(Nintendo 3DS Review) Transformers Prime: The Game

Developer: Now Production
Publisher: Activision
Genre: Action / Platformer
Players: 1-4
ESRB: Everyone
Reviewer: Marcus Way

Overall: 5 = Average

Transformers Prime: The Game is based on the television show of the same name that airs on the Hasbro and Discovery Communications—yes, “The Discovery Channel” Discovery—co-owned network, The Hub. It’s also exclusive to Nintendo’s consoles, with versions for the 3DS, DS, Wii, and Wii U. But being a big-N exclusive isn’t the only thing that makes Prime stand out. Unlike the Transformers titles of recent years, Prime does not switch perspectives as players near the climactic encounter between the Autobots and Decepticons. Instead, the game focuses exclusively on Team Prime, a squad led by Optimus Prime and comprised of Arcee, Bulkhead, Bumblebee, and Ratchet. Despite having all the makings of an exciting adventure, however, Prime ends up being a lukewarm outing that will provide younger gamers a few hours with their favorite ‘bots and little else.

The latest flair up between the Autobots and Decepticons involves the discovery of an incredibly powerful Transformer by the name of Thunderwing. After crash landing on Earth, the injured servant of Unicron is captured by Megatron. While Megatron sees a potentially powerful pawn to use in his endless war against the Autobots, Thunderwing wants for nothing but to fulfill the will of Unicron and destroy the Matrix of Leadership that resides within Optimus Prime. Faced with an enraged mechanical monster and a scheming Megatron, the Autobots have no choice but to saddle up and roll out.

First and foremost, Prime is not meant for the same crowd as War for Cybertron or Fall of Cybertron. In keeping with the spirit of the television show, the game skews towards a much younger audience. And unlike other licensed titles, many of the design decisions reinforce the fact that the game isn’t going to fair well with the more astute, experienced player. With that in mind, it’s easier to excuse some of the game’s sillier moments, such as the tendency for the Trasformers’ human allies—the young trio Jack, Miko, and Raf—to ignore orders and constantly put themselves in danger, or the Decepticon’s prison sensors’ sudden inability to detect the presence of Megatron. Throughout the game’s 13 chapters, the characters will do things and be placed in such ridiculous scenarios that all but the youngest gamers will shake their head in disbelief—all of which, of course, the 10-and-younger crowd couldn’t care less about. In fact, given the excellent performances from the show’s cast, the wacky shenanigans probably make this on par with a regular episode.

Determining the game’s primary market also goes a long way in explaining why the game seems so simple—it’s because it is. For starters, the areas are very linear, but that painfully restrictive A-to-B segmented level design also offers a clear path of progression that cuts down on any frustration that might come about from getting lost—one man’s cakewalk is another’s path to mechanical glory. The simplified combat system also makes sense, with the handful of melee combos and long-range attacks providing enough flash and variety to make the encounters seem much more interesting than they are. But for all of these concessions, there are some things that will tax even the most forgiving of fans.

One of the more striking aspects about the game is its incredibly short length. My first run-through of Story Mode took me under two hours, with subsequent chapter replays dragging the entire single-player experience out to right at two hours. Many of the chapters take less than five minutes to complete, and a handful consist of nothing more than a two- to three-minute boss battle. However, there are a number of bonus unlocks to entice players to go back through completed chapters. Gallery Mode hosts the plethora of extras that are unlocked by either completing story chapters or collecting the various Cybertron Artifacts. There is a lot to unlock, too: 70 Emblems, 21 character bios, and 70 pieces of concept art. However, most of these, including the 50-plus cutscenes as well as characters and stages for multiplayer, will be attained during the initial playthrough; the Emblems are simply badges that are doled out for accomplishing unspecified goals (e.g., beating a boss, completing a level without dying, etc.). While the lure of unlocks will undoubtedly entice some players back, I don’t see them sticking around for much longer.

What hurts the game’s replayability most is that it just isn’t very exciting. Aside from the game’s bosses—Airachnid, Dreadwing, Knock Out, Megatron, Soundwave, and Starscream—the stock Decepticons that make up the majority of the encounters are three varieties of Vehicons: the Fighter Jet (sniper), the Car (grunt), and the Tank (shield-sporting brute). The chapters are little more than a few areas consisting of those Vehicons spawning over and over again. Once a certain number of them are defeated, the energy barrier lowers so that the player can enter the next area and do it again (and again). A few vehicle portions add some much-needed variety, though they involve little more than racing down narrow paths while dodging obstacles. To combat the Vehicon hordes, players can use a rapid or charged long-range laser attack, a long-range or shield-breaking melee attack in vehicle form, or one of a handful of melee combos, one of which can also break shields. Characters can also get a strength and speed boost by engaging an Upgrade mode that unlocks after an energy bar fills up from either pummeling foes or snagging power-ups. The combat system is actually pretty robust given the target market, offering just the right amount of variety for a light button-masher, but there is one particularly nasty side effect of combat: the knockback.

The energy barriers that bar progress only block off an area’s perimeter, leaving the surrounding space open. This in itself wouldn’t be an issue, but as it happens, it is common for enemies to knock the player so far back that they go right over ledges. Knockbacks also lead to enemies being able to juggle the player, who lacks any sort of evasive maneuver or counter to allow them to do anything but simply wait it out. There’s a shield, but it’s slow to engage and easily broken. The camera frequently loses track of the action, too, with only the edges of the cornered Autobot visible as it bounces around during a pummeling. There is also a noticeable lag after being hit before the characters react to input commands, which leads to such scenarios as being knocked off a ledge, respawning, and then being knocked off again before getting the chance to respond. Combat quickly becomes tedious when there’s little to do other than wait out an unavoidable attack while the camera slowly reorients itself.

And yet, the game is very, very easy. As bogged down as combat may get, the numerous crates of life-recharging Energon and upgrade-bar-charging Synergon mean that there is little fear of actually failing. The driving sequences are even easier, save for the rough models and so-so textures—the latter can look downright muddy up close—making it difficult to detect some ledges in time to perform a successful jump. It usually only takes one misstep, though, because the alt forms are easy to control and the sections pretty straightforward. In fact, I was so pleasantly surprised by how well the vehicles handled that I would have liked for those forms to have played a larger role.

Once Story Mode has wrapped up, it’s time to jump into Multiplayer Mode. While multiplayer is accessible from the outset, it is best to play through the story first to not only get the hang of the controls but to also unlock all of the arenas and playable characters. And fans will want to unlock the entire roster because, even though the Autobots are the stars of the story, the Deceptions are playable in multiplayer. In addition to everyone on Team Prime, players can also choose to control Airachnid, Dreadwing, Knock Out, Megatron, Soundwave, or Starscream. The addition of the Decepticons also means that aerial units come into play, though they are a tad ineffectual, which I ascribe to balance so that the land-based Autobots aren’t dominated from the sky. Still, they are quite powerful, and their inclusion should be a big bonus to Prime fans.

Despite sporting a respectable roster, multiplayer is a little underwhelming with only five arenas to fight in and three modes: Brawl, Energon Match, and Emblem Battle. Brawl is the standard versus battle while Energon Match rewards points for defeating enemies and Emblem Battle for retaining an emblem representing the chosen character’s faction. The addition of bot support is nice, especially since the game only supports local wireless, but the addition of up to three AI opponents can only offer so much when the base content is so anemic. Younger players will enjoy pounding around for a while, but there isn’t a substantial ‘hook’ to keep them coming back for more.


Overall:
5/10
Transformers Prime: The Game manages to capture the look and sound of the show far better than the excitement of it. Younger players will get more out of the game than I did, but they can only get so much out of such meager offerings, and that is assuming they won’t give up in frustration after being punched out of the camera’s range or off a ledge for the umpteenth time. The cast might be great, but the adventure is short and the systems in need of some fine-tuning.

(This review is based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.)

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