Somebody throw an actual Metroid in? Please?
When I think of the Metroid series, certain things come to mind, like Samus, of course, crawling through underground tunnels, platforming, all of the stuff that makes the series fun. When it comes to Metroid Prime, I think of precise shooting and puzzles, and while it’s not quite as legendary as the deep-crawling classics, there’s a charm to it between shooting and roaming around as “ball” Samus. But after the first few missions of Federation Force, the latest in the Prime series, I’m starting to relate it to a combination of hand cramps and the first time I’ve actually been tempted to throw my 3DS.
Because Federation Force, like its name might suggest, is intended for multiplayer. So, the solo experience is simply a solo multiplayer match, which is surprisingly shoddy for such a franchise to experience. Also, it’s not really about Samus Aran or anything else traditionally Metroid. So the name... is a lie.
First, let me back up a little. Federation Force is the story of a group of people who aren’t Samus Aran. But they’re part of the same group that hired the great bounty hunter, and so they’re given the scrappy leftovers that Samus was too busy to deal with. You know, the aftermath of a crashed ship carrying data important (for some reason the same interplanetary intercom doesn’t have a Dropbox account) or an archeological investigation of an abandoned set of tunnels, that sort of thing. Now normally, these would be a job for the overpowered badass in red and yellow metal, but instead the new recruits are sent in.
Each stage reminds me of an original PSOne game after developers started to figure out what they were doing with the hardware. It’s colorful, yes, and everything moves smoothly, but it looks like an older-gen game ported to a mobile platform. Enemies look and feel generic, the environments look like sci-fi staples, and outside of the occasional picture of Samus in the same style, it feels like this could be a game that had been lying around waiting for a license and a tweak to be slapped across the front. I understand it’s a side story, and not “really” a Metroid game per se, but at least try to tie it to the presentation outside of the few mentions that “Samus is busy, so you’re batting clean-up.” The stakes just feel artificial here.
As far as the gameplay, it’s difficult to boil down a first-person shooter to the 3DS. The Vita is better designed for it, with two thumbsticks and a wider screen, but even then it causes painful clawing after an hour of play (or maybe three missions) due to the necessary complexity. Every button is used and the layout makes sense, but over long sessions it can cause some painful cramping and constant readjustments with the thumbstick.
Still, it’s intuitive enough to get through a stage without much confusion, and for the platform it’s a valiant attempt that will probably rub players either very positively or, in my case, to a hand surgeon to find out what damage is permanent. And that's not even counting the fact that your character moves at a snail's pace throughout the levels like a geriatric Gundam... which I don't think is hyperbole in any way to describe it.
After the first few missions, which are designed to introduce players to the worlds they will be visiting and the types of enemies they’ll be facing, the difficulty ramps up from “reasonable” to “if you don’t have at least two experienced players working in tandem, you’re screwed." See, the difficulty in solo mode—solo mode, where only one player is playing at a given time, mind you—does not scale from its four-player design; this means that playing those campaign missions alone is borderline impossible. After the seventh mission, which is challenging but not crazy-cakes, six missions all open at once… and I was able, on my own, to complete two of them. After hours of practice in this game alone, so many hours playing so many other shooters, and a couple (but worth pointing out, few) close calls in getting through, it’s extremely frustrating to try.
And then there’s Blastball: three-on-three games of soccer with a gigantic ball, a ramp-filled playfield, and everybody’s got a gun. It’s all right, if uninspired with the occasional power-up appearing on the field to keep things interesting, like a quick cooldown for your gun or a speed boost (because, again, you move like a learning-to-walk toddler with a plasma rifle). Unless a your gun is charged up, you may as well be playing with a physical soccer ball and blowing on it through a fast food straw. With enough friends this can be a fun substitute for a deathmatch mode, since this isn’t going to be fast and furious enough for that.
That said, there is so far some fun variation through the available missions - luring and trapping massive ice giants, diving into deep caves to locate hidden crews, battling monsters in both wide rooms and floating platforms, and even staving off certain annihilation to protect an otherwise-vulnerable data uplink. There’s enough so far to keep a player’s interest provided they have enough time, patience, and pure god-like playing ability to select the correct starting arsenal (oh yeah, you get to pick from available weapons like med kits, missiles, freeze bombs, fire blasts, and others to prep for a given mission on a given terrain) and duck-and-weave-and-blast through the waves. To a certain point, anyway. Then, you better hope your friends are interested in spending half their playing time to help work through the campaign.
For the few things it does right, like some variation in the mission structure and a control scheme that makes sense (even in a hurty way), it's just not that good. For a series that has worked so hard to make a great solo experience, even—especially—in its first-person outings, it’s incredibly unbalanced with a difficulty spike I don’t think I’ve ever experienced before. And not in a challenging way, but in a “yup, I need multiple other people to cover me/back me up” way. Some of us enjoy playing FPS titles by ourselves sometimes, and I don’t want to feel relegated to a small handful of missions I might be able to work through on my own. Scaling the difficulty has been done since this genre began, so why it’s being bypassed now I have no clue.