Has it really been five and a half years since I've played a proper Metroid game ? Yikes! Like many others I wasn't too keen on Metroid Prime: Federation Force for 3DS, which was released about a year ago. My aversion to it wasn't so much because it didn't feature the beloved Samus Aran, but because it was squarely multiplayer focused, much like a lot of Nintendo's recent 3DS games (e.g. Team Kirby Crash Deluxe, Steel Diver: Sub Wars and Tank Troopers, etc.).
Federation Force strongly reminded me of The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes, as it is also a multiplayer-focused spin-off of a main Nintendo franchise for 3DS. I enjoyed that game overall decently well when I played it last year, but that game had an advantage over this one in that the single player version of the game works pretty well. In Federation Force the game is clearly designed to make the most of the co-op experience, so even though you can equip three drones to add to your firepower and a "MOD" that lets you do more damage when playing solo, a lot of the missions really rely on a squad, such as protecting a team member who is carrying an item, or parallelizing time-critical tasks. The game does scale up the difficulty when playing with just one other person versus playing with a full team of four, which is good, but to get all three medals for each of the 22 missions you pretty much absolutely have to have a full team of four. And not just any team of four, but one that is extremely well-coordinated. I lucked out on a few of my gaming sessions and ended up with some pretty good teams of random matchups online, but even when playing pretty efficiently, it was really clear that if any one member was just a little slow or otherwise out of sync that you would miss out on getting the highest ranking for the stage.
It's hard to fault the game for being so multiplayer focused when clearly that's its raison d'etre, but it did make it much harder for me to enjoy it. The game does make jumping into a session with other people pretty easy. I had a hard time finding people during the week, but on the weekends it seemed much easier, but that's not surprising. The game also takes a Tri Force Heroes like approach to communication in that you're limited to pre-set utterances, but this didn't detract from the experience ("Over Here", "Good Job", "Help", and "Thanks" do the job fine).
Aside from my complaints about the game being all about the multiplayer, the game itself feels pretty average overall. The graphics looked really blocky (much worse than Next Level Games' previous game, Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon), and the visual design, level design, music, storyline, everything all felt bland to me. I felt the same way about Dark Moon in general, although that game got way more critical acclaim than this one. This one is much more about action than exploration, but the locales here are all the usual type (ice world, fire world, yaaaaawn). Likewise the weapons are all pretty standard (ice beam, proximity bombs, etc.) The game has MODs, which are collectibles you equip to modify various properties (e.g. make enemies stay frozen for longer). These give you a decent amount of customization, although you can only equip three at any one time and they're not very flashy. There are a few boss fights which are generally not bad, although some have some cheap one-hit KO moves. The game unlocks hard versions of every mission after you beat it, but from what the hard mode seems identical to the regular mode except presumably the enemies have more health. The game also includes "Blast Ball", a Rocket League wannabe sort of 3 vs. 3 soccer/shooter hybrid mode. I tried out the demo when it was first released, but it really didn't interest me much.
Overall the game was frustrating playing solo and oftentimes frustrating playing with random people online, but with a good team the game is actually pretty fun. If I had had a consistent group of three other people to play it with I would have enjoyed it more, but even though Tri Force Heroes was much easier to play solo, I'd actually give Federation Force the edge. I'm not that big on shooters in general, but the squad-based gameplay was a change of pace for me, and like a thirsty man in a desert, I'll take any Metroid I can get, even a spin-off game that no one asked for. The game didn't deserve nearly a fraction of all the bile directed towards it, and although I didn't mind the side trip, I'm definitely looking forward to the upcoming remake of Metroid Prime II: Samus Returns, and the promised Metroid Prime 4.