At E3 2015, Nintendo unveiled their first Metroid game in five years. Hungry Metroid fans held their collective breath.
Is this what Retro Studios have been working on since their last Donkey Kong game? After 11 years since Zero Mission released, would it be another stellar 2-D offering? Maybe the long-rumored Metroid Dread that was supposedly in development?
Nope, nope, and nope.
How about a Metroid Prime shooter that casts aside the exploration, immersion, and power-ups the series is famous for in favor of team-based gameplay? And oh yeah, you don't play as heroine Samus Aran like you have in every other game in the series; one of the most iconic and powerful video game characters ever made. You play as a generic Federation soldier. Sound good, Metroid fans?
Suffice it to say, the trailer for this game went on to become one of the most 'disliked' trailers for a video game I've seen, to the point that Nintendo disabled the like/dislike counter on YouTube. Thus began the saga of Metroid Prime: Federation Force.
Nintendo has never been a developer to shy away from trying something unexpected if they feel it has potential. Sometimes they strike gold and sometimes it's a swing and a miss. Federation Force falls somewhere in the middle.
If you can accept it for what it is, Federation Force is not a bad game. It's good for what it is, which is an objective-based shooter with small, bite-size levels appropriate for a handheld game. If you know what you're getting going into it, and don’t go into it expecting a traditional Metroid Prime game, you should enjoy it. It doesn't achieve the greatness of the GameCube and Wii installments, but it is good at what it attempts to do, assuming you have people to play with either locally or online.
However, Blast Ball seems like an afterthought, much like the multiplayer mode that was put into Metroid Prime 2 on GameCube. It's a nice diversion, but it's not why you're buying the game.
None of this by itself is controversial. The controversy comes from the demands and expectations of what Metroid fans expect from a Metroid game.
The constant mantra you hear from fans about Federation Force is 'This is not what we want. This is not Metroid.' And given the series' legacy over the last 30 years, and the severe impact it has had on gamers and game developers, they have a point. Federation Force looks like a Metroid Prime game, it controls like a Metroid Prime game, it has some of the atmosphere of a Metroid Prime game, but it doesn't play like a Metroid Prime game. Metroid is not a series that is synonymous with teamwork and co-op play by any stretch. In fact, just the opposite.
As a fan, it is a little frustrating that Nintendo went to the trouble of making a game that is close to being a traditional Metroid Prime game, but isn't. How cool would it have been, and how excited would fans have been, after six years of no Metroid at all, to get a traditional standalone Metroid Prime game for the 3DS to tide us over until the next major console release? Fans would have been elated. Celebrations would have ensued with fans hugging each other with tears in their eyes that Nintendo had not abandoned their favorite series.
They were so close.
Federation Force would have had a more welcoming audience when it was announced if it hadn't been so long since Nintendo had released a Metroid game; and if it hadn't been even longer since they had released a Metroid Prime game. The last Metroid game came out in 2010 and the last Metroid Prime game came out in 2007. Fans have been hungry for more, but this is not what they had in mind.
If fans had gotten a traditional Metroid game in 2013 or 2014, Federation Force would have been seen by most as a healthy snack before the inevitable next game in the series; something to tide the faithful over until the next chapter hits. A team-based shooter that abandons the solitary loneliness, exploration, and sense of discovery and wonder the series is known for was a bit jarring and is not what fans want, because it abandons the essence of what Metroid has always been defined by.
Fans dearly want another 2-D Metroid game from Nintendo. That hunger has been somewhat assuaged by the recently released AM2R project, which I talked about in my last Metroid piece. Nintendo, on the other hand, seems to be in no big rush to make one. Why? What it comes down to is sales. If 2-D Metroid games were selling 25 million copies a pop the way 2-D Mario games were on Wii and DS, I guarantee Nintendo would find the time and resources to make one. But they don't, and therefore it's not a priority for them. Metroid has never been a colossal seller the way Mario, Zelda, and Pokemon have been, and therefore Nintendo needs less of an excuse to not prioritize it when a game in the series doesn't sell up to expectations.
What is selling well for Nintendo right now? How about Splatoon? A team-based online shooter that came out of nowhere and surprised everyone, even Nintendo. It's been a sleeper hit for Wii U. While I'm not privy to Nintendo's inner motivations for creating something like Federation Force, and while they don't play the same, there are definite similarities between Federation Force and Splatoon. It would not surprise me if Splatoon's success played a factor in Nintendo's decision to take the Metroid series in the direction they did. Would anyone have cared about Federation Force if it didn't bear the Metroid moniker? Most likely not. It's the game's biggest strength and biggest weakness.
As I write this, sales figures for Federation Force haven't been released and the game has yet to release in Europe. However, if the tepid online community is an indication at this point, it doesn't appear to be capturing the imagination of Metroid fans or gamers in general.
It's not that fans don't want to see Nintendo implement new ideas into Metroid. They just don't want those new ideas at the expense of what they've loved about the series since it began. Fans are angry and cynical about the future of Metroid right now. Here's hoping Nintendo gets the message loud and clear, and next time gives fans the Metroid game they want on their new console.
What direction should Nintendo go with the Metroid series? Another Metroid Prime game for their next console? A 2-D game like Metroid Fusion and Zero Mission? A sequel to Federation Force? Let us know in the comments section below!