Metroid Prime Federation Force: What was Nintendo thinking?

metroid prime federation force samus metroids

For a long time, Metroid has been one of my favorite game franchises. Growing up, I actually made friends because of Metroid games. The games themselves were excellent expressions of interactive art. They starred a lone hero exploring an alien world. Metroid games weren’t divided up into levels. Rather, the player could explore the alien world at their own pace, collecting power-ups that increased mobility and endurance as they did so, making it easier to defeat strong enemies and making previously off-limit areas accessible. In the year 2000, there was a controversial announcement that a new Metroid game would be made with a first-person perspective. Players were initially skeptical, but the Metroid Prime games turned out to be among the most critically-acclaimed Nintendo IPs.

After a while, Metroid game releases became scarce. During this slow period, Metroid Other M was released, which was controversial for several reasons, but was still generally a good game. One might have assumed that Nintendo wouldn’t make another Metroid game unless they could really wow with it. Metroid has a coolness appeal, and players enjoy exploring alien worlds at a pace that they set.

What has the Metroid franchise been doing lately? Check out a recently-released trailer for Metroid Prime: Federation Force:

What was Nintendo thinking?

What we see is a trailer for a four-player shooter game that doesn’t have Samus or Metroids in it, but the name Metroid was slapped on it anyway.

This game stars four Federation troopers. You know, those guys that get killed in Metroid Other M? There’s a reason why troopers are depicted without their faces in IPs like Star Wars: you’re not supposed to care about them. Troopers are an archetype of disposable character that get killed in large numbers and no one bats an eye. In Metroid Prime Hunters, the different playable characters at least had individual aspects beyond what color they were. It’s like in Metroid Prime Federation Force, you’re being challenged to care less about the main characters.

To make matters worse, the troopers depicted aren’t the sweet-looking ones seen in Metroid Prime 3 or Metroid Other M. Instead, these troopers have the composition of lego men. It’s an ironic thing: at this year’s E3, Sony showed off an HD remake of Final Fantasy 7; the original version of which had polygon models that looked like they were lego characters. Nintendo took something gritty and realistic like Metroid and did the opposite. At least when Nintendo changed the graphical direction for The Legend of Zelda: the Wind Waker, the game still starred Link. Where is Samus in Federation Force? And for that matter, would we really want to see what they’re doing with her?

Also, Metroid Prime Federation Force is being packaged together with Metroid Prime Blast Ball. Which, once again, doesn’t seem to star Samus at all. When you think Metroid, what do you think of? Do you think of sports? No? Me neither.

Again, what was Nintendo thinking? Here is one guess:

Nintendo manager: What are you working on there?
Former Metroid staff member: I know that you didn’t want me working on Metroid games since Metroid Other M, but I have this neat couple of pet projects here that have a Metroid theme. One is a soccer variant, and the other is a game starring lego versions of Federation troopers.
Nintendo manager: They look terrible. Get back to work. I have a meeting to go to.
Later, at the board meeting…
Nintendo director: Metroid fans have been begging for a new game. E3 is coming up real soon. Do we have a game or two that we can slap the Metroid name onto and hastily throw a trailer together for?
Nintendo manager: YES SIR!

You know that Nintendo really messed up when, right after the announcement, the first result for a Google Search for “Metroid Prime Federation Force” is a petition to have it cancelled. If you’re interested, here is a link to that petition. You can sign it to try to send a message to Nintendo that this isn’t the kind of Metroid game we want. I don’t think it would make much of a difference. Nintendo is probably determined to release this game, not caring much about fan objections that it doesn’t look like a Metroid game. If they release it, and it fails, they’ll probably take it as a sign that we’re not interested in Metroid games anymore, and they’ll probably just stop making them.

That’s why I’m happy that there are projects such as AM2R. The way things are looking, the ones who remember what Metroid games are really about are the fans. While Nintendo is making shooters about impersonal characters in multi-player battles, the ones that can really be counted on to make games in the true Metroid fashion are players themselves.

UPDATE (6/18/2014): In an interview with Kotaku, Nintendo’s Kensuke Tanabe revealed some features of MPFF, including:

  • Samus will make an appearance, and
  • You will be able to see metroids in a certain mission.

This doesn’t change the fact that I was disappointed with what I saw. The game looked bad for a DS title, it doesn’t look like a 3DS title with a concept that’s been around for 10 years. If it’s been in development for even half that time, I’d wonder just what they were doing.

Samus making an appearance doesn’t make MPFF a Metroid game any more than it makes Super Mario RPG or Kirby’s Dream Land 3 Metroid games. If Nintendo wanted us to know that Samus and Metroids were in MPFF, why didn’t they just include them in the trailer instead of having someone from Nintendo say so in an interview on the second day of the E3 trade show? It looks like Nintendo knows that the fans don’t like MPFF, and they’re doing damage control.

I’m seeing comments appear calling those who signed the petition to have MPFF cancelled entitled or crybabies. I don’t think the petition will make much of a difference, Nintendo will probably release the game anyway. If someone wants to express disappointment or even issue a complaint with Nintendo because the game looks like a waste of the silicon it was printed on, that’s up to them. When (and if) the game is released, the vote that will really matter is the votes that we make with our money. I might play it, but that’s going to be far more likely if, by the time it’s released, it looks much more like a Metroid game than what I saw in the sad excuse for a trailer that Nintendo showed for it (and for that matter, it would have to look much more like a professional product).

There are those who passionately white knight this game, but I don’t see much point. Even if it were revealed without the Metroid name, it would still look like a seriously sub-par FPS game that looks several generations behind even 3DS launch titles. Think that’s a harsh assessment? Look at just about any 3DS game, and compare it to what we’ve seen so far from MPFF. Nintendo’s 3DS can do much better than PS1-level visuals. Take away the Metroid name, there still wouldn’t be much to defend. As it is, it may be one of the biggest mistakes that Nintendo has ever made.

UPDATE (6/23/2015): The petition is only a week old and has over 20,000 signatures.

UPDATE (6/25/2015): The backlash against Metroid Prime Federation Force has gotten to the point that it’s caught Nintendo’s attention. Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime has responded:

“Look, we know that fans want a straight Samus Aran game,”

Sounds like we’re off to a good start, right?

“We also know that the best way to launch a game is to surprise and delight them, to give them a launch date, in an environment like this let them play it versus what other companies do, which is to announce a project that you may not see for five, six years. It’s just not the way we do things.”

Oh no? We don’t have a launch date for MPFF. As for letting us play it, was it even playable at E3? I mean outside of the Treehouse meeting where the press watched Nintendo staff play it. Was that what you meant? It’s nice that Nintendo announces projects that they’ve already been working on for years, so that you have something to show with your announcements. But did you really mean to suggest that Federation Force has been in development for years? Because it doesn’t look like it.

“Remember when that art style was first shown. The uproar from the Zelda community was intensely negative. If there had been social media then, there probably would have been a petition to make that game go away.”

Reggie, you’re the president of the American branch of a huge tech company. Did you really not know that there was social media back in the year 2002? Does “Friendster” ring a bell? How about “Xanga”? Or, or

Do you know why there was an uproar over the art style of Wind Waker? Because it was inappropriate. It went against the image that the public had of The Legend of Zelda. There are people who have never played it because the game looked ridiculous to them. That means that this endeavor:

“(We) will also push the envelope in developing something that we know is high-quality and that we know will deliver in the marketplace.”

…May very well be rendered self-defeating.

Image matters. Those who dismissed Wind Waker as silly missed out on a high quality game. That’s not just their loss, it was also Nintendo’s. This is because they didn’t buy it. Making games that gamers aren’t likely to buy doesn’t seem like a good business practice. And if feedback has been an indication (and it usually is), MPFF isn’t going to do so well.

“We know the community wants to see a straight-up Metroid game. We know it.”

Thank you. That says a lot: it’s an indirect admission that MPFF is not the game we were waiting for, and it indicates that you do understand, at least in part, what we are expressing. What it means to me is that the Metroid franchise might not end on the sour note that is MPFF.

When it comes to introducing sequels and new entries in IPs, there is such a thing as taking too big a risk. Metroid Prime Federation Force is an example of a big risk being taken, and it didn’t go over well. I’d think that Nintendo would understand that some amount of predictability is a good thing. Imagine if, after years of not seeing a new Pokemon game, Nintendo announces a Pokemon racing game. Or if, years after not seeing a new Legend of Zelda game, a Zelda tennis game was announced. There’d probably be rioting. It’s been years since seeing a new Metroid game. Is it unreasonable to ask that the next one stars Samus Aran?

A Metroid sports game? What was Nintendo thinking?

5 thoughts on “Metroid Prime Federation Force: What was Nintendo thinking?

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