TRANSFORMERS PRIME is one of my favorite current running cartoons going right now, and this game was my most anticipated Wii U launch title. It’s been close to a decade since I had fun playing a Transformers video game (The PS2 title based on the Armada cartoon was pretty sweet), and I thought both War of Cybertron and it’s sequel were too short in play time and overall came off as a bare bones experience, even for a hardcore G1 fan such as myself. Does Transformers Prime have what it takes to not only be a Wii U exclusive title, but the best Transformers game in the modern market?
STORY 6.8/10 Rather than abridge a set part of the TV series into a condensed play through, Prime offers an original, non-canon story that seems to be a spin-off of the season multiparter about Unicron. The Deceptacons are attempting to mine and harvest a huge chunk of dark energon and Team Prime looks to intercept and destroy the malicious rock. During the raid, the energon is jarred loose and the Autobots are caught in the middle of the whiplash, sending them all plummeting back toward Earth, along with Unicron’s encrusted meteorite. Optimus gets a brief glimpse of a creature shrouded in darkness from within the center of the object before it ensnares him during its descent. Megatron sends his soldiers, Starscream, Knockout, Arachnid, and Dreadwing (no Breakdown, sadly) upon our heroes to take advantage of their predicament, as well as recover his dark energon. Team Prime has to find a way to regroup, fend off the Deceptacons, and battle the mysterious being birthed from the cursed lifeblood of Unicron.
For what it’s worth, the story is pretty decent, roughly on par with any plot developing episodes from the TV show. The downside is most of it isn’t particularly fleshed out. Early chapters follow Arcee, Bulkhead, and Bumblebee fighting their respective rivals with aid from the children and the game exclusive villain, Thunderwing, does not come off as menacing as you would think, despite his colossal size. He is officially introduced just a little more than halfway through the single player mode and he talks like any given generic Deceptacon. He sounds like Skyquake. Overall, a pretty straightforward story, but it lacks any kind of drama, characterization and interactions is simply already established material, and there isn’t much to sink your teeth into.
VISUALS & ANIMATION 8.5/10: The character models are very impressive, closely resembling their TV counterparts. Their eyes seem a little dead and cold, and close-ups reveal some choppiness and unpolished textures, which is a little unforgivable given the power of this technology. Thankfully, these slight visual flaws are only noticeable during cut scenes. The in-game action moves pretty slick. The screen is never jam-packed with too much action at one time, so slowdown is not a problem. The layouts, while mostly taking place in vast, rocky ravines and canyons to interiors of mines and warships, look great and are rendered well enough that you won’t get bored just staring at the same plateaus, or wall over and over. Some rocks and pillars are mapped with enough detail to urge you to see which ones you can hit to find power-ups and well-placed relics. The areas to explore don’t feel too confined and there is a lot of room for decent combat. It’s a little too bad that more con-mashing mayhem doesn’t take place in any large metropolises or cities, but then again, this mostly takes place in Jasper, Nevada anyway. And the one time they went to New York, they stayed in the subway (I’m still a little peeved about that).
SOUND EFFECTS & MUSIC 9.7/10: Everyone reprises their respective roles from the Show and the musical score is present and accounted for. Fans of the series will be treated to familiar tunes and metal on metal melee pounding as you trash vehicons and wreck property. The script doesn’t feel forced or cheesy in any aspect. I did notice in this game that Andy Pessoa’s (Raphael) voice got a little deeper here, which threw me off a bit, as I thought he was phoning it in at first.
GAMEPLAY & DIFFICULTY 7.7/10: Transformers Prime is a brawler, and while simplistic, it can be quite satisfying at times. All you pretty much do is clear the screen of enemies and proceed to the next portion of the level. Stages aren’t terribly long, they can roughly finished in a matter of minutes, but there are a great deal of foes that are thrown in your face. You have a set number of melee combos, no more than three buttons with several variations, and your secondary weapon is your blaster to take down long-range enemies. At various points throughout the game, you are thrown into a high-speed chase, which is a nice change of pace from all the frantic button mashing. You have to keep pace with the Deceptacon you are pursuing and take care not to fall off rocks and ravines. This is the only element that utilizes the Wii U Gamepad’s interaction, and the steering is pretty responsive. But since I drive like a caffeinated wolverine in Mario Kart Wii, I fell off of edges frequently. Prime’s standard enemies are, of course, the vehicon henchmen, but there are some welcome editions to the roster of punching bags that I am legitimately sad that never made it into the TV show. There are these hulking tank vehicons that come equipped with shields to fortify their defense as well as dish out some heavy damage. How on earth did these bad ass sentries not get featured in the series at all!!?? These guys look awesome!! At the very least, make me a toy of one of them!! Honestly, the battles in the show would’ve used some muscle like this in the Deceptacon ranks. There was only some many times I could see Bulkhead trash the same generic soldier over and over. Transforming increases your speed and handling your bot in vehicle mode is not too bad, though turning around can be a bit of a pain. It’s a great way to get quickly out of danger and the ability quickly jump and go immediately back into vehicle mode is awesome!!
The multiplayer mode includes up to four players in several games, including a standard Last Man Standing-style brawl (defeating all of your enemies) an Energon Match, where the damage you deal increases you point total, and Emblem battle, where you have to hold on to the emblem as long as you can to tally points, kind of like reverse tag. Staying “it” helps you win. These are very entertaining and the more human opponents you have, the better. The select amount of stages are limited, but they offer some decent variety, depending on whether you like to use Deceptacon or Autobot.
Each stage is climaxed with increasingly difficult boss battles, and these can get pretty intense. I dig how each Deceptacon fights in the same manner coinciding with the TV. Starscream stays on high ground, sending soldiers after you, then suddenly attacking while you’re preoccupied. Knockout uses a lot of flash and keep away tactics so you don’t ruin his finish, and Dreadwing plants dummy bombs and mines all over the place to psyche you out. I felt that was a very nice touch and ensures that the boss battles are more than just a game of keep away.
IN CLOSING: Of all the gaming genres, I feel the brawler genre has had a real cumbersome time of staying adaptable and fresh in today’s gaming market. A game like Transformers Prime has the right idea, and could be a great launching pad, if Activision plans on making this into a series. The single player story is adequate enough and in-game sidequests, like earning a higher mission grade and finding all of the Cybertron Artifacts to unlock bonuses, will keep you playing for a while, and the multiplayer modes are very fun with human combatants. It’s not a perfect game, but it will certainly fit the bill if you have a hankering for some ‘Con-smashing mayhem.
PROS: Solid, responsive controls. Great voice acting and musical score keeps the mood at home with the TV series. Good use of multiplayer. Respectable challenge.
CONS: Lackluster story. Short playtime. Not a lot of style variation between Bots and Cons, they all pretty much fight the same.