Before you enjoy this latest instalment of The Road To Metroid Dread, please allow me to apologise for the less than stellar capture quality of Metroid Prime: Federation Force. I do not have access to an expensive and hard to source 3DS capture card, and emulators do not run Federation Force particularly well. Capture for this episode is achieved using a real New 3DS XL system, and some homebrew software that allows me to stream footage to my Macbook for use in OBS – But the quality is not to my usual high standards. Hopefully, it won’t spoil your enjoyment of this review too much – Rest assured, things will be better for next week’s episode.
Moving on from the perceived disaster of Other M, it took six years for the Metroid series to return; yet it was a bumpy ride to get there. The first chance we got a glimpse of this Nintendo 3DS game was highly unusual to begin with. During Nintendo’s 2015 World Championships as part of their E3 showing that year, the second round of the tournament began with the World Premiere of a game that had never been seen before – Blast Ball. This high-tech sports game’s visuals and Heads Up Display looked strangely familiar to the Metroid Prime series. The game was played, and amusingly the game played afterwards for the second round elimination was Super Metroid, as if Nintendo were laying more hints down.
The truth would come out a few days later during Nintendo’s hilariously charming Nintendo Direct, wherein Metroid Prime: Federation Force was properly announced; meanwhile the aforementioned Blast Ball was revealed to be a small mini-game as part of this 3DS title. Given that this was the year of Metroid’s 30th anniversary, fans were not at all pleased with this game’s appearance in lieu of a proper Samus-starring adventure, or even some sort of remake to celebrate the landmark anniversary. In fact, until the latter half of 2021, this trailer video was one of Nintendo’s most disliked videos, with a whopping 97,000 dislikes. Well before the game was due to be released, fans were already turned against Federation Force before they’d even get a chance to play it. In a ridiculous moment of hyper-outrage and gamer entitlement, petitions appeared left and right, calling for the game to be cancelled. Even during E3 2016, mere months before the game was due to be released, it was nowhere to be seen.
Metroid Prime Federation Force 3DS – Review
Way back in September of 2016, I had Federation Force as a review assignment when I was working over at GodisaGeek. At the time, I gave the game 7 out of 10 – A middle of the road, average score if ever there was one. But how do I feel after playing the game again, five years later? I probably have a lot more to say now; especially now I can talk freely about the game without breaking one of Nintendo’s extremely strict embargoes.
Developed by Next Level Games, the studio behind the likes of Super Mario Strikers, the Wii’s Punch-Out!! Revival, and the last two Luigi’s Mansion titles, this release feels like the spiritual successor to Metroid Prime Hunters. A multi-player focused Metroid game, released on a dual-screened handheld, more focused on action than exploration. On paper, the two games seem very similar, but thankfully, Federation Force is much more playable.
For a start, this title has a proper control scheme that’s more familiar to players of the Gamecube Prime games. That series’ lock-on based aiming returns, but also utilises the 3DS internal Gyro sensor to provide the freedom for some more fine-tuned aiming; a necessity as shots to not lock on to enemies. In many cases, shots move pretty slowly so the player is shown very early on that they will need to anticipate where their targets are moving to, so they can fire ahead of them. In practice, it becomes quite annoying to see your shots whiff past enemies, especially when this game throws a lot of action at you at once. Still, at least the game doesn’t ask you to use the touch screen, unless you want to flick through the different map and mission displays on the bottom screen; something which is not necessary at all. Once starting the game for the first time, players are given a thorough tutorial that gives a good crash course on the controls and mechanics, followed by a brief target practice mini-game where the player is scored. This training session can be started at any time from the Main Menu.
As well as that focus on quick-paced combat, this is a game that was made to be played with up to four players co-operatively, either via local wireless or online. The game is split into 22 separate bite-sized missions running between 5 and 25 minutes or so in length, set across three planets in the Bermuda System, that are new to the series; the icy Excelcion, the gaseous Talvania and the fiery Bion. Some of these missions are simple treks from the beginning of a level to the end, taking on enemies along the way, while others are more complex affairs, involving elements of defending different items, or carrying objects from one place to another, plus a few boss-focused areas too. These mission types are spread out quite well, so it does feel like there’s a good range of activities.
Before carrying on any further – Know that players are in the role of a nameless Galactic Federation soldier, predominantly holed up within special Golem mechs, with the occasional stroll outside of them. Whilst Samus Aran is mentioned frequently and even shows up a few times, there is little here that elevates the game past a generic Metroid-adjacent theming. Space Pirates are once again the villains, alongside a few species native to each area.
Your ability to play this game as intended is entirely reliant on whether you can find friends with 3DS systems and copies of the game, as you won’t find anyone online who is still playing. Thankfully, the entire game can be played in single-player; and you can even choose to have three AI-controlled droids accompany you to at least make sure you’re not outgunned. Honestly, unless you’re playing with friends, I don’t think you’re missing out on anything by just playing offline in single-player.
Before starting missions, players can customise their Golem Mechs in various ways. Rather than picking up items and weapons that are hidden away, players will encounter items called MODs. These chips are found in various ways but are basically randomly found, equipable gear that can be slotted into one of up to three slots on your mech to provide useful bonuses. Some can be used again and again, but some will break if equipped when you fail a mission. Players can also customise their mech cosmetically through skins that are unlocked by playing the game or via scanning Amiibo, which is nice, I suppose – Not too much of a big deal if you’re playing on your lonesome, though. Once players are ready to ship out, you have to pick your loadout of weapons and tools for the job ahead – From repair kits and shields, missiles and Super Missiles, Freeze Shots, Shock Shots, to Decoys and more. You can only hold a finite amount of gear before you’re overweight, but this weight limit can be extended through game progress or via the right mods.
Once you’ve finished missions, players are given a score, with higher scores earning medals; meanwhile, any MODs that are found are split between the players. The higher scores are earned by finishing levels in a set time, performing secondary objects and by generally being good at the game. It’s possible, but probably quite difficult to get every medal in the game in single-player, but thankfully there’s little purpose in doing so, other than to unlock more skins for your mech. The same is true for finishing missions in the Hard mode that’s unlocked by finishing the game. As you might be able to tell – There’s a lot to do here in Federation Force, but few will find the will to want to do it all.
It’s ’s sad that Federation Force is somewhat held back by its multiplayer-based nature. At its core, this is more than a decent attempt at a handheld shooter – The more standard controls are comfortable to use, at least on the New Nintendo 3DS XL I’ve been playing this on. The head tracking-enhanced 3D on this particular model makes the 3D work reasonably well, even when tiling the console for aiming purposes – But I can’t speak for how players using older 3DS systems might have a more detrimental 3D experience and may prefer to turn off the 3D display.
The chunky, child-like character and enemy models are a sticking point for many – The 3DS is absolutely capable of better designs than this; after all, even the original DS was capable of a low-poly take on this series. Some of the models look decent, but many of them just look too cuddly. Meanwhile, the environments look pretty great; but unfortunately, there isn’t much to do in them.
Then, there’s the Samus problem; and I’m going to spoil the game here because this bit does annoy me. As mentioned earlier, Federation Force is a game that features Metroid’s hero in a non-playable role, her name mentioned here and there. However, the game finishes with you rescuing Samus from the Space Pirates before they essentially shoot her with a giant ray, which leads to you fighting a giant version of Samus in her Morph Ball form. And then you realise something about Federation Force – This is a game that likes balls. Not even a puerile joke to be had there – I’m deadly serious.
There are a lot of instances here where you need to move a ball by shooting at it. Some missions are built on the idea of you pushing balls into holes, or even launching them off of ramps to catapult at bosses. And then, of course, there’s Blast Ball – This puzzling addition of a 3-on-3 sci-fi sports game. Here, teams have to shoot a giant ball into the other team’s goal – Score 3 points and you instantly win the game or have the most points when the timer ends. It’s not a particularly deep game experience, but by that same token, it’s honestly not a big part of Federation Force. You can play single games offline or online, or take part in a 5-game challenge against AI-controller opponents. You can earn more cosmetic items and even a couple of MODs for the main game, but you could skip Blast Ball entirely and not feel like you missed anything. Play one game, and you get the idea.
But Blast Ball’s addition, on top of all the other instances of shooting at balls, screams to me that Next Level Games really liked the idea of this mechanic, so tried to shoehorn it into every opportunity. And that culminates in this ridiculous penultimate boss fight with Samus, that isn’t even clever, or fun. It’s just a giant Morph Ball that you need to propel into these electrically charged walls.
And for me, choices like this really make me scratch my head because, Federation Force has the potential to be a really, really good handheld take on the Prime Trilogy if it focused on being a single-player exploration-based shooter like its bigger brothers. The handheld controls work and they work well, while some of the missions are actually pretty fun, although I could do without anything that requires me to defend or carry an item. Let it be known that at its core, there is nothing overly terrible about Federation Force – It’s not terribly difficult; I only failed missions a couple of times at most, and finished the whole game in about 6 or 7 hours. I dabbled with Blast Ball a few times, remembered how dull and limited it was, and that was that.
And five years on after my initial review of Federation Force; not much has really changed in how I feel. Back then, I urged readers to look at the game for what is here, rather than what isn’t – This is still true to this day, sadly this is not a good thing in 2021. Without the prospect of being able to quickly join a multiplayer game on packed servers, or a group of friends with the required hardware and software, I’m not really sure what Federation Force has left going for it. I had a little bit of fun playing solo, sure; but I’ve come away from the game feeling just a bit apathetic about the whole thing. The game’s post-credits stinger bridges the gap between Metroid Prime 3 and potentially Metroid Prime 4, but that just made me long for a proper Metroid Prime game even more.
So Metroid’s 30th anniversary might have gone off with a whimper, but who could have possibly known that the series would make another appearance on the Nintendo 3DS, in a game that not only brings back a lesser-played Metroid title; but might well have begun a new era for the series. Next week, I’ll be giving a rundown of Samus Returns; the MercurySteam-developed remake of the Game Boy’s Metroid 2 – I’ll see you then.