Hated by those still yet to play it, Metroid Prime: Federation Force seems destined to be unfairly shunned by the community that it was conceived for. After Metroid: Other M sold far below Nintendo’s expectations, the insecurity that was present in Samus Aran’s portrayal seeped into the company’s confidence in the brand.
With the series’ 25th anniversary passing by without even a whimper of acknowledgement, longtime fans had hoped that Nintendo would be more prepared once its 30th came around this year. But, as they learned at E3 2015, the intergalactic bounty hunter wasn’t to make a triumphant return. Instead, we’re invited to suit up in specialised battle armour, becoming the latest recruits in the Federation Force.
While delving into the same lore, this is positioned as a new take on the Metroid universe. Producer Kensuke Tanabe has shared that the game’s events would play a “very important” part in the Metroid Prime’s continuation, admitting that he had been “quite surprised by the backlash.”
We can continue to lament Samus Aran’s absence, but to dismiss Federation Force entirely would discredit the exceptional co-operative experience that Next Level Games have created. Known for Mario Strikers Charged Football, Punch-Out!! and Luigi’s Mansion 2, as another string to their bow Federation Force is a success, which will surely come as a surprise to the Nintendo 3DS exclusive’s detractors.
Set in Cosmic Calendar Year 20X6, Federation Force takes place several years after Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, when Samus Aran successfully destroyed the corrupted Aurora Unit 313 and obliterated the sentient planet Phaaze. While the Galactic Federation hailed the mission a success, the Space Pirates remain as a constant and unpredictable menace.
Concerned that they will need to be wiped out to preserve peace, the Federation enacts a military campaign referred to as Operation Golem, with the hope that they can develop tactical superiority over the Space Pirates. That results in the development of new battle armour called Mechs, mechanised exoskeletons that are piloted by only the most skilled marines. The unit is known as the Federation Force, whose sole task is to repel their enemy at any cost.
That leads players to the Bermuda system, where the Campaign sees you set out on missions across the scorched planet Bion, the frozen Excelcion, and Talvania, which was once home to an advanced machine race. These different locales present enough scope to switch up mission objectives, level design, and the puzzles that interject everything.
Progression is largely linear over the 22 missions that you face, but there are enough that stand out that players will want to replay once they have reached the story’s conclusion. Whether you are angering Ice Titans to lure them into cages, taking down a rampaging monster before it reaches a Federation probe, or intercepting Missile Transports, no mission ever seems too much alike, which is a remarkable achievement.
Before each mission starts you will have chance to prepare your Mech loadout, choosing whether to deploy AI Combat Drones for additional firepower, which AUX ammo to equip (Missiles, Freeze Shots, Decoys, and more), as well as selecting MODs that can provide specific damage boosts, improved repair rates, and more ammo to unleash. Making the right selection is important to your success, especially when working as part of a team.
The real crowning achievement here, is in comfortably bringing the first-person shooter genre to Nintendo 3DS. Players can opt between two control schemes, with the first being based on Metroid Prime. This is the more comfortable choice, and lets players fine tune their aim with the gyroscope when holding the R Button. The other option is available on New Nintendo 3DS or a Nintendo 3DS with the Circle Pad Pro, and allows you to use the C Stick as with with traditional shooters. I never really found the C Stick responsive enough on my New Nintendo 3DS, even with the sensitivity heightened. That being said, most will find that Gyro Aim is a far more preferable choice.
The Campaign can be completed in Solo Play, largely helped by an optional Lone Wolf MOD that doubles your damage output and halves incoming damage when playing alone. But Federation Force truly clicks when joined by friends and other players, similar to last year’s The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes. While less co-ordination is required in comparison, Federation Force rides on adrenaline-driven thrills as your team moves from area-to-area unleashing explosive Charge Shot volleys at all enemies that cross your path.
With Local Play and Online Play on the Nintendo Network supported, players will easily be able to team up with nearby marines or those from around the world with ease. Lobbies can be created by anyone, although players are restricted to only being able to see, and join, missions that they have unlocked. It’s quick and uncomplicated, but team communication once again relies on players choosing pre-determined options. That’s expected at this point, and there’s some novelty in opting for your character to speak in another language – English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, and Japanese being available.
Federation Force isn’t over once you blast your way through to the credits sequence. Completion unlocks Hard Mode, a far more devious difficulty setting that ups the challenge for those looking for it. Players are also scored in each mission, the points earned rewarding them with as many as three medals. Bonus points are awarded for completing the mission within a specific time limit or achieving side objectives, which can become a real time sink for those wanting to learn missions inside out.
Away from the Campaign, players can take part in Blast Ball. These three-on-three multiplayer matches see teams competing to slam a ball into their opponent’s goal by mercilessly shooting at it with their blasters. Power-ups can help you gain an advantage, while every goal scored will see the goal area narrow. With Local, Download, and Online Play support, this futuristic sport can produce plenty of nailbiting moments, even if it has been outshone by Psyonix’s Rocket League on console.
amiibo support is minimal, but I had no expectation that there would be anything more. Scanning the Samus and Zero Suit Samus amiibo unlock the Bounty Hunter and Zero Suit paint jobs respectively, while any other amiibo will reward you with the skeletal X-ray paint job. Earning medals will unlock new paint jobs aside from this, presenting more ways to customise your Mech.
The only area where Federation Force falters across the board is in the chosen art style. Perhaps restricted by the aged Nintendo 3DS hardware, the minimalist, chibi approach to design is at odds with the Metroid universe’s gritty setting. There’s still a clear sci-fi feel exuberating from every pixel, and some great cinematic work to be seen in the game’s many cutscenes.
If there is one thing that Metroid Prime: Federation Force is left to contend with, it is consumer apathy. It is undeserving of such disinterest, an enjoyable intergalactic romp that delivers an experience unlike any other on Nintendo 3DS. This may not be the Metroid adventure that many had hoped for, but it is a rewarding blast for those that are willing to see the beloved universe from another perspective.