REVIEW: Team up to save the galaxy in the new “Metroid”

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  • Nintendo 3DS / rated T / $39.99 / released August 2016
  • OFFICIAL SITE: metroidprime.nintendo.com
  • PURCHASE LINK: Amazon
  • FINAL: You should TRY this game. 3 out of 5 stars

Pitched as a sideways sequel to the “Metroid Prime” trilogy of games from a decade ago, “Metroid Prime: Federation Force” shunts series hero Samus Aran to the background in favor of a faceless phalanx of space marines. This results in the greatest gameplay strength of “Federation Force” – a portable team-based first-person shooter – but it also causes the game’s storytelling and visual weaknesses.

The hook in “Federation Force” is that you can play all of the 20 or so missions online (or off) with a team of three other gamers. You can opt to roll through the entire thing by yourself, but while the game does scale itself according to the number of players, certain ambushes and boss fights do ask a lot of a lone soldier. “Force” does not mind if you progress through the story alone or with others, so if a particular level is giving you trouble, it’s easy to hop online and round up a posse to help.

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Online shooter games are not particularly common on the Nintendo 3DS, so “Federation Force” does not have a lot of competition in the genre. However the Nintendo Seal of Quality is apparent, and the game is smooth, cute, and actually a lot of fun to play. Before each mission, you and your partners can split up weaponry options and select what “mod” enhancements you wish to employ. The game does not have voice chat, but it does have pre-set voice clips that match the “soldiers in battle suits” vibe and allow players of different languages to understand each other. This does not mean much more than hearing “good game!” and “help!” throughout, but it’s nicer than getting screamed at because you walked down the wrong corridor and ended up separated from the rest of the group.

At the end of the mission, the highest-scoring player gets first choice of any collected loot. Although keep in mind that the game does not only reward the number of alien disintegrations; “Force” also rewards players who complete tasks and heal team members. You receive medals for completing levels and achieving goals. These prizes then stack up so online pals can see how you rank.

The trouble with “Federation Force” is that it is visually unmemorable. You play as an anonymous space marine in an anonymous mecha suit, surrounded by other anonymous space marines in anonymous mecha suits (yes, the game puts the marines into mecha suits for no real reason.) The environments are low on detail and the enemies are a small selection of alien critters. Most missions are breezy, linear walks through gently-themed sci-fi mazes where you pop shots at incoming space pirates and occasionally solve door puzzles. “Federation Force” is fun, but it lacks the dramatic action set-pieces that define other first-person shooter games.

“Federation Force” uses the gyroscopic sensor in the Nintendo 3DS to assist with aiming, meaning you can tilt the device slightly to fine-tune your shots. It takes a bit of practice to acclimate (you are introduced to the concept in a painful tutorial mission,) but it works very well. The annoying part is that whenever you gyro-aim, the 3DS has to turn off the 3-D depth. As a first-person shooter game, “Federation Force” is exactly the kind of game that should be wildly impressive in 3-D. Not that we should not appreciate Nintendo’s concerns for our eyes, but it is disappointing to see the game slide the 3-D effect off when you get into a firefight.

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To add a little extra value to the package, “Federation Force” includes a “Blast Ball” bonus game where your little mecha soldiers play 3-on-3 soccer. Unlike the main multiplayer mode that requires each player to own their own copy of “Federation Force,” “Blast Ball” can be shared with nearby gamers via the Download Play function of the Nintendo 3DS.

“Federation Force” is an unexpected expansion of the “Metroid” brand, and while it is fine to focus on characters outside of bounty hunter Samus, this game does not develop those characters or add anything meaningful to the franchise. The not-too-long team-up missions are wonderfully suited for portable gaming, but “Force” never reaches for the stars.

This review is based on product supplied by the publisher. Images courtesy Nintendo of America.