Since the release of Metroid Other M in 2010 the series, which helped form one half of the genre ‘metroidvania’, has laid dormant. Many fans of Metroid, including myself, have spent the last few years wondering what was next for the series; were Retro Studios going to return to make another Prime game after the critical success of the original Metroid Prime trilogy, or would Nintendo give us the first 2D Metroid since the release of Metroid Zero Mission on the Game Boy Advance in 2004?
Cue an off-key, almost entirely unacknowledged, announcement during Nintendo’s digital presentation at this year’s E3 for Metroid Prime Federation Force, a new 3DS installment in the series that focusses on the missions of the Galactic Federation. Much like Metroid Prime Hunters, a game that really did push the technical limitations of the original Nintendo DS, Federation Force is a first-person shooter. However, instead of playing as series protagonist Samus Aran the game is based around four-player cooperative missions where you each play as a federation soldier, with different abilities and loadouts and work together in order to take down bosses and other objectives. It sounds like a combination of Metroid Prime and Evolve, a game which also pits four characters against one monster. The problem is, is that nothing was even mentioned about the game in the digital event, it was just shoved into a montage of game clips like it was just a throwaway e-shop game or something similar. Couple this with the quirky e-sports mini game called Blast Ball and sure enough, people are going to think it’s some sort of cheap spin-off. It led many people to believe that the trailer to Federation Force was going to lead into the announcement of a ‘real’ Metroid game at the end of the presentation, but that announcement never came.
The first thing most people will notice about the game is its aesthetic and I think that this is where problems began for many Metroid fans. The game simply doesn’t look like a Metroid game, the characters are incredibly cute and chibi and they simply don’t fit the tone of the series that has been established for almost 30 years. Even Metroid Prime Pinball shared a similar, dark atmosphere to the rest of the games. Arguing that the 3DS isn’t powerful enough to portray the atmosphere of a Prime game also shouldn’t be an issue, since Hunters did it so well on far inferior hardware in 2006. Here’s the thing about Metroid; it’s dark, mysterious and isolating. The games perfectly convey the isolation of being alone on an uncharted alien planet. To draw parallels with film the atmosphere of almost all Metroid games can be likened to the film Alien. However, if you decide to make the characters all cutesy and the world all too colourful you’re no longer looking at a mysterious alien world, you’re looking at an interstellar cartoon show. The game, despite its more stylised visuals, doesn’t look that much of a step up from Hunters. However, it is still being worked on and isn’t due out until 2016, so there’s plenty of time for upgrading the visuals.
Another problem that I’ve seen arise is that fans are disappointed that this may be the only Metroid game will we be getting for several years and the first since 2010. Not to mention the fact that the dual-screen format of both the original Nintendo DS and the 3DS are literally perfect for a 2D Metroid, the possibility of having all the action on the top screen and the map always up on the bottom screen has had me wishing for this for years. Despite producer and Nintendo communications employee Kensuke Tanabe stating that Federation Force is a main title in the Prime series, there’s no doubting that many people consider it a side addition to the franchise. Some fans feel, perhaps justifiably, betrayed that it’s been so long since a Metroid title where you play as Samus and that Nintendo are complacent to deliver a side story instead. To liken this situation to another series, it would be like Bungie releasing Halo 2 in 2004 and then simply waiting and releasing Halo 3 ODST in 2009 without releasing Halo 3. Although ODST still might be a good game and there’s nothing wrong with it existing, fans would still wonder, “where the hell is Halo 3?”. That’s what I think most people’s problems with Federation Force boil down to, they’re not mad about it existing, they’re mad about other Metroid games not existing.
A theory as to why Nintendo are hesitant to make many Metroid games is, despite the well-known disappointment of Other M, the series doesn’t sell particularly well in Japan. I, however, find it baffling that they are willing to ignore the almost unanimous acclaim that every game receives upon its release in the West.
To make my personal position clear, I am still very much interested in Federation Force. Although I do not like the aesthetics of the game, particularly the character design, the game sounds very interesting and if it turns out to be half as fun as Metroid Prime Hunters‘ multiplayer I will be very happy. I am, however, still disappointed that we aren’t getting a new 3D game on console and very disheartened at the lack of a new 2D Metroid for eleven years and counting. There have been petitions circling around the internet demanding Nintendo cancel the game, but I absolutely disagree with this sentiment. I think that Metroid Prime Federation Force has every right to exist, it’s not like the existence of this game is stopping other Metroid games from existing. I think that many fans are barking up the wrong tree with their outrage surrounding Federation Force, rather than decry Next Level Games for making a game they want to make, they should instead be questioning Nintendo on why they’ve been so frugal with Metroid games over the years. Although I do hope the game’s aesthetic is altered slightly, I will be keeping a close on what Next Level Games are doing with the title and hope that its possible success spurs Nintendo to give the series the love it deserves.
See you next mission!
12 missions of gameplay for you to judge for yourself