It’s very difficult to overcome a bad first impression. Job interviews, first dates, you name it; if you turn up looking like you just crawled out of a dumpster, chances are people won’t want anything to do with you. That might be a very harsh way to start a review of a videogame, but Metroid Prime: Federation Force had a terrible reception upon its reveal and struggles to overcome that perception with its actual release.
Part of this is down to the cheap feeling visual style, complete with jaggy edges for the polygons which are reminiscent of early PS1 games. We’ve seen some impressive modelling work done on the 3DS in the past, including all 720 Pokémon, so the standard here seems below par for the handheld. Not even the skins, including the ones found by scanning Amiibo, can save it, and its music is entirely unremarkable, outside of the mission briefing music that starts to get annoying after a while.
On paper, it sounds like Federation Force is trying to do something risky, as it takes a beloved franchise and makes it into a team shooter for a handheld device. While we do hear the exploits of Samus Aran throughout the many briefings, the player controls a pilot of the newly designed Mechs, going into battle with an array of weapons at their disposal.
Herein lies Metroid Prime: Federation Force’s biggest problem: hand-crippling controls. On a New 3DS, the smaller circle pad handles the looking around while the bulk of the weapons are mapped to the shoulder buttons, with X being the only face button used. Holding the 3DS this way for long periods of time is uncomfortable for those with larger hands, but it’s infinitely preferable to the standard 3DS controls.
Aiming with the standard 3DS controls is gyro based, requiring you to hold the R button down while pointing the 3DS at your target, then locking onto a target with the L button before firing with A. It’s a lot of steps to do what most consider a simple thing to do in most first person shooters. Gimmicky at best, the standard controls just flat out don’t work well.
Federation Force’s plot is as generic as they come, with no characterisation during the lifeless briefings, beyond showing the Space Pirates’ latest shenanigans. Missions themselves range from the ridiculously easy to the bizarrely difficult. A small tip would be that while there is a chip that makes solo play somewhat more tolerable, reducing damage taken and increasing damage given, there are some scenarios that are just maddening to attempt on your own.
A good example of this is one where you need to lure Ice Titans into cages. There are four of them required to beat the mission, but in order to do this effectively you’ll need a person watching your back for the pesky enemies that spawn around the cages once you’re attempting to capture the Titans. Otherwise you’ll be taking tons of damage from all sides and will be lucky to escape alive.
Then there’s the sections where you need to get out of your mech. Since you are inexplicably unarmed for these ventures, they’re treated as rudimentary stealth sections that are tedious to wade through. Being spotted means you’ll probably fail one of the three criteria to earn extra ranks too, which given the dreariness of these moments is a tough pill to swallow.
If everyone on your team dies, it’s game over and the mission simply ends. The lack of checkpoints isn’t normally a problem, given how most missions are easily done in a matter of minutes, but for those few infuriating tasks where coordination with another player is key to succeeding, it took all my willpower not to throw the 3DS against a wall. Repeatedly.
In fact, the only parts that I found genuienly enjoyable were the boss battles. These levels put your team against bosses that are fitting to ones found in the main-line Metroid Prime games. Each one is challenging, requiring each of you to work out what the attack patterns and weaknesses are to succeed, while also allowing for your teammates to revive you should you fall
While the lack of communication options is nowhere the bafflingly minimalistic options found in The Legend of Zelda: Tri-Force Heroes, having no voice communication in a cooperative game isn’t good enough, even on a 3DS. You’re likely going to want to play with friends when you can, so not having the option to talk to them rather than use pre-prepared text seems somewhat off, especially since you all take from the same ammunition pool!
At least it all works OK. There were thankfully no connection issues when playing either the cooperative campaign or the bundled Blast Ball multiplayer. Blast Ball is functionally the same as was featured in the demo released a few weeks ago, as a football style 3v3 team game where you must shoot the ball into the goal. It’s alright for a few minutes, but beyond that it’s hardly worth the diversion.
If Metroid Prime: Federation Force is anything to go by, I am fearful of the future of the 30 year old franchise. The controls do take some getting used to on the New 3DS, but those with the standard 3DS should avoid this like the plague, due to the terribly optimised controls for that hardware. It’s certainly not fun on its own and only marginally more so with others. This is not the Metroid game we’ve been waiting for.