Evaluating “Tone Deafness”: Metroid Prime: Federation Force and Paper Mario: Color Splash

Anthony tries to analyze the umbrage fans have taken with both titles.

By Anthony Pelone. Posted 03/11/2016 10:00 4 Comments     ShareThis

What a maelstrom of opinions last week’s Nintendo Direct brought! You had everyone loving the localization announcement of Rhythm Heaven Megamix and the mechs of Kirby: Planet Robobot, cautiously optimistic over the New 3DS’s VC (“where’s the shared account system,” wondered everyone), and, once again, a palpable mass of vitriol aimed at Metroid Prime: Federation Forces. But the game wasn’t alone: the announcement of Paper Mario: Color Splash was similarly greeted by a wave of disappointment and hate.

Now, while I consider myself a “try it and see” kinda guy, I admit that I find myself agreeing with both games’ critics. For one, I don’t find Federation Forces‘ aesthetics– a weird blend of ’90s cartoon visuals and Lego-like action figures– to be particularly appealing and also believe this isn’t the time for a Metroid spin-off. Meanwhile, Color Splash seems to hardly take any inspiration from the first two Paper Mario games (RPGs that remain the pinnacle of the series), and it’s quite frustrating seeing the NPCs being, once again, seemingly homogenized to Toads. I could go on, but a common term I’ve seen tossed around is how both games are “tone-deaf”; in other words, the developers have completely lost sight of what each game’s respective audience wants. A complaint I can agree with, but to what extent, really? For this article, we’ll be diving into the accuracy of that claim.

For starters, let’s take the following Federation Forces tidbit into consideration: not only had producer Kensuke Tanabe revealed last E3 that he conceived the idea over a decade ago, but he and Next Level Games had been developing it since 2009! The Internet didn’t take kindly to that news, but let’s stop and place that year within context. In 2009, Metroid wasn’t yet subject to the post-Other M purgatory of absent games; in fact, that title had only just been announced.  The series was alive and well in the Metroid Prime Trilogy collection, which was released to critical acclaim and fan delight. Granted, they weren’t new games, but the last Metroid title was released only two years prior, and the series received ample representation in Super Smash Bros. Brawl the year prior.

Had a game in the vein of Federation Forces had been released released within that time frame, I doubt we’d see even a tenth of the hullabaloo we’re witnessing now (controversial graphics aside). After all, the world didn’t end after Metroid Prime Pinball, so I doubt a Metroid Prime Hunters successor would be capable of such. What we have here is an interesting concept that’s simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. The mediocrity of Metroid: Other M didn’t just lead to a split fanbase reaction, but underperforming sales. The lack of any new Metroid titles until last year’s announcement truly speaks for itself, and a spin-off can hardly fill that void.

Do I think that Tanabe believing fans are upset because Samus isn’t the protagonist is tone-deaf? Sure. Do I think the game itself is tone-deaf? In certain respects; for one thing, I think reviving the Metroid Prime brand for a spin-off comes across as a little random. But I cannot hate the concept itself, which Tanabe has framed as exploring another side of the Metroid universe: the Galactic Federation. And while many have taken issue with his speech on how this game fits into the series, I take some solace in that they’re actually listening. They’ll learn from the pre-release reaction alongside actual criticism of the game when it launches, and see where they can go from there. Regardless of whether or not Federation Forces ends up being good, there’s enough time to right this ship.

But can the same be said for Paper Mario: Color Splash? While I believe pointing fingers at Miyamoto is premature, I think the ship has sailed in going back to the series’ RPG roots. Forget that it’s been twelve years since The Thousand-Year Door; Nintendo actually said in the Direct that Paper Mario is an “action-adventure” series. Lovable partners and RPG mechanics seem to be once again ditched for card/sticker-collecting shenanigans, and not too many are happy about that. I know I’m not.

So if Paper Mario: Sticker Star caused an Other M-sized rift in the fanbase, why are the developers continuing such a controversial direction in the franchise? Isn’t that tone-deaf too? Well, not entirely; not only is Sticker Star the best-selling Paper Mario game in Japan, but actually the second best-selling worldwide (behind Super Paper Mario). Granted, the contexts between those two games and the first two Paper Mario titles are quite different (namely in how they released at completely different periods for their respective consoles), but that they reached out to more people likely caught Nintendo’s eye.

I could go on what I don’t like about Color Splash, namely in how it seems to continue Sticker Star’s directive of homogenizing characters strictly to the original Mario universe. But if this is path Paper Mario will take, I’d like to know how the concept will appeal to me, someone who did not care at all for Sticker Star’s gameplay. You could say the same thing about Federation Forces, but at the end of the day, that’s a spin-off.  This is a game that cements a series’ future, so I’d hope to see a title that offers some sort of balance; something that would satisfy both fans introduced to Paper Mario via Sticker Star and those of us prefer the older RPG gameplay.

And for all I know, maybe it does. I think what’s truly tone-deaf about these two titles is how they were actually announced; as in, they were introduced with little to no fanfare, as if announcing a new game in their respective series would satisfy fans. Regardless of any context behind the games’ development, announcing the games this way ignores the full perspective of their respective franchises: Metroid has had no mainline games following Other M’s dismal reception, and not only did Sticker Star cause quite the divide, but many fans wish to go back to the RPG style.

As easy as it is to say that Nintendo should make the games we want, we know deep down it’s not that easy. While I’ll wait to play both games before rendering judgement, I’d prefer Nintendo to come out and say why it is taking these games in these directions rather than pretending everything’s okay. I think of the last time a Nintendo announcement was received this badly– the cel-shaded Wind Waker— and I have to ask myself if Nintendo learned its lesson. Bad timing and appealing to the majority is one thing, but is a little foresight to fan reaction too much to ask?

4 Responses to “Evaluating “Tone Deafness”: Metroid Prime: Federation Force and Paper Mario: Color Splash

  • 715 points
    Marc Deschamps says...

    It’s interesting that you bring up Wind Waker, because if Nintendo had listened to fans, we never would have gotten that game. Same goes for Metroid Prime, which is the game all these Metroid fans are complaining they want a sequel to.

    The thing about companies like Nintendo and Disney and Marvel is that it’s not enough to just give fans what they want. It sounds simple, but if they did that, people would complain that nothing new was being done. There’s a reason Disney isn’t just churning out Lion King sequels. Sometimes fans think they know better than the creators. And look, sometimes they do. But these companies have also earned some faith. Federation Force might end up being terrible, and it might not be the Metroid game fans have been asking for, but neither was Prime, and I was happy I have that game a chance. I’ll do the same for Federation Force.

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  • 1313 points
    xeacons says...

    He’s not saying it’s the games in and of themselves. It’s the timing. We probably would have loved MP:FF had it not been for the disaster of Other M. I’m trying to keep an open mind, but sometimes it’s hard.

    Imagine a huge dinner, and our last course was burnt. We don’t measly side-dishes. We need something fresh.

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  • 586 points
    OG75 says...

    I’m personally not interested in Metroid Prime: Federation Force. I wish it well, but it’s just not my thing.

    However, I do worry that if Federation Force is a commercial flop, that Nintendo will interpret poor sales as a lack of interest in the Metroid series.

    Kind of like how the recent failure of the 2D Chibi-Robo on 3DS may have lowered our chances of ever seeing another 3D Chibi-Robo game on a console.

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  • 0 points

    Well I’m fine with whatever Paper Mario ends up being, but this joke title called Metroid, no. I don’t get why they just won’t make a new awesome 2D OR 3D style Metroid, similar to the past great games in the series, but with completely new story lines and ideas, rather than just a little tweak to make it seem different. I agree with the Wind Waker comment by Marc, and I had no problem with the direction they took back when I first saw it. But, that was a different era. Today, I just question what Nintendo is trying to do in general. I’m not against innovation, but Nintendo needs to get back to basics. They are out of touch with the regular gamer, and don’t listen to what fans want. I’m still hopeful about NX, but also wary. If anyone has seen the pic of the “alleged” NX controller that leaked today, it is cause for concern.

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