Marine in the Galactic Federation, the governing body and beacon of order in the Metroid universe which often hires Samus Aran when things get dicey. Looking to become more self-sufficient and rely less on bounty hunters, the Federation has built new mechanized units that Marines can use on the frontlines of the Federation’s militaristic endeavors. One of these new fronts happens to be in the Bermuda system. What starts as standard mech suit training soon becomes a full-blown combat scenario against the Space Pirates, along with a search for answers as to why the pirates have established themselves around Bermuda’s three planets—Bion, Excelcion, and Talvania.
From the second I started playing Federation Force I knew I was in for a rough time. Quite simply, this is one of the worst-looking games I’ve seen on the 3DS. The first-person perspective does no favors in trying to hide the three dull, lifeless planets you have to explore: Bion, a desert world; Excelcion, an ice planet; and Talvania, your industrialized world. Basically, that means you’re constantly surrounded by different shades of orange/brown, blue/white, and gray/poison gas green, with little respite whenever you pick from the game’s nearly two-dozen missions in those settings.
The chibi-like big head/little body design of the Federation’s forces—including Samus during her cameos—was also off-putting. It may be more of a personal preference against this art style, but it felt cheap and cartoony for a branch of the franchise whose character and world design used to be one of its strengths. I understand the 3DS isn’t a graphical powerhouse, but it should’ve been able to do more than this.
Beauty can be more than skin deep, however, and so I was hoping the game might be salvaged via its gameplay. Unfortunately, I quickly saw that Federation Force is ugly to its core. Although it utilizes the first-person perspective of the Prime trilogy, Federation Force does not play nearly as smooth as those games. The mechs are slow and plodding, and it’s almost impossible to avoid attacks from more difficult enemies, with many battles becoming a race to see how fast you can whittle down the enemy’s lifebar. The use of the 3DS’s gimmicky gyroscope for more precision aiming also quickly becomes tiresome when trying to line up a killing shot against armored foes with few visible weak points.
The worst of it all may be the balancing of the game, thanks in part to one of Federation Force’s primary selling points being its four-player co-op feature—which somewhat spits in the face of Metroid’s traditional single-player experience with Samus against the world, alone and often stranded in a hostile environment. Each stage you play on is balanced for a four-player fighting force. This means that even if you wanted to play alone, the game punishes you for it, and I am adamant that most players will be unable to finish later stages by themselves. If you are racing against the clock to defeat a dozen or so Space Pirates, but the timer and enemy count remains the same in single player versus four-player co-op, you can see where the better odds are. The Space Pirates may still be pushovers, but there’s only so much any of us can do against time.
Oh, and good luck trying to assemble a squad to take on those later missions. Part of the reason why my review took so long to get done is it took me forever to find people just to play the game with—even after launch. If I created an invite myself, fewer and fewer players were available for the later missions; if I went to join someone else’s team, many were still middling around during the first half of the game. Throw in the obvious issues that come from not being able to communicate via the 3DS except for a handful of preset phrases on the d-pad (“Hello!” “Help!” “Hurry Up” etc.), and progressing through Federation Force was nothing short of being a chore—especially when you stumble upon someone who cared more about lone wolfing it than working as a team. You can obviously get around some of this by having four friends join together locally, but I couldn’t find three other people interested in picking up their own copies of the game.
It also needs to be said that there is the 3v3 multiplayer mode, Blast Ball, which can be played via download play on the 3DS from just one copy of the game. Because of many of the aforementioned reasons, like the slow movement of the mechs and the difficulty in precision aiming, you’re better off just going back to Rocket League instead of dealing with this rather obvious knock-off. I made the EGM crew try it out here in the office, and I think everyone is still mad at me.
The sad thing is, despite all my complaining, in those rare instances where everything seemed to come together—I found people to play a mission I wanted to play and we were all driven to finish the level as a team and move the story forward—Metroid Prime Federation Force actually worked. The story wasn’t spectacular, but it fit well into the Metroid universe. When four players worked together, there was a challenge, but it felt great to come together as a unit and accomplish the goals laid before you. Even the game’s idea of a more arcade-like experience—with each mission being short and sweet (rare was the mission that took more than 15-20 minutes), but there being a lot of them—could’ve lent itself nicely to experiencing the game in bite-sized bits. The shooting felt satisfying, at least until I ran out of the sparse special ammo or was forced to really take aim at something. Missions actually provided some interesting gameplay variety ranging from exploration to escort, from puzzle solving to shootouts against bosses, and the ability to customize the precise loadout of special weapons and buffs pre-mission meant a well-coordinated team could cover each other’s backs extremely well. The problem was simply that these stars aligned far too infrequently for the experience to ever be truly enjoyable.
And, that’s Metroid Prime: Federation Force in a nutshell. There was a core idea here that wasn’t actually bad, just horribly executed. The lack of balance between one and four players, the ugly worlds and character design, the gimmicky controls, the plodding movement, Blast Ball—they all muddled what could’ve been a decent adventure that freshened up the Metroid Prime storyline and paved the way for a future, more realized entry. As is, though, Federation Force is a black eye on the series that stands alongside Other M as another failed experiment.
|Publisher: Nintendo • Developer: Next Level Games • ESRB Date: T – Teen • Release Date: 08.19.16|
There is a core idea here that could’ve worked, but Metroid Prime: Federation Force is nothing short of a disaster due to horribly thought out implementation and shoddy execution.
|The Good||Decent mission variety, and if playing with friends locally, four-player co-op has its fun moments.|
|The Bad||Game is completely unbalanced for solo play. Movement is plodding to the point of almost being painful. Trying to communicate during online play is near impossible.|
|The Ugly||Is the future of multiplayer just everyone kicking a giant ball around?|
|Metroid Prime: Federation Force is a Nintendo 3DS exclusive. Review code was provided by Nintendo for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.|