Let’s get this out of the way, Federation Force is not a Metroid game in the traditional sense. Yes, it carries the Metroid Prime name, and it’s set in the same universe (after the events of Metroid Prime 3: Corruption in fact), but there is no large, slowly-unfolding map to explore, no searching for suit upgrades and new weapons to make you stronger and open up previously blocked areas, and with three other team mates always at your side and trying to hurry you along to the next firefight, you are never alone. In fact, you’ll feel about as isolated as someone out on the lash with three mates (inevitable 2am existential crises aside). That said, It does control just like Metroid Prime did on the GameCube (there are also twin stick controls available but I wouldn’t recommend them. On New 3DS, the nub is not an adequate second stick at all). And it successfully brings the series’ action-packed firefights and physics based puzzle elements to the Nintendo 3DS. Though why they didn’t just port Metroid Prime in a similar manner to Xenoblade Chronicles is beyond me.
In a similar manner to last year’s Triforce Heroes, Federation Force is a multiplayer spin-off featuring a series of micro-missions playable by up to four players. Cooperative play is all but demanded, with missions getting progressively trickier the smaller the squad you use. Though it is possible to play through the whole of Federation Force solo with the help of bots, they’re not half as clever as humans. To try and compensate for your lack of competent team mates (and the difficulty spike that arises as a result of it), you are also gifted with a special mod that grants you a significant boost to your attack and defence. Even with this, I found that the game was much more enjoyable if I just bit the bullet and buddied up with some randoms online. Finding other players is an incredibly simple process, and the game is much more enjoyable as a result.
Rather than placing players once again in the iconic orange power amour of famed bounty hunter and all round bad-ass Samus Aran, Federation Force instead has players taking on the role of …some soldiers from the Galactic Federation: the galaxy’s most inept peacekeeping force. Though Samus does pop up from time to time, and features in the occasional mission, you’ll be spending most of your time piloting a fully-armed mech (that bares more than a passing resemblance to Samus’ suit, just a lot bigger), and there are a few stealth missions thrown in, where you leave the safety of your tin can and creep around trying to avoid the legions of angry fauna and space pirates you would usually gun down with reckless abandon.
Each mission has a main objective that needs to be completed, as well optional secondary objectives which grant you bonus points. Points mean prizes, in the form of medals, which unlock new ways to customise your mech.
There are a lot of unlockable skins (including Samus’s distinct red and orange if you scan the Samus amiibo, or a blue based on her Zero suit if you scan the Zero Suit Samus amiibo, while scanning any other amiibo gives you a cool skeletal skin). Unlocked skins not only look cool, but also allow you to carry more ammo for your auxiliary weapons.
You can power up your suit using mods: chips found during each level that provide various buffs to your suits power and effectiveness in battle (up to a max of three). Some offer permanent gains, while others will break if you die or fail a mission.
Mods are also offered as rewards at the end of a mission. When playing solo, you simply take all the unlocked mods, however in multiplayer, team members take it in turns to take mods until they are all gone, with the player with the highest score going first. Therefore, it’s in your best interest to kill the most enemies and complete the most objectives, even if you are technically supposed to be working as a team. In-game, this tends to result in players running off as fast as they can to get the highest score, rather than helping each other out as much as they should. This isn’t helped by the fact that players can only communicate with each other via canned commands you can set to the D-pad for quick use. It’s somewhat baffling considering that Metroid Prime: Hunters had full mic support so long ago, while being one of the best looking games on the DS.
Before each mission, you can customise the look of your mech as well as customising your loadout. There’s a wide selection of offensive weapons, defensive items and utilities you can bring into battle including the signature missiles, elemental weapons and Samus-shaped dummies to distract the enemy. However, each item uses up a certain number of slots in your limited inventory. As such, you need to carefully consider what to take with you on a mission, experimenting with your loadout and figuring out the right tools for the job at hand. it’s vital if you want to collect every medal and get first dibs on any available mods that are up for grabs at the mission’s end.
If you’ve played any of the Metroid Prime games on the GC, you’ll feel right at home with the controls at least. Prime’s more adventure-centric controls were always somewhat divisive (I always liked them), and on the 3DS, they still work well though there have been some slight alterations that take a little getting used to. You use L to lock onto targets, while pressing “R” allows you to free look with the 3DS’ gyro controls in a similar manner to aiming the bow in the system’s Zelda games. Holding both together allows you to lock on to a foe. It’s a surprisingly intuitive control scheme, and one that works well on the system, though admittedly it’s not half as comfortable as it was on a GC controller.
If you ignore the game’s squashed-up chibi stylings, mechanically it feels like a proper entry in the Metroid Prime series. Which only makes it all the more puzzling that they opted to create a multiplayer spin-off, rather than a new entry in the series proper, as it is, oddly, one of the few times where Nintendo would not have been derided for giving gamers more of the same.
It’s not like the 3DS couldn’t pull it off, either. It’s already home to ports of several Wii games, and the New 3DS could use another compelling exclusive. Everything required to make another fine entry in the prime series is there: the sharp controls, the temples and puzzles, the varied monsters and action packed combat. Thematically, however, it’s completely off-base, and devoid of the series’ stark atmosphere and rewarding exploration. This so easily could have been the portable Metroid Prime fans have been crying out for, but instead of playing as Samus, you’re left either cleaning up after her, or using intel from her to complete a mission. Like Homefront, you feel like you’re playing as a minor character rather than a bonafide protagonist. It’s almost as if Federation Force was planned as the companion to another console-based Metroid that never materialised. Moreover, most of the objectives boil down to ‘kill this monster’, ‘pull this switch’, or tiresome escort missions – which are never fun and incredibly frustrating when playing on your lonesome.
It’s hard not to bemoan what Federation Force could have been, but I can’t knock what it actually is; a fun, multiplayer-focused portable Prime spin-off. It plays and controls well, the environments are bright and beautiful while the monster designs are varied and bold. Meanwhile, there’s some fun puzzles and the few missions that stray from the usual template (though admittedly most fall to the usual kill this, pull this, protect this routine) are pretty good. Though you can play through the whole game solo, playing with others either online or locally is recommended, if you want to get the most out of it, though sadly it doesn’t have download play like Triforce Heroes did. Federation Force’s 22 missions won’t take you too long to get through initially, but with three medals to earn on each level, and an additional hard mode to unlock complete with a new set of trickier missions to try your hand at, dedicated players will find plenty to sink their teeth into.
Along with the main campaign, Federation Force also includes a sporting side in the guise of Blast Ball; an odd mix of first person shooter and Football (soccer for the yanks) that has you trying to blast an oversized ball into your opponent’s goal. It has a similar air to Rocket League, but isn’t nearly as fun, and lacks the same sense of silliness or depth. This is surprising considering Next Level are the makers of the wonderful Mario Strikers series, which is up there with Mutant League as one of the best ‘alternate sports’ series ever made.
Basically, if you’re looking for a continuation of the Metroid Prime series proper, then you’re probably going to be disappointed with Federation Force. If you can you stop thinking about what it could have been, and start to try and enjoy it for what it is, you’ll find a fairly fun squad-based FPS set in the Metroid universe that (while not the game fans wanted) is still a relatively accomplished portable FPS in its own right.