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What the heck is going on with the Metroid franchise?

Far and away, the most controversial game at E3 this year was Metroid Prime: Federation Force. For a franchise that is generally beloved on all fronts, an entry would have to be especially horrid to inspire such a harsh reaction, and low and behold, that is exactly what has happened. As of writing, a grand total of 47,621 have disliked the reveal trailer from this past week, as opposed to a mere 4,871.

Reactions have gotten so bad that a group of angry Nintendo fans, who were hoping for a “proper” Metroid game this year at E3, have even taken to Change.org and started a petition to get the game canceled. Not to share with Nintendo their thoughts on what a “proper” Metroid game should look like, mind you. Rather, they find the very existence of this game insulting to their immaculate franchise and they question whether it should even exist in the first place.

Personally, I think these people are being unreasonable. Getting a game canceled is perhaps the worst way to “save” a franchise these days. All it does is prove to number crunchers with no emotional involvement that a project was a failure and obviously there is no audience for Metroid, rather than this specific Metroid.

Plus, the hyberbole doesn’t provide any constructive criticism, and such headlines will turn Nintendo off to your complaints.

At the same time, I can understand the frustration. I too have been struggling with a publisher’s recent decision regarding one of my favorite gaming franchises, and it infuriates me that I am being left out on all the fun. I suppose a large difference is that I am looking for a localization for a game that already exists as opposed to demanding a game be built from the ground up to meet my standards. However, I can’t exactly point fingers and tell these people to be patient either.

We’ll approach this with two questions: What is Metroid Prime: Federation Force, and why has the reaction been so harsh?

I believe you have some Monster Hunter in my Metroid

Metroid Prime: Federation Force was first revealed to us at the Nintendo World Championships. However, it was not introduced to us as a Metroid Prime game but rather as “Ball Blast,” a 3-on-3 multiplayer game for the Nintendo 3DS modeled after soccer. Many, myself included, watched this mysterious new game thinking that it closely resembled a Metroid Prime style shooter.

The resemblance was so uncanny that I assumed that it was a project that used the resources of a failed Metroid Prime for the 3DS.

A day later, our suspicions were confirmed. Ball Blast was indeed a Metroid Prime game, and it was only part of a large package called Metroid Prime: Federation ForceThe confusion still seems to be out there because Nintendo did not bring  any other elements to E3. Many still think that this is just a soccer style mini-game.

In fact, Metroid Prime: Federation Force is, by all accounts, Nintendo’s most recent attempt to capitalize on the Monster Hunter handheld co-op boom. Rather than controlling Samus on an isolated mission of exploration and discovery, players will control a Federation soldier and go on 4 player co-op action missions with friends. Hunt monsters, kill them possibly for resources, come back to base, improve your character, rinse and repeat.

Honestly, it doesn’t look like a horrible game. Reactions were that of genuine wonder and interest, and only until the Metroid name was attached to it did it have any backlash. Even with the name, I’m still going to keep an eye on it. I liked it when I saw it, and I still think it looks fun now. The fact that Next Level Games, developers of the excellent Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon, is behind this one as well also gives me hope that it will be a solid game once all the kinks are worked out.

Reactions are not poor because it is a bad game. Reactions are poor because long time Metroid fans don’t think that the game should have the title.

New-age hippie bullcrap, Gimmie the real stuff

Metroid

Why would Metroid fans have a problem with this game? Well, for many reasons! One, the franchise hasn’t seen a normal release within the series since 2010’s Metroid: Other M, and if you know anything about that game, it wasn’t exactly well received for a number of controversial reasons. Digging further back, that would put the last liked game in the franchise on the doorstep of Metroid Prime 3: Corruption released in 2008.

Seven years is a long time for a beloved series to go without a universally liked entry. Many of these fans see it as a wasted opportunity to get back to the series’ roots, and they see it as wasted resources and that this project drained the budget for what could have been a “legitimate” Metroid game. I strongly disagree here though. Producer Kensuke Tanabe, also the producer of the first three Metroid Prime games as well as the Donkey Kong Country Returns games has earned the right to develop whatever the heck he wants.

If this is his next job and what he wants to do, by all means, he’s provided the gaming world with enough reasons not to doubt him. Fans to a very small degree should have a say in what a game end up like, but at the end of the day, he is the visionary behind this project, and these are his choices as a game creator.

Fans also have a problem with Metroid Prime: Federation Force’s general approach to design and gameplay altogether. In short, most of the original Metroid games are all about isolation, mood, creating a sense that Samus is indeed alone on these dangerous planets she is exploring. I say most because this Federation starts to make appearances in Metroid Fusion and Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, the latter of which is still popular despite Samus frequently interacting with other beings.

Metroid Prime: Federation Force on the other hand though is not about being alone, it’s about being with friends. It’s not about mood or tension, it’s about blasting enemies with laser guns in big, colorful levels with flashy explosions. It’s about quick blasts of fun and a barrage of sparkly rewards, not long, brooding adventures which make you work for weapons and new tools.

The fans have a point here. This is not a typical Metroid game, and it seems like it is designed for Japanese kids, and probably American kids, who enjoy Monster Hunter and want to go blasting through levels with their friends. The Metroid name might just seem attached to sell copies to a cynical fan, despite maybe this being a serious attempt by Tanabe to try something new.

I liken it to E.X. Troopers and Lost Planet. The former was a goofy co-op, brightly colored spin-off of Capcom’s serious sci-fi shooting series. Guess which one turned out better though. E.X. Troopers or Lost Planet 3? (Hint: it was the one that DIDN’T get localized)

Either way, it’s easy to see why fans are upset. They have waited a long time for a new Metroid game, and this is not what they had in mind. The extent to which they can scold Nintendo over its creative decisions is debatable, but at the end of the day, Nintendo makes the games it wants, and fans may or may not buy them.

Why you need to relax

As for the future of the Metroid series? Well, I hope I’m coming off as calm in this article without jumping to conclusions because I am at peace with the idea that Metroid might have run its course and we’ll never see another one. Many have had to deal with eight years without their ideal game, but I go all the way back to 2004’s Metroid: Zero Mission as the last Metroid game I enjoyed. Neither of the Prime sequels and certainly not Other M did it for me.

That makes me eleven years removed from a Metroid game I loved, and I’ve come to accept it. Metroid had its creative run and laid the seeds for countless other classics, but its gameplay design and philosophies are quickly becoming dated. You can thank the indie scene for that.

Believe it or not, countless indie titles have pounced on the classic Metroid formula and have improved and expanded on it in ways that even Nintendo hasn’t! Aside from maybe Rogue, Metroid is definitely the most copied game out there on the market. For example, Rogue Legacy took both Metroid and Rogue and made one of the most addictive indie games of 2013. Guacamelee added the fun combat system and Mexican aesthetic to Super Metroid’s style. Cave Story used it to create the first genuine indie hit.

Axiom Verge, LA MULANA, and the Shantae games are just a few more examples that have built on and improved the formula, and brilliant looking games like Heart Forth, Alicia remain on the horizon.

These are just a small selection of the 2D Metroid inspired games also. Do you think Nintendo wants to be seen on an even keel with these indie studios? Just another Metroidvania game with a crowded company? Nintendo’s arrogance is an ugly beast when it raises its head, but it’s why the company has remained so popular and influential for so long.

Nintendo will not release a new “genuine” Metroid game until it is sure it can release a game changer and completely dominate the indie devs who have been lifting its ideas. I’m not even mentioning Dark Souls, which has emerged as the dominant exploration/action series and borrows a whole lot from 3D Metroid.

This is the simplest explanation as to why Nintendo is not making any more Metroid games. Because everyone else is already doing it. Nintendo does not play by the rules. It rewrites them. It does not backtrack on trends it created. It redefines them.

Super Metroid did it. Metroid Prime did it with a first-person viewpoint. Fusion and Zero Mission did it to an extent on handhelds. Metroid Prime 3: Corruption did it with motion controls.

The difference now is that others have caught up to Nintendo, and it doesn’t just have Castlevania to compete with anymore. Nintendo is biding time for a new game, and Metroid Prime: Federation Force is the only way it can keep the name relevant until it can come up with something amazing.

My advice is to play the indie games in the meantime. Some are just as good, if not better, than most of the Metroid games. And then give Metroid Prime: Federation Force a chance with an open mind. Nintendo will give us something when it has something, but its number crunchers won’t allow the creative juices to flow if they feel the  money is not there.


Ron Duwell

Ron has been living it up in Japan for the last decade, and he has no intention of leaving this technical wonderland any time soon. When he's not...

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