Metroid Prime: Federation Force Is Fun and All, But It’s No Metroid
Nintendo will release Metroid Prime: Federation Force in “late spring,” it said today. Whatever the 3DS game turns out to be, thus far, it’s no Metroid.
Nintendo announced Federation Force for the 3DS at last year’s E3 Expo in June, and hasn’t said a word about it until today. While the main game is a multiplayer cooperative shooter, the only playable demo was of “Blast Ball” mode, a sort of soccer-with-guns game in which teams compete to shoot at a ball into a goal. Last week, I got to go hands-on with the first demo of the game’s main story mode, playing two of its levels.
The Metroid Prime games may look like first-person shooters, but they’re really slow-paced, single-player adventure exploration games based on the classic 2-D titles in the series. Nintendo hasn’t released one since 2007, which has left fans a little antsy, to say the least. Federation Force‘s debut as a ball-shooting future-sports portable game was met with widespread negativity. (The game’s official trailer on YouTube currently has 9,000 likes and 84,000 dislikes.)
So after all that, what’s it actually like to play Federation Force? Here’s the loop: You group up, anywhere from one to four players, in a lobby, and the leader selects from a list of missions. There’s a little bit of story exposition as you, the members of the Federation Force, head off on your latest assignment, but then you’re thrown into all-out battle.
Here’s something that will make a certain number of you excited: The first time I shot an enemy, I saw a little number pop out of it. That’s right: It’s got what you might call “RPG elements.” Different weapons do different amounts of hit-point damage, and so the metagame is to upgrade your character over time, playing levels with your friends to beef up.
You do this in two ways that I saw in the demo: As you progress through the levels, you’ll find “mods.” These might give your character more hit points, have them do more damage, increase the efficacy of your freeze beam so enemies stay frozen longer—any and all the sorts of upgrades you might expect. When a player on your team finds a mod, you don’t learn what it is immediately. But at the close of a level, you’ll see the list of mods, ripe for the picking. The player who got the highest score will get to choose which one they want first, and then so on down the line. If you found more mods than you have players, the first player will get to pick again, and so forth.
Some mods might be hidden in crates (I use this term in the generic sense), tucked around corners, or behind obvious doors that need a special weapon to open. These, too, can be found in crates. At one point early in this first level, we needed an electric beam to open a door for a mod, and found one (with limited ammo) in a crate nearby. In addition to equipping your character with mods prior to beginning a level, you can also load your backpack up with consumable weapons—missiles, elemental weapons like the freeze or electric beams, or healing capsules that you can use on yourself or on teammates.
I’m not sure what sort of button configuration options the final version of Federation Force will have, but I anticipate wanting to mess around with the standard layout. You move forward and backward using the left analog, and turn in place by pressing left or right. Holding the L button will let you strafe left and right. Using the right analog stick (if you own the New Nintendo 3DS) will let you look up and down, and holding the R button lets you aim with motion controls. The A button shoots. This worked okay, except I felt like I’d like to try using the two sticks for Halo-style twin stick movement and shooting with the R button instead.
The first level we played was fairly simplistic: shoot enemies, dig around for items, kill a slightly complex boss character (you had to periodically escape to high ground when the level filled up with poison gas), then escape under a time limit. This worked better, I thought, than the second level we tried, which was a big, complex boss battle set on a fast-moving skiff. A boss was coming up from behind us launching all kinds of weaponry at us, and the only way to damage it was to (as in “Blast Ball”) shoot giant balls across the skiff, over to ramps on the other end, carefully shooting them up the ramp so they would fly off and hit the boss.
This was less fun than it was annoying, compounded (for me) by the fact that holding R to aim upward and pressing A to shoot was, by this point in the demo time, starting to give me painful hand cramps. Again: looking forward to seeing what kind of button-configuration options the final version will bring.
It’s hard to get a sense of the fun of a game like this from the demo. The fun, it would seem, would be in repeating levels over and over with pals, trying to get more stuff, higher scores, and over time build up your character. So the questions would be, how many missions are there, do they feel like they change substantially the more you play them, do you feel like playing an old mission is worthwhile, et cetera—all questions we can’t really answer based on the limited nature of this demo.
Is it fun, moment to moment? Yes, although it certainly didn’t feel particularly distinct from any number of shooters I’ve played on portable platforms like this. Is it Metroid? Based on what I saw, no: there’s really nothing about this mix of gameplay elements that says this needed to be a Metroid at all. I enjoyed it, but the more we see of Metroid Prime: Federation Force, the lesser the chance that there exists some secret feature of the game that makes it a Metroid in anything but name and aesthetic.