The world’s least anticipated game in the Metroid series is Federation Force–seriously; someone once started a petition to put a stop to its development. It leaves us with a small ton of questions, though. Where is the plucky heroine of the Metroid series, Samus Aran? Why do we have a bunch of chibi guys in giant mechs? And why are they playing with a giant ball? Let’s find out in our review. Onward, brave squad!

Metroid Prime: Federation Force is a squad-based game for the Nintendo 3DS set in the Metroid universe, and it takes place some time post Metroid Prime 3. The pesky Pirates have gone to ground, and the galaxy is somewhat at peace again. If there’s so much peace, then why is the Galactic Federation training up recruits? Just in case, of course. And because if Dire Things didn’t keep happening, we wouldn’t have much of a game. The action sees you and your squad exploring three planets and uncovering the dastardliness of the Pirates’ plot as they rear their ugly heads again to cause trouble for the galaxy.

FederationForce (2)When you first start up Metroid Prime: Federation Force, you’re given a quick tutorial to get you going with the controls (necessary, since it’s not entirely intuitive) and then you’re dropped into your missions. You can choose to go at it alone, play with friends locally (no download play, sadly), or play with others online. You can choose to kit out your mecha with mods that have minor effects on your gameplay, but don’t otherwise make a massive difference to the game. And of course, because it’s a squad-game, it behooves you to keep an eye on your teammates’ health, especially during boss battles when things can get frenetic.

As a first-person game, my initial impression was “not bad”. The graphics weren’t too clunky, it had a familiar metroid-y feel, and the controls were okay, whether I used the L+R camera combo, the C-stick, or the motion sensor. The problem that you eventually run into, though, is hand cramp, or a lack of space to move around in. And each mission lasts an initial 20 or so minutes (you can bring this number down with some practise, of course), so there’s plenty of time for cramping to set in.

FederationForce (4)My first outing with the game was as a single player experience because this, I feel, is still how many people play. The biggest issue with Metroid Prime: Federation Force is that the game is all over the place in terms of level design and difficulty, and doesn’t rebalance depending on how many people are playing. So a level that is simply insanely impossible to finish as a single player would be candy-theft from babies with the addition of just one other player. And then there’s the odd level that are a pain with two players, but become the same baby-candy-thefty situation with four players. While I applaud the push for players to find others online to play against, I have my doubts about how active the online community is going to be in a few months’ time.

FederationForce (1)On the other hand, you won’t find a lack of players for the game’s add-on mode: Blast Ball, which is a 3-on-3 ball game featuring your mechs as the players. Blast Ball is a smidge like soccer, except you have to use your mech’s blasters to move the ball around the field. I found I spent a fair bit more time playing Blast Ball against others than I did playing the main game, and when the side attraction is more fun than the main game, you know you have a problem. It’s a pity because I like the work that the developers—Next Level Games—have done, such as the excellent Luigi’s Mansion 2, Punch Out!! Wii, and Mario Strikers Charged.

It’s not all bad, though, because when the game worked, it worked really well. The controls are tight enough when you’ve found a comfortable spot, and despite the chibi look and feel, it can get genuinely tense and creepy in places, staying true to it’s Metroid roots. I got sucked into playing more than just a few rounds, and while I attempted one score challenge, I didn’t feel invested enough to replay the levels that many multiples of times to set records.

Metroid Prime: Federation Force is by no means a horrible, unplayable mess, even though it is not in the same vein as the other Metroid Prime games. It feels very much like an afterthought sort of game, and if you’re a diehard Metroid fan, you’re probably going to strongly dislike this game at the very least. For the rest of us, though, it’s not going to be more than just a meh bit of game. Except for the Blast Ball mode. That mode is excellent and thoroughly enjoyable, and does a lot to redeem the game.

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