When Metroid Prime: Federation Force was revealed during last year’s E3, the consumer response was astoundingly negative. Its reveal video was showered with dislikes, and some particularly seething fans started a petition for the game’s cancellation. It was a terrible debut for a game that was presumably intended to excite fans, a sign of life for the dormant Metroid franchise, but it was also a hyperbolic reaction to a game nobody expected or really understood. Nintendo was strategically quiet about Federation Force for nearly eight months after that rocky reveal, but the game now has an August 19 release date. Some people will continue to blindly malign it until they get the game they want, but I think Next Level Games’ upcoming 3DS game might actually be worth looking forward to.
Metroid Prime: Federation Force is not really a Metroid game, at least in the traditional sense. It’s set in the Metroid universe, sure, but as a sci-fi franchise that has visited all sorts of planets in its time, that doesn’t mean much in the way of familiarity. No, Federation Force isn’t designed to take directly after classics like Super Metroid or Metroid Prime in its gameplay, but it’s also not entirely foreign. Samus Aran, while not playable, will make pointed appearances throughout the game’s campaign, and the first-person shooting central to Federation Force is taken directly from the Metroid Prime series. Even so, the upcoming 3DS game is not designed to be what the industry has come to refer to as a”Metroidvania”, at least from what we can tell. Instead, Federation Force is a multiplayer, loot-driven, objective-based shooter, a gameplay concoction not unlike last year’s The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes.
Like that spiritual successor to Four Swords, Federation Force will rely on players replaying its missions to collect better loot. Unlike Tri Force Heroes’ emphasis on quirky outfits with unique abilities, however, Federation Force will let players modify their characters more specifically, tweaking the qualities and performance of their weapons and loadouts over time to meet their specific gameplay tastes and needs. The game’s combat is rife with RPG elements not unlike Destiny and The Division, with hit points flying off in different amounts depending on the area struck and the strength of the weapon. There’s potential for some depth there, especially considering Nintendo has said the game will contain about sixty missions, but it’s yet unclear how many mods, missions, enemies, and difficulty options will be available to keep players invested in the loot grind.
More than anything else, though, Federation Force appears to be the latest example of Nintendo’s famous (or infamous) design strategy of dreaming up interesting game mechanics or premises and then gifting them to established franchises. A recent example of this is Star Fox Guard, which when initially shown off at E3 2014 was an un-branded demo called Project Guard, but you can see the same philosophy in everything from Kirby’s Epic Yarn to Paper Mario. Spinoff’s are fine — I’d even go as far to say most of Nintendo’s are great — but the problem most people seem to be having with Metroid Prime: Federation Force is that it is the only representative of the Metroid franchise in six years, and bears little trace of what made fans fall in love in the first place. Those concerns are somewhat reasonable, but they’re also not entirely fair. The lead producer on Federation Force is Kensuke Tanabe, who produced all four of the previous Metroid Prime titles. It was actually his idea to create a game centered on the Galactic Federation Marines, too, a concept that first came to him while working on Metroid Prime 3: Corruption. Those details make Metroid Prime: Federation Force feel much more legitimate, and should make fans reconsider their assumptions. The game was very clearly conceptualized to be a Metroid title from the start, albeit a spinoff, so it will be very interesting to see what other elements and mechanics of the Metroid Prime series will be retained or re-imagined in Federation Force. It’s much more than a generic space shooter wearing a Metroid skin — at least, we can hope so.
Had Nintendo revealed a traditional 2D or 3D Metroid game either prior to or simultaneously with Federation Force, the aura around the latter would probably be significantly more positive. A “proper” Metroid game is likely coming within the next eighteen months along with NX, but wishful thinking like that won’t dispel the swell of negativity suffocating Federation Force. Its reveal was a miscalculation by Nintendo, to be sure, but that doesn’t mean we should just write the game off as a failure. The creative minds toiling away on it are experienced and passionate artists, and Nintendo will be wary not to release anything that would tarnish the Metroid name further. There’s a lot we still don’t know about Federation Force, but expect more details to surface in the coming months. A bit of cautious optimism would not be misguided, either.