I find myself weary of new releases with the label “Transformers” on the box, not because I’m down on the franchise – on the contrary, I’m a big fan of those lovable bots in disguise – but because of the spotty track record attached to Transformers games in general. The franchise has seen success in titles such as War for Cybertron and more recently with Fall of Cybertron, but it’s also seen past failures in games like Dark of the Moon and Revenge of the Fallen, especially the versions on the portable gaming side of things. Transformers and handhelds are like the Autobots and Decepticons, they don’t play well together.
Transformers Prime: The Game for 3DS, this year’s annual submission to the collection of Nintendo exclusive Transformer games, is working to change all that, and I think it’s made some strides in the right direction. Based on cable network The Hub’s animated series of the same name, the game’s setting is the typical old formula. You play as the illustrious Autobots, who once again have to deal with those scheming Decepticons, who are up to their usual bad guy shenanigans. It’s your job as self appointed Earth defenders to stop them…because Optimus Prime said so and he’s the boss. Oh, and there are humans around too. They get in the way and get captured a lot, which gives your soulless robotic life meaning…just don’t step on them by accident. Basically the plot hasn’t changed in years, and that’s just prime in my opinion. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. My gripe with past games has always been more with the game play and mechanics, and in that regard, Transformers Prime has it’s ups and downs.
In the main single player campaign, you take control of five Autobots, each level following their individual takes on the events taking place. You start off controlling Optimus Prime, recently landed on the Decepticon ship Nemesis in the midst of a dark energon meteorite hijacking. There’s very little explanation as to how you got to this point and who your latest batch of human companions are; hence if you haven’t watched the show prior and aren’t into reading unlockable character profiles in the gallery, you’ll probably have little idea of what’s going on in the story. Nonetheless, you’re quickly thrown into the mix and pulling off combos on Decepticon scum in no time.
Every Autobot has his own set of attack combos to use against the enemy. While the fighting animations differ for each character, the button combos are the same across the board, so the learning curve is somewhat low. You can perform melee attacks up close, blast them with suppression fire from a far and even smash through their shields with combo breaking moves. Every Transformer can instantly morph into a vehicle to close the distance, and can still shoot, jump and smash smoothly in that form. One thing I realized early are the design similarities in the way your own characters and the enemies battle. They all have the same tools and transformations you do at their disposal, so you really feel like your fighting on equal footing.
Adventure style battle isn’t the only thing you’ll do in this game though, since Prime mixes up the game types and objectives in each level. Often you’ll find yourself trudging through environments, beating up insecticons and vehicons, looking for collectible emblems while your human counterpart politely insists you move your metal butt faster; and other times you’ll be chasing down bad guys in vehicle mode, avoiding falling boulders and blasting through walls, working to save those same, ungrateful humans who never seem to keep out of harms way. Many of your old, familiar foes, like Starscream and Soundwave, among many others, will confront you at any point in a mission, initiating challenging boss battles that have you taking down mobs while dodging their gun fire and special attacks.
As you can tell, the main campaign has a lot to offer and makes it fresh enough to keep you engaged. There’s also replayability, since you’re rated on your time, collectibles earned and damage taken at the end of every level. High performance reaps rewards like new characters and modes in the multiplayer, and special emblems and character profiles for the gallery.
In addition to single player, Transformers Prime offers three multiplayer modes: Brawl, Energon Match and Emblem Match. Brawl is a little basic and pretty straight forward…you and three other local players (or bots) duke it out royal rumble style and the last one standing wins. Energon Match is similar, the bot who logs the most damage and kills the most players is king of the hill. Emblem Match, on the other hand, is a little more tactical and my favorite of the three. Each player starts on a side of the map, and tries to capture and hold the emblem. The longer it’s in your possession, the more points you earn…but it also paints a target on your back, which is pretty entertaining. I’d say that other then the Energon Match mode, the multiplayer feels somewhat uninspired, and tacted-on as an afterthought.
Also, the single player campaign could have been longer in my opinion, since the game feels pretty short overall. For a 3DS game, the map designs are unfortunately lackluster and the environments are sparse and unremarkable. I expected the models and textures to be a little higher definition considering the hardware; the game hopefully doesn’t look the same on the regular Nintendo DS, which would disappointing, and the 3D doesn’t really add anything to the experience. Overall, the graphics were my only real complaint.
Transformers Prime keeps the game play simple and charming while engaging you with cleverly paced story beats and a variety of different modes to explore and master. Seamless transformations between bot and vehicle make each battle fun and dynamic, and while the story is a tad on the short side, the arcady game design lets you jump in, jump out and replay at your leisure. As far as handheld gaming is concerned, Transformers Prime: The Game makes an encouraging case for the future of Transformer games on the 3DS and other handhelds, and is easily the best of the bunch so far.