You know the story by now. Nintendo announces what amounts to the first Metroid game in 6 years, and the first to bear the Metroid Prime moniker in the best part of a decade, and it's not what the fans wanted. It is very, very much not what the fans wanted, adopting a chibi art-style for its playable mech soldiers, abandoning the sense of isolation and adventure that have been the series' mainstay while Samus Aran, the iconic bounty hunter who's been there from the very start, is almost entirely absent.
For a series whose return has been so eagerly anticipated, it's an act of madness - like Valve confirming the existence of Half-Life 3, except that now Gearbox are on development duties and it's a arena shooter with Gordon Freeman cheering your team on from the rafters - so you can understand some of the reaction: the storm of dislikes around the announcement video, the Change.org petition calling for its cancellation. There's the creep of entitlement in the waves of dissatisfaction, but there's also the affection for one of Nintendo's greatest series being frustrated by an ill-timed experiment.
Which is an awful shame, as having spent a couple of hours in its presence it's clear that Metroid Prime Federation Force is a good game. It's potentially a very good game, an example of what Nintendo is capable of when it brings its lateral thinking to new genres and creates something quite brilliant in the process. If this wasn't burdened by the Metroid baggage, the buzz around Federation Force might be very different indeed.
There is some more useful baggage in tow. Metroid Prime Federation Force is being developed by Next Level Games, the Canadian studio that made its name with 2005's Super Mario Strikers on the GameCube - you'll see some of that pedigree in Blast Ball, a Rocket League-esque multiplayer mode within Federation Force that's just been released as an appetiser for free - and was most recently responsible for Luigi's Mansion 2. A decent game, that, and a fairly good indicator of what to expect from Federation Force's main campaign.
Federation Force presents 30 missions split across three different planets within the Bermuda system - there's Bion, a parched desert complete with crumbling ruins, the gaseous Talvania and the frozen wastes of Excelcion. They're familiar locations patrolled by familiar enemies, geemers and Space Pirates all jostling together, while secrets are to be found nestled in hard to reach corners of each map. Beyond that, though, things are a little different.
Essentially, Federation Force is a co-op adventure for up to four players (it's perfectly possible to play solo, and there are modifiers available that help lone wanderers, but it seems this Metroid is at its best with a party in tow). Get a group together and Metroid Prime Federation Force can be pretty spectacular, and surprisingly deep.
For the purposes of this preview, I was shepherded through three missions by a couple of Nintendo employees, the missions on hand clearly chosen to show the diversity within Federation Force. The first, an early level on the planet of Bion, is a simple introduction to the puzzling that borrows some of the mechanics of Blast Ball as you work together to poke a sphere into place in order to unlock the route ahead. There's some of the chaos of Blast Ball as you chip the spheres over ledges, but plenty more co-operation too - you sense a well-oiled team could make short work of the challenges and get well under the par time for the mission.
The next, on Excelcion, had the team attempting to herd huge Ice Titans into cages dotted around a huge arena, one player acting as bait while another waited behind to spring the trap, while the third mission involved investigating a ruin before coming under fire from Space Pirates and defending a capture point as it uploaded data - all too slowly, thanks to some pretty poor wi-fi on the abandoned ship. They're varied and involved, each passing in between 10-12 minutes and carrying the flavour of a bite-sized Destiny raid as you figure out and tackle different objectives while blasting occasional mobs of enemies that spawn around you.
Those comparisons carry over to an effective and involved loot system. A score binds each level - you gain more points for landing charge shots, while losing points every time you're downed, and there are objectives such as taking down a set amount of geemers in each level - which unlock new mods that can be placed in one of the three slots available to each player. Mods are also found, in more traditional Metroid style, hidden in levels, and at the end of each mission the player with the highest score gets first dibs on what mod they want, leading to a friendly jostle.
There's a little Monster Hunter, too, in the flexible roles players take, with loadouts of ammo and gadgets chosen before each mission. One player might take on a healing role, for example, stocking up on healthpacks, while another might want to focus on damage by filling their stores with as much secondary and special ammo as possible. Good composition is pretty vital, especially when chasing three-star completion of any level - a considerable challenge that invites repeat play of each level.
It's a curious blend that Next Level Games has put together for Federation Force, yet there's no escaping the fact there's very little Metroid in the mix (despite some cute nods such as a deployable decoy that pops up an inflatable Samus doll that's then pounded upon by any enemies in the vicinity). The greatest tie it has is perhaps its control system - by default Federation Force uses Metroid Prime's scheme, with movement on the left stick and a free aim provided by holding down the right shoulder button. A more conventional first-person shooter method is available, but the Prime scheme works amazingly well on both flavours of 3DS.
Is that going to be enough to sate the angry Metroid fans still affronted by Federation Force's existence? Possibly not, but they'd be missing out on a fascinating looking 3DS title, and a worthy follow-up to Luigi's Mansion 2 from the indubitably talented bunch at Next Level games. As a Metroid game in the traditional sense Federation Force falls short, but as a handheld skit on squad-based shooting it's looking very promising indeed.