This week brought a rather interesting surprise from Nintendo, as it released Metroid Prime: Blast Ball as a free download. In Europe it's effectively a gift, seemingly a standalone download that takes the mini-game / training from Metroid Prime: Federation Force and hands it over well ahead of the main game. In North America it's branded as a 'demo', with the online multiplayer servers to be switched off and activated within the full Federation Game when it launches.
Depending on your region, then, it's a generous gift or a relatively substantial early access download, with a full suite of single player, local or online multiplayer ways to tackle the 3 vs. 3 shooter / sports hybrid. It seems, on the face of it, a smart move - Federation Force continues to battle a lot of negativity, even though the dust has settled on its poor E3 2015 reveal, so Nintendo is trying to shift the tone. The big N is essentially making the case for Federation Force - "try this and see what you think, rather than downvoting the trailers without actually experiencing the game."
For some, ultimately, the spin-off nature of the game, the art style and other factors will always be used as sticks with which to beat it, whether fairly or otherwise. But it's an interesting move by Nintendo from which, arguably, it can't lose. It'll have looked at metrics and focus group-style data and likely concluded the game was destined to struggle at retail, so this is a pitch to win over sceptics.
It's not an entirely new tactic, either. We've seen demos plenty of times, of course, and 'early access' downloads like this have been deployed by Nintendo in the past. A successful example was the Splatoon Global Testfire, which introduced a new IP to a lot of gamers and generated plenty of hype. Those timed sessions also allowed Nintendo to conduct stress tests on servers, though that's likely less of a factor with Blast Ball. In any case, this out-of-the-blue Blast Ball freebie certainly created some positive vibes, with those unsure of the upcoming 3DS title being given a taster of the controls, even if the minigame is a diversion from the core campaign's gameplay.
Frankly, in hindsight the recently released Star Fox Zero Training demo, with includes animated short 'The Battle Begins', would have been ideal as an early access treat. The animation was popular, and giving players a free option for mastering controls may have gotten around the "broken controls" argument that plagued the full game's launch, as gamers could decide for themselves.
We're planning a talking point on this topic, but as is Friday tradition we thought we'd set up some polls to gather your opinions. Do early access / free downloads / trials get you more excited for games, and has Blast Ball started to change your opinion on Federation Force? Let us know by clicking buttons and posting comments below.