Metroid Prime Federation Force Is Fun, But Still Hasn’t Quite Found Itself

I won’t go so far as to agree with the boiling tar pit of molten-hot hatred that has been directed by impassioned Metroid fans square at Metroid Prime: Federation Force. To me, it’s never okay to completely disregard a game before playing it, and that holds true even when a publisher is taking something you love and twisting it, potentially, into something you don’t.

After playing Metroid Prime: Federation Force at PAX and getting a fair shot at what the game has to offer, I can say that I suppose I’m okay with the Metroid branding. It is, after all, in the same universe. But why Metroid Prime, Nintendo? Just why?

On the same token, the Prime moniker is one just as easily applied to pinball titles as it is to a Retro Studios masterpiece, and as such I suppose Federation Force’s naming scheme ought not be explicitly held against it. The core idea is solid—a four-player team-based shooter set in the Metroid universe, complete with unique lore and familiar gameplay involving varied weapons, abilities, and loadout customization options. There may even be voice chat (though it’s not yet confirmed), which stands to offer a unique shooter experience for the title’s host console, the tired-but-not-dead-yet 3DS.

Unfortunately, the time I spent with the game, while at times fun, served more to befuddle than impress. This is due to a range of small headaches, but chief among them was the game’s look and feel. I’m not one to place graphics above all else, but this is Metroid Prime we’re talking about here: a property practically synonymous with sheen and visual splendor. The DS title Hunters looked excellent for the hardware, whereas Federation Force looks a lot like Hunters. To me the boost in fidelity isn’t enough, but to be fair, there is likely still time for polish before the game’s August release date later in 2016.

I do love the idea of bringing loadout customization to multiplayer Metroid, and while Federation Force’s options were admittedly varied and substantially diverse, the actual purpose behind them remains clouded. Is the idea to divvy up duties amongst your teammates. Or is it instead to become a set of individual super-beasts and tackle foes with reckless abandon? I’m all for open-ended strategy, but at least from what I played, loadout tweaking feels more like a buzzword checkbox than an important feature of the game. I’d be thrilled to be proven wrong in the future, however.

Luckily, I did experience some redeeming moments, and Federation Force’s demoed boss encounter, though not exactly a full-fledged Samus Aran-style showdown, did offer some thrills and welcome surprises. The foe in question resembled something of a hulking, brown worm, enormous in size and even more threatening with high-damage attacks. Things looked pretty grim at first, but somehow my PAX squad and I pulled through and managed to deal the bister beast enough damage to temper its admittedly impressive and imposing rage. The highlight of the fight by far was the Space Pirate ambush toward the demo’s end; I didn’t see this coming at all, and it put a genuine smile on my face, replacing the mild bemusement seen there ten minutes prior.

Federation Force does a nice job of differentiating its Galactic Federation protagonists from the bounty hunter Samus Aran, be it in the form of hovers instead of double-jumps or their general dependence on strategy and each other in lieu of superhuman tech and abilities. I can’t deny that I’m drawn to the idea of navigating the Metroid universe without Samus’s array of tools and flashy survival conveniences (even if she does have a tendency to lose most of them at the outset of a journey anyway), and if this is something Federation Force can intertwine with lore and position as a strength rather than a setback, then the game most definitely stands a chance at success. Right now it’s not clear whether there’s a full single-player campaign or just individual solo missions, so I suppose fans will just have to hold their breath for more info regarding that.

The Metroid elite are undoubtedly (and understandably) still frustrated by Federation Force’s Prime branding, but if anything the title has proven that it has, among other things, potential. Certainly fun co-op in the Metroid universe can’t be seen as a bad thing, can it? It may be a while yet before we get finalized details leading up to its late summer release, but if lore and co-op can merge for classic frag-style handheld fun, then perhaps all will eventually be forgiven. Maybe.

Metroid Federation Force releases for Nintendo 3DS on August 19, 2016 in North America.