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The ‘Federation Force’ Furore: On Metroid, Mistrust, and the Entitlement of the Modern Video Game ‘Fan’

It's hard to fathom how a genuine Nintendo fan could think that trying something different is automatically a bad thing.

by Chris Schilling
19 June 2015, 5:28pm

It's okay to be disappointed by Metroid Prime: Federation Force. That was a given, really. Among Nintendo's many icons, Samus Aran might not be the most popular or commercially successful, but in many respects it's still surprising that there hasn't been a new Metroid game since 2010's Metroid: Other M on Wii. Five years on, you could be forgiven for thinking Nintendo had forgotten about the series entirely. Evidently, at this year's E3 it wanted to prove it hadn't, but a portable four-player spin-off wasn't the comeback we'd hoped for. Clumsily introduced in a Digital Event trailer less than a minute long, with little fanfare or explanation, it demonstrated how clueless Nintendo of America can sometimes be when it comes to its core audience. This was a textbook example of how not to introduce a new Metroid game.

Had Nintendo simply shown a short trailer of a 3DS multiplayer shooter without the Metroid wrapper, telling us it was from the folks responsible for the excellent Luigi's Mansion 2, it's likely Federation Force would have been greeted with a shrug at worst. At best, people would have been pleased to see a new second-party game that didn't rely on the crutch of a treasured character or series. Doing so wouldn't likely have made it any better or worse, of course – but it would have affected the level of hostility generated by the reveal.

What followed was, even by internet standards, remarkable: an eruption of rage and indignation that snowballed at breath-taking speed. A Change.org petition was launched, intending to (somehow) force Nintendo to cancel development, claiming the very existence of Federation Force was disrespectful to fans and to the series itself. It's since attracted more than 16,000 signatures, while the game's trailer on YouTube currently has almost ten times as many dislikes as likes. The petition describes the game as a "disgrace" and an "atrocity", but perhaps its most telling line is where the petitioner says: "This is not the Metroid we asked Nintendo to make."

The reaction is troubling for a number of reasons. Firstly, it's worth noting that the idea of players believing they're entitled to have their every whim catered to by format-holders and developers wasn't formed in a vacuum; the industry bears no small responsibility for this, though to explain the factors that led to this situation in detail is a subject for another time. It should also be pointed out that the kind of informal marketing to consumers, like we see in Nintendo's Directs, only empowers players to believe they're in a position where they're being listened to; perhaps even that their demands will be met. It's a feeling company CEO Satoru Iwata's tweet after the event, suggesting Nintendo would work harder to meet expectations in future, would only have exacerbated – even if in reality it was likely as much to appease shareholders who would have been aware of the negative online reception.

As keyboards across the world became flecked with fanboy spittle, something few players – and critics, for that matter – stopped to consider was the viability of a new Metroid game on Wii U. Artistically speaking, it's a no-brainer – the GamePad would make for the ideal scan visor – but you only need a passing awareness of how the Wii U's doing commercially to realise why Nintendo might be unwilling to take such a financial risk. In all likelihood, if a new Metroid is in development – and Nintendo has been sending out mixed messages on that front – then it's probably been shifted back to help its next console, codenamed NX, get off to a strong start.

In the meantime we have this spin-off. Ill-judged though its announcement may have been, it's surely too soon to be declared an "atrocity" after just 50 seconds of footage. It might not be the Metroid we want – beyond being set in the Prime universe and featuring some familiar weapons and enemies, it doesn't look much like Metroid at all – but extended footage during the Treehouse Twitch streams in the days following its announcement suggested a solid, fun multiplayer shooter. Hardly the disaster it's been painted as.

What the petition also ignores is how often Nintendo looks at new ways to explore its existing brands – bundling toys with everything might not be everyone's choice of how best to do that, but the amiibo figures are just one of many examples. NOA president Reggie Fils-Aimé alluded to this during the E3 Digital Event when he talked about "transformation", which admittedly felt a little disingenuous in the light of what followed. "Transition" would have been more accurate, given a line-up of what looked mostly like stopgaps – albeit highly polished and entertaining stopgaps. With Metroid Prime: Federation Force, then, Nintendo's only doing what it has done for years, leveraging its biggest names to boost the profile of games that might otherwise be ignored. In this case, it's likely done more harm than good, though when brand new games like Intelligent Systems' Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. struggle for traction, it's much harder to make a case for Nintendo ignoring its heritage.

Perhaps the most worrying thing about it is not that it demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of many of the realities of video game development and publishing, but a total lack of trust in Nintendo from its self-declared "loyal fans". It's hard to fathom how a genuine Nintendo fan could think that trying something different is automatically a bad thing. Nintendo has historically achieved some of its greatest successes by flying in the face of convention, by doing the opposite of what is expected. I shudder to imagine the tsunami of furious vitriol had Twitter been around when Nintendo first showed off Link's cel-shaded makeover in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. Or, for that matter, when we first got a glimpse of the Space Pirates through Samus Aran's visor. A first-person Metroid? That'll never work, they said. And yet here we are: had Prime 4 on Wii U shown up, those thousands of petition-signers would be declaring that Nintendo had "won" E3.


All that petitioning making you peckish?


Beyond reminding us all that hell hath no fury than a fanboy scorned, the message the petition sends out is this: we don't want new things, we want the games we used to like with bigger worlds, shinier graphics, more hours of content. Indeed, it's telling that the loudest cheers this E3 were reserved for the moments that looked back rather than forward: Shenmue 3, a remake of Final Fantasy VII, the Rare Replay collection, backwards compatibility on Xbox One – heck, even the return of The Last Guardian somehow touched a nerve that felt a lot like nostalgia. In other words, old is the new new, and gaming's past is also its future. Samus it ever was.

@schillingc

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