When I think of truly cringeworthy moments in Nintendo history, Metroid Prime: Federation Force comes to mind. I'm not referencing the game itself, but instead the reaction that some Nintendo fans had to the game. I've been running GoNintendo for 11+ years now and I can't recall any other event where I was so embarrassed by a section of the Nintendo community. It's not often that I take a hard-line stance on topics like this in my writings, but I believe this instance warrants it.
I understand the anger and discontent with how the Metroid franchise has been handled in recent years. I completely get how fans feel that Metroid: Other M was a big misstep for the series. I also felt let down by that title. After that, fans grew more and more angry as they waited for Nintendo to show off something new from the Metroid universe. The cries for another Metroid Prime game only grew with each passing year. That intensity brought us up to the reveal of Metroid Prime: Federation Force. Granted, not the game many were hoping to see from Nintendo and the Metroid universe, but is it really deserving of the extremely visceral reaction that some fans let loose?
Again, I know people want a new 'traditional' Metroid experience, be it through another Prime or a classic 2D outing. I also want those things, but my desire of that content isn't going to blind me to other experiences Nintendo puts forth. It seems many people decided that Metroid Prime: Federation Force wasn't the experience they wanted, even without playing it. Throw in a visual style that rubs quite a few people the wrong way and we get the disaster that has been the PR push for this title. Once the internet mob jumps onto something, it's hard to steer them in another direction. Now will all those spewing vile content actually stick to their guns and not purchase the game, or are most just getting in on the negativity for the 'fun' of it?
If you're part of the crowd that has been hating on Metroid Prime: Federation Force just to go with the group mentality, you can stop reading here. If you're one that isn't willing to give the game a shot for any number of reasons, you might as well click away now. This review is going to be just like all the others I write. It will be a 100% truthful and honest account of my time with Metroid Prime: Federation Force, and I will not be coming at the game from any early ill will or distaste. I'm presenting you an account of my experience with Metroid Prime: Federation Force, and I welcome all those that are ready to see the game for what it is, not what you originally expected/wanted from the franchise.
Metroid Prime: Federation Force puts you into the role of a Galactic Federation Marine that takes on various missions to gather intel, save colleagues, eliminate hostile threats and explore new regions. The game is completely built around a 4-player multiplayer mechanic, where 4 real-life people can join together online or locally to take on every single mission together. This might bring up some worries for those looking to go solo, similar to concerns from The Legend of Zelda: Tri-Force Heroes. I can tell you that my entire experience with Metroid Prime: Federation Force has been via a solo playthrough. While I felt Tri-Force heroes managed to squeeze in a single player experience that was at least serviceable, Federation Force does a MUCH better job with letting a lone wolf tackle the game.
Right off the bat, the game lets you know that there are some extra bells and whistles for players that plan to go alone. First off, you can bring three attack drones that fly with you for the entire mission. While they aren't going to help you solve puzzles or anything like that, they will provide some decent firepower to simulate what it would be like having 3 other players with you. On top of that, you can add a mod to your mech (one of many mods available) that doubles the damage you dish out while halving the damage you take. Now if you want to go solo and skip the drones and mod, you can certainly do that. What I can tell you from personal experience is that the game is still challenging when the drones/mod in your arsenal. Just because you're getting a helping hand doesn't mean the game is going to be a breeze. As a matter of fact, some sections are quite the opposite.
There's quite a variety of missions in Metroid Prime: Federation Force, and these are spread out between 3 planets. You'll pick from a number of missions available via a menu, get a synopsis from a Galactic Federation general and then swoop down to a planet via ship. You'll never get bogged down with tons of dialog, as most missions and their objectives are explained with just a few lines of text. Things are kept simple and too the point, which helps get you into the action much quicker.
As I said above, there are all sorts of mission types to tackle. Some instances will have you recovering data that was left behind on a planet. Other times you'll have to destroy an entire enemy threat at a facility. There's also some modified escort missions in there that have you accompanying inanimate objects and other items that need protecting. To be quite honest, there's simply a huge amount of variety in the missions. You're not going to spend your time doing three mission types and then experiencing deja vu for the rest of the game. I was constantly impressed with just how much varied content there was for missions. Even some missions seem like they're going to play out one way for the majority of the experience, and then a completely different element gets tossed in somewhere along the way. No matter what mission you tackle, you're not going to fully know what to expect until you get into the thick of it.
For example, one mission requires you to sneak into a facility to recover some data. The thing is, you aren't able to take your mech suit inside. You have to reach the facility via mech, and then exit the suit and sneak inside the building. You get to wander around the insides of this operation while stealthily trying to avoid space pirates. Well, that's the goal anyway. If they spot you, they're going to start gunning you down as quickly as possible. Since you're outside of your mech, you can't take anywhere near as much damage, so you'll have to run and hide while your health recharges or just go full steam ahead and hope you reach a clear area. After that, you have to pass through a handful of platforming hazards to reach the data you need. After that, you set the facility to blow up and you have to run all the way back out before time runs out. While that's quite exhilarating in and of itself, once you make it back to your mech, you have to hop in and defend the area until your drop ship returns! This is an excellent example of just how much content is packed into a mission, and almost all of them have at least two or three things going on.
This leads to a deeper explanation of suit mods, which are going to be absolutely crucial to your success. Throughout levels you'll find some hidden and not-so-hidden data chips. These chips contain new mech mods that you can slot into your suit. You originally only start out with one slot for mods, but this will expand as you play on. You can exchange mods with each new mission, finding the right combination of mods for the mission ahead. Some mods will lessen damage you receive by 20%, others can revive you once right after you die. There's a huge variety to pick from, all of them impacting your weapon damage, health or regen skills in some way. Depending on the mission at hand, you might choose a completely different set than what you had before. Just be careful, as many of these mod chips will eventually break, leaving you to choose another mod or find the same one to replace it.
There's also the different types of weapons you get to take with you on each mission. You can't just grab what you want and make a mad dash. Your mech has a limit to how much weight it can carry, and each weapon/item you pick is going to take up a certain amount of weight slots. When you're playing solo, picking the right goodies to go on a mission with is extremely crucial. When you have friends at your side, you can usually divvy up the available content between each of you, and then each player would take on a specific role on a mission. One would focus on healing people, another could deal heavy damage with missiles and so on. When playing single player, the only weapons/items you start off with are the ones you can carry. The weight limit will constantly keep you shifting around the right kind of items to take with you on a mission. The good thing is, when you use one of these supplies on a mission, it frees up a slot for something to replace it. If you search wreckage and boxes strewn about levels, you might be able to find a new weapon/item to slot into your inventory while taking on your objective.
While there are certainly a bunch of new and different gameplay mechanics here, they still all slot in nicely with the Metroid universe. On top of that, the core mechanics of the Prime series are still here. You're fighting off monsters in a first-person view, shooting doors to open them up, and taking on some light puzzle gameplay. There's certainly puzzles and exploration to be done in Federation Force, but those elements are indeed lighter than they are in the traditional Prime series. That's because this title is mission based, rather than happening all in one or two giant locations. Some missions are certainly more vast and larger than others, lending a bit more into the exploration side of things. When you throw in the hunt for bonuses like mod chips, you should be able to scratch some of that exploration itch you get from Metroid.
There's also plenty of reason to jump back into missions and replay them, be it alone or with someone. While missions have one main objective, almost all of them have another pair of side objectives to tackle. Completing these will earn you a new rank, as well as eventually unlock new custom content for your mech. The thing is, these side objectives can be extremely hard, even moreso if you're going alone. Side objectives might include killing every single enemy in a level, destroying every rock you can find, finding all hidden content, completing a mission in a time limit and much more. There's a lot of variety here too, and the secondary objectives are engaging enough that you will want to hop back in and tackle some of them. That said, I just know there's a handful here that I'm going to need real-life players to make happen. Sadly, that's due to my own lack of skill!
Thankfully, the controls here don't hinder the experience at all. You really are getting a control setup that is quite similar to what you experienced in the first two Prime games. There are two control schemes to choose from, with one focusing on motion controls for fine-tuned aiming and the other allowing for dual control sticks via the Circle Pad Pro or New 3DS. Both control schemes let you lock onto enemies to tackle them, and depending on how many enemies are in an area, you can just let go of lock-on and hit it again to switch to a new enemy. If you're going the single Circle Pad route, you can use the R button combined with motion controls to do free-look. This also lets you adjust where you're aiming when locked on if you're trying to hit a particular part of an enemy or something else. I actually played on a New 3DS XL the entire time, but used the motion control aiming instead of the second control nub. Using this method felt extremely good and I was never left feeling like I lost due to control issues. That said, my hands did cramp up after long play sessions, but this is par for the course with almost all 3DS games for me.
One of the most important aspects of the Metroid experience is the atmosphere, and I'll be damned if Federation Force has it in spades. It's true that you're not going to get the lonely experience that other games in the franchise give you, but you're certainly going to get a Metroid vibe. This doesn't feel like a completely different game with Metroid thrown into it. This feels like an honest-to-goodness Metroid game in the Metroid universe. The design of every ship, ever enemy, every door and just about everything else screams Metroid. Playing Federation Force actually really took me back to my first experience with Metroid Prime on the GameCube, and that was a very welcome memory.
I think the two areas that Federation Force really gets knocked on are the overall graphics and the chibi-style design of characters. Personally, I can tell you that everytime I saw footage of Federation Force, I really didn't find it to be a good looking game. I actually found it to be quite ugly, but that's never stopped me from wanting to play a game. That said, when I finally got my hands on the finished game, I can tell you that my opinion on the visuals were completely wrong. Seeing the game in motion in your own hands, it actually turned out to be quite a looker. I honestly went in the complete opposite direction with my opinion. I find Federation Force to be one of the better looking games on the system, and I think this is partially due to the strong cohesive Metroid stylings that the game puts forward.
Now as for the chibi design of the marines and other characters, that's an element that's always going to remain divisive. Again, all I can do is tell you my opinion of it. For me, I really wasn't ever bothered by the design. As with chibi-style, the only big difference is the size of character's heads. It's not like there's any faces to look at, so there's no cutesy eyes or mouths drawn on anyone. It's just a bunch of large-headed characters walking around. Now the thing is, that doesn't apply to the monsters or pirates. They look pretty much how you are used to seeing them. The only real moments where you get the chibi screentime is when you're getting briefed on a mission or when you're seeing a cut-scene. I guess you'd see a lot more if you were playing with 3 other people all the time. I mean, if you're so disgusted by the chibi design that you don't want to play the game, I just don't know what to tell you. If that's the case, so be it. For me, while the character design never really bothered me at all, I can see why some people were taken aback. All that said, it never impacted my gameplay experience or took me out of the moment.
To tell you the truth, I was actually totally engrossed in the game. This is an extremely cinematic Metroid experience, believe it or not. The running dialog you have with mission control while taking on missions adds in quite a bit to the story and keeps you engaged. I was surprised with how much I was into the little bits of story that were thrown in. Alongside that is the great cut-scene work, with some really interesting camera usage and cinematic moments. There's quite a few portions of the game where cut-scenes swoop and swing about, and also use a shaky-cam technique to intensify the action. I found it really added a lot to big moments and helped draw me in.
The extra icing on the cake is just how much Samus is talked about. While you won't see her too often, you will certainly be hearing about what she's doing. A lot of your missions have you working off of intelligence that Samus picked up and relayed to your commanding officer. You'll hear about what Samus had to do in order to get you where you are, or what Samus learned that you need to take care of. I found it really cool to have Samus' actions fleshed out while I was taking on missions, which let me see what she saw at times and also imagine what she went through to get me to where I was. I guess some of this might make a few players miss Samus and wish they were on some of her missions, but I can definitely appreciate the different approach here.
All in all, I was actually quite blown away by Metroid Prime: Federation Force. I was expecting to get an enjoyable experience, but I've come away with a true appreciation for the game. The more I played, the more angry I got about just how poor the public reaction has been! There could sadly be a lot of people that skip this title due to some bad feelings they conjured up from a reveal trailer.
Metroid Prime: Federation Force is certainly a spin-off game for the franchise, but the important thing is that it FEELS like a Metroid game. It also brings in a lot of unique wrinkles and twists to the Prime-style experience, which is just what a good spin-off should do. As far as presentation and gameplay go, this really is a top-notch experience. If you were worried about going it alone, you really don't have to feel that way anymore. My solo play with the game has only made me more eager to jump back in with real people. The bulk of the missions were fun enough for me to want to revisit for side objectives and a different challenge with friends.
As I said earlier, I also am quite eager for another traditional Metroid game. I want to see Prime 4 announced and lose my mind with excitement. I'm sure that's going to happen at some point. I'm just not going to take that desire and let it blind me to other experiences that come out along the way. Metroid Prime: Federation Force may not be the Metroid game we initially wanted, but that doesn't make it any less enjoyable. My time with this game has given me something to look forward to. Now I'd like a sequel to Federation Force!
Metroid Prime: Federation Force is an expertly crafted, action-packed experience from start to finish. If you can push the roar of the angry internet out of your head and just experience this game for what it is, I'm confident that you'll come away quite impressed. A no-brainer for Metroid fans and 3DS owners alike.