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.