Federation Force is a Co-Op Metroid Prime. What's Not to Like?

Image: Supplied

Metroid Prime: Federation Force has attracted its share of consternation in the year and a bit since it was announced, largely because long-time Nintendo fans yearning for a new Metroid game weren't quite expecting a multiplayer Nintendo variant on Rocket League. Nintendo perhaps regrets the decision to introduce Federation Force to the world by showing off 3-versus-3 robot football.

The game is more than Blast Ball, though, and there's some magic in its co-operative, more action-centric approach to Metroid Prime. Split up into short missions of 15 minutes or fewer, Federation Force dresses you up in a cute wee mech and sends you to strange planets in the company of 1-3 friends. You are part of an galactic team here, not a lone bounty hunter. That does somewhat diminish the atmospheric unease that made the single-player Metroid Prime trilogy so memorable, but these places are still mysterious and dangerous, and you're still never quite sure what might happen when you get there.

You may end up scrambling from a self-destructing building, shooting space pirates as you go. You may be trying to lure huge beasts into cages, trapping them inside as a teammate scarpers past the descending gate. A poisonous gas leak might totally derail the mission, or you might just be stepping on switches and shooting orb-shaped artefacts into the appropriate holes, mini-gold style. There's a story tying things together - a story in which Samus Aran does factor, incidentally - but Federation Force's levels are a series of gameplay vignettes, of ideas that don't outstay their welcome.

Image: Supplied

A lot of those ideas naturally revolve around things that can only be done co-operatively, though Federation Force automates some of these things to mollify lone players. One of you might have to hide somewhere high-up to shoot a switch whilst the others lure a creature towards a trap, for instance. There's even a slight Monster Hunter vibe to the mission preparation screen, where special ammo is laid out in front of you and you must agree how to divide it amongst yourselves. You might send one player out with shock bullets to solve certain puzzles, whilst one takes care of the mega-missile that can take a big chunk off a big enemy's health. The missions aren't easy - death comes easily, and involves restarting the whole level - so it's necessary to think carefully.

Where the last Metroid Prime game, Hunters, turned Metroid into an arena shooter with touch-screen aiming, Developer Next Level has found a different way to force a full first-person shooter control system onto Nintendo's handheld system. On the New 3DS, with its little nubbin, you can attempt an approximation of twin-stick controls. Otherwise, holding down the R button and moving the console around using the gyroscope is a surprisingly effective solution. You don't have to twist around absurdly; small movements are enough to finesse your aiming, and you can keep moving with the control stick at the same time. Shooting and jumping are done with the shoulder buttons, with charge shots from your energy weapon doing far more damage. It's definitely not natural, but it does work well.

Federation Force does what it can to prevent one more experienced or skilled player from dominating. Sections of the levels are gated off by doors with pressure-plates that require all of you to be present before letting you continue, stopping one player from running off ahead and taking all the spoils. The drama comes from unfolding set-pieces: as a door opens and you all walk through, things might be eerily quiet before enemies suddenly appear, or there may be a very obvious puzzle that needs solving, or you might find yourself in what turns out to be a boss arena.

This Metroid is made by the same people as the stellar Luigi’s Mansion 2, and although the two games are hardly similar on the face of it, things like the scoring system, the omnipresence of hidden secrets and the tempting replayability of each section reveal a consistent approach to game design. Once you've been through a Federation Force mission once, it becomes a speed-running high-score challenge, with a "par time" that challenges you to hone your skills. Meanwhile, accuracy and charge shots will gain you more points when shooting than firing continuously in the vague direction of the enemy. There's depth to the systems that makes you want to try again.

Like TriForce Heroes, Federation Force doesn't work as well on your own. Drones hovering around your head make up for the reduced firepower of just one mech, and it feels rather transparent to find a door with four switches in front of it, three of them greyed out. This might turn out to be comparatively unexceptional in single-player - a lot of the moment-to-moment drama comes from co-ordinating with your fellow players, alerting each other to what you've seen, or communally figuring out a plan.

Image: Supplied

Blast Ball, the straightforward 3-versus-3 competitive multiplayer mode, is a different idea altogether: you have 3 players on each team, mechs equipped with charge weapons, two goals, and a gigantic ball that crackles with electricity. It's surprisingly tactical, though you can't body-block the ball or you'll pretty much immediately explode. Instead you must guide it by shooting it with precision. It's fun; not as much fun as Rocket League, but fun nonetheless.

What I love about Blast Ball is that it takes place in the hull of the same ship that takes you on missions, which makes me imagine that the little Federation Force chaps leap out of their work-mechs after a long day of dangerous exploration and leap straight into play-mechs for a match of robot football to blow off steam. It's actually available right now from the eShop; though not remotely indicative of Metroid Prime: Federation Force in its entirety, it will give you a feel for its control system. The full game is out on September 2nd.

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This post originally appeared on Kotaku UK, bringing you original reporting, game culture and humour with a U from the British isles.


    Long-time Nintendo fans keen on a new Metroid game don't put their money where their mouth is anyway, so stuff them. If you avoided Prime 3, or ignored Other M, and completely missed the great Metroid Blast aspect of NIntendoLand, you have nobody to blame but yourself, internet.

    The whingeing set that deride this game is only a vocal minority. I haven't bothered to try the BlastBall demo and don't see any reason to yet, it does sound like Rocket League ate its lunch though. Beat it up and stole its lunch money too.

    Keza's so right, Next Level is a great 2nd-party studio for Nintendo, and whatever they try their hands at, they do great. Again, I'm seeing a difference between the moans of a 'Nintendo fan' that they aren't getting Metroidvania #271 here, and those that haven't bothered to actually support what games have been released with the word Metroid in the title :)

      Or maybe they DID put their money where their mouth is, and chose not to support games they considered inferior?

      Isn't this the result of people putting their money where their mouth is though? Someone on the exec board would have said "You know, people keep giving us money for games with Metroid in the title so lets sell a game using that name." Whether it's the game people want or not isn't relevant, just that people keep buying Metroid branded games.

      the moans of a 'Nintendo fan' that they aren't getting Metroidvania #271

      If only there were another 200 or so Metroids to keep us happy! I suppose we'll just have to be satisfied with all the other great Metroid games released this generation!

      Last edited 28/07/16 12:32 am

    I downloaded blast ball, but haven't had a go yet because of monster hunter.

    Game looks good, and next level games knows how to deliver multiplayer fun (Mario strikers is my favourite sports game evar).

    And there's something to be said about how it takes perfect cooperation by four Feds in mechs to do what samus does alone. She's a badass, but they're just as heroic.

    The controls are weird. Gyro control is shit and incompatible with 3D which I ain't switching off unless I desperately need to conserve battery life, and the n3DS controls are... well, the controls themselves aren't so bad. But the n3DS's extra buttons are garbage. I feel like it'd work well on the Circle Pad Pro though. Maybe I shouldn't have transferred to the new system. Or should get an NNID set up on the old one I guess, test it out.

    I keep getting the feeling that the complaints are the same as those people had for The Spirits Within. It was a good movie on its own but because it had "Final Fantasy" in the title it didn't live up to people's expectations of something with that name.

    Last edited 27/07/16 5:05 pm

      Yeah. I loved every minute of Spirits Within. But there was a secret fanboy deep inside who was disappointed in something I couldn't know until I really examined it.

      ...And what's the problem with that, though? You PUT the name in the title SPECIFICALLY to drum up those expectations. So why would you be surprised when people are complaining that the product doesn't live up to the name that you invoked to catch their interest in the first place?

      I'm not saying Federation Force is a bad game. But why not just make a new IP? God knows Nintendo could have used a second (after Splatoon) great new shooter IP this gen.

    Graphically, that looks absolutely horrible. Avoid like the plague.

    Give me Super Metroid any day of the week over that crap.

      It looks fine on the actual hardware and in motion. 3DS screenshots never look good.

    This just reminds me that I'm often a bigger fan of the experience a series offers than the surface-level IP. Whatever the merits of this game, it just doesn't offer the experience I'm craving.

    See also: "the new quake"; "Ghostbusters 2016".

      And for a reverse example: the final fantasy series was effectively a new IP every time, but the themes and experience were fairly consistent (until FF11 anyway).

    Is it really necessary to explain why Metroid fans would not be happy about this? Let me just clarify, I haven't played a Metroid game since Prime and Fusion. I don't own a Nintendo product newer than the Gamecube. So, safe to say, I woudn't even buy a new Metroid game if they made one. Why am I bothered by this then? It is not a Metroid game. It is a cute, and frankly, fun looking game. But not Metroid. I would by a new console just to play a real Metroid game, just as I would for Sonic the Hedgehog. Neither franchise has yet to produce a game worth the trouble.

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