A Metroid game without leading heroine Samus Aran at the helm seems ridiculous, but that is exactly the case with Metroid Prime: Federation Force. The series has gradually tried to introduce a little more backstory and depth to the galaxy's prominent human military force in increments with each passing game, and there are plenty of fans out there who have always wanted to see the Galactic Federation fleshed out a bit more. Indeed, producer Kensuke Tanabe has stated his desire to do just that, before continuing the Metroid Prime subseries further and having the Federation play a role in another sequel involving Samus and Sylux (an antagonist in Metroid Prime: Hunters that was seen chasing Samus at the end of Metroid Prime 3).
The result is Federation Force, which sees players taking control of an elite soldier trained for combat using new technology based on Samus Aran's Power Suit: Mechs. These giant machines are equipped to take down the most powerful of foes, with the goal of finally taking out the Space Pirates that have continuously given both the Galactic Federation and Samus such a difficult time of protecting the galaxy thus far. Set after the destruction of the planet Phaaze in Metroid Prime 3, Samus plays a bit part role here, relaying information back to the Federation Force special unit between missions.
Without a Circle Pad Pro attachment, this is a rather frustrating game to play on a regular 3DS, as the gyroscope is necessary for accurate aiming. With one, however, despite taking a little while to get accustomed to, particularly with regards to needing to use the left index and middle fingers on the tiny shoulder buttons for jumping and target locking, it is a pretty smooth experience, with the right Circle Pad offering the free camera movement that is needed to look around and strafe at the same time. The option to shoot with the ZR button instead of the A button means it can be played in a more comfortable and familiar FPS style. Given the limitations of the 3DS, it's all pulled off very well with the Circle Pad Pro in place, and goes to show that first-person shooters can work on the handheld. Again, though, it's highly recommended to use the add-on or a New Nintendo 3DS (a regular 3DS with Circle Pad Pro was used for this review).
The core of Federation Force is the campaign itself, which has been created with multiple players in mind. It can be played solo, but the encouraged idea is that this is a multiplayer title that should be played with friends locally or online. Up to four players can play together to make up the elite unit that is front and centre in the storyline, and missions will unlock in bulk the further along progress is made.
Set in the Bermuda System containing three planets, missions take place across the worlds of Excelcion, Talvania and Bion, and it is entirely left to the individual whether to tackle available missions solo or as a squad. Public and private lobbies can be created and viewed, with each one displaying the mission name that they have been created for. Only missions that are unlocked to the player can be seen, but there is a degree of freedom as to which order certain missions can be tackled first, since many will unlock in bulk.
The matchmaking process is simple and painless, and there normally isn't too long of a wait for others to join a public room during these weeks following the game's release, but it might be a good idea to seek out online forums to get some friends that will help instead of relying on randomers, otherwise it is best to have something to do whilst waiting, just in case.
Prior to each mission, your Mech can be outfitted with "Mods," which are found throughout stages and awarded at the end as prizes, and act as means to upgrade and customise the character with bonuses, such as increased shooting power, extra weight capacity to carry more AUX ammo, make shields last longer, cause missiles to split into two, and much more. These Mods can break upon death, and will need replacing.
AUX ammo can also be set up before starting a mission, and allows all players in the group to pick and equip specific items that will be used during the stage, such as missiles, shields, health recovery packs, fire ammo, decoys, etc. The weight of the Mech determines how much can be equipped, but during this selection process, it is essentially a "first come, first served" situation, as all players quickly try to snap up the items they want before the others. Most people are fair and will only take what they need, whilst letting others spread things out, but there can be problems when trying to take something that is desired.
This pre-mission equipping session also means players can set up roles within their team, such as a healer, damage dealer, or even a magic user if taking the elemental ammo. Some players prefer to play a specific part, whereas others may like to balance things out amongst everyone. One of the odd things about the AUX ammo screen is that the available items will change with each mission, meaning not all of the items will be there for picking when the time comes. It's an attempt to balance each mission individually, saving people from using things that would make stages too easy, such as Super Missiles.
Jumping right into the first level, the initial visual impressions aren't great, with a real lack of quality and sometimes no texturing used at all on surfaces, giving off a very Nintendo 64 look. That said, other areas look pretty good, and the chibi-like design of the soldiers is cute in its own special way, with fluid animations, which can be most noticeably seen when they jump into their Mech suits. Importantly, gameplay is smooth, with no obvious frame rate dropping observed during this playthrough, even when playing in multiplayer. There were cases of lag on rare occasions, but online play seems to be a predominantly uninterrupted ordeal.
Each mission is very short—usually around 10 minutes, give or take. Whilst there is sometimes a valiant effort at replicating the Metroid Prime atmosphere, it goes out of the window when there are so many missions that detract from the whole experience. The second stage consists of shooting balls on the floor and guiding them around obstacles and along winding paths into holes to unlock doors. Another one sees the Federation Force baiting Ice Titans into cages to capture them, whilst one mission slows things down to a crawl by requiring the player to push a mine cart along a path, stopping to fight enemies and clear the way. Needless to say, the opening hours of the adventure are exercises in tedium, which is further ruined by a cheap first major boss that has an instant kill move that's easy to get caught up in. In fact, even outside of the bosses and the strange mission tasks, this is a pretty hard game when played alone.
Almost everything changes, however, when opting out of solo play and going online to tackle these missions in a group. Now, the ball rolling, Ice Titan capturing, and mine cart moving turn into fun activities that not only enable things to be completed quicker (e.g. all four balls can be moved by each player in a team of four, instead of one at a time if playing solo in Mission 2), but allow players to put their strategic and communication skills to the test to help each other out. The messaging system lets players blurt out a range of dialogue options mid-game, whilst tapping somewhere on the touch screen tells the team where they should head to if some are unsure. It's not voice chat, and it's not perfect, but it usually has the choices that players will need to use in most situations, so it does the job the majority of the time.
Sadly, there is not much that can be done if a teammate is not playing by the book and failing to play properly, or just standing idly by when buttons need pressing by the whole squad to unlock a door. There is nothing that the other players can do but quit their mission and return to the lobbies menu. An option for the host to boot players may have worked, but perhaps that was purposely omitted to prevent some people from abusing it. It's a rare occurrence, but it happened at least once in this playthrough.
Missions begin to really pick up in the final third of the game, which is unfortunate, really, because by this point, some players may have given up entirely. The story starts moving into slightly more interesting territory, especially with one certain mission involving the alien creatures the series is named after, which itself is a pretty exhilarating one, as can be expected when these powerful life forms are let loose to do their thing. Without spoiling too much, though, there are some weird choices in the narrative that result in unusual final boss battle sequences, and it does feel like it ends a little too soon.
Luckily, a hard mode unlocks after completion, which is actually quite an appealing challenge to attempt and extends some longevity to the package. There are definitely balancing issues throughout the normal campaign, where it can be incredibly easy when a team of four is on hand to work through the missions, whereas a pairing of two will struggle on certain ones. With hard mode, all four players need to be on alert, protecting each other's backs, and putting the tactical element to the game to full effect, utilising AUX ammo productively. Although the main rewards for completing secondary tasks and gaining medals in both normal and hard modes are new skins for the Mechs, hard mode is compelling enough to warrant an immediate second playthrough to get the most out of what Federation Force has to offer.
Remember Blast Ball? It was initially revealed on its own during the 2015 Nintendo World Championships, and can actually be downloaded as a basic free version from the eShop. It is included in Federation Force as a separate mode, and allows the transfer of saved data from the basic version to the full game. It's essentially a form of soccer that's quite similar in style to Rocket League, where two teams of three Mechs shoot a giant ball and attempt to score in the opponent's goal. Acting as a controls tutorial for the main campaign of sorts, Blast Ball is a competitive mode that can be played online against others, or co-operatively against the AI. Truthfully, though, it is quite a clunky affair, with it being difficult to get the ball moving in an intended direction unless taking the time to charge up shots—and even then, things don't always go according to plan. It goes without saying it's not a patch on what Rocket League offers, but even when not comparing it to anything else, Blast Ball is too frustrating a mode to spend any considerable amount of time in it.