Metroid Prime: Federation Force didn't look that exciting when it was first shown off during Nintendo's E3 presentation last year. The fan reaction was merciless and it went so far as there being a petition to have the game development shut down. The fans just wanted to see a grandiose comeback for Samus Aran in a new, huge Metroid title worthy of the name, and this wasn't what Nintendo offered with this spin-off title.
It's easy to fault a product before its release though, and looking back, Federation Force isn't nearly as bad as fans first thought. On the contrary - it was quite the nice surprise and Nintendo as well as Next Level Games has once again proven that they can make something worthwhile out of something that doesn't quite look right at first glance. It needs to be said though that Metroid Prime: Federation Force is a game that is quite hard to score. Despite the title we're reluctant to say that it is a Metroid game. It does its own thing and unfortunately it doesn't have many Metroid references aside from the fact that Samus Aran's name is uttered every once in a while.
Metroid Prime: Federation Force is a multiplayer-focused affair, but not the online shooter that they had us believe. It's set directly after the events of Metroid Prime 3: Corruption and the galaxy is still in chaos after the destruction of planet Phaaze. You play as a new recruit of the Federation Force, a group consisting of armoured soldiers inside of bipedal robots whose jobs it is to fight threats to the galaxy. Typically, in games of this type you get the most variation out of a broad range of different game modes, but in Metroid Prime: Federation Force there's only one besides the main campaign. It's primarily the campaign that we've spent most of our time in, but it's been entertaining enough to warrant a second playthrough.
Like many other games of this nature on handheld, the control scheme is lacking. You control the character with the left stick and with a New Nintendo 3DS console you aim, of course, with the C-stick. For the game to work properly, we recommend that you own the latest Nintendo 3DS model, otherwise it's a necessary evil that you have to aim with the so-called gyro-sensor and we can say with confidence that that experience will be a frustrating one.
Anyway, you will undergo a variety of tutorials to try out the game's various control options. Even here, we started to get concerned that this would not work and that the game would make us look like a fool earlier than expected. It gets better though, and although the control scheme constantly causes issues, over time you get into it and learn to accept the situation.
Just as in the rest of the Metroid Prime series, there is also the option to lock-on to an enemy by holding down the left shoulder button and then hammer on the A button, which helps with large groups of opponents. The campaign in Metroid Prime: Federation Force consists of only three unique planets with a variety of missions. To many this may sound a bit worrying but all paths are varied, entertaining and just as in other Metroid games there is also a wealth of interesting and relaxing puzzles. Getting through all the mind-bending puzzle sections is a lot of fun and some puzzle elements are moderately difficult so you get a sense of accomplishment once you have made it through.
Before each mission you tailor your robots and fill three different chip slots with various different goodies, such as better armour, different types of missiles, and improved effect of your laser. Most have limited uses so it comes to choosing the right weapon depending on what level you want to play next, for example fire weapons are not suitable in lava levels. This gives a large amount of strategic padding and it's always important to carefully pick the right equipment for the job. Metroid Prime: Federation Force is also more straightforward compared to its older, console siblings. It is never unclear where to go and Next Level Games has chosen to focus much more on exploration than on the action, which gives a nice break from the intense action sequences.
And if you like the aesthetics of the Metroid Prime series, you will love those of Federation Force. When Nintendo first showed the game it looked miserable so the improved graphics and the superb level design comes as a big surprise. Although the levels are very short, they feel more like classic adventure stages than pure multiplayer maps. Sure, Nintendo 3DS doesn't come anywhere close to the graphics of the main consoles, but often we forgot what to do just because we had to stop for a moment and rest our eyes on the floating lava or the snowy ravines of the frozen planet Excelcion.
Another thing that should be paid tribute to is the game's composer, who did an excellent job with the music. It keeps the same high standard as the previous entries into the game series, and the atmospheric environments are mixed with classical music reminiscent of Metroid. We must admit that we got goose bumps and nostalgic flashbacks when the grand theme that most Metroid fanatics will probably recognise played.
In addition to the control scheme, another point of complaint is the game's bosses. They are admittedly nicely designed but a real frustration to deal with. There are several unique bosses that offer a real challenge and it's almost a requirement to quickly map out their patterns. Bosses are disgustingly tenacious and most take forever to defeat and although we loaded up with dozens of missiles and powerful laser beams we don't exaggerate when we say that some of the beasts took us about 20 minutes to defeat.
Metroid Prime: Federation Force feels like a simplified take on the other Prime titles, and the game doesn't deserve the criticism it initially received. Nevertheless, you must keep in mind that this is not at all a genuine Metroid game, but more of an adventure that has drawn inspiration and uses similar game mechanics. The choice of name feels more like a marketing trick and if you go into this with the expectation that this is the next big Metroid game, you are sure to be disappointed. Had this been a whole new game series from Nintendo, most likely the reception it has received would have moved up a level. If you want to get the most out of it, we recommend that you choose to play the campaign in online mode as everything the game has to offer is more fun with friends.
Otherwise, there are also multiplayer modes like Blast Ball, where three-on-three teams go toe-to-toe in arenas playing an extreme ball sport that resembles Rocket League - but with robots. Blast Ball is just as much fun as we had hoped for and it's also dangerously addictive. In addition to that there are other game modes like Rage Shooting and Combat Slim. We wouldn't really call these game modes as they're the same tutorial you got to play at the start of the campaign. The difference this time is that you get different points depending on how quickly you manage to get through.
Metroid Prime: Federation Force is a sufficiently long lived adventure that it took us about twelve hours to play through. There are also lots of secrets to find for those who are compelled to explore it all and of course that warrants multiple play-throughs. As competent an action game as this is, we can't help but think how good it could have been if Nintendo had just made this the long awaited comeback of Samus instead.