Nintendo is at something of a crossroads. With the Wii U generation rapidly reaching its twilight, the long-time publishing giant is preparing to go down a different route with its most familiar franchises. No effort has divided the Nintendo fanbase more than Metroid Prime: Federation Force, a game that has garnered enough furor to spawn a 20,000+ Change.org petition with the goal of its utter elimination.
For Nintendo, however, Federation Force represents a road untraveled. Producer Kensuke Tanabe told Wired that Federation Force will be a "very important" chapter in the Metroid Prime universe, despite starring completely new characters. It's all a part of a new vision, one that Nintendo of America President and COO Reggie Fils-Aime is calling "transformative."
"We're taking our great IP and transforming them and making them new again — making them fresh and appealing for the fan who feels they know the franchise," Fils-Aime recently said in an interview with Mashable. "But we're giving them new things to enjoy."
At this point, the Wii U is what it is. The install base is not about to get any bigger. Nintendo is making more money off Amiibo than it is off of console sales. While a new Star Fox and Legend of Zelda games are both on the horizon, they feed into a problem that has gradually grown over the years. It's the idea of franchise fatigue. Granted, it's nohwere on the scale of a series like Assassin's Creed or Call of Duty, which bludgeon consumers with annual (or in the case of the former, more than that) releases. However, Nintendo is starting to realize that the formulas that have built its franchises are starting to hit their ceiling, so it's time to start shaking things up. And it's key to remember that this is not the first time it has done so.
Perhaps the biggest example is Mario, the portly plumber that helped build Nintendo's empire into what it is today. His games still represent truly high quality, enough to still consistently earn Game of the Year accolades. It's a series with more hits than misses, but one that has come dangerously close to reaching its limit. It's incredible that Mario has lasted for over three decades on a platforming formula that has helped inspire generations of game developers. But at some point, drastic twists need to be introduced to help mix up the formula, lest things feel painfully repetitive. In the past, it's involved taking Mario into an open world or even taking him into space. It's involved returning to his roots with local co-op. But more recently, it's involved spin-offs.
"We believe that in order to propel the franchises forward, we have to be the ones to constantly challenge the paradigms, challenge the conventional wisdom, challenge what we thought was the essence of the particular franchise, and a particular form of gameplay," Fils-Aime also told Mashable. A prime example of that came late last year with one of Nintendo's most unexpected hits.
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is a Mario game through-and-through. It's set in the Mushroom Kingdom. It features the full laundry list of Bowser's baddies. It features familiar Mario locales. But it's fully a spin-off, one that couldn't be anymore different than a traditional Mario game. It's a game that takes a chance by introducing a lead character that can't jump or otherwise directly combat Bowser's baddies. It's a completely different idea, one that honors the Mario universe as much as it deviates from it.
By most indicators, Federation Force looks to be something similar. The setting is distinctly Metroid Prime. The foes look to be reminiscent of Metroid Prime. The protagonists are not. The approach will likewise be different, as the main characters will obviously have a different arsenal than Samus Aran. It's going to clearly be something different. But amid the negative furor that has pierced online circles, it's important to keep in mind that Federation Force may represent something different, but Nintendo tinkering with old franchises to keep them fresh is hardly new.
Remember that in 2003, Nintendo took an extremely successful 3D Legend of Zelda formula and completely overhauled the art style and the tone to create The Wind Waker, essentially spinning off the LoZ series into itself. Around that same year, Nintendo also took the Star Fox franchise and boldly spun it off into its planned Dinosaur Planet game to craft an adventure experience that put Fox McCloud into the role of an adventurer. Judging by the disparity of quality between these two exampes, some efforts are more successful than others.
The point is, the fan reaction to Federation Force is an old narrative come alive again. Initial fan reaction to Wind Waker was venomous. Fan reaction to Star Fox Adventures was rabidly bile-filled. How about Nintendo going from the all-time classic Super Mario RPG into the cutesy-looking Paper Mario series? Yes, the Paper Mario series is loved now, but that initial reaction was something else to behold.
Will Federation Force find its footing as a solid game in its own right or will it be an experiment gone completely awry? Right now, it's too early to tell and to pass judgement on it now would be unfair. If it falls on its face, then it will do so and Nintendo will face the consequences. But as it is now, there's no good reason to condemn it just yet.
Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, Opinion: Why it's too early to pass judgement on Metroid Prime: Federation Force