Before you read this, heed my confession: I have not played Federation Force yet. I don’t know anything about the controls or really the overarching story. My knowledge comes from an 18 minute long playthrough of a complete mission in Federation Force, as well as a longtime fandom of the Metroid series. The video is included below, so watch it (or at least some of it if your brain cells start packing up and going to Albuquerque) before reading on.
Now Metroid fans, you are going to hate this game. A lot. I promise. So if you’re a die hard Metroid fan, will absolutely buy Federation Force on release, and end up loving it, email me and I’ll take you to Burger King. But until then, check out six reasons why you are going to hate Federation Force.
Reason #1: Objectively Terrible Graphics
From the very first second of gameplay I ever witnessed, I knew that something was very, very wrong with this Metroid game. While I’m not particularly fond of the Wii U, I adore the 3DS. It’s a surprisingly powerful little system with some games that are nearly Wii-level graphics. But this sack of garbage honestly looks like an eight-year-old, free-to-download original Nintendo DS game. “But, Jesse, you colossal sourpuss, it’s a handheld! You can’t expect it to look like Metroid Prime.” Oh, really? Well, first of all, that’s incorrect, because the 3DS is more than capable of rendering a game designed for the Wii. Check this short video out below and you’ll see my point:
Golly, aren’t the graphics great? And they can be YOURS on the Nintendo 3DS, found at local electronics retailers near you! *pockets rupee from Nintendo* But seriously, let’s just pretend, for all intents and purposes, that the 3DS sucks and has, say, original DS hardware. Even still, this game (that could render Wii-level graphics) doesn’t even look like a Gamecube game. It looks like it was developed for the N64, the Wii U’s great grandfather. But stepping aside from technical issues, the biggest problem is art design. Not once did I see a ship, character, enemy, or location (more on that later) that looked remotely interesting. But even still, why am I, Jesse the crotchety old man whose favorite games all have “old, bad graphics,” giving Federation Force such a hard time? As a normal game, I can forgive a lot, but a Metroid game is, and should be, held to a different standard. From the original Metroid to Metroid Prime, the series has always looked uncommonly good and operated at the height of its available technology at the time. Prime was the best-looking game on the Gamecube, Super Metroid was maybe the best looking game on the SNES, and the list goes on.
Now I could rant about the Metroid series all day, but I’m going to dedicate my energy to one example from here on out. The rest of this article will be spent comparing Metroid: Federation Force to Metroid Prime: Hunters for original DS because, in a lot of ways, they are similar. Both games are handheld Metroid spin-offs (i.e. both deviate from the normal Metroid formula and narrative) made for a dual-screen system that focus heavily on multiplayer aspects. So here’s your homework. Check out this video below:
Now that we’ve seen both, let’s discuss why Federation Force sucks in stark contrast to Hunters.
Reason #2: The Level Design is Shallow and Boring
A common mistake in level design is making a world that solely exists to challenge or entertain the player but doesn’t make sense within the world itself. While adding floating platforms might make for a more interesting way of getting around, it can detract from the immersiveness of the game if it serves no purpose within the game’s world. Now this problem is almost unavoidable in game design and occurs in almost every game at some point, but it’s something that Metroid has always done incredibly well.
In Hunters, for example, the scenery is believable. That is to say that everything exists in the level for a purpose outside of Samus’ visit. One of the most brilliant additions to the gameplay in the original Metroid Prime was the ability to scan objects for more information about them. Why are there pistons in the noxious goop? Well, in the Metroid Prime series (including Hunters), you can scan them and get a detailed report on their function and purpose. But in Federation Force, random crap is just thrown around the level for no other reason than making the level feel less like the boring box of redundancy that it is. Hunters is very intentional in its design, while Federation Force is not. From the gas room to the stacks of metal crate to the pistons in the goo, everything is without a purpose that makes no real contribution to the actual world building.
Additionally, you may note that there’s no wasted space in Hunters. It’s a solid, believable space ship that doesn’t have empty rooms that serve no practical purpose, like every single room I saw in the mission from Federation Force. Not only does illogical level design impair your gameplay by making it dull and boring, but a lack of world building seriously hurts your tone. Which leads us to…
Reason #3: The Tone is Un-Metroid
What made the original Metroid game stand out among its NES peers was its unique tone. In every Metroid game, you feel an overwhelming sense of isolation which is key to its sci-fi suspense genre (think Alien, the film that it inspired most). You’re in awe of the beautiful world you’ve discovered and simultaneously afraid that it will kill you. In Hunters, you’re actually afraid of dying. You’re alone, no one has your back, and your enemies seem threatening, even if they’re not. For example, when Samus breaks the pipe around 9:15 in the video, she’s suddenly swarmed with enemies that are instantly attacking her. They go down easily, but there’s still a moment of tension as they surround you. This tensions keeps you interested in what’s happening next. This tension is nowhere to be found in Federation Force.
It’s art style is cartoony and you fight what I’m pretty sure are Metal Gears with three of your friends in very low stakes situations. Now I’m not just being nitpicky here. There are plenty of folks who are ready to start a riot at the thought of a Mario’s overalls buttons changing colors, but the tone of Metroid has persisted in every game and is unquestionably a core component to series’ appeal. If you drastically alter the tone of a Metroid game, you don’t understand why people play Metroid. And since isolation and exploration are major themes in the Metroid franchise, the makes even less sense to make it…
Reason #4: Co-Op with No Co-Op
From what I saw in the mission, I never got a sense that there was cooperation (fun fact: “cooperation” is the root word for co-op. Who knew, right?) of any kind. For most of it, the other characters seem to be aimlessly wandering around the map, shooting at tan walls in the spirit of Steve McQueen bouncing a ball against his prison cell wall in The Great Escape. There’s simply nothing to do. There aren’t even simple multiplayer puzzles like the classic “Let’s both stand on two things far away to make something else happen” or the timeless “You stand on that button while I use the thing it gives me access to.” None of that. Just following the main player through big, boring rooms, doing the same thing as he or she does. Nothing I saw in the playthrough necessitated more than one person to complete besides using an elevator, which appears to be the hardest part of the entire game so far. And that’s partly because…
Reason #5: It Treats You Like a Stupid Baby
I will admit, when I wasn’t daydreaming about grey sweaters and white paint to entertain myself for 17 minutes, there is a moment in the video that absolutely astounded me. The player walks into a big empty room with a giant vat of green goo in the middle while these pistons go up and down, topped with what are clearly platforms. When you jump on the platform and land on the other side (literally the difficulty equivalent of jumping over the first Goomba in Super Mario Bros.), a message on the screen appears, accompanied with what sounds like a robot who thinks he’s an alcoholic Bill Murray, saying, “Good job!” This moment summed up Federation Force better than anything else. Most of the game looks mind bogglingly simple to the extent that it’s boring.
Hunters, on the other hand, does not treat you like a stupid baby. Like all good Metroid games, it doesn’t hold your hand and congratulate you for figuring how to walk to the other side of the room. It even leaves false leads during puzzles, making the satisfaction even greater when you accomplish your goals. Take the two enemy “swarms” at the end of each video, for example. In Federation Force, you get a little cutscene introducing the oncoming threat of Space Pirates. It has no emotional impact (besides maybe wrath when Metroid fans see one of the most fearsome Nintendo enemies turned into what look like supporting characters from Banjo-Kazooie) and isn’t even visually interesting. It’s only there to give you and your buddies a heads up before they attack. But in Hunters, when you, and only you, reach the last chamber, nothing seems amiss until you scan the crystal. Then more than a dozen enemies come out of nowhere and try to kill you. With no introduction, no build-up, no warning, and no friends to help them along the way, the player is forced to be fully engaged lest he or she die. People like figuring things out on their own, and it seems like Federation Force will spoon feed us everything it has to offer.
Reason #6: It Insults it Predecessors
So here’s the mind-blowing part: Hunters came out TEN YEARS ago! That’s right! 2006! And it did so on vastly inferior hardware. Yet it still slaughters Federation Force in every way, even graphically. Initially, there was no Samus and no single player until the developers shoe-horned in a Samus cameo and a single player mode after fans were so upset that they created a petition of 20,000 signatures to stop development and throw the game into the Brinstar depths. The dark, atmospheric tone, the beautiful graphics, the intricate worlds built for deep exploration, and rewarding difficult that made every Metroid game great is nowhere to be found in Metroid: Federation Force, and that, Metroid fan, is why you’ll hate it.
So what do you think about this, my fine readers? Disappointed? Excited for its release? Frothing at the mouth with rage? Let us know in the comments section below! And don’t forget to stop by Top Shelf Gaming for brand new articles every week.