It's safe to say the general - or at least loudest - response from Metroid fans upon the reveal of Metroid Prime: Federation Force was one of disappointment. One year on and things have calmed down a little bit, but is there enough in this game to sway those who spoke so strongly against it at E3 2015?
First and foremost we're dealing with a co-op game here; the whole experience is built around the idea of four players playing together locally or over the internet all at once, but thankfully the execution is far less intrusive than in similar titles such as The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes. Whilst every level is designed for co-op there's no instance of multiple players being required to perform a simultaneous action beyond opening a door or finishing a level; as such each mission you traverse is entirely enjoyable as a solo experience as well as a multiplayer one. We wanted to nip that in the bud right away.
Everything feels very similar to the original Metroid Prime games; even the controls bear a striking resemblance to those of the first two titles on the GameCube. If you're boasting a New 3DS, its XL counterpart or a Circle Pad Pro you can change the controls to more closely resemble twin-stick controls, which is what this writer personally preferred in our play time with the latest build. The New 3DS console's C-Stick isn't as accurate as many would like, but thankfully as with all previous titles in the series you can use the lock-on function to better help keep track of things. The performance and frame rate were also top-notch in our time playing, which is extremely impressive given the limited hardware.
The missions are surprisingly varied, and once you've hopped into your big mech the early levels focus more heavily on showing you the ropes, with fewer enemies and more puzzle-based challenges. These revolve around firing orbs around a level into their appropriate holes in a similar fashion to Metroid Prime: Blast Ball, which we'll get onto in a moment. Another mission we played tasked us with herding giant ice monsters into similarly giant cages, since their armour was too thick to destroy with conventional weaponry.
A little worried that the core combat of the series had been sidelined, we were relieved when a later level consisted of just as much Space Pirate blasting as we'd hoped for. The difficulty of the game doesn't change depending on how many players you have either, so if you're planning to go through this thing solo you'd better bring your A-game.
Various secondary weapons and features can help bring you and your potential teammates through as well, such as health capsules you drop onto the ground, powerful ice and fire blasts, a beam that slows an enemy to an eventual stop for a short time, and even a decoy for enemies to hassle that bears a striking resemblance to the Varia Suit-wearing bounty hunter we all know and love. You select these additional powers before you start the game in a style not unlike the Monster Hunter series, and as you'd expect you can only carry so much with different items taking up different amounts of space.
Further to this you can also customise your mech with mods to give you an edge and change the way you play. Everything from additional defence or attack to gaining health if you use a health item on a teammate rather than yourself. These mods are scattered all over the missions but not only can you only equip a few at a time before the mission begins, but if you're taken down by an enemy these mods can break permanently, rendering them useless. It's a great way to give more incentive to staying alive, as a downed teammate need only be revived by another player to get back into the game, and it's only game over if everyone is downed at the same time (adding yet another layer of difficulty to the single player).
So the missions we've played are strong, challenging, have a good level of polish, run very well on the New 3DS, and can be enjoyed just as well in single player (albeit with a higher level of difficulty). But what about the sporty side of this 3DS endeavour known only as Blast Ball? Well if you've seen it before you'll already know what it is. You and two teammates take on another team of three with the aim being to shoot a giant glowing ball into the opponents' goal, like a game of football in Peckham (a part of London, for you non-Brits).
Despite its incredibly simple premise, the design and execution of Blast Ball is absolutely excellent. You can take on a team of bots to unlock rewards, or go toe-to-toe with another team of real people locally or online. You're also not going to be able to rely solely on getting the ball to its intended destination either, as just like the main game you have a health bar that can be depleted, requiring you to wait for a few seconds before respawning. As you appropriately blast the ball powerups will be spewed out for either team to grab, allowing the user to gain an impenetrable shield, a speed boost, or even force the other team to all be ejected from their mechs at once, forcing them to run back in before they can get back into play. Everything about this mode screams Next Level Games, and whilst it may not have much appeal in solo play if you like intense, exhilarating multiplayer madness, Blast Ball has you signed, sealed, and delivered.
Metroid Prime: Federation Force is shaping up to be an excellent little addition to the series. It's not Metroid Prime 4, but it's not trying to be either. It takes the series' formula and places it into a much more suitable style for the system it's on rather than trying to make the 3DS handle a full Metroid Prime experience. If the rest of the missions are as good as the ones we've played, we could well be onto a winner.