Metroid Prime: Federation Force, the multiplayer 3DS FPS spin-off Nintendo unveiled last summer, was originally intended to be developed for the DSi in 2009. Met with what felt like almost unanimous fan revulsion, its origins as a post-Metroid Prime 3 extension make a lot of sense. The design doesn’t seem especially revolutionary; even its graphics, sporting a chibi stylized view of the Metroid world, appear slightly rudimentary, though given the polish elsewhere its likely that’s an artistic choice. Not that it’s appreciated by the rabid fandom.
Even so, diehard Samus lovers probably would’ve stomached this if Federation Force starred the famous bounty hunter, but it doesn’t. Instead you’re a nameless marine in the Galactic Federation seeing familiar Prime worlds from the perspective of its interstellar peacekeepers. The shooter aspect didn’t go over well with players either, stripping out the brooding, non-linear exploration and adventure bits, leaving only a skeletal FPS structure designed around co-op play. Now that the game is out, you can guess how the majority of fans have reacted.
Take a peek at the Metroid subreddit if you want to see a bunch of very upset Metroid fans. After its initial announcement, small groups of overzealous fans tried to get the game cancelled, a sentiment which still lingers there. One change.org petition saw as many as 20,000 signatures, which, though not a small amount, is paltry compared to what Nintendo might potentially take notice of. Obviously, it didn’t work.
Several active redditors also tried to organize a “buy-cott” closer to launch, where on Federation Force’s release day players would pick up copies of older Metroid games for the Wii U and 3DS’ Virtual Console in an attempt to send Nintendo another message. (Federation Force hasn’t been out long enough for any potential sales data to trickle out, but it seems highly unlikely the ratio of new to old Metroid games sold saw any abrupt or striking change.)
While the subreddit does have some supporters — the game has been getting generally decent-to-good reviews, citing a fun kid-friendly multiplayer experience — it’s harder to get a cohesive sense on how people feel. Some hate it or are otherwise dismissive, leveling comments about how ugly the game looks (unfairly, I think; stylization and streamlined visual design don’t necessarily prove a lack of effort). Others are willing to give it a chance, albeit with varying degrees of what might be accused as Stockholm Syndrome. Some even seem to enjoy the game for what it is.
The majority of the Metroid community, at least if the subreddit is any indication, does seem able to agree on one thing: The assumption that Federation Force is either evidence that Metroid will only exist in an “experimental” phase from here on out, that the series has lost its identity, or both.
Despite its drawn-out development history, even looking at the Federation Force’s cover with its big-headed marines resembling Saturday morning cartoons, it seems to me that a handheld side-story is the very definition of a stopgap, before a new series-proper Metroid is announced, maybe almost inevitably, for NX.
It could be that Federation Force was further along than whatever plans may be in development for a console Metroid, so it was something Nintendo was hoping to placate fans with in the meantime. By no means is it likely that Nintendo, more implacably saddled to their past than just about any other presence in gaming, is pinning Metroid’s future entirely on Federation Force. There’s evidently even a tease for a new Samus-led sequel when you finish it.
You could argue as some in the subreddit have that Metroid sales have never been as good as Mario or Zelda, but it also hasn’t had a chance to get the kind of exposure in the modern era that even lesser-known games from huge publishers get now. Other M was the closest; its almost-fetishized narrative portrayal of Samus, a twist on a classic trait of Team Ninja’s, arguably kept it from mainstream appeal. That was in 2010, still miles from the kind of blitz major properties get in either 2016 or, in all likelihood, the future.
Interestingly, this just happened again with another beloved series, when Konami announced Metal Gear Survive, a Kojima-less new multiplayer co-op entry that appeared to be about a group of nameless soldiers fighting zombies with melee weapons — a game about as far removed as possible from what Metal Gear traditionally invokes. With Survive, I argued that without its distinctive personality, a new console title — even a spin-off — was missing the point, and if Federation Force had been a Wii U title as was considered, I can only imagine the hate for it would have been greater.
At the same time, I get it. Federation Force and Survive are both companion pieces, and neither probably represents the sum direction of either series moving forward, no matter how ridiculous they might feel. It’s not a perfect analog, as Metroid hasn’t really had an “auteur” stamp defining and re-defining what it is throughout its history (and unlike Nintendo, Konami didn’t put their best foot forward by refusing to actually show what Survive is.) Yet in either case reaction appears to be measured mostly on intimacy — the choice is yours not to play.